Why We Trust Our Bible - Lesson 1

HISTORICAL JESUS: Did Jesus Actually Live?

In Part 1, Dr. Darrell Bock addresses the historical Jesus debate, some scholars actually question whether Jesus even lived. How can we show that he did live using sources other than the Bible and the writing of the early Church Fathers?

We apologize for the poor quality of the recording. We lost the main video feed, but felt the content was too important to omit. We will re-record the seminar when we are able.

Taught by a Team
Why We Trust Our Bible
Lesson 1
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HISTORICAL JESUS: Did Jesus Actually Live?

I. Problem

A. Is the historical Jesus the same as the Christ of faith?

B. Corroboration: what can we “prove” to be true (“burden of proof”)

II. Answer

A. Some academics say we cannot get back to the historical Jesus

B. Who is Jesus? Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith (Bock)

III. How can we know Jesus ever existed?

A. Josephus (Antiquities 63-64)

B. Josephus on James (Antiquities 20.200)

IV. Notes on Josephus

A. Some argue all of the first is made up, but note the almost half-handed way Jesus is mentioned in the second, assuming the audience knows who he is.

B. Note what the first does say.

1. Pilate and Jewish leadership together are responsible for Jesus’ death. Also mentioned in Tacitus (Nero blame fire in Rome on Christians, and Jesus’ crucifixion under Pilate) and Seutonius (mentions “Chrestus”).

2. Miracles (“wonderful works”). “Unusual works.” Jesus had a reputation of a miracle worker. Elsewhere Jesus is said to be a magician or sorcerer.

V. Conclusion

“Josephus tells me so.”

VI. Questions

A. Greek texts of Josephus

B. TheCentreforPublicChristianity.com. John Dickson interviews Chris Forbes (https://publicchristianity.org/library/josephs-and-jesus-a-christian-forgery)

C. Who is Seutonius, and the debate with an atheist

D. Tacitus text (F.F. Bruce. Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the Bible)

All Lessons
Class Resources
Lesson Resources
  • Dr. Craig Blomberg begins by introducing the issue of the historical reliability of the New Testament documents, focusing on Dan Brown and some of the other recent "discoveries." He will cover 12 truths agreed upon except by the most liberal theologians. In this lesson he talks about the authorship and dating of the gospels.

  • Would the gospel writers have wanted to preserve accurate history? Why are there four Gospels, with all the similarities and differences?

  • Gain an in-depth look at translations, interpretations, oral tradition, memorization, Gospel stories, and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy with this seminary professor's class.
  • In his series of reasons, in this lesson Blomberg answers 7 – 9.

  • Blomberg addresses the issues of the non-Christian testimony to Jesus, archaeology, and the testimony of other early Christian Writers. He concludes with a powerful discussion of three ways to believe, and what the relationship is between faith and reason.

  • This class provides an overview of the core beliefs of Christianity and the sources that back them up.
  • Are books in the canon because they are authoritative, or they are authoritative because they are in the canon? The Davinci Code and the common assertions about Constantine are historical fabrications. “Canon” can mean three different things. Has God given us a structure to know which books should be in the canon? Can you prove, or is the point to have sound reasons for what you believe?

  • A canonical worldview is a set of beliefs as to what the canon is and how someone “knows” if a book is canonical or not.  There are three models. According to the community model, a book becomes canonical upon its reception by the community.

  • In the historical model of canonicity, a book becomes canonical when it is examined historically, looking at issues such as authorship and reception. This model suffers  by the absence of an absolute criteria by which you can make this decision.

  • The self-authenticating model of the canon claims that the Bible is itself its own ultimate authority. All beliefs of ultimate authority are circular, otherwise the criteria for deciding would be greater than the ultimate authority itself. The real question is whether or not God has provided a means by which Christians can know what books are truly canonical. The self-authenticating model encompasses the other two, incorporating the best of each model.

  • A “defeater” is an idea that undermines your confidence in knowing something. Are there defeaters for our understanding of the canon? The New Testament books have unity with prior revelation and with each other, and in fact the New Testament completes the Old Testament in surprising ways.

  • Kruger shows that Covenants in the Old Testament needed written documents, and a new covenant required new documents. Writing was not an afterthought. The apostles saw themselves as agents of the New Covenant and saw their writings as having authority. They would have been surprised to be told that it wasn't until Irenaeus that people throught their writing was authoritative. They had to write to accomplish their apostolic ministry within their lifetime.

  • Even if a few of the books took a while to be accepted, there was a core canon of 22 books very quickly. Even the Muratorian Fragment, while including two non-canonical books, recognizes that they are different and may be listing them as such. Just because the early church read non-canonical books does not mean there was not a canon.

