Bart Ehrman Debunks the Claim that Jesus was Married

Yep. Ehrman is usually helpful when it comes to the more conspiratorial claims regarding early Christianity, even if he’s not the most helpful when it comes to New Testament scholarship overall. The Bible claims Jesus was buried during the peacetime between Jews and the Romans, but Ehrman, using sources from after this peacetime had ended (that is to say, sources regarding the relationship between Jews and Romans after the Roman-Jewish War of 66-70 AD) claims that Romans actually didn’t allow Jews to bury their dead. Nevermind the fact that first-century historian Josephus in the early 70’s explicitly says that the Romans allowed Jews to bury their dead in his War of the Jews 4.317, Ehrman finds it more productive to go to painful lengths to try to explain it away.

Thankfully, Ehrman is a good conspiracy beater. His most recent book The Triumph of Christianity (2018) regarding how Christianity became the dominant religion, though not perfect as Tim O’Neill shows, is very good, and refutes the myth that Constantine didn’t really convert to Christianity made by online atheistic conspiracy theorists. Over the last week or so, I’ve been reading through his book Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code (2004, available online in PDF here) devoted to explaining the historical myths propagated all throughout Dan Brown’s international bestseller The Da Vinci Code book (which ended up becoming a movie). In one especially good section, Ehrman exquisitely refutes the myth that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. As Ehrman shows, Jesus was not married to Mary Magdalene, let alone married at all.

It is true that there have occasionally been historical scholars (as opposed to novelists or “independent researchers”) who have claimed that it is likely that Jesus was married. But the vast majority of scholars of the New Testament and early Christianity have reached just the opposite conclusion. This is for a variety of compelling reasons. (pg. 153)

As Ehrman points out, Jesus having a wife is never mentioned in our earliest and most reliable sources on the lifetime of Jesus, the four Gospels. These Gospels mention Jesus’ brothers, sisters, and parents, but never appears to offer any space for mentioning a supposed wife of Jesus. This is strange, and becomes even more strange if we think it was Mary Magdalene, out of all people, married to Jesus. In ancient times, last names didn’t exist. “Christ” isn’t Jesus’ last name, it’s just a title that comes from the Hebrew word for Messiah, and means “the anointed one” in English. Many people often were giving identifying appellations to distinguish them from other people with the same name. So, how is Mary Magdalene distinguished from the rest of the Mary’s in the Gospels (of which there are quite a few)? She’s given the appellation ‘Magdalene’, denoting that she came from the city of Magdala along the shore of the Sea of Galilee (once the major maritime port city at Galilee until Tiberias was built). However, if she was the wife of Jesus, why wasn’t she just identified as “Mary the wife of Jesus” (Jesus mother, Mary, is identified as ‘Mary the mother of Jesus’ (Acts 1:14))? Even the wives of Jesus’ blood brothers are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 9;5. It’s strange to think that such an important characteristic of the life of Jesus would be absent given all this information.

In The Da Vinci Code, it’s claimed that marriage was very common at the time and that celibacy was condemned. But as Ehrman shows, this is wrong again.

We know about one group of Jewish apocalypticists in particular from this time and place, as we have already seen. This is the group of Essenes who produced the Dead Sea Scrolls. As it turns out, according to ancient records of these Essenes, they were predominantly single, celibate men. This is the testimony of Jewish sources from the time, such as the first-century philosopher Philo, who indicates that “no Essene takes a wife,” and the historian Josephus, who indicates that the Essenes shunned marriage; on the other hand, this view is affirmed even by non Jewish sources, such as the writings of the Roman polymath Pliny the elder, who indicates that the Essenes renounced sex and lived “without any woman.” (pp. 155-6)

Though Jesus wasn’t an Essene, he was concerned with the end of the world, and many men in first century Judaism concerned with the end of the world simply did not take part in marriage in order to entirely focus themselves on their religious goals. Including the apostle Paul himself (1 Cor. 7:8). So it actually isn’t surprising at all Jesus was married. There goes another atheist myth about Jesus.

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A Good Short History of the War

That is, the Roman-Jewish War of 66-70 AD, of course, when the Romans, in response to Jewish aggression, invaded and pillaged Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple, thus ending the Second Temple Period. This is a very complex historical event and process that went on for a period of several years, and not much of any laymen understand the details. The war was recorded in detail in the seven books of the War of the Jews, written between 70-75 AD by the Jewish historian Josephus whom himself took part as a general in the war, initially on the Jewish side of the conflict. These seven books are long, tough, and not many people seriously have the time to read the books. Martin Goodman’s highly influential academic monograph The Ruling Class of Judea: The Origins of the Jewish Revolt Against Rome A.D. 66-70 is available online for free in PDF with the click of a button, though albeit an easier read, also tough and not something many people have time for.

Thus, I recently came across a gem in the making. Biblical scholar Joel Edmund Anderson has a nice little blog called Resurrecting Orthodoxy, where he has started to create a series articulately and cogently explaining the history of the Roman-Jewish War. It is really good and enjoyable, and I thought I’d share quickly share this series in the making year. It will certainly increase ones historical understanding of the period if you care about a major event Jesus probably predicted!

The Jewish War Series:

Part 1: The Beginning of the RevoltPart 2: The Bloody Deeds of Menahem the ZealotPart 3: Chaos Erupts Throughout the Region; General Cestius Makes a Move in GalileePart 4: Cestius’ Attack and Inexplicable RetreatPart 5: Josephus Secures Galilee, and the Rise of John of Gischala, Part 6: Vespasian Begins the Roman Advance into GalileePart 7: Vespasian Conquers GalileePart 8: The Revolutionaries in JerusalemPart 9: Ananus the High Priest vs. The Zealots (and further betrayal by John of Gischala), Part 10: The Jewish War Series (Part 10: The Idumeans Come to the Aid of the Zealots)Part 11: The Idumeans’ and Zealots’ Reign of Terror in JerusalemPart 12: Zealot Terrorism in Jerusalem, Chaos in Rome, and a Two-Year Delay to the WarPart 13: Spring of AD 70–Titus and the Roman Legions Arrive at JerusalemPart 14: May 70 AD–Titus Takes the First and Second WallsPart 15–May 70 AD: Josephus’ Appeal and the Miseries to Which the Zealots Inflicted Upon the People, Part 16: The Famine Within the Walls Grows WorsePart 17: The Taking of the Tower of Antonia and Battles in the Temple Precincts

Finding something like this really makes you wanna hallelujah.

Did Jesus Historically Predict the Fall of the Temple?

While Jesus was sitting opposite of the Temple on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem with His closest disciples (Peter, James, and John) around him, He predicted that the Temple would fall.

Mark 13:1-2: As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

I have a quick word to say here about the historicity of Jesus predicting the fall of the Temple. Sometimes, this prediction of Jesus mentioned in Mark 13:1-2, Luke 21:5-6, and Matthew 24:1-2 is used to date the earliest Gospel, the Gospel of Mark, to 70 AD or later. The reasoning goes is that “well, this text mentions the fall of the Temple which took place in during the Jewish-Roman War of 66-73 AD, so that’s when this Gospel and the later ones must have been at least written by”. This argument presupposes Jesus couldn’t have predicted the fall of the Temple (by presupposing He was just human and that’s that), and then uses this to date the Gospels to a specific period when the event took place. In a short note here, I’m simply pointing out that historically, this idea collapses. Jesus did not even need to be divine or a prophet in order to predict the destruction of the Temple, since the Book of Daniel had already prophesied such would happen centuries earlier (also see Daniel 8:9-14 and 12:11).

Daniel 11:31: Forces sent by him shall occupy and profane the temple and fortress. They shall abolish the regular burnt offering and set up the abomination that makes desolate.

This means that Jesus did not need to look anywhere else than the scripture He always quoted from in order to know that the days of the Temple were short. In other words, this argument against the historicity of the destruction of the Temple is untenable. Secondly, Jesus behavior of predicting the destruction of the Temple is consistent with one nearly certain aspect of His historical life: His incident at the Temple. As most people familiar with the Gospels know, Jesus entered into the Temple, overturned the tables and outcried about how it was being corrupted by the authorities, being turned into a place of gambling rather than its purpose and giving glory to God. This event is mentioned in all four Gospels (Mark 11:15-19; Matthew 21:12-16; Luke 19:45-48; John 2:13-22), and is therefore independently used by Mark and John, meaning it predates them both (at least before 70 AD). As the scholar Michael Vicko Zolondek writes, “That Jesus did, in fact, perform some such action in the temple is so widely accepted by scholars that in most works its historicity is hardly discussed for more than a few sentences, if at all” (pg. 135, We Have Found the Messiah, Wipf and Stock 2016). Zolondek explains this in a footnote, where Zolondek summarizes the massive evidence for the event in the same page (fn. 17):

It is plausible; it is likely multiply attested (cf. John 2:13-21); it does not appear to be consistent with post-Easter attitudes toward the temple; and it accounts for Jesus’ arrest with simplicity and ease (for all of this, see Snodgrass, “The Temple Incident,” (435-39). For attempts to deny its historicity, see Mack, Myth of Innocence, 291-2; Seeley, “Jesus Temple’ Act,” 268-83. For Snodgrass’s refutation, which makes ample reference to other scholarly literature also refuting this overly-skeptical view, see “The Temple Incident,” 435-39. For another recent and comprehensive discussion of the incident’s historicity, see Adna, “Jesus and the Temple,” 2638-54.

