Apologetics for the Masses #382 - The Historical Case for Christ

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The Historical Case for Christ

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General Comments

Hey folks,

     First of all, my apologies to anyone who tried to watch the taping of the November Balaam's Ride programs through HTV10's Facebook page Wednesday morning.  I got to Houma late Tuesday afternoon, and since there was a hurricane heading directly for Houma, the folks at the TV station decided we needed to do the taping pretty much right then instead of waiting until the morning, and I had no way of sending out an update from the station (I do not have a smart phone, so I can't go online using my phone). So, we taped the 4 shows for November that night. 

     The shows were on the following topics:

- Week of Nov 2nd...The Sacraments and the Bible (covered the Eucharist and Confession)

- Week of Nov 9th...Sola Scriptura

- Week of Nov 16th - Mary and the Bible

- Week of Nov 23rd - Sola Fide

     Again, if you want to watch the programs you can download the HTV10 app, or go to their website - www.htv10.tv - click on the "Religion" page and you'll see all the Balaam's Ride programs archived there.  And thank you to all those who have called and left questions on the Balaam's Ride "hotline": 833-632-4253 (833-63BIBLE) or who have sent questions via email.  Very much appreciated!

     The show has been getting very good reviews so far - I haven't received any death threats, at least - and I am going to be doing my best to continue to produce a good product that hopefully educates and entertains.  Please let folks know about it at your parish, through social media, etc.  We're trying to build up a national audience for the program.

Introduction

     This week, I'm going to do 2 things:

1) A quick response to some replies to last week's newsletter on Catholic Voting Principles, including a general response to an article Bishop Robert Barron wrote on the same topic.

2) The Historical Case for Jesus - I'm seeing more and more people, primarily atheists, who are putting out there that Jesus never existed.  He was just a "legend".  So, I'm just going to give some historical sources - Christian and non-Christian - that show those folks do not know what they're talking about.

Challenge/Response/Strategy

Catholic Voting Principles - A Response from a Subscriber

John,

I'm curious about your opinion of this story that I read in our diocesan newspaper:
 
https://www.wordonfire.org/resources/article/four-principles-for-catholics-during-election-season/28740/
 
Its author, Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, provides a somewhat different view of making choices in elections - especially this year's general election - than your article.
 
Thanks!
 
A Subscriber
 

My Response

Dear Subscriber, I would take issue with Bishop Barron on a couple of points:

     1)  He seems to imply, and many other Catholics outright say it, that the Republican Party does not line up with Catholic social teaching on issues pertaining to "concern for the underprivileged, for the migrant and refugee, and for the environment, as well as opposition to capital punishment and to all forms of racism."  I have to mostly disagree.  I would like for someone to tell me where the Republican platform, or President Trump, or any Republican senator or congressman has said they are not concerned about the underprivileged, or the migrant and refugee, or for the environment, or not that they are not opposed to racism? Outside of capital punishment, I don't know of anything that Republicans advocate for that can be said to be intrinsically evil.  But, even with capital punishment, there are folks from both parties on either side of that debate. 

     Also, there is much debate as to whether or not capital punishment can even be said to be an intrinsic evil.  There are those who say, rather, it is a prudential judgment of recent popes that there is no need for capital punishment in our day and age.  Since the Church has indeed taught in the past that capital punishment was a legitimate means of punishment for the state to use, I would have to lean heavily towards the position that it is not an intrinsic evil, even though I am, personally, opposed to the death penalty.  Also, I would have to agree with Bishop Barron when he says in that same article: "...the number of those threatened by abortion and euthanasia is far greater than the number of those under threat of capital punishment. Sometimes people will say that all lives are equally sacred, but in this context, that observation is something of a red herring. For the relevant question is not which lives are more sacred—those of the unborn, the elderly, the poor, the migrant, [the incarcerated]—but which lives are more direly and directly threatened."

     2) He seems to be saying that it's okay for voters to put matters of prudential judgment on the same level as matters of intrinsic evils.  Yet, the two simply do not equate.  He says: "Each [voter] would have to say some version of 'despite his unacceptable position, I will vote for him because, in prudence, I have determined that other commitments of his and/or his own character counter-balances his objectionable opinion.'   Does this lead us into somewhat murky waters? Frankly, yes, but that’s necessarily the case when we’re dealing not with matters of principle but matters of prudence."

     He does not mention any difference here between matters of prudential judgment and matters of intrinsic evil, leaving the reader to also not make any such distinction.  So, "Hey, I disagree with Candidate A because he supports abortion, but I'm going to vote for him anyway because I disagree with Candidate's B position on illegal immigration, even though he is opposed to abortion."  Abortion is an intrinsic evil; one's position on how to best deal with illegal immigration is a matter of prudential judgment - there is no moral equivalence between the two positions.

     And, he even seems to be saying that not liking a person's character justifies one's vote for a pro-abortion candidate over a pro-life candidate.  Let's see...not liking Candidate A's character on the one hand vs. Candidate B advocating, promoting, passing laws for, and profiting from (through campaign donations) the deaths of up to one million babies a year.  Uhhh...no.  

     When it comes to matters of prudential judgment vs. matters of intrinsic evil, that's where those two questions I asked in my last newsletter come in to play:

     Let’s say that the candidate you are voting for, instead of being a staunch supporter of abortion, and a supporter of the laws that allow for the killing of more than one million unborn babies each year, let’s say that instead of supporting abortion, that candidate was a staunch supporter of laws that allowed for the lynching of one million black men a year.  Could you still vote for that candidate?  Would their position on healthcare or education or immigration outweigh their position on lynching?  

