Posted in Apologetics, Deity of Christ

The Historical Jesus

By Mac Deaver

[Note: This piece was first published in October 2013 under title of The Logic of the Case for Christ by the Warren Christian Apologetics Center, reprinted here by permission].

When one faces the question of the historicity of Jesus Christ, he should remember that the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are all books of history. And no one has the right to dismiss these books as evidential material concerning Jesus merely on the basis that a claim of divine inspiration is made for them. Their existence as historical documents has to be faced before the issue of inspiration can be considered.

Argument #1:

  1. If (1) A existed and if (2) A said that B existed, and if (3) A is credible, then B existed.
  2. (1) A existed, and (2) A said that B existed, and (3) A is credible.
  3. Then B existed.

Of course, someone might object by saying that there is more involved in the discovery of actual history than mere credibility. I would respond by saying that at least Argument #1 shows us where we begin. In fact, this is the basic approach to all of history that we take and that we must take (cf. Mark 16:9-14).

Argument #2:

  1. A (the writer of the book of John) existed, and
  2. A said that Jesus existed, and A is credible.
  3. Then, B (Jesus) existed.

But how do we prove the premises in Argument #2?

  • We know that there was a writer of the book of John. The book did not write itself.
  • We know that this writer existed then and that he said that Jesus existed. (Note: No non-existent could ever make a claim for himself, much less for the existence of anyone else.)
  • We know that the writer was credible because (1) the document (in which the references to Jesus appear) is an historical document itself, and (2) the document is here and bears the characteristics of fact telling and fact bearing.

Fact telling: it is not written as fiction, but as historical fact. The rejection of the book of John as history has to have some rational basis other than a dislike of its contents or an automatic pre-suppositional rejection of miracle claim.

  • The story is told as historical fact;
  • It is presented as evidence to substantiate a claim which entailed the prior claim that Jesus had been on earth (John 1:14; John 20:3, 31);
  • The claim concerns an eternal nature connected to a human nature thus joining the concern of heaven with earth; the claim is neither for a mere man or a little “god” but for God in flesh (Matt. 1:23; John 1:14; Luke 1:35); the claim is enormous in its scope and beyond the reach of a mere inventor of fiction.
  • The character of Jesus and the description of him as given are beyond human invention. His words, deeds, his life and death, all prove a nature beyond mere humanity and nature.

Fact bearing: it cannot be fiction because the contents are simply non-inventible by mere human intelligence. A character is presented and described that bridges heaven to earth in human form, an historical character that can see to the demands of a most holy Creator and to the direst needs of men, men who are accountable for their rationality and responsible for the conclusions that they reach. The discussion that centers around the historicity of Jesus is important only if Jesus was actually at one time on the earth. If he did not come to earth, the whole discussion is basically meaningless. It is only as men are ultimately answerable for their thinking and their living that the question of the historicity of Jesus is important. There is a conceptual connection between Jesus’ historicity and human responsibility/accountability.

If the document is fiction, thus false to the claim being made for it, then the writer himself had (A) a capacity for telling falsehood about history while at the same time (B) producing in history a literary character who never existed but whose personal characteristics were not and could not be explained by the writer’s own artistically creative and yet deceptive powers.

So, we have to face the following facts:

  • The historical writer of John created a non-historical character (Jesus) and then ascribed to him characteristics (words and deeds) which could not possibly be the characteristics of a merely humanly invented creature, as it were, a personal fiction characterized by fact. The characteristics or traits are not “hanging out there” in the air. They are literarily attached to an alleged person.
  • Now, either the person existed as fact (and so did the traits) or the alleged person never actually existed at all, and the traits were “imagined.”
  • But if the traits were merely imagined, the alleged person never existed.
  • If the traits were merely imagined, the source of the traits (the recorder of the traits) has to be explained, because the writer could not have imagined them since he was incapable of producing by himself the words and deeds said to be characteristic of Jesus as given in the book of John.
  • In other words, the book of John as an historical literary production contains features of the central character (Jesus) which are beyond the inventive capacity of any mere human writer.
  • That would then mean that we face the problem of having to explain how one reconciles the beyond human source behind a deceptive book making a claim regarding Jesus that is false.
  • There can be no reconciliation of these conflicting ideas!

Now we have only two ultimately fundamental theoretical possibilities to consider:

  • The writer was writing falsehood regarding the historical nature of Jesus; or
  • The writer was writing the truth about the historical nature of Jesus.

