Christianity—Was Jesus the Way to God?
So far, with the exception of the chapter on Judaism, we have considered major religions that are based to a large extent on mythology. Now we will examine another religion that claims to bring mankind nearer to God—Christianity. What is the basis for Christianity—myth or historical fact?
1. (a) Why does the history of Christendom cause some to have serious doubts about Christianity? (b) What distinction do we make between Christendom and Christianity?
THE history of Christendom,a with its wars, inquisitions, crusades, and religious hypocrisy, has not helped the cause of Christianity. Devout Muslims and others point to the moral corruption and decadence of the Western, “Christian” world as a basis for rejecting Christianity. Indeed, the so-called Christian nations have lost their moral rudder and have suffered shipwreck on the rocks of faithlessness, greed, and self-indulgence.
2, 3. (a) What contrast is there between the conduct of early Christians and that of people of modern Christendom? (b) What are some questions to be answered?
2 That the standards of original Christianity were different from the permissive mores of today is attested to by Professor Elaine Pagels in her book Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, wherein she states: “Many Christians of the first four centuries took pride in their sexual restraint; they eschewed polygamy and often divorce as well, which Jewish tradition allowed; and they repudiated extramarital sexual practices commonly accepted among their pagan contemporaries, practices including prostitution and homosexuality.”
3 Therefore, it is fair to ask, Is Christendom’s history and its modern moral state a true reflection of the teachings of Jesus Christ? What kind of man was Jesus? Did he help to bring mankind nearer to God? Was he the promised Messiah of Hebrew prophecy? These are some of the questions we shall consider in this chapter.
Jesus—What Were His Credentials?
4. In our study, what clear difference have we noted between Christianity and its roots, and the major religions of the world?
4 In earlier chapters we have seen the prominent role that mythology has played in nearly all the major religions of the world. Yet, when we turned to the origins of Judaism in our previous chapter, we did not start with a myth but with the historical reality of Abraham, his forebears, and his descendants. With Christianity and its founder, Jesus, we likewise start, not with mythology, but with a historical personage.—See box, page 237.
5. (a) What are three of the credentials Jesus held that prove he was the promised “seed” of Abraham? (b) Who wrote the Christian Greek Scriptures?
5 The first verse of the Christian Greek Scriptures, commonly known as the New Testament (see box, page 241), states: “The book of the history of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham.” (Matthew 1:1) Is that an idle claim presented by Matthew, a former Jewish tax collector and an immediate disciple and biographer of Jesus? No. The following 15 verses Mt 1:2-16 spell out Abraham’s line of descendants down to Jacob, who “became father to Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.” Therefore, Jesus really was a descendant of Abraham, Judah, and David and as such held three of the credentials of the foretold “seed” of Genesis 3:15 and of Abraham.—Genesis 22:18; 49:10; 1 Chronicles 17:11.
6, 7. Why was Jesus’ birthplace significant?
6 Another of the credentials for the Messianic Seed would be his place of birth. Where was Jesus born? Matthew tells us that Jesus was “born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king.” (Matthew 2:1) Physician Luke’s account confirms that fact, telling us regarding Jesus’ future adoptive father: “Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to David’s city, which is called Bethlehem, because of his being a member of the house and family of David, to get registered with Mary, who had been given him in marriage as promised, at present heavy with child.”—Luke 2:4, 5.
7 Why was it important that Jesus be born in Bethlehem rather than in Nazareth or any other town? Because of a prophecy uttered during the eighth century B.C.E. by the Hebrew prophet Micah: “And you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, the one too little to get to be among the thousands of Judah, from you there will come out to me the one who is to become ruler in Israel, whose origin is from early times, from the days of time indefinite.” (Micah 5:2) Thus, by his place of birth, Jesus held another of the credentials for being the promised Seed and Messiah.—John 7:42.
8. What are some prophecies that Jesus fulfilled?
8 In fact, Jesus fulfilled many more prophecies from the Hebrew Scriptures, thus proving that he had all the credentials for being the promised Messiah. You can check some of these in the Bible. (See box, page 245.)b But now let us briefly examine Jesus’ message and his ministry.
Jesus’ Life Points the Way
9. (a) How did Jesus start his public ministry? (b) How do we know that Jesus had God’s approval?
9 The Bible account tells us that Jesus was reared as a normal Jewish youth of his time, attending the local synagogue and the temple in Jerusalem. (Luke 2:41-52) When he reached the age of 30, he started his public ministry. First he went to his cousin John, who was baptizing Jews in symbol of repentance in the river Jordan. Luke’s account tells us: “Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus also was baptized and, as he was praying, the heaven was opened up and the holy spirit in bodily shape like a dove came down upon him, and a voice came out of heaven: ‘You are my Son, the beloved; I have approved you.’”—Luke 3:21-23; John 1:32-34.
10, 11. (a) What were some characteristics of Jesus’ methods of preaching and teaching? (b) How did Jesus show the importance of his Father’s name?