Therefore, there appears to be good reason to assume that Jesus really did predict the destruction of the Temple, and no comparatively good reason to doubt it.

Have we found the Messiah?

Another important question in the quest for the historical Jesus is the Davidic messianic question, that is to say, whether or not Jesus believed that He was the coming Messiah prophesied in the scriptures of Israel. Christ, though we say the word “Jesus Christ”, was not Jesus’ last name, rather it is a title that derives from the Hebrew word for ‘Messiah’: Mashiach. So, when we say “Jesus Christ“, we also affirm that Jesus is the Messiah, a point central to the teachings of Christianity. So, did the historical Jesus consider Himself the Messiah? This has been the subject of critical debate in academia, and recently I’ve read a monograph titled We Have Found the Messiah: How the Disciples Help us Answer the Davidic Messianic Question (Wipf and Stock 2016) by the scholar Michael Vicko Zolondek that I think not only comes to the right answer but provides an incredible, and new approach in scholarship to answering this question. As Larry Hurtado, a renowned New Testament scholar and textual critic says, “Zolondek succeeds in the improbable objective of making a fresh contribution to studies of ‘the historical Jesus.'” Here, I’ll follow Zolondek’s approach to seeing how we can answer that yes, Jesus considered Himself to be the Davidic Messiah.

Zolondek’s approach is pretty straight forward. In a short, and tightly argued book, Zolondek first 1) reviews previous scholarship on the studies of the Davidic messianic question, namely whether or not Jesus thought of Himself as the Messiah and identifies problems he sees in this research that is problematic, 2) establishes the methodology he will use to answer the question himself, and 3) investigates the ancient records, draws information and finally 4) comes to his conclusion.

Firstly, Zolondek begins reviewing previous literature of scholarship and how they have answered the messianic question themselves. He goes through the work of scholars including Geza Vermes, E.P. Sanders, Marcus Borg, James Charlesworth, Otfried Hofius, James D.G. Dunn, and some others. Most of these scholars have actually concluded that Jesus either did not consider himself to be the Davidic Messiah, or that there is not enough information to draw any conclusions. However, Zolondek demonstrates three problems in this work: it treats Jesus as if he was an individual personality, rather than looking at him in the dynamical context between him and his followers as a ‘group personality’ (since indeed, as anthropological studies have shown, ones self-views are often shaped by the people around you, and for Zolondek that is the understanding of Jesus that the disciples had of him and how they treated him). Secondly, previous scholarship places far too great emphasis on what Jesus personally said and how he exalted himself. Indeed, as Zolondek shows, other messiah figures of the time of Jesus (and the first kings of Israel, including David) never exalted themselves or proclaimed themselves to be the Messiah, rather, they exalted God and were established and proclaimed as the Messiah by their followers. So, we must look elsewhere to answer the Davidic messianic question. Thirdly, scholars unjustly attribute importance to Jesus’ lack of military earthly ambitions. Although other messiah figures of the time had high military ambitions, and there were expectations that the Messiah would have such ambitions (in order to recapture Israel from the Romans and declare God’s eternal kingdom on Earth), this was hardly the only expectation the messiah had. Indeed, as Zolondek shows, the Messiah was a ‘multifaceted’ figure who had many expectations on top of them, of which Jesus could have taken up if He considered Himself to be the Messiah. As Zolondek says and later shows, “There were various other things that one might do or say, apart from or in addition to harboring earthly military ambitions, if one were taking up the Davidic messianic role” (pg. 53).

Having shown flaws in previous scholarship, Zolondek lays out three propositions what I consider to be a valid approach to demonstrating how we can answer whether or not Jesus considered himself to be the Messiah. They are that “(1) that Jesus behaved in a manner which suggested to the disciples that he might be the Davidic Messiah; (2) that he was viewed and treated as the Davidic Messiah by the disciples; and (3) that in the context of this view and treatment, Jesus behaved in a manner consistent with that role” (pg. 138). Zolondek then examines and establishes a number of points about the historical Jesus in good and highly convincing detail, that among other things, Jesus enacted a number of potentially Davidic messianic acts including that he appointed twelve disciples in His ministry (many messianic figures regularly appointed figures that would have been gauranteed important positions in their future kingdoms), his entry into Jerusalem on a donkey (which would have had royal connotations in both the Roman and Jewish context of His day), the confession of Peter in Mark 8:27-30 and in its parallels (where Jesus asks the disciples who they think He is, and Peter eventually says that He thinks Jesus is the Messiah, and Jesus warns Peter and the others not to tell anyone about it), and the request of James and John in Mark 10:35-40 and in its parallels (where James and John go for a power grab by asking Jesus for the highest positions in His future kingdom, demonstrating again that the disciples considered Jesus like a royal and messianic figure). All this information (and more), which Zolondek establishes as plausibly historical, is much more consistent and logical under the framework that Jesus considered Himself to be the Messiah rather than a prophet or simply eschatological figure, especially since the disciples themselves surely understood Jesus to be the Messiah.

Zolondek then asks objectors to the framework that he’s has built some several questions that need to be answered if Jesus really did not consider Himself to be the Messiah in light of the several pieces of historical information about him that can be established, such as: why did the disciples misunderstand who Jesus was? Are modern scholars really in a better position to understand who Jesus was than the disciples themselves? Why didn’t Jesus discourage their misguided views about Him? Finally, to deal another blow to the opposition, Zolondek points out that any serious answer to these questions are necessarily conjecture, and seem to be made in the attempt to explain away data rather than to explain data. Therefore, it is the most historically plausible to conclude that Jesus acted in the Davidic Messiah role, Jesus was a Davidic messianic figure, therefore answering the Davidic messianic question.

 

The Death of Mythicism?

Mythicism is the view that Jesus did not exist (of which I have written about earlier here). To typical mythicist discontent, I will note before I continue that all real historians think Jesus definitely existed and that mythicist theories are thoroughly unconvincing.

“I think the evidence is just so overwhelming that Jesus existed, that it’s silly to talk about him not existing.” -Bart Ehrman, Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“The view [that Jesus didn’t exist] is demonstrably false. It is fuelled by a regrettable form of atheist prejudice, which holds all the main primary sources, and Christian people, in contempt. …. Most of its proponents are also extraordinarily incompetent.” -Maurice Casey, Emeritus Professor at the University of Nottingham

Recently, a lot of fuss has been going on about mythicism, and someone named Jose asked me to write about it, so here I am. I will talk about some recent things going on for mythicism, all of them which are happening to the discontent of mythicists. First of all, I’ve learned that, even though there are no professors in any relevant historical field that don’t think Jesus existed, I have found out that in our time, there actually have been a number of professors in unrelated fields that have thought Jesus didn’t exist. Indeed, in a discussion on Biologos forums, a contributor came up with the full list of professors who have actually concluded Jesus didn’t exist:  George Wells, Robert Price, Michael Martin, Alvar Ellegård, Jerry Coyne, and Jay Raskin. The problem seems to me, as I looked into these names, these advocates are literally dying off. George Wells died this year (not before giving up mythicism after reading the work of James D.G. Dunn), Michael Martin died in 2015, and Alvar Ellegård died in 2008. DM Murdock, another important figure of the mythicist world, also died in 2015. Furthermore, a number of other key figures in the mythicist movement (including Earl Doherty and Thomas Brodie) have simply left the conversation all together, apparently giving up without actually rescinding in their mythicism. To my knowledge, the entire population of important mythicist contributors is now Richard Carrier, Robert Price, Neil Godfrey and Raphael Lataster (I would include David Fitzgerald but he’s lost his mind), effectively meaning mythicism is on its last legs, although its most vocal contributor (Carrier) is still kicking. Robert Price is in terrible health, though, it seems, and he’s in his late 60’s as well. Neither Godfrey nor Lataster have any relevant qualifications to discuss history and they get ignored for the most part.

