The Legend of Jesus

Posted under The Rectory Bulletin | Easter

Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive (1 Corinthains 15:6)

A popular theory about Christianity is that the whole thing is rather a mistake! Yes, Jesus was a great teacher but he was no messiah, let alone God. People in the first century were a superstitious lot, and would believe in any old nonsense. Over time Jesus became a legendary figure, a sort of spiritual Robin Hood. The gospels were written down much later, and by that time the legends had become hopelessly tangled up with the real Jesus.

A few things need to be said here. First of all, the scholarly consensus was that Matthew, Mark and Luke were all written by the late AD60s with John perhaps a couple of decades after. Paul’s letter to the Galatians is widely dated to the early 50s, or even late 40s. Behind the gospels are decades of oral tradition, as you would expect in a culture where literacy rates were low, so they did not spring out of nowhere when they were written.

Secondly, do note that in the gospels many eyewitnesses are named. It would seem that these are people who were still part of the community of the earliest church, and could be asked about what they saw. As named witnesses, they can vouch for what was written and this approach was well known in ancient literature. Moreover, the names of people and places mentioned in the gospels reveal a close knowledge of the area at the time of Christ (which would not be the case of a much later author).

Thirdly, the ancient world was not as credulous as we would like to believe. In particular the Jews, with their strict adherence to monotheism, were not likely to come up with the idea of that God taking human flesh. Read through the gospels, and you will find plenty of people skeptical to Jesus’s claims!

The truth is that we have very early written evidence for the claims of Christianity, evidence backed up by the names of eyewitnesses. The claim that this is all a later legend simply does not hold water.

"Spiritual" Resurrection

Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. (John 21:12) - In the 1980s there was a great furore surrounding David Jenkins, one time Bishop in the Church of England. One of his statements which attracted attention was that the resurrection was “spiritual rather than physical”. He remains a force within the world, a force which is distinctively “Jesus”, but the physical resurrection is denied. And then we come back to the tricky issue of the empty tomb. Why would a spiritual resurrection result in the body disappearing? No, this theory may fit in with modern ideas which seek to deny any supernaturalism but it doesn’t fit with the evidence of the New Testament.

Work of Fiction

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back (Mark 16:1-4) - The early spread of Christianity amongst those who witnessed the events, and were willing to be martyred for their faith, undermines the fiction theory.

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