Christian Worldview

A Fictional Messiah?

Question of the Week: How do we know that Jesus was even real? Maybe the disciples made him up. Read Chuck Colson’s response, taken from Answers to Your Kids' Questions: Because young people almost never talk about Jesus in school, they can easily get the impression either that He didn’t really live or that if He did, He doesn’t really matter. We know that Jesus lived because we have historical accounts that were recorded a mere twenty to forty years after His crucifixion. That’s within a single generation—less than the time separating us from the end of World War II—and far too brief a span for myths and legends to take hold. In fact, if we compare the historical evidence for Jesus to the evidence for other figures who lived in ancient times, there’s just no comparison. Consider this: Although we don’t have the original documents of the New Testament, we do have several thousand copies—some of them written within a hundred years after Jesus lived. Compare that to the evidence of several other writers. The Roman writer Tacitus is considered a first-rate historical source. Yet we have only twenty copies of his work, and the earliest manuscript is dated a thousand years after he lived. No one doubts the authenticity of the Greek philosopher Aristotle. Yet the earliest copy of his work is dated fourteen hundred years after he lived. We all know about Julius Caesar. Yet the earliest copy of his Gallic Wars is dated a thousand years after the original. There can simply be no doubt that the New Testament is an authentic document—that it describes real events. The fact of Jesus’ existence is better authenticated than that of any other figure from ancient times. So when your teenagers or their friends ask if Jesus was a real person, respond with your own question: Was Julius Caesar a real person? Was Aristotle? If they say yes, tell them the evidence for Jesus is much stronger. What is even more startling is that a German scholar has uncovered new evidence that three tiny scraps of Scripture that he found in an Oxford University library were written by a contemporary of Christ—a contemporary who had firsthand evidence that Jesus was the Son of God. The scraps contain lines from Matthew 26 and describe a woman’s anointing of Jesus and Judas’s betrayal of Christ. The fragments were donated to Oxford’s Magdalen College library in 1901 by a missionary alumnus who brought them from Egypt. And there they sat for nearly a century, until a German researcher named Carsten Thiede recently decided to take a closer look at them. Earlier scholars believed the papyrus was written in the second century. But advances in research on Greek texts enabled Dr. Thiede to come to a different and more accurate conclusion. He realized that the fragments were written in a Greek script that was common in the first century b.c. but went out of fashion around the middle of the first century. He concluded that the Magdalen manuscript was actually written in about a.d. 50—a mere seventeen years after the crucifixion of Christ. And the Oxford manuscript is itself a copy, which means the original Gospel of Matthew must have been written even earlier. If Dr. Thiede’s findings hold up, it could mean that the Gospel of Mark, which predates Matthew’s Gospel, was written as early as a.d. 40—only seven years after the crucifixion. Think of it—only seven years! Dr. Thiede’s conclusions throw a real monkey wrench into the teachings of liberal scholars who contend that the Gospels were written a hundred years or more after Christ’s crucifixion and that contemporaries of Jesus didn’t believe His claims to divinity. They dismiss the accounts of His miracles and resurrection as products of the oral tradition. But if the Gospels really were written shortly after Jesus walked the roads of Galilee, as evangelicals believe, then there wasn’t time for a fanciful oral tradition to spring up. Even more exciting is the fact that when the Magdalen manuscript refers to Jesus, it used the word Lord, translated from a Greek term that was reserved exclusively as a reference to God, proving that the earliest Christians did believe that Jesus was God Himself. Christians shouldn’t be surprised when historical documents authenticate biblical truth. As historian Paul Johnson writes, “In the long term, Christian truth and historical truth must coincide.” Thanks to the decades of liberal teaching, many people today aren’t sure whether the New Testament is trustworthy. That’s why these Magdalen fragments are so important. They provide solid evidence for the historicity of Scripture and bring the historical reality of Christ into sharper focus than ever before. “In no other case is the interval of time between composition of the book and the date of the earliest extant [existing] manuscripts so short as in that of the New Testament . . . [It] becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed.”—Sir Frederick G. Kenyon, Handbook to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, 2nd ed. (London: Macmillan, 1912), 5.


Chuck Colson



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