That’s the first thing to note. Secondly, as it has happened, another major historian of early Christianity has written a number of scathing posts about mythicism on his blog: Larry Hurtado, Emeritus Professor at the University of Edinburgh. His important posts can be found here, here, and here. As an influential voice in New Testament studies, this is another travesty for mythicism, especially considering just how unconvincing Carrier’s responses to Hurtado were. Furthermore, in the most recent issue (15.2-3) of the international Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, the first published engagement of Richard Carrier’s book on the historicity of Jesus was published by Daniel Gullotta (Stanford). I have read this critique, and it is quite devastating in a number of ways to Carrier’s thesis (I’ve read Carrier’s response, and I’ve refuted it here and here). Also, Bart Ehrman recently destroyed Robert Price on a debate about the historical Jesus. The defeat was so bad that I will post the debate so that everyone can have an opportunity to watch it.

In these recent discussions, a number of important developments have arisen to my knowledge. Every single one of them resulted in mythicism becoming more improbable. For the continuation of this discussion, I will note some of them.

To note, Richard Carrier’s arguments are the last legs of mythicism, literally. Every other theory and version of the mythicist paradigm has been refuted. In other words, once he goes down, mythicists will either be sent back to the drawing board or the idea will die altogether. Anyhow, into the ideas.

Carrier is someone who genuinely can’t believe scholars don’t take him seriously much. After a scathingly critical academic review of his book appeared in the journal Relegere by Christina Petterson, Carrier on his blog claimed that it was “highly evangelical” and Petterson is a “fawningly Christian” person. Deane Galbraithe, a scholar and at the time one of the editors of Relegere have responded by pointing out that Petterson … is an atheist. Carrier genuinely cannot believe that scholarship disregards him for the most part. One of Carrier’s theories is that, before Christianity existed, there was an archangel in some Jewish mythology named Jesus. This archangel Jesus, according to Carrier, is what the first Christians believed in, and later Christians historicized this archangel, and there you go, that’s how Christianity as we know it came into being. The problem is, of course, there was no such archangel named Jesus. Carrier’s key text is Philo of Alexandria’s reading of a passage in Zechariah 6. Philo of Alexandria was an ancient Jewish author living in the 1st century AD, a contemporary of Jesus. Zechariah of course is one of the books of the Old Testament. I will produce the passage in full:

Zechariah 6:9-14: The word of the Lord came to me: 10 “Take silver and gold from the exiles Heldai, Tobijah and Jedaiah, who have arrived from Babylon. Go the same day to the house of Josiah son of Zephaniah. 11 Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua [Jesus] son of Jozadak.12 Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. 13 It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two. 14 The crown will be given to Heldai, Tobijah, Jedaiah and Hen son of Zephaniah as a memorial in the temple of the Lord. 15 Those who are far away will come and help to build the temple of the Lord, and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you. This will happen if you diligently obey the Lord your God.”

This passage mentions two different figures. Firstly, Joshua (Hebrew Joshua is the equivalent of English Jesus) son of Jozadak, and secondly, the Branch, or anatole in the Septuagint Greek. Philo says this anatole is rising, is the Son of God, and an archangel, etc. These (Joshua and the anatole) are two different figures in the text as shown by the part I bolded (“And there will be harmony between the two“), however, Carrier claims that Philo thought they were the same person. However, the text clearly has these two as different figures, and Philo never equates the rising archangel anatole with Joshua (Jesus). Thus, Philo doesn’t mention an archangel named Jesus.  Here is the relevant part of Philo’s On the Confusion of Tongues 62-63:

I have also heard of one of the companions of Moses having uttered such a speech as this: “Behold, a man whose name is the East!”{18}{#zec 6:12.} A very novel appellation indeed, if you consider it as spoken of a man who is compounded of body and soul; but if you look upon it as applied to that incorporeal being who in no respect differs from the divine image, you will then agree that the name of the east has been given to him with great felicity. (63) For the Father of the universe has caused him to spring up as the eldest son, whom, in another passage, he calls the firstborn; and he who is thus born, imitating the ways of his father, has formed such and such species, looking to his archetypal patterns.

Very simple, Joshua is never identified with the anatole here (nor does Philo conflate the anatole with Joshua in Confusion of Tongues 145-147). So, Zechariah doesn’t mention an archangel named Jesus, nor does Philo of Alexandria. Therefore, there was no such archangel. Also, as Daniel Gullotta has demonstrated in his published review, there are further damning problems with this thesis. As Gullotta writes;

The most damning argument against Carrier’s claim is that there is no literary or archeological evidence within the entirety of the Mediterranean world and Second Temple period that validates the existence of this pre-Christian celestial Jesus. Scholars have long noted that Second Temple Judaism marks a pivotal shift in how some Jews began to understand angels, and one of these changes is the use of distinctive names when they are addressed or referenced. In surveying references to angels during this time, one of the most common features in the names of angels is the appearance of the element of ‘el’. This survey reveals that the most common angelic characters of this period were named Michael, Gabriel, Sariel/Uriel, and Raphael.54 In other words, a prosopographical analysis of the names of the particular angels known to Jews in the Second Temple period shows that the name Jesus does not conform to the way angelic beings were designated as such. Because the name Jesus is never associated with an angelic figure, nor does the name conform to tropes of celestial beings within Judaism, Carrier’s assertions are unconvincing. (pp. 326-327)

In other words, not only is Joshua different from the anatole in Zechariah, and not only is there no clear evidence that Philo conflated these two, but there are further significant problems with the thesis of this archangel named Jesus ever existing. The problem is, of course, that there isn’t a single strand of archaeological evidence in the entire Mediterranean world mentioning such an archangel named Jesus. Not a single one. Furthermore, the archangels of whom have names that we do know have something distinctive about their names: they contain the theophoric element El, one of the divine names of God from the Old Testament. Jesus does not have this element. Thus, Jesus is unlikely to have been ever used as a name for any archangel. At this point, Carrier tries to resucitate his thesis by appealing to Matthew 1:23 where Jesus is called ‘Emmanuel‘, however this is laughable because 1) this is in the Gospel of Matthew which obviously depicts Jesus as a human and not an angel, and it is never mentioned in a single Pauline epistle, and 2) the name Emmanuel, as Carrier knowns, derives from the prophecy Isaiah 7:14 which also has not a thing to do with angels. So why does he mention it? Finally, Carrier’s thesis is heavily dependent on Paul’s letters showing no knowledge of an earthly Jesus. They do obviously, as everyone but Carrier realizes, but that can be reserved for later discussion. Since Paul is the earliest Christian writer we know, Carrier claims that Paul believed that Jesus was an archangel rather than an earthly human. This is also something Bart Ehrman believes, and he has made this claim in his book How Jesus Became God. To note, Ehrman is not a mythicist — he is the closest thing from a mythicist. Although he makes this claim. Larry Hurtado, whom we have met before, is a major contributor to early christology and has written a scathingly critical review of Ehrman’s book, effectively refuting it. When it comes to this point, Hurtado points at a text from Paul’s letter that unambiguously distinguishes Jesus from any created things, including angels, proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Paul did not think Jesus was an angel.

Romans 8:37-39: No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul tells us that nothing created can separate us from the love of God in our Lord Jesus, including created beings like angels. Thus, they are not the same thing, Paul did not believe Jesus was an angel — Paul thought Jesus was the eternal Son of God and Messiah. Paul also tells us Jesus was a man (ἀνθρώπου) like Adam and Moses were (Romans 5:14-15), so how could he have been an angel? Considering everything we’ve seen, it can be realized that there was no archangel named Jesus prior to Christianity, nor did Paul believe Jesus was an angel, thus sinking another mythicist argument.

 

Jesus’ Subtle Kingdom

Throughout the Gospel accounts, the four Evangelists take us on a story, each of them narrating the ministry of Jesus in a way that reflects how they want a newcomer to the faith to approach the character of Jesus and have His wisdom unravel into our minds and lives, and, hopefully by the end of it, the Evangelist will have convinced us to believe. As John explicitly tells us, “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ” (John 20:31). Each Evangelist takes us on a journey through the wonders and signs of the man they believe is the Christos, Christ.

Many may know that in modern times, there are those who even believe that Jesus never actually claimed to be God in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) and that they explain the divine statements in John by ascribing to the notion that it reflects a later, developed theology as the final Gospel written, so we cannot trust John when he writes to us saying that Jesus said “Before Abraham was, I am” (8:58), “If you have seen me you have seen the Father” (14:7-8), “I and the Father are one” (10:30), etc. However, as I will soon show, even subtle statements in the Synoptic Gospels reveal the high Christology that the Synoptic authors had and that Jesus definitely claimed to be God in a manner just as advanced as John. Indeed, very nicely, over the last 20-25 years a consensus has been emerging in academia that the earliest understanding of the life of Jesus was in fact that Jesus is God, and this came at the very beginning of belief in Jesus, not decades later at the time of John’s Gospel as late as the 90’s  AD. Some of the most influential academics to bring about this emerging consensus include Richard Bauckham, N.T. Wright, Larry Hurtado (who runs a great blog here) and others.