  • The early church was a culture of textuality; they liked and publicly read books. The frequency of ancient manuscripts shows us which books were the most popular and were therefore understood to be canonical. The church preferred the new codex format because they could group books together, especially the gospels. We can also tell that the manuscripts were written in order to be publicly read, which means the church knew which books were authoritative.

  • Eusebius described four types of books: accepted, disputed, rejected, and heretical. The early church was careful in what they accepted as authoritative, and there really was not that much of a question.

  • Answers to common questions about the canon, now that these question are targeted to the lay level. 

  • In Part 1, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses the challenges to the believability of the Bible brought by the issues related to the Greek manuscripts, and especially the influence of Dan Brown and Bart Ehrman.

  • In Part 2, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses discussion of the historical process that led to manuscripts and variants, with some examples of variants.

  • In Part 3, Dr. Daniel Wallace responds to three basic challenges by Bart Ehrman: the "black hole"; the quality of the copies; the effect of Constantine on the manuscripts.​

  • In Part 4, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses how now that we understand why there are variants in the manuscripts, how does the art and science of textual criticism help us determine which variants are most likely to be original?

  • In Part 5, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses a brief overview of why the King James Bible is different from all modern translations, and issues of the Greek texts behind it.

  • In Part 6, Dr. Daniel Wallace focuses in on variants, how many there are, how many significant variants are there, and how good of a job has textual criticism done.

  • You will gain knowledge about translation philosophy, including different methods, how to evaluate a translation, and a comparison of the NIV and ESV translation philosophies, with examples of their differences. Understanding translation philosophy is important when interpreting the Bible.
  • You will learn about the first principle of interpretation which involves determining the meaning of words by looking at the word's immediate context, broader context, and historical and cultural context. By accurately interpreting the meaning of a word, it can be applied to the passage as a whole.
  • In this lesson, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of the reliability and trustworthiness of the Bible by exploring topics such as the development of the canon, textual criticism, historical accuracy, and theological coherence.
  • You will gain an understanding of the principles behind why we trust the Bible, including the bibliographical, historical, and internal tests.
  • You will gain knowledge and insight into the process of canonicity, which is the recognition of which books belong in the Bible based on criteria such as apostolicity, orthodoxy, catholicity, and traditional use. Understanding canonicity is essential for recognizing the authority of the Bible and its significance in the Christian faith.

The uniqueness and authority of the Bible are always under attack. Professors and writers are claiming that Jesus never existed, Jesus never claimed to be God, the early church changed the basic preaching of Jesus, books were left out of the Bible, the copies of the Bible that have come down through the centuries are hopelessly corrupt

Dr. Blomberg discusses the reliability of the Bible. Dr. Kruger discusses the process of formation of the New Testament Canon. Dr. Wallace discusses issues relating to manuscripts and textual criticism. Dr. Mounce discusses the philosophies and process of translation. 

Course: Why We Trust Our Bible

Lecture: Did Jesus Actually Live?


The uniqueness and authority of the Bible are always under attack. Professors and writers are claiming that Jesus never existed, Jesus never claimed to be God, the early church changed the basic preaching of Jesus, books were left out of the Bible, the copies of the Bible that have come down through the centuries are hopelessly corrupt, and how can you trust your translation where there are so many? This class walks you through the process of how we received our Bible and why we can trust it.

I. Problem

I want to talk about the historical Jesus. The historical Jesus equals the Biblical Jesus and for people who are conservative in their theology both fit together. But this is not true for a lot of people. We live in a skeptical culture and our skeptical culture ask questions about the Bible before you even get to what is in the Scriptures and how they put together. In New Testament studies this has become a technical study area called the historical Jesus. Many scholars would like to say there is a vast difference between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. In fact one such German scholar argues that the difference between the historical Jesus and the Jesus of faith is so great, you can’t work your way back from the Biblical Christ to the historical Jesus. There is no way to connect the two. Scholars have tried to prove on the basis of verification of the historical Jesus that he is in fact different than the Jesus of the Bible. The discussion of the historical Jesus is about collaboration. This collaboration has to do with a set of rules established that only reflect what people think the historical Jesus was like. So what can we prove about Jesus to be true, what is the burden of proof? So this is what makes people very skeptical of Jesus and if you start off with the idea of miracles being impossible and Jesus doesn’t exist as we know him there is an immediate problem.

II. Answer

Some academic say that we cannot get back to the historical Jesus, even people who have written technical information on Jesus in regards to international scholarly context about Jesus. There was a study that took over a decade in regards to this study of the historical Jesus. This study approached how to discuss the historical Jesus in a way that you could talk to someone who is skeptical about the Biblical Jesus. I have a brother who was very skeptical of the Biblical Jesus; he was a long way from the Lord. The journey that he went through with me in talking about religion; when we got into religion and especially in regards to what this was all about, he went out and purchased a book by a chaplain at Harvest University. If I could have picked a book, the book he chose would not have been the one. But I went with what I could but interestingly and amazingly my brother finally came to the Lord. So, today, I want to take you through some issues that touch on some skeptical aspects of Jesus.