10 In due course, Jesus entered upon his ministry as the anointed Son of God. He went throughout Galilee and Judea preaching the message of the Kingdom of God and performing miracles, such as healing the sick. He accepted no payment and did not look for wealth or self-aggrandizement. In fact, he said that there is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving. He also taught his disciples how to preach.—Matthew 8:20; 10:7-13; Acts 20:35.
11 When we analyze Jesus’ message and the methods he used, we see a distinct difference between his style and that of many of Christendom’s preachers. He did not manipulate the masses with cheap emotionalism or with hellfire scare tactics. Rather, Jesus used simple logic and parables, or illustrations, from everyday life to appeal to the heart and the mind. His famous Sermon on the Mount is an outstanding example of his teachings and methods. Included in that sermon is Jesus’ model prayer, in which he gives a clear indication of Christian priorities by putting the sanctifying of God’s name in first place. (See box, pages 258-9.)—Matthew 5:1–7:29; 13:3-53; Luke 6:17-49.
12. (a) How did Jesus manifest love in his teachings and actions? (b) How different would the world be if Christian love were truly practiced?
12 In his dealings with his followers and with the public in general, Jesus manifested love and compassion. (Mark 6:30-34) While preaching the message of God’s Kingdom, he also personally practiced love and humility. Thus, in the final hours of his life, he could say to his disciples: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:34, 35) Therefore, the essence of Christianity in practice is self-sacrificing love based on principle. (Matthew 22:37-40) In practice this means that a Christian should love even his enemies, although he may hate their evil works. (Luke 6:27-31) Think about that for a moment. What a different world this would be if everyone actually practiced that form of love!—Romans 12:17-21; 13:8-10.
13. In what way was Jesus’ teaching different from that of Confucius, Lao-tzu, and the Buddha?
13 Yet, what Jesus taught was far more than an ethic or philosophy, such as those taught by Confucius and Lao-tzu. Furthermore, Jesus did not teach, as did the Buddha, that one can work out one’s own salvation by the pathway of knowledge and enlightenment. Rather, he pointed to God as the source of salvation when he said: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life. For God sent forth his Son into the world, not for him to judge the world, but for the world to be saved through him.”—John 3:16, 17.
14. Why could Jesus say, “I am the way and the truth and the life”?
14 By manifesting his Father’s love in his own words and deeds, Jesus drew people closer to God. That is one reason why he could say: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. . . . He that has seen me has seen the Father also. How is it you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in union with the Father and the Father is in union with me? The things I say to you men I do not speak of my own originality; but the Father who remains in union with me is doing his works. . . . You heard that I said to you, I am going away and I am coming back to you. If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going my way to the Father, because the Father is greater than I am.” (John 14:6-28) Yes, Jesus was “the way and the truth and the life” because he was leading those Jewish people back to his Father, their true God, Jehovah. Therefore, with Jesus mankind’s search for God suddenly took on impetus because God, in his supreme love, had sent Jesus to the earth as a beacon of light and truth to lead men to the Father.—John 1:9-14; 6:44; 8:31, 32.
15. (a) What must we do to find God? (b) Here on earth what evidence is there of God’s love?
15 On the basis of the ministry and example of Jesus, the missionary Paul could later say to the Greeks in Athens: “And [God] made out of one man every nation of men, to dwell upon the entire surface of the earth, and he decreed the appointed times and the set limits of the dwelling of men, for them to seek God, if they might grope for him and really find him, although, in fact, he is not far off from each one of us. For by him we have life and move and exist.” (Acts 17:26-28) Yes, God can be found if a person is willing to make the effort to search for him. (Matthew 7:7, 8) God has made himself and his love manifest in that he has furnished an earth that supports a seemingly endless variety of life. He supplies what is necessary to all mankind, whether they be righteous or unrighteous. He has also provided mankind with his written Word, the Bible, and he sent his Son as a redeeming sacrifice.c Moreover, God has provided the assistance people need to help them find the way to Him.—Matthew 5:43-45; Acts 14:16, 17; Romans 3:23-26.
16, 17. How must true Christian love be manifested?
16 Of course, Christian love must be manifested not just by words but more importantly by deeds. For that reason the apostle Paul wrote: “Love is long-suffering and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not brag, does not get puffed up, does not behave indecently, does not look for its own interests, does not become provoked. It does not keep account of the injury. It does not rejoice over unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”—1 Corinthians 13:4-8.
Every Christian an Evangelizer
18. (a) What was highlighted in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount? (b) What responsibility does each Christian have? (c) How did Jesus prepare his disciples for their ministry, and what message were they to preach?
