Viewing wacky fundamentalist and creationist social media is great fun and the source of many a cheap laugh. And so we have Jesus riding a dinosaur and the 15th century Bishop of Carlisle having a pet dinosaur.
However some atheists, especially of the village
idiot atheist type are just as risible, as is the clever clogs who posted the tweet above. Along with its incoherence its shows really profound ignorance of the history and the claims of the Christian church.
By stating that “Jesus doesn’t exist” I assume he means that there was no Jesus who lived in Palestine at the same time Augustus was Emperor, rather than implying Jesus never rose so he may have existed once but now no longer! I’ll leave the latter as the resurrection is irrelevant if Jesus didn’t live on this planet for thirty odd years.
Few historians reject the existence of Jesus and one of the few is Richard Carrier an American. Almost all conclude that the was a Galilean wandering God-botherer who ended up being crucified. One of the most thorough works is Geza Vermes , formerly professor of Jewish Studies at Oxford. Rowan Williams thought his Christian Beginnings “a beautiful and magisterial book”. Vermes has a very historical Jesus but rejects “the deifying message Paul, John and the church attributed to him”. The decisions of the council of Nicaea were an even bigger mistake.
Though he is highly erudite, Vermes argues that the human and divine saviour that is Jesus Christ is simply a mistake and that for 2000 years us Christians have got it wrong, though, perhaps he would argue, the Unitarians were closer to the historical Jesus. Vermes’ Jesus does not save.
Whatever wording you may prefer, the essence o Christianity is that
Jesus came to save
Despite Vermes’ erudition that is the claim of the New Testament , the early church up to Nicaea in 325 and right up to the present day, though there have been various departures like Servetus and the Unitarians, but these struggle to take over!
Most of the imagery of the New Testament are to stress that Jesus “came to save”. (That term “came to save” is often off-putting owing to its over-use by more fundamentalist Christians.) Those who collect Messianic labels like stamps can claim there a four hundred. The dominant one (ones) came to be ;
son of God
In the context of the early first century – the time of the Twelve Caesars, this can be seen as a sideswipe, or implicit rebellion, to the emperor who was often known by the exact same words, whether in Greek or Latin. So the Christians were say that the emperor was not the Son of god and not divine , nor a saviour, nor Lord, but the Galilean jobbing contractor was, or rather is, as the Christians didn’t change the saviour like underpants as did the Romans with their emperors, whenever they got a knife in their backs. The year 69 must have been amusing to Christians, though it heralded bad times.
then there is the Eastern prayer
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
which sums up what Christian have believed for 2000 years.
But what is the evidence for Jesus?
There is some outside the New Testament but it is very terse
The first outside the church to mention Jesus was the Jewish historian Josephus, writing in AD93 with two references to Jesus. One was suspected to be inserted by Christian scribes and the other referring to James, the brother of “Jesus, the so-called Christ”. Later were Pliny and Tacitus, Tacitus says Jesus was executed while Pontius Pilate was in Judaea (AD26-36) which fits with the gospel timeline. Pliny says Christians worshipped Christ as a god. Both were almost hostile witnesses and the better for it.
Another favourite claim is that the emperor Constantine sorted out the canon, which books were in the New Testament, at the Council of Nicaea in AD325. That often crops up but notably in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code which is replete with fabricated church history about Nicaea, as is seen in this meme
At times, others claim the New Testament was written at Nicaea. I don’t think it was
Our friendly village atheists have conflated the writing of the New Testament books with the final formation of the Canon. This took place at Nicaea and settled on the essential 27 books. This has been accepted by the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics and protestant and evangelical off-shoots , though some eastern churches add to the number. However it was FINALISED at Nicaea but for 300 years Christians were trying to decide which books were to be in the canon.
There was some variation but all recognised the 4 gospels , Acts, Pauls letters and most of the other letters. They often included some of the apostolic Fathers.
Comparison between earliest biblical canons from wiki
|Books||Marcionite canon||Muratorian fragment||Peshitta
|Codex Vaticanus||Codex Sinaiticus||Codex Alexandrinus||Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus|
|Composition date||c. 130–140||c. 170||?||c. 300–325||c. 330–360||c. 400–440||c. 450|
|Shepherd of Hermas||No||No||No||No||Yes||No||No|
|Epistle of Barnabas||No||No||No||No||Yes||No||No|
|Apocalypse of Peter||No||Yes||No||No||No||No||No|
|Book of Wisdom||No||Yes||No||No||No||No||No|
These are the “books” of the New Testament, but when were they written. Few scholars would doubt that most were written in the first Century with some letters of Paul going back to the AD40s. Some, e.g. J AS T Robinson reckon they were written before AD70 – the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Most reckon that all were written by the 90s and a few take dates up to 135. all these dates are slightly earlier than the Council of Nicaea in AD325!
Here is Prof John Barton of Oxford dealing with reference to the Da Vinci code
There are many more
An old (1946) but still valuable book is Are the New Testament Documents reliable? By Prof F F Bruce which is here for free!! It is where I started and most of the arguments in are still valid.
You could surf and find more recent scholars saying much the same.
In the list of Canons above , the last six did not make it! Four form part of the Apostolic Fathers (1 & II Clem. Shepherd of Hermas and Epistle of Barnabas) I am glad that Barnabas didn’t make as he argues for 6000 year old creation more explicitly than in any canonical scripture. That would have upset the geologists!