However, before showing statements in the Synoptic Gospels where Jesus’ claim to be God is just as powerful as any of those in John (if not as explicit), we will go even earlier than the Gospels, the letters that Paul began writing in the late 40’s. Paul’s letters predate the Gospel accounts by decades, and may predate John by as much as over 40 years, and yet Paul makes statements about who Jesus was that are on the level of if not exceeding how clearly John makes Jesus to be God. Paul tells us Jesus existed “in the form of God” (Philippians 2:6) and humbled Himself to take on human form so that He may die for our sins and then yet again become exalted, he tells us that Jesus is “God over all” (Romans 9:5), and many other things I have already written about. So, the Christology of John cannot be viewed as a late development but the earliest understanding of Jesus in Christian circles.

In the Synoptics, where so many claim that Jesus never claimed to be God, we find some subtle, yet very very telling things Jesus said about Himself that made it clear to any listener who was paying attention that He was directly claiming to be God. In Luke, Jesus is contiually proclaiming the coming of the “kingdom of God” (Luke 4:43; 9:2, etc etc), however something later changes — in Luke 22:30, Jesus says His disciples will eat at “my kingdom”. In other words, Jesus throughout His ministry tells those who listen that the kingdom of God is coming, but suddenly, Jesus now proclaims that it is His kingdom that is coming. Jesus here, I believe, unambiguously claims to be God.

Then, there’s a double tradition (Q?) in both Luke and Matthew where Jesus says “All things have been entrusted to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son desires to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27/Luke 10:22). Who can claim to have the sole knowledge of God but God Himself, and who can claim that the only way anyone else can know the Father is if He wishes to reveal the Father to them but God alone? Even in Mark, Jesus does things that only God can do, such as forgive the sins of others (Mark 2:1-11) and when the High Priest finally asks Jesus if He was the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One, Jesus reponds “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven” (14:61-62).

I could go more in depth, but for all purposes here, this shows that all four  Evangelists believed Jesus to be God and record that Jesus claimed to be God. As a further reading, I would highly recommend Richard Hays’ Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness. It’s not an easy read, but it’ll be one of the best books you ever read on the subject, and highly convincing as well. Jesus definitely claimed to be God.

Why Historians Know Jesus Was Crucified

Jesus Christ, one of the most influential figures in all of human history, met His end at the hands of the Romans, whom crucified Him. His crime was calling Himself the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One, and He paid dearly for it. Indeed, this is a record of history written by Christians, Jews and pagans alike, and is has been established in the frame of history beyond a reasonable doubt. Indeed, it is a fact, and so I decided to put together exactly why it is universally recognized as one of the most well-established historical facts in all of ancient history, by every single expert on the planet. Indeed, the great historian E.P. Sanders says this;

I shall first offer a list of statements about Jesus that meet two standards: they are almost beyond dispute; and they belong to the framework of his life, and especially of his public career… Jesus was born c 4 BCE near the time of the death of Herod the Great; he spent his childhood and early adult years in Nazareth, a Galilean village; he was baptised by John the Baptist; he called disciples; he taught in the towns, villages and countryside of Galilee (apparently not the cities); he preached ‘the kingdom of God’; about the year 30 he went to Jerusalem for Passover; he created a disturbance in the Temple area; he had a final meal with the disciples; he was arrested and interrogated by Jewish authorities, specifically the high priest; he was executed on the orders of the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate.

E.P. Sanders correctly notes that the crucifixion of Jesus at the hands of Pontius Pilate is virtually beyond dispute, and indeed, this fact is affirmed by all credible historians in the entire field. Therefore, it is important to know why scholars hold this opinion. Here, we will be reviewing the overwhelming historical data and evidences to affirm the veracity of the crucifixion narrative.

The first thing to look at is the gospel narratives, however, we will not yet look at what they say about the historicity of the crucifixion. First, we will examine their reliability.

Indeed, it is now understood in scholarly circles that the four gospels are generally pretty reliable historical sources, and the data that has brought historians to this conclusion is nothing less than overwhelming. The genre that the gospels were written in is ancient biography. Craig Keener, professor of the New Testament thus remarks;

Through most of history, readers understood the Gospels as biographies, but after 1915 scholars tried to find some other classification for them, mainly because these scholars confused ancient and modern biography and noticed that the Gospels differed from the latter. The current trend, however, is again to recognize the Gospels as ancient biographies.

Likewise, Richard Burrige, professor of Biblical Interpretations also remarks;

In recent years, many genres have been proposed for the Gospels, but increasingly they have been again seen as biography. The work of Charles Talbert and David Aune has contributed greatly to this development, while my own work has attempted to give a detailed argument combining literary theory and classical studies with Gospel scholarship

So, why exactly have historians come to this conclusion? This conclusion is based off of a wealth of resources, to say the least, and one especially is the overwhelming historical confirmation of the gospel narratives. Countless figures of the New Testament, especially important ones like Peter, John, and Paul are well attested in historical records, and sometimes themselves wrote. For example, Paul is credited with at least seven epistles bearing his name, including Romans, Galatians, Philemon, Phillipians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, and 1 Thessalonians (and he wrote as many as thirteen). So for example, the historicity of Paul is well beyond dispute, as we have his very writings. Clement of Rome (70-96 AD) tells us about the martyrdom of both Paul and Peter. He says;

Through envy and jealousy, the greatest and most righteous pillars [of the Church] have been persecuted and put to death. Let us set before our eyes the illustrious apostles. Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labours and when he had at length suffered martyrdom, departed to the place of glory due to him. Owing to envy, Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned. After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects. -1 Clement, V

John the Baptist is even thoroughly documented by Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews 18.5.2! Countless other of the early disciples, if not every single one of them, are all historical and well known. The gospels record not only the historical figures of the gospels, but countless other historical figures, including the Roman emperor of the time Tiberius Caesar (Luke 3:1), Lysanius, the tetrarch of the time of Jesus (Luke 3:1), the high priest of the time of Jesus Caiaphas (John 11:49), and countless others. Other cities recorded in the New Testament, such as Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, etc, have all been found confirmed in and before the time of Jesus, despite being small cities. The gospel narratives record that an earthquake erupted during the crucifixion of Jesus (Matthew 27:54). In 2012, a scientific report published to the International Geology Review titled An early first-century earthquake in the Dead Sea confirmed that a major, 6.3 magnitude earthquake took place sometime between 26-36 AD, the exact time of the crucifixion of Jesus. The gospel narratives are overwhelmingly substantiated by countless historical facts, and are simply embedded into historical narratives.

In fact, the author of the Gospel of Luke has even been confirmed to have been a historian! Sir William Ramsay, one of the foremost scholars of his time said “Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy… [he] should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.” To know why historians acknowledge this, one will need to try to look into the overwhelming compilation of historical details confirmed from the smallest aspects of the Gospel of Luke and Book of Acts (both written by the same author) available, and perhaps they can start by reading about 84 confirmed historical details in the last 16 chapters of Acts alone by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek. The Gospel of John, which is traditionally dated to the 90’s AD is so familiar and well versed in the archaeology of Jerusalem before 70 AD, that renowned scholars including James H. Charlesworth have come to the belief that the Gospel of John was originally written before 70 AD, but enlarged into its current form later in the 90’s AD.

This brings us to the first reason why we can consider the crucifixion a historical fact, beyond potential dispute. The story of the crucifixion of Jesus simply emerges from historical reality, it is filled, detail by detail, with confirmed facts and simply woven into historical reality, especially that of the 30’s AD. Let’s see exactly how it does so. The beginning of the crucifixion narrative begins when he is first tried before the authorities of his time, the high priest Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate.

Mark 26:57-58: Those who had arrested Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had convened. Meanwhile, Peter was following Him at a distance right to the high priest’s courtyard. He went in and was sitting with the temple police to see the outcome.

As previously noted, Caiaphas has already been historically confirmed to have been a high priest during the time of Jesus, and he was specifically so in the 30’s AD, not a period later on. Secondly;

Mark 15:2So Pilate asked Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You have said it.”

According to the gospels, Jesus was tried before the procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate. Pontius Pilate has also become a historically established figure, and is known to have reigned over Judea between 26-36 AD. As we’re seeing so far, the crucifixion narrative is immersed in the historical reality of the 30’s AD. Later on, we are told exactly where Jesus was crucified:

Mark 15:22: And they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means Skull Place).