18 In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus emphasized to the crowds their responsibility to illuminate others by their words and actions. He said: “You are the light of the world. A city cannot be hid when situated upon a mountain. People light a lamp and set it, not under the measuring basket, but upon the lampstand, and it shines upon all those in the house. Likewise let your light shine before men, that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heavens.” (Matthew 5:14-16) Jesus trained his disciples so that they would know how to preach and teach during their travels as itinerant ministers. And what was their message to be? That which Jesus himself preached, the Kingdom of God, which would rule the earth in righteousness. As Jesus explained on one occasion: “Also to other cities I must declare the good news of the kingdom of God, because for this I was sent forth.” (Luke 4:43; 8:1; 10:1-12) He also stated that part of the sign identifying the last days would be that “this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.”—Matthew 24:3-14.
19, 20. (a) Why has true Christianity always been an active, preaching religion? (b) What basic questions now require answers?
19 In 33 C.E., before he finally ascended to heaven, the resurrected Jesus instructed his disciples: “All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth. Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you. And, look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matthew 28:18-20) This is one reason why Christianity, from its very inception, was an active, proselytizing religion that provoked the anger and jealousy of the followers of the prevailing Greek and Roman religions of that day, which were based on mythology. The persecution of Paul in Ephesus clearly illustrated that fact.—Acts 19:23-41.
20 The questions now are, What did the message of the Kingdom of God offer concerning the dead? What hope for the dead did Christ preach? Was he offering salvation from “hellfire” for the “immortal souls” of his believers? Or what?—Matthew 4:17.
Hope of Everlasting Life
21, 22. (a) To what did Jesus compare dead Lazarus’ condition, and why? (b) What hope did Martha entertain for her dead brother?
21 Perhaps the clearest insight into the hope that Jesus preached can be gained from what he said and did when his friend Lazarus died. How did Jesus view this death? Setting out for Lazarus’ home, Jesus said to his disciples: “Lazarus our friend has gone to rest, but I am journeying there to awaken him from sleep.” (John 11:11) Jesus compared Lazarus’ death state to sleep. In a deep sleep, we are conscious of nothing, which agrees with the Hebrew expression at Ecclesiastes 9:5: “For the living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.”
22 Although Lazarus had been dead four days, we note that Jesus said nothing about Lazarus’ soul being in heaven, hell, or purgatory! When Jesus arrived at Bethany and Martha, Lazarus’ sister, came out to meet him, he said to her, “Your brother will rise.” How did she answer? Did she say he was already in heaven? Martha answered: “I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.” That clearly shows that the Jewish hope at that time was the resurrection, a return to life here on earth.—John 11:23, 24, 38, 39.
23. What miracle did Jesus perform, and with what effect on the onlookers?
23 Jesus responded: “I am the resurrection and the life. He that exercises faith in me, even though he dies, will come to life; and everyone that is living and exercises faith in me will never die at all. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25, 26) To prove his point, Jesus went to the cave where Lazarus was entombed and called him forth alive in the sight of his sisters, Mary and Martha, and neighbors. The account continues: “Therefore many of the Jews that had come to Mary and that beheld what he did put faith in him . . . Accordingly the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus out of the memorial tomb and raised him up from the dead kept bearing witness.” (John 11:45; 12:17) They had seen the miracle for themselves, and they believed and testified to its actuality. Jesus’ religious opposers must also have believed the event, for the record tells us that the chief priests and the Pharisees plotted to kill Jesus “because this man performs many signs.”—John 11:30-53.
24. (a) Where had Lazarus been for four days? (b) What does the Bible say about immortality?
24 Where had Lazarus gone during the four days he was dead? Nowhere. He was unconscious, asleep in the tomb awaiting a resurrection. Jesus blessed him by miraculously raising him from the dead. But according to John’s account, Lazarus said nothing about having been in heaven, hell, or purgatory during those four days. Why not? Simply because he had no immortal soul that could journey to such places.d—Job 36:14; Ezekiel 18:4.
25. (a) When the Bible speaks of everlasting life, to what does it refer? (b) The coming of God’s promised Kingdom depends on what?
25 Therefore, when Jesus spoke of everlasting life, he was referring to such life either in the heavens as a transformed immortal spirit coruler with him in his Kingdom, or he was referring to life everlasting as a human on a paradise earth under that Kingdom rulership.e (Luke 23:43; John 17:3) According to God’s promise, his figurative dwelling with obedient mankind on earth will bring abundant blessings to the earth. All of this, of course, depends on whether Jesus was really sent and approved by God.—Luke 22:28-30; Titus 1:1, 2; Revelation 21:1-4.
God’s Approval—Reality, Not Myth
26. What remarkable event took place in the presence of the disciples Peter, James, and John?
26 How do we know that Jesus had God’s approval? In the first place, when Jesus was baptized, a voice out of heaven was heard saying: “This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved.” (Matthew 3:17) Later, confirmation of this approval was given before other witnesses. The disciples Peter, James, and John, formerly fishermen from Galilee, accompanied Jesus to a high mountain (probably Mount Hermon, which rises to 9,232 feet [2,814 m]). There something remarkable took place before their eyes: “And [Jesus] was transfigured before them, and his face shone as the sun, and his outer garments became brilliant as the light. And, look! there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, conversing with him. . . . Look! a bright cloud overshadowed them, and, look