As well as those four, the Apostolic Fathers contain the seven letters of Ignatius, who was executed in Rome in about AD120, and the Didache which many reckon was written in about AD50, though some extend that by 200 years. The Apostolic Fathers are mostly from the second century C.E. (Christ’s Era!) and cite all NT books except Philemon and 3 John. Several of the writers cite a good 20, so they must have been well known and widely copied.
Sadly many Christians who read their Bible never look at the Apostolic Fathers and there is a fine Penguin edition. They are well worth a read.
In the second century Irenaus quoted 21 of the final 27books and the next century Origen cited a similar number
So before Nicaea there was not unanimity of the content of the canon, all accepted over 20 of the final 27. Thus the decision at Nicaea was the culmination of three centuries of sifting
I think my brief summary above, shows the wrongness of claims that the council of Nicaea made up Jesus and the New Testament! But what was Nicaea all about.
Cryptically it was whether there was ever a time when Jesus was not. Most Christians at that time insisted there was never a time when Jesus was not, but the pugnacious group, the Arians, led by Bishop Arius, insisted there was a time when Jesus was not, and that Jesus Christ was created being and not from all eternity and thus not God. The Arians saw Jesus not as God but the son of God, Their opponents saw Him as both..
This concerned Constantine greatly as he had only recently become the sole emperor and wanted peace. Many would say his concern was his own back rather than defending Christian belief. Hence he called the Council of Nicaea to stop divisions in the church, which he saw as liable to cause instability in the empire. and so in the summer of AD325 the council of Christian bishops was convened in the Bithynian city of Nicaea (now İznik, Turkey) 800 bishops were invited and between 250 and 320 attended.
Their aim was not to discuss the existence of Jesus as all sides accepted the 4 Gospel accounts. Thus there all accepted the earthly life of Jesus from the Virgin birth to the Resurrection. What was at issue was the nature of the relationship of Jesus Christ to God.
(Over)Briefly the essence of the disagreement was whether Jesus was fully God – which leads to doctrine of the Trinity – Father Son and holy Spirit. The Arians argued that Jesus was a created being , but an exalted one being the Son of God. As one of the anathemas (condemnations) put it;
But those who say: ‘There was a time when he was not;’ and ‘He was not before he was made;’ and ‘He was made out of nothing,’ or ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’ or ‘The Son of God is created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable’— they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.]
This hostile summary is fair as the majority believed that Jesus Christ was there before Creation, hence “there was not a time when he was not” and that he was “begotten, not made/created” and his nature was that he was “consubstantial with the Father” thus divine. And thus a little late the creed says “and was made man”. Here in the womb of Mary the pre-existent Jesus Christ, who was there before creation and thus God, was made man, which stress He is both God and Man i.e God in flesh i.e incarnate. ( A little story here. My theology professor H E W Turner (1907-1995) did not believe this when he was ordained deacon. A year later he concluded that he did and his vicar welcomed him into the catholic church!! After that he spent some years as chaplain of Lincoln College, Oxford, moving to Durham in 1950. He retired in 1974 and had to sell four fantastic oak bookcases which he brought with him from Lincoln. I bought them for £50, but was too late for lunch. I still have them. Hughie was a brilliant teacher and helped me to be totally convinced that the majority at Nicaea were right!! I suppose you could say that Hughie was Arian when ordained and then moved to Nicene orthodoxy. Sensible chappie.)
The key to the argument is Christ being the saviour of humanity. No mere human could do that and thus an Arian Jesus could not ultimately be the Saviour. Only God could save and thus Jesus Christ as Saviour could not be a created being but was God as well. Hence Nicaea re-emphasised what most of the churches had held since the resurrection that Jesus is human and divine. This comes out in the Proluge of John (John chap 1) read at every Carol service and many other parts of the New Testament and is the thread, with Jesus’s death and resurrection, which runs through the 27 books.
This is, of course, contrary to what any hold, including among many worshippers, that Christianity is simply being good to others. It most definitely is, but if that is all and Jesus as Saviour, Lord and Son of God who died and rose to save humanity is quiwtly side-lined under a vague devotion all that is left is MTD (Moralistic Therapeutic Deism)
Here’s the Nicene Creed. On the left is that produced in AD325 with a dismissal of Arius. On the right is how it was revised in AD381 nd is what is used in churches today. The ideas go back to the New Testament and were not plucked out thin air in 325.
|We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.||We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.|
|And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, [God of God,] Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;||And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds (æons), Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;|
|By whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth];||by whom all things were made;|
|Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man;||who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary, and was made man;|
|He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven;||he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;|
|From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.||from thence he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead. ;|
|whose kingdom shall have no end.|
|And in the Holy Ghost.||And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.|
|In one holy catholic and apostolic Church; we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.|
|[But those who say: ‘There was a time when he was not;’ and ‘He was not before he was made;’ and ‘He was made out of nothing,’ or ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’ or ‘The Son of God is created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable’— they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.]|
[But those who say: ‘There was a time when he was not;’ and ‘He was not before he was made;’ and ‘He was made out of nothing,’ or ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’ or ‘The Son of God is created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable’— they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.]
Like so much posted by twitting atheists this tweet is simply nonsense in every statement! The really need to improve their “research” and share material of substance rather than stuff so easily contradicted.
Yes , Jesus lived
But who was he? He lived for 30 odd years, a peripatetic teacher who got crucified – the most delightful of all Roman methods of execution.
For 2000 years Christians have said he rose from the dead and came to save us.
That’s enough for now.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Happy Christmas rather than Happy Holidays