According to the crucifixion narrative of the Gospels, Jesus was crucified in a place called Golgotha. Golgotha has been found in the site where the biblical requirements of its location have been called for, and it was an ancient site of crucifixion. The gospels tell us that Jesus carried His own cross (John 19:17), but it becomes apparent that because of the extreme torture he had undergone before, he was no longer able to carry it, and thus a man named Simon from Cyrene had to carry the cross of Jesus for Him. Nevertheless, we are told by the gospel narratives that Jesus was initially carry His own cross, and it’s a well known Roman method during crucifixion to force the victim to carry his own cross before he is actually crucified. In Plutarch’s Moralia, section 554, he writes “every criminal who goes to execution must carry his own cross on his back” — confirming this practice mentioned in the gospels. The crucifixion narratives write that after the crucifixion, a Jew, likely an admirer of Jesus (Joseph of Arimathea) requested permission from Pontius Pilate to bury the body of Jesus. That Jews were concerned with burying their fellow Jews after their death, even their enemies, is confirmed by the first century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who recounts  “We must furnish fire, water, food to all who ask for them, point out the road, not leave a corpse unburied, show consideration even to declared enemies” (Against Apion II.29). To recount as well, we’ve also previously seen that the gospels record an earthquake during the time of the crucifixion, one that has been confirmed.

In other words, as we can see, the crucifixion narratives document an account that is filled to the brim with historicity, especially history known from the time of the crucifixion of Jesus (c. 30-33 AD). This is important for two reasons. One, ancient fictions do not contain significant historical details, especially when they are talking about events that happened decades earlier — when historical accounts try to create fictions of events that have transpired decades ago, they usually get those details wrong. However, the gospel writers, even though they write decades later, all easily get the right emperor, procurator and high priest of the time. Secondly, if the gospel authors were inventing a fiction, they do not embed historical detail and historical customs into them, especially at a significant scale. However, the complete contrary is to do with the gospel accounts when they speak of the narrative of the crucifixion, they clearly outline the practices of crucifixion that occurred to Jesus, a region where crucifixion actually happened, and Jewish practice that was applied to Jesus after His crucifixion.

The reality is that, because almost every single thing about the crucifixion narrative of Jesus is historical for a fact, the evidence speaks that it is most certainly true that the crucifixion itself was not invented, rather the authors of the gospels were doing nothing more then writing the history as it happened. As we’ve seen earlier, the gospel accounts contain significant historical accuracy, and thus there is not the slightest reason for us to belief that Jesus crucifixion, which is immersed in historical data, was some kind of fiction all of a sudden popping out.

Jesus’ crucifixion is recorded by countless figures. For one, all four gospel narratives record it, and as we’ve seen, the gospels are historically reliable accounts (and again, Luke’s account was written by a historian, because the Gospel of Luke was written by a historian). Matthew and Luke likely have some dependency on Mark, but John is correctly recognized as a completely independent account, therefore we have at least two independent sources from the gospel narratives both confirming the same thing: Jesus was crucified. Secondly, Jesus’ crucifixion was recorded by an even earlier source, Paul. In the Book of Galatians, Chapter 3, Paul records “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?” Paul’s writings were first written in the 50’s AD, and are also independent of the gospel narratives as well, as well as being a very early, and reliable source about the crucifixion of Jesus, especially by a man who lived contemporaneously with Jesus Christ.

The crucifixion of Jesus is also noted in the writings of the historian Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews XVIII.3.3). Although it is popular on the internet to try to claim that historians believe this is a forgery, actual historians have, contrary to these internet myths, concluded that the passage contains nothing more than a partial interpolation, whereas the account of crucifixion is well enough recorded in the original. Secondly, the crucifixion of Jesus is also recorded in the ancient Roman works, especially that of the historian Cornelius Tacitus. In Annals 15.44, Tacitus tells us about a group of people called Christians, whom were persecuted under the Roman emperor Tiberius. Tacitus then tells us that this group originated from a man known as Chrestus (a variant spelling of Christus, or Christ, in the time of Tacitus) had been executed and crucified in the reign of Tiberius, by the procurator Pontius Pilate. Tacitus information came almost certainly, directly from the Roman records themselves, as Tacitus almost certainly had access to them and most of his documented information came from such sources, or similarly reliable sources. Indeed, Tacitus always tells his readers whether or not the information he is recording comes from an unreliable resource, and in the case of Jesus, Tacitus makes no such disclaimer at all.

The execution of Jesus at the least, without precise notion to the crucifying part of this execution, is perhaps also noted by Mara Bar Serapion, who says “What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King?” Mara Bar Serapion is generally thought to have written about 74 AD by scholars, and here, the Jews executing their ‘wise king’ (a well-known mockery title of Jesus by the Romans) most-likely means Jesus Christ Himself.

In other words, we have considerable attestation to the crucifixion of Jesus from sources throughout the New Testament, even ranging to many sources outside of it, be they Jewish (Josephus), Roman (Tacitus), or pagan (Mara Bar Serapion). It seems to have been a universally recognized historical fact from its inception, a detail only possessed by events that happened in the reality of history. Most events we know of ancient history are usually based on one account, but historians are usually very happy when they have two ancient accounts of an event. But of course, most are based on one. However, the accounts we have for the crucifixion of Jesus exceed much, much more than just two. Therefore, this is indeed one of the reasons why historians consider it one of the indisputable facts of history, right up there with events such as the Bar Kokhba Revolt, the reign of emperor Constantine and the expansion of the Egyptian empire that was undergone during the reign of the king of Egypt, Rameses II. In other words, as E.P. Sanders notes, indisputable.

We are not done, though. Another major reason for why we know that the crucifixion of Jesus happened was recounted by Bart Ehrman in his debate with the insane mythicist Robert Price, where Price was understandably demolished and most of the time hadn’t a clue what he was talking about. Ehrman revealed an overwhelming fact: That the crucifixion of Jesus would never have been invented, had it not happened in reality. For decades, centuries after the crucifixion of Jesus, many Jews mocked the Christians for believing in a man that had been crucified. The writer Lucian of Samosta, who wrote somewhere between 165-175 AD was a well-known mocker of the Christians, calling Jesus a “crucified sage”. That Jesus, whom was thought to be quite literally God to the Christians, was crucified couldn’t even have comprehensibly have been made up. Indeed, a truly mythical account would have claimed that, rather than being killed, Jesus was actually caught up into heaven and escaped death by the Romans (such as the Islamic account of the life of Jesus). Indeed, the Christians believed Jesus was the Messiah of the Old Testament, and according to contemporary Jewish thought of the 1st century AD, the Messiah would have come as a king on Earth who was going to destroy the Roman allegiance, and establish an eternal Jewish kingdom based in Jerusalem. This never happened with Jesus, Jesus was instead crucified. No Jew would have possibly made this up about their own Messiah. It was humiliating, and that was the way it was meant to be: Crucifixion was invented to humiliate the person being killed. Jesus was crucified. And that is the humble fact of Christianity.

Was Jesus’ Body Stolen from the Tomb?

Jesus Christ was crucified by the Romans, under the reign of the Pontius Pilate, the fifth prefect of Judea. Shortly thereafter, Joseph of Arimathea acquired permission from Pilate that he would be able to take down the dead body of Jesus from the cross, and bury it. And so Joseph did. Several days later, the tomb of Jesus was discovered to be empty by a group of Jesus’ women followers, including well-known women in the New Testament such as Mary Magdalene, a women whom Jesus cast out seven demons from. Indeed, nowadays, a substantial majority of historians accept the historicity of the empty tomb. Indeed, after conducting an analysis on the recent trends of New Testament scholarship in Resurrection research, the eminent scholar Gary Habermas notes the following;

…while far from being unanimously held by critical scholars, it may surprise some that those who embrace the empty tomb as a historical fact still comprise a fairly strong majority.

This is not surprising, of course. There is overwhelming historical evidence for the empty tomb. So, we shall now go in and refute a rather popular hypothesis, the hypothesis that the body of Jesus was stolen from the its burial tomb, or purposefully removed from its burial place by some person. This claim is put forth in order to explain away the historicity of the empty tomb without invoking the historical Resurrection of Jesus.

Indeed, what can we say about this claim? Aside from there being zero explicit historical evidence to support such a notion, there is strong evidence from history to show that this would not have possibly happened, and that comes from an artifact known as the Nazareth Inscription. It likely dates to either the reign of Julius Caesar, or perhaps Augustus — at about 30 BC – 30 AD. This is what it says:

EDICT OF CAESAR

It is my decision [concerning] graves and tombs—whoever has made them for the religious observances of parents, or children, or household members—that these remain undisturbed forever. But if anyone legally charges that another person has destroyed, or has in any manner extracted those who have been buried, or has moved with wicked intent those who have been buried to other places, committing a crime against them, or has moved sepulcher-sealing stones, against such a person I order that a judicial tribunal be created, just as [is done] concerning the gods in human religious observances, even more so will it be obligatory to treat with honor those who have been entombed. You are absolutely not to allow anyone to move [those who have been entombed]. But if [someone does], I wish that [violator] to suffer capital punishment under the title of tomb-breaker.