But now consider the implications of that set of possibilities:

  • If the writer was telling the truth about the historicity of Jesus, then he was either telling the truth about the characteristics of Jesus or he was presented falsehood when he ascribed those characteristics to Jesus.
  • If he was writing falsehood about the historicity of Jesus, then he was writing falsehood about the characteristics of Jesus (If A does not exist, then A can have no characteristics). But the characteristics of Jesus as described by the writer do not allow for the non-historicity of Jesus because they are not imaginable in the descriptive form given them by the writer. In other words, the writer of John could not have made up the traits characteristic of Jesus if Jesus did not manifest those traits himself! Reporting traits is one thing; inventing them is quite another!
  • Divinity is somewhere in the picture of the literary historical record regarding Jesus!
  • And the human capacity to distinguish between divinity and humanity and between natural law and miracle comes into play. If Jesus did not say what the writer says that he said, and if Jesus did not do what the writer claims that Jesus did, then the writer’s own non-natural capacity for writing has to be explained. It is simply impossible for a mere mortal to:
  1. Imagine a character like Jesus;
  2. Invent his means of arrival on the earth;
  3. Create the sermon on the mount and put it in Jesus’ mouth;
  4. Show the compassion that Jesus showed;
  5. Describe his life above and without sin even while existing under enormous pressure;
  6. Describe his profound and complete insight into the Old Testament;
  7. Describe his penetration into the hearts of men;
  8. Describe his logical capability in the midst of heated public controversy;
  9. Describe his personal calm composure regardless of circumstance;
  10. Invent the conceptual route from life to death to resurrection to ascension to coronation and declare the significance that it has to the welfare of all humanity.
  • It is simply impossible for a mere man to write a book like the book of John! If we deny that we can clearly know the difference between (1) what can be and what cannot be produced by a mere human writer and that we cannot clearly know the difference between (2) what can be and what cannot be done by a mere human being, then we are claiming that we cannot tell the difference between nature and miracle. And if we cannot tell the difference between nature and miracle, we have no business attempting to verify or falsify a claim of miracle in the book of John or to propose that Jesus was someone merely imagined or made up by John.

Regarding the writer of that book of John, he was either (1) telling the truth about a sinless man, or he was (2) telling falsehood about a sinful man. So,

  1. If he was telling the truth about a sinless man, then that man had to be God in flesh as the book claims.
  2. If he was telling falsehood about a merely sinful man, then the sin of that man (which would disprove the writer’s claim that that man was divine), should be available somewhere in the historical record. Either John simply failed to record any of Jesus’ sins (in a book wherein John is not reluctant to identify personal sins) or John knew that there were no sins to record. What is fact is that in the same book of John, we are informed that the Roman governor Pilate (who judged Jesus) declared three times that he found no crime in Jesus (John 18:38; 19:4, 6). Neither confession of sin under physical persecution nor verbal retaliation for the brutal and unjust treatment that he was receiving, proceeded from the mouth or demeanor of Jesus. Any alleged “sins” of Jesus are as absent from any historical record as was his body from the tomb on the third day. How does one explain this?
  3. The profundity of the book (the depth of the most profound concepts as they are revealed in actual historical events) disallows the possibility that John’s main character (Jesus) was a sinful man. The whole of the book along with its coherence with the rest of the Bible will not allow for the possibility that Jesus was sinful or that John was simply deceived about him or covering up for him. The profound story of redemption throughout Scripture is so massive in its scope and so complex in its concepts, that there can be (1) no redemptive history and (2) no redemption story if there is (3) no redeemer. But the redeemer, according to the history and the story must be without sin.
  4. No mere man could have made up the character of Jesus. Neither a deceived man nor an outright liar.
  5. That is why Jesus’ historicity is so important, and we either face the fact that we must believe Jesus to be what he claimed or we want him to go away, but his nature (and the book that presents him to us) do not allow such casual dismissal. There has to be some significant reason why someone feels compelled to try to make Jesus go away (leave the historical record)! There is something bothersome about that record. It either establishes the historicity and thus the divinity of Christ, or facts have to be “manipulated” so that rejection is seemingly justified.
  6. Finally, if the writer’s conclusion that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (John 20:30, 31) is false, then the writer is either (1) deceived or (2) deceiver. He is not deceived for he is a witness (John 21:24), and he has no reason to be a deceiver. If he was not deceived, then Jesus was here. If Jesus was not here, then the writer’s book is inexplicable as an historical document itself (1) being a source of such deception on the one hand but (2) being such a deception by means of the greatest presentation of morality on earth ever displayed in a literary work! On the one hand the book would be the product of a scoundrel but whose main character is characterized by traits that if actual prove him to be more than mere man. The two colliding concepts do not and cannot cohere!

Consider that the foregoing truths lead us to the formation of this argument on “Miracle And Message” in the following syllogism:

  1. If the mixture of miracle claim and doctrinal message in the New Testament is such that the combination of the two is beyond mere human production, then the miracle must be fact, and the message must be true.
  2. The mixture of miracle claim and doctrinal message in the New Testament is such that the combination of the two is beyond mere human production.
  3. Then, the miracle must be fact, and the message must be true.