III. Two Clearest Statements

So the first question is how do we know that Jesus ever existed? Is there any evidence of Jesus’ existence outside of the Biblical text? So we will look at sources outside the Bible, outside the New Testament.

a. Josephus

The first reference comes from Josephus, a Jewish historian of the 1st century. This is from Josephus (Antiquities 18.3.3[63-64): Now, there was about at this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as received the truth with pleasure. He drew over to himself both many of the Jews and many of the gentiles. He was the Christ. When Pilate at the suggestion of the principle men amongst us had condemned him to the Cross; those who loved him at the first did not forsake him for he appeared to them alive again on the third day as a divine providence told of these things and ten thousands other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians as so named from him is not extinct at this day. The reason why some of the phrases are in italics, it can be argued as those phrases were added later by people in the church. In other words Josephus never wrote them. And the problem is, if you look just at the italics, you say it obvious that we can’t trust this. Some people want to throw all of it out. Even if you just remove the words Josephus didn’t write, you have a very clear attestation by someone who was no friend of the Christians. He was a Jew who tells us some information about Jesus. In fact on the website there is a link to a discussion with a classical scholar as to the value of Josephus’ witness to Jesus.

b. Josephus on James

But Josephus has another comment about Jesus, specifically about Jesus’ brother, James. Josephus writes, ‘Festus was now dead and Albinus, a high priest, was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges and brought before them the brother of Jesus who was called Christ, whose name was James and some others. And when he had formed an accusation against him as breakers of the law, he, meaning Albinus, delivered them to be stoned. So there you have references to Jesus by way of James. So that is two fairly strong attestations that there was a historical
person named Jesus.

So, these are some fairly secure and trustworthy historical references showing that there was a historical person named Jesus within the same time frame that we believe that Jesus lived from the Bible. As far as the death of Jesus, legally the Roman government under Pontus Pilate who condemned him to death but it was the Jewish people who insisted that he die.

IV. Notes

When you turn to other kinds of literature, specifically the Jewish literature, you will find that there are indeed references to Jesus in the Talmud which is a bit surprising because you would think that the Jewish writings would just want to ignore Jesus, because of the conflict between Jews and Christians. I also want to look at some Greek and Roman writers as well. For example, Tacitus was the most reliable Roman historian who wrote in the early 2nd century. He was the person who said that Nero blamed the fire in Rome on the Christians. Tacitus writes that Christians have their name from Christ who had been executed by sentence of the procurator, Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. So Tacitus, a very well respected historian gives us that reference.

Suetonius: Suetonius is another Roman historian of the early 2nd century. He is the one to mention the expulsion of the Jews from Rome in the time of Claudius in AD 41-54. This was important in terms of dating the Book of Acts also. Suetonius said that this expulsion was due to the rioting, ‘at the instigation of Chrestus, probably a variation of misspelling of the Roman spelling of the Latin of Christus. This is obviously referring to Jesus. So you have Suetonius making a reference to him. Thallus was the 1st century Greek historian and we get to his writing through a 3rd century author. He mentioned the darkness that occurred at Jesus’ death. Lucian of Samosata was a writer of satires and he was no friend of Christians. He made fun of Christians for worshipping a man as if he was God and he goes on to say that Jesus, ‘was a distinguished person who instituted their novel rights and was therefore crucified. And then later on he calls Jesus a sage. Just one more reference: Pliny the Younger was a 2nd century Roman Politician who wrote to the Emperor Trajan on how to deal with Christians who didn’t revere Caesar’s image. He wasn’t sure what to do with these folks. It is interesting that Pliny didn’t get his information by hearsay. He actually got his information from apostate Christians, a very direct connection with Christianity. Pliny said that Christians met together regularly and sang hymns to Christ as if to a God.

V. Conclusion

In conclusion, let me say that it would be really odd if this single most significant and most influential person in the history of the world wasn’t real. So we should remember that we can tell people that Josephus told us so. So, we know that Jesus lived and that he was Jewish and he lived in the first third of the first century. He was crucified under Pontius Pilate which puts Jesus’ death between the years 26-36 AD. As mentioned there is a Talmudic tradition from the Talmud that said that Jesus was hung but we know from some other Christian writings they would use the verb hung to be suspended on a pole as with a Cross. There is a web site that I recommend you to look at (https://publicchristianity.org/library/josephs-and-jesus-a-christian-fo…). There is also a book by F.F. Bruce titled, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the Bible. I would also recommend this book to read. He goes through these citations one at a time in detail.