Image result for caesar augustus nazareth inscription

According to the Nazareth Inscription, not only did 1) destroying the body in a tomb 2) removing a body from a tomb or 3) moving a body from a tomb to another location become illegal, but if someone is charged with doing such a thing, they would face capital punishment, i.e. execution. Indeed, this means that in the time of the death of Jesus, it was illegal to steal the body of Jesus and doing so would result in a sentencing of death. This highly removes the probability that anyone would even think of intentionally ceasing Jesus’ dead body from its tomb, especially the disciples themselves. The last thing a disciple of Jesus would do after being devastated by Jesus’ crucifixion, is steal His body and risk death.

Secondly, we must also consider that there is also no motivation for any person to actually steal the body in the first place, and so historically speaking, there is absolutely no warrant for suggesting this hypothesis in the first place. Thirdly, no scholar actually thinks that the body of Jesus was stolen from the tomb, and fourthly, the Gospel of Matthew entails that there existed a guard at the tomb of Jesus in the morning after the burial specifically so it would not be stolen (Matthew 27:62). So it seems to me that the historical evidence is quite overall weighty to establish that indeed, the body of Jesus was not stolen from the tomb. Therefore, Christians can be very happy and comfortable in taking up the position that the empty tomb is not due to some tomb-breaker or grave-bandit, but rather due to the physical Resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Isaiah 53 Confirms Christianity

Christianity, the worlds greatest religion. Not only is the Christian faith more widespread then all other religious beliefs that have existed throughout history, but it is also the one true religion as well. Much confirmation has come to Christianity, especially from history and archaeology. Indeed, I’ve done a number of posts on the archaeological and historical confirmation of the Bible (see here and here for some examples). But one of the more well-known forms of complete confirmation of the proposition of Christianity and the Lord Jesus are biblical prophecies.

Biblical prophecies are what God foretells in the books of the Bible. And indeed, God declares to us that He tells the end from the beginning.

[Isaiah 46:10] Remember what happened long ago, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and no one is like Me. I declare the end from the beginning, and from long ago what is not yet done, saying: My plan will take place, and I will do all My will.

I believe the greatest prophecy in the entire Old Testament is a prophecy from the Book of Isaiah. This prophecy is the prophecy of Isaiah 53, the suffering servant prophecy. Contrary to popular thought, scholars agree the prophecy actually starts in Isaiah 52:13, not Isaiah 53:1 (but I will refer to the entire thing as Isaiah 53 later on). Considering that, we shall now quote the passage and behold one of God’s ultimate confirmations of Christianity through Jesus. A long prophecy, just to warn you.


[Isaiah 52:13-Isaiah 53:12] See, My Servant will act wisely; He will be raised and lifted up and greatly exalted. Just as many were appalled at You—His appearance was so disfigured that He did not look like a man, and His form did not resemble a human being—
so He will sprinkle many nations. Kings will shut their mouths because of Him, For they will see what had not been told them, and they will understand what they had not heard. Who has believed what we have heard? And who has the arm of the Lord been revealed to? He grew up before Him like a young plant and like a root out of dry ground. He didn’t have an impressive form or majesty that we should look at Him, no appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. He was like someone people turned away from; He was despised, and we didn’t value Him. Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses, and He carried our pains; but we in turn regarded Him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds. We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished Him for the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep silent before her shearers, He did not open His mouth. He was taken away because of oppression and judgment; and who considered His fate? For He was cut off from the land of the living; He was struck because of my people’s rebellion. They made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man at His death, although He had done no violence and had not spoken deceitfully. Yet the Lord was pleased to crush Him severely. When You make Him a restitution offering, He will see His seed, He will prolong His days, and by His hand, the Lord’s pleasure will be accomplished. He will see it out of His anguish, and He will be satisfied with His knowledge. My righteous Servant will justify many, and He will carry their iniquities. Therefore I will give Him the many as a portion, and He will receive the mighty as spoil, because He submitted Himself to death, and was counted among the rebels; yet He bore the sin of many and interceded for the rebels.


Indeed, a miraculous prophecy written more than half a millennium before Jesus was born. The Book of Isaiah foretells many things about Jesus.

  1. This prophecy predicts Jesus will be rejected by man, Isaiah 53:3 says “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was.”
  2. This prophecy predicts the crucifixion of Jesus, Isaiah 53:5 says “But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities;” (another prophecy that speak of Jesus’ crucifixion is Psalm 22:16)
  3. This prophecy predicts that Jesus will be oppressed and detained, Isaiah 53:7 says “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth.”
  4. This prophecy predicts Jesus will be buried by a rich man (whom we know as Joseph of Arimathea), Isaiah 53:9 says “They made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man at His death,”
  5. This prophecy predicts Jesus will be sinless in His life, Isaiah 53:9 also says “although He had done no violence and had not spoken deceitfully.”
  6. This prophecy predicts Jesus will be considered a criminal, Isaiah 53:12 says “because He submitted Himself to death, and was counted among the rebels;”
  7. This prophecy predicts Jesus will die for our sins, Isaiah 53:12 also says “yet He bore the sin of many and interceded for the rebels.”

There is absolutely not a figment of doubt that the Isaiah 53 prophecy miraculously references to Jesus hundreds of years before Jesus was born. The false prophecies of Nostradamus are inconceivable vague, but the words of Isaiah are so unimaginably specific and clear that they speak of Jesus, that no other man in the history of humanity fulfilled such prophecy.

And in fact, to prove this refers to Jesus by anyone’s conception, there is a popular video I found by PuritanPictures where a Christian finds a random Atheist, reads the Isaiah 53 prophecy without telling him that it predates the life of Jesus, asks him who it is talking about, and he answers that it speaks of Jesus! I will post this video on the bottom of this post.

Indeed, and here is a video of random Jews in Israel even being convinced that this speaks of Jesus!

This removes any doubt about the miraculous nature of this prophecy. Some of the disbelievers wish to challenge this, however, and luckily for me there are no logical responses to this prophecy. So, I will now rebuke and rebut all the weak claims against it and its nature. If you go around, these are the objections you will hear.

  • Isaiah 53 was actually written after Jesus
  • Isaiah 53 was never meant as a Messianic prophecy until after Jesus came
  • Isaiah 53 is actually talking about Israel, not Jesus (???)
  • Isaiah 53 can’t be talking about Jesus because it contradicts Jesus
  • Isaiah 53 is written in past-tense, and so couldn’t have been a prediction of Jesus

Let’s address all of them now.


Some people, believe it or not, actually conceive that the Book of Isaiah was not written until after Jesus lived. This is false, though. The Book of Isaiah was actually composed in the late 8th century BC, perhaps between 730 – 701 BC. There are numerous historical synchronisms in the Book of Isaiah to this period of time, which removes all doubt as to when it was written. For example, in Isaiah 7:1, the Book of Isaiah speaks that it is recording events contemporaneously to the reign of King Ahaz. King Ahaz is an ancient king whom we now know existed, and died at about 715 BC. We have found the personal seal of King Ahaz. It dates to the 8th century BC.

Ahaz's seal from the Shlomo Moussaieff Collection, London

Furthermore, Tiglath-Pileser III, an Assyrian king, also mentions King Ahaz in his annals, and Tiglath-Pileser III reigned between 745-727 BC. So we have a very good reconstruction of when King Ahaz lived, and therefore when the events of Isaiah were first written. Furthermore, in 2015, the Israeli archaeologist Eilat Mazar discovered the royal bulla of King Hezekiah, the son of King Ahaz, which reads “Belonging to Hezekiah [son of] Ahaz king of Judah”, and dates to between 727 – 698 BC. Finally, the oldest full manuscript of the entire Book of Isaiah is known as the Great Isaiah Scroll, which dates to about 150 BC, more then a century before the birth of Jesus. And it contains Isaiah 53. We have an actual manuscript of this prophecy that was penned more then a century before Jesus was even born. So in other words, we know with certainty that this prophecy does in fact predate Jesus. What about the next objection?

As explained earlier, there are some people who posit that Isaiah 53 was never actually believed to be a Messianic Prophecy before Jesus came, and was just twisted by later Christians into such a thing in order to figment a prophecy of Jesus as being the Messiah. This of course, is historically inaccurate. The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) have established that Isaiah 53 was believed to be about the Messiah before Jesus was born. We have already spoken of the Great Isaiah Scroll, which is part of the DSS and dates to about 150 BC (before Jesus was born). Here is an image of the text of Isaiah 53 found in the Great Isaiah Scroll.

