Following on from the correspondence that has been published in this paper about the role of religion in the newspaper, I think it would be a good idea to clarify some of the inaccurate ideas about Christianity and its Founder, to remove some of the misunderstandings which exist in the public consciousness.
Just as the idea has continued to be believed, that people used to think the world was flat, so there are so many myths floating about concerning Christianity. I raise this mainly out of a desire that people should be able to make informed decisions about something as important as whether there is a God, a life after this, why we’re here, and what answers are there to life’s heaviest questions. And to make an informed decision, people need to be informed, not prey to outdated and untrue myths and misrepresentations.
The main myths still generally believed include the following. I must emphasise that these are all incorrect, inaccurate, not grounded in reality – in short, wrong. The first is the claim that Jesus of Nazareth never really lived in history, and that there is no historical evidence that he did. Following on from that is the belief that the records we have of him in the New Testament were compiled many decades after his supposed death and resurrection, and can therefore be consigned to the category of hearsay, rumour and myth.
At the core of Christianity, the one thing upon which hangs the truth or not of everything else, is the Resurrection of Jesus. If this was not a true event in time-space history, then, as Paul says:
“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” [1 Corinthians 15.13-19]
That is pretty definite, isn’t it? If Paul was not completely convinced of the Resurrection, he would have had no need to live the life he did. These myths can be considered one by one in the coming weeks. For now, it’s important to know that there are many more references to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus than just the New Testament writings. But those writings should be taken seriously, as they, in fact, are by secular historians of the ancient world. The New Testament is a collection of twenty-seven short pieces, made up mostly of letters written to Christian groups around the Mediterranean and Asia Minor. These consist of thirteen which were written by Paul, three probably by John, two by Peter, and one each by James, brother of Jesus, and Jude, who calls himself the brother of James. One, addressed to the Hebrews, is anonymous, and various theories have been put forward as to who the author may have been.
The other five books, as they are called, consist of the four Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles. This was written by Luke, as a sequel to the Gospel he authored. He is an important figure in this matter, for reasons which will become clear later. The other three Gospels are named for Matthew, Mark, and John.
In the Nineteenth Century, scholars at Tübingen in Germany, believed that these documents dated from long after the events they record, and this school of thought had a widespread influence for decades. It still seems to inform the mistaken belief that the records cannot be trusted, since they were written so long after the event. However, this idea has been largely discredited, and there is more than enough evidence within the texts, as well as in documents outside the New Testament, that all of the New Testament was completed by around 70 A.D., or within forty years of the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This evidence will be examined next time.
In addition to the dating evidence, one of the great advantages New Testament study has over other ancient literature is that there is simply so many manuscript sources and references, far beyond what we have for contemporary and even later works. This is accepted by scholars and experts generally, although those opposed to “religion”, or Christianity specifically, still preach the outdated and discredited theories of Tübingen. But we need to get into the details and the evidence, and that will come next.