      Or, let’s say, instead of supporting abortion, that candidate was a staunch supporter of laws that allowed for the gassing of one million Jews a year.  Could you still vote for that candidate?  Would their position on healthcare or education or immigration outweigh their position on gassing Jews?  

      Let’s be honest...you answered a strong, resounding, “NO!!!” to each of those questions, didn’t you?  You could not and would not vote for a candidate who supported the lynching of even one black man, much less one million black men, no matter how “right” he or she was on the other issues.  You could not and would not vote for a candidate who supported the gassing of even one Jew, much less one million Jews, no matter how right he or she was on the other issues.  

      How, then, can one vote for a candidate who supports abortion “rights” and who supports laws that allow for the killing of over one million unborn children a year?!  The only way you can do that is if you do not believe the unborn child is a human being deserving of full protection under the law.  The only way you can do that is by devaluing the life of the unborn child.  The only way you can do that is by worshipping at the altar of the god of choice, rather than the altar of the God of Life.

--------------------------------------------------

The Historical Case for Christ 

I. Historical Sources
   A.    Non-Christian*
    1. Tacitus - Roman historian.  Wrote in the Annals:

“[N]either human effort nor the emperor’s generosity nor the placating of the gods ended the scandalous belief that the fire had been ordered [by Nero]. Therefore, to put down the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits and punished in the most unusual ways those hated for their shameful acts … whom the crowd called 'Chrestians'. The founder of this name, Christ [Christus in Latin], had been executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate … Suppressed for a time, the deadly superstition erupted again not only in Judea, the origin of this evil, but also in the city [Rome], where all things horrible and shameful from everywhere come together and become popular.”

    2. Josephus - first century Jewish priest/military commander.  Writing in Jewish Antiquities:

“Being therefore this kind of person [i.e., a heartless Sadducee], Ananus, thinking that he had a favorable opportunity because Festus had died and Albinus was still on his way, called a meeting [literally, “sanhedrin”] of judges and brought into it the brother of Jesus-who-is-called-Messiah…James by name, and some others. He made the accusation that they had transgressed the law, and he handed them over to be stoned.”
    
    3. What we learn from these 2 non-Christian historical sources about Jesus:

         a. He existed as a man.
         b. His personal name was Jesus.
         c. He was called Christos in Greek, which is a translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, both mean “anointed” or “(the) anointed one.”
         d. He had a "brother" named James as Josephus reports (see Galatians 1:19).
         e. Pilate rendered the decision that he should be executed.
         f. His execution was specifically by crucifixion.

         g. He was executed during Pontius Pilate’s governorship over Judea (26–36 A.D.) Tiberius’s reign.

    4. Other Non-Christian Witnesses

        a. Lucian of Samosata (c. 115–200 C.E.) was a Greek satirist who wrote The Passing of Peregrinus, about a former Christian who later became a famous Cynic and revolutionary and died in 165 C.E. In two sections of Peregrinus Lucian, without naming Jesus, clearly refers to him, albeit with contempt:

    “It was then that he learned the marvelous wisdom of the Christians, by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine. And— what else?—in short order he [Peregrinus] made them look like children, for he was a prophet, cult leader, head of the congregation and everything, all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books, and wrote many himself. They revered him as a god, used him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector—to be sure, after that other whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.

    "For having convinced themselves that they are going to be immortal and live forever, the poor wretches despise death and most even willingly give themselves up. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshiping that crucified sophist himself and living according to his laws.”

        b. Mara bar Serapion, a prisoner of war held by the Romans, wrote a letter to his son that described “the wise Jewish king” in a way that seems to indicate Jesus but does not specify his identity.  75 A.D.
        c. Pliny the Younger, a Roman governor and friend of Tacitus, wrote about early Christian worship of Christ “as to a god.”   115 A.D.

        d. Suetonius, a Roman writer, lawyer and historian, wrote of riots in 49 A.D. among Jews in Rome which might have been about Christus but which he thought were incited by “the instigator Chrestus,” whose identification with Jesus is not completely certain.  c. 120 A.D.

        e. Celsus, the Platonist philosopher, considered Jesus to be a magician who made exorbitant claims.  175 A.D.

[* All of the above can be found in an article by Lawrence Mykytiuk, "Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible" in the January/February 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeological Review.]

   B. Christian (non-biblical)
    1. Didache (The Teaching of the Apostles) - late 1st, early 2nd century
    2. Clement of Rome - Letter to the Corinthians (90-95 A.D.)
    3. Letter of Barnabas - late 1st, early 2nd century
    4. St. Ignatius of Antioch - Disciple of St. John; Letters written in 110 A.D.
    5. St. Polycarp of Smyrna - Disciple of St. John; Letter to the Philippians, early 2nd century
    6. St. Irenaeus - knew Polycarp; middle to late 2nd century
    7. Tertullian - 2nd century
    8. Origen - 2nd century
    9. Clement of Alexandria - 2nd century

So, if you ever run into someone saying that Jesus is simply a "legend," you can ask them to give you any evidence for their claim.  They can't.  But, ask them if they are scientifically-minded and, if so, do they believe in historical evidence for the existence of people in the past...for example, Julius Caesar, Plato, Alexander the Great, and so on?  If they do, then simply give them the historical evidence for Jesus, first from the non-Christian sources and then from the extra-biblical Christian sources, and see what they have to say.  If they don't buy it, then just let them know that you consider them rather unscientific, and leave it at that.

Closing Comments

I hope all of you have a great week.  Please pray that results of the elections will be good for the culture of life...

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Apologetics for the Masses