Here is a very fine explanation I found to explain the highlighted part of this text.

52:14 includes an obscure hapax legomena מִשְׁחַת that appears in 1QIsaa as משׁחתי which pointed would be מְשַׁחְתִּי məšaḥtî, “I anointed”. This, in conjunction with the added definite article on ʾadam, results in a text which Hengel translates: “I have anointed his appearance beyond that of any (other) man, and his form beyond that of the sons of humanity [the human]”. This has other textual overtones bringing the passage into an explicit connection with “anointing”.

The word Messiah is Hebrew for “the anointed one”, and so the concept of the Messiah was an anointed figure by God, and this view of the Messiah has been implemented into the Great Isaiah Scroll manuscript of Isaiah 53. In other words, manuscripts of Isaiah 53 that exist before Jesus was born contain Messianic overtones, therefore abundantly establishing that Isaiah 53 was regarded as Messianic prophecy before the lifetime of Jesus. This in fact helps further establish Jesus as the fulfiller of this prophecy.

Therefore, we shall now address the third, and perhaps strangest objection of them all. Indeed, some proclaim that this prophecy speaks not of Jesus, but is actually a text about Israel!

This is how the modern rabbi’s and modern Jewish teachers will explain away the Old Testaments references to Jesus. This explanation was also only invented for the sole purpose of combating the claims of Christians, and has no legitimacy. For example, Isaiah 52:14 literally says the servant is a human being, and that this human was beaten so badly (Roman whipping of Jesus?) that his face was disfigured and he no longer even resembled a human being afterwards. In other words, because the prophecy speaks of a human being, it couldn’t possibly be about Israel, which is a country. Isaiah 53:9 says “He had done no violence”, which could not possibly apply to Israel, because Israel’s history is filled with violence and war with the Canaanite’s and Philistine’s. Indeed, Isaiah 53:12 says “because He submitted Himself to death” — someone is going to need to explain how the geographical region of Israel exactly died if they want this to apply to Israel! This should establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Isaiah 53 has nothing to do with Israel. For a compilation of several more reasons as to why Isaiah 53 has nothing to do with Israel (such as the use of pronouns in Isaiah 53), read this very concisely written article listing ten full reasons. Indeed, we should take a look at the simpler explanation, and conclude it can only be talking about the Jesus. An important thing for modern Jews to consider is that all the ancient Jews and rabbi’s believed that Isaiah 53 was talking about the Messiah as well, which is very important to consider. The concept of this applying to Israel is a modern day invention that is incompatible with the text.

For the next objection, we have people who don’t think Isaiah 53 lines up with Jesus. They go to painful lengths to try to find discrepancies between Isaiah 53 and Jesus. Here are just a few of them, with rebuttals included.

  • Isaiah 53:3 says “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.” — but Jesus was not rejected, he had so many followers! Although he did have followers, he was obviously rejected. He had an entire crowd of Jews at his trial with Pontius Pilate demanding he be put to death, not to mention the very fact that he was put to death which seriously proves he was rejected.
  • Isaiah 53:7 says “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep silent before her shearers, He did not open His mouth.” — but Jesus spoke during the trial with Pontius Pilate (John 18:34-19:11)! This is a strange objection considering Isaiah 53:7 is talking about the actual whipping, beating and crucifixion of Jesus, not the trial that had occurred beforehand.
  • Isaiah 53:10 says “He will see His seed, He will prolong His days,” — this verse says Jesus would have descendants and children, but He didn’t! This verse actually does not say Jesus would have any actual children of His own, this is clearly speaking of His spiritual progeny. Galatians 3:26 tells us in Christ we are all children of God.

Isaiah 53 is so clearly talking about Jesus that it is slightly funny to see people trying to find discrepancies between the accounts.

Lastly, there are those people who claim Isaiah 53 is written in past tense, and therefore is not referring to events in the future, such as the acts of Jesus. Actually, it contains both past-tense and future-tense elements, showing that all uses of past/present/future tense are obviously literary. Some cases of future tense in Isaiah 52:13-53:12 includes the following phrases;

  • He will be raised and lifted up and greatly exalted (Is. 52:14)
  • so He will sprinkle many nations. Kings will shut their mouths because of Him, For they will see what had not been told them, and they will understand what they had not heard (Is. 52:15)
  • Therefore I will give Him the many as a portion, and He will receive the mighty as spoil, because He submitted Himself to death, and was counted among the rebels; yet He bore the sin of many and interceded for the rebels (Is. 53:12)


There is only one logical conclusion, and that is the Isaiah 53 miraculously foretells of our Lord Jesus Christ. It speaks of a man who will be crushed for our iniquities, of a man who will die for our sins and bear our transgressions. It speaks of a man who will be considered a criminal and submit to death for us and to save us, and by His wounds we are healed and forgiven of our sins. It tells us this man will be pierced, clearly speaking of the coming crucifixion of Jesus, the cross Jesus was nailed and pierced into. This prophecy predated Jesus by centuries and was considered a Messianic prophecy from the start, and that it speaks of Jesus is undeniable. This prophecy proves Christianity is true. God gives us no excuse not to believe once we have seen and been given the evidence, and when Jesus knocks on our door, He awaits our answer. We must repent, and accept salvation which is the gift of God, something we are given and do not earn. And evidence did God give for our faith.

[Isaiah 53:5] But he was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.

James, the Lord’s brother and Mythicism

Jesus is the worlds most influential man to ever live. Indeed, His message and teachings have become greatly widespread and have won over billions of followers, and in fact, the religion Jesus brought forth now comprises the largest religious worldview on Earth, He is beloved of His followers and even those who don’t believe respect Him. Historians are also interested in Him, and many through their analysis and study of His life have come to the belief that He is God and the prophesied Messiah of the Old Testament (such as Rodney Stark, a world renowned Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington who went on to produce the most comprehensive account of the rise of Christianity in the early centuries of the Roman Empire). Thousands of scholarly works have been published on Jesus, and the historicity of early Christianity and the New Testament. But of course, the mythicists won’t be having any of this.

Mythicists are people who don’t believe Jesus ever existed. To no ones surprise (except for, apparently, mythicists themselves), mythicism being universally rejected by historians on historical grounds. One of the biggest problems for mythicists is the fact that we have people who knew the family of Jesus, which is inexplicable if He didn’t exist — namely, Paul. He says to us in Galatians;

Galatians 1:19: but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother.

Paul, as an early Church leader (who was later killed for the faith) knew quite a lot of acquaintances of Jesus, and he tells us a verse earlier that he had first met Cephas (Peter) before seeing James (watch this hilarious clip where Bart Ehrman slaps around some mythicist radio show host on exactly this point). So, what’s the point of all this about mythicism being false because people like Paul knew the very family of Jesus like His brother James?

Well, in order to get around reality, some mythicists like to completely re-interpret entire passages in order to explain away facts and information that entirely invalidates their position, such as the aforementioned passage in Paul’s epistle Galatians. So, they will say here that when Paul calls James the “brother of the Lord”, he means brother in a spiritual sense, not a brotherly sense. On its face, this response may sound actually coherent, but someone who starts to dig just a little bit realizes why this claim is atrociously false in perhaps every potential manner. So, for this post, we’re going to go over several reasons why we know James was the actual brother of Jesus. When we say brother, that is to say that Mary had not only Jesus, but several other kids — and James was one of them. Mary would have had these children with Joseph, whom the Bible tells us was the husband of Mary. Indeed, the Bible tells us Mary had many children (Jesus was the first).

One thing to point out is that the context of the Galatians quote above allows us to understand that a spiritual brother interpretation of this passage is not valid at all. We shall now take a look at the context.

Galatians 1:18-19: Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; 19 but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother.

Paul is clarifying to us the distinctive position and title that James held (the “Lord’s brother) by contrasting him with Peter, and thus Paul’s statement that James was the “brother of the Lord” cannot bear an interpretation that this was meant in some spiritual brotherly sense, because Peter in this passage was also a spiritual brother, yet was contrasted with James who was an actual brother. When confronted with this, mythicists claim that Paul was actually distinguishing Cephas, an apostle, from James, a mere “brother of the Lord”. In other words, they claim that the title “brother of the Lord” signified a simple rank-and-file Christian, and Paul used this title to contrast with Cephas, who was an apostle, just as we would distinguish between the Pope and a “Christian”. Richard Carrier (a mythicist) claims he’s distinguishing apostolic from non-apostolic Christians. However, a closer reading of Galatians rules out this hypothesis. Doesn’t Paul, right there in Galatians 1:19, call James an apostle?

Galatians 1:19: but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother.

Carrier never addresses this translation, which is preferred by the majority of Greek experts (which is easily demonstrated by a reference to all the alternate translations of this verse compiled on BibleHub). Why doesn’t he demonstrate this is an invalid translation? He doesn’t, he simply assumes his translation. Which is dishonest. It’s clear that Carrier’s entire thesis, literally all of mythicism hinges on this one, slightly particular translation of a single verse in all of Paul’s letters. Historicity doesn’t. And if all that wasn’t troubling enough, John P. Meier in pp. 639-642 of his paper The Circle of the Twelve: Did it Exist During Jesus’ Public Ministry? (JBL 1997) has demonstrated the great ambiguity of the use of the word ‘apostle’ in the New Testament as well as in the letters of Paul. Paul constantly refers to himself as an apostle (Gal 1:1; 1 Cor 9:1-2; 2 Cor 1:1; Romans 1:1, etc). In Romans 16:7, Paul mentions two obscure (that is to say we know almost nothing about them) Christians named Andronicus and Junia/Julia (a woman), and he says they are both apostles. In some of these verses in Paul, being an apostle equivocally means a Christian who goes out to preach to unbelievers (Gal 2:8, Rom 1:5, etc), rather than Carrier’s contrived unstated definition that only applies to the most powerful Christians in the church (in order so that it can’t apply to a “rank-and-file” Christian like James), which he never explains nor defends. At all. Meier states “What is beyond doubt is that in the first Christian decades “apostle” had a range of meanings that extended far beyond the twelve” (pg. 640). This throws Carrier’s entire thesis of Galatians 1:18-19 distinguishing between “apostolic and non-apostolic Christians” into a sprawling chaos, and there is not a single instance in Paul’s letters where the word ‘apostle’ means what Carrier apparently thinks it means. The horse is dead. But there is one thing I love doing — and that is beating the dead horse (not literally! I promise.. I mean spiritually!)

Mark 6:3: Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

The Gospel of Mark (also see Matthew 13:55-56, likely dependent on Mark here, and Acts 1:14) gives us an understanding of the family of Jesus, which included four sons apart from Jesus and several sisters. That means that Jesus did, in fact, have actual brothers and sisters that existed within a physical sense. So the Bible makes it very clear that James was the brother of the Lord in a biological manner. There is more evidence as well, though. One 1st-century historian of Palestine named Josephus tells us something very interesting — a confirmation that is very important that simply cannot be ignored. Josephus’ wrote a work called the Antiquities of the Jews, and in it, he writes this:

…Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim 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 them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king, desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrim without his consent… [Emphasis added.]

To read the full Josephan passage, click here. Carrier has tried to argue that the phrase “who was called Christ” in Josephus part is an interpolation, but this ridiculous claim has been refuted at length by Tim O’Neill and is not taken seriously by real historians of Josephus anyways, it’s obviously one of Carrier’s confections to explain away a rather awkward detail in the historical record. It’s obvious that Carrier confected this contrived thesis to try to do away with an otherwise uncontroversial mention of Jesus by a first century historian. Anyways, what is made apparent is that the early historian Josephus tells us that Jesus had a brother who was named James. What Josephus tells us makes it incontestable that the spiritual interpretation of James in Galatians 1:19 is a crashing attempt at history. The James Ossuary should also receive mention.

It dates to 70 AD at the very latest and contains an Aramaic inscription that says “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”. This inscription was authenticated by two world-class paleographers named André Lemaire from the Paris-Sorbonne University and Ada Yardeni of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and Norman Geisler summed up the data on this inscription very nicely for us all. This is likely a genuine artifact. Only 1.71 people at the time would have been named James with a father named Joseph and a brother named Jesus, as well as the fact that ossuaries almost never mention the person’s brother unless that figure were prominent — making it almost doubtless that this is referring to the biblical James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus. This inscription tells us that James was an actual brother of Jesus, and we know this because we are also told in the inscription that his father is Joseph, so this is talking about family. This shows James was the brother of Jesus, not a regular follower and Paul knew him.

All of this evidence collectively demonstrates (even without reference to the James Ossuary) that during the 1st century, the Christian community widely recognized James as a kinsmen of Jesus, and so one must posit a complete discontinuity between Paul’s letters (all written throughout the period of 45-65 AD) and Mark’s Gospel (which was written in 70 AD, only a few years after Paul’s last epistle, and it can be added that Mark was definitely alive when Paul was writing his letters) regarding the matter of James’ identity to maintain that they were not working from the same, widespread 1st century belief of Jesus having a brother named James. Positing such a discontinuity is already strained, but it gets worst.

More importantly, is highly difficult to explain the prominence of James in the early church if he was anything but the brother of Jesus. As Daniel Gullotta, a scholar from Stanford writes, “More problematic for Carrier’s reading is James’ ongoing influence within the early church and the legacy of James’ authority within the developing early Christian tradition” (pp. 335-6, On Richard Carrier’s Doubts JSHJ 15.2-3). According to Paul, James was powerful enough to have people representing him all the way in Antioch (Galatians 2:12) and he was considered one of the three “pillars” of the early church, alongside Peter and John (Galatians 2:9), two disciples of Jesus, and he was even given distinction across “the 500” who saw Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:3-7). How could he have been recognized so much if he was anything but Jesus’ brother? We know that his Christophany was rather late from the creed in 1 Corinthians 15 and he was never among or reputed to be among the disciples of Jesus. How could an otherwise irrelevant, common “brother of the Lord” be so distinguished in the early church? Clearly, this fact about the early church is best explained by the thesis that James was the Lord’s brother as Paul says, something that is attested to in all our evidence. Carrier explains James’ prominence by positing that “James the brother of the Lord” in Galatians 1 is distinct from the pillar James in Galatians 2 (as well as in his weak response to Gullotta), and that the James of Galatians 2 is actually James the brother of John who is mentioned in the Gospels, and thus the pillar trio in Galatians 2 matches the trio of disciples in the Gospels! An impossibility once we realize that Paul mentions two people named “Cephas” and “James” alongside each other in Galatians 1:18-19, and then also names two people named Cephas and James alongside each other in Galatians 2:9 while discussing the same topic. The fact that the same two figures are mentioned alongisde each other in both times on the same topic is incredible evidence that the natural reading of the text is correct, the fact that the ‘James’ never changes. As Craig Evans also pointed out to Carrier in their debate that, James the brother of John was already dead at this point anyways according to Acts. Nevermind! says Carrier, Acts is unreliable. But isn’t it a coincidence that what Acts mentions perfectly fits the natural reading of the text, where James is actually the brother of Jesus? This is clearly the best evidenced, most natural reading of the text, ruling out Carrier’s wishful alternative taken seriously by no more than a few others, and it explains everything. Gullotta summarizes:

Additionally, Carrier’s argument fails to justify why early and widely circulated Christian tradition maintained that Jesus had siblings, one of whom was named James. When the evidence for James is considered all together—Paul’s reference to James as ‘the brother of the Lord’, the level of authority he commanded within the Jerusalem church, his distinction from the twelve, the apostles, and the other brethren to whom Christ appeared, as well as the well established tradition that James was Jesus’ brother—it renders Carrier’s interpretation inadequate. Given the sources, the most logical explanation is that James was the brother of Jesus and that this familial connection permitted him great status and influence within the early church. (pg. 336)

A great thanks to the historian Ehrman for first bringing me to the knowledge of what Paul has to say about this. I also got to go over two very early historical records talking about the life of Jesus, being the first-century Jewish historian Josephus and a remarkably early inscription on an old box, so we truly can have no doubts or issues regarding the historicity of Jesus. Even Carrier admits that this passage is better explained on the fact that Jesus existed, and so he assigns only a 2:1 probability of it favoring historicity. In my reckoning, since every mythicist explanation here is hopelessly riddled with problems, interpretation and translation peculiarities, a better rendering of the probability would be 20:1 (of course Carrier can’t have that since it would throw his Bayesian mess into oblivion). I will go into greater lengths regarding the documentation of the historicity of Jesus in future posts — but this should be good for now! Blessings to all readers.

UPDATE: Carrier’s (and other mythicists) convoluted arguments and beliefs regarding James, the brother of Jesus, has now received another blazing blow by Tim O’Neill in an article that clearly surpasses even this one. This response is so powerful that I have not seen a better disassembly of a thesis as contrived as Carrier’s.


 

personal notes: refutations: Larry Hurtado 1, Hurtado 2, Hurtado 3, Hurtado 4, Hurtado 5, Hurtado 6Ehrman 1, Ehrman 2, Ehrman 3, Petterson (academic review), O’Neill 1, O’Neill 2, Ehrman-Price debateRÖnnblom 1, McGrath 1, McGrath 2 (academic quote)Tucker 1, Gullotta 1, Carrier’s bibliography, Carrier’s flawed interpretation of Philo, Carrier addresses O’Neill, O’Neill once again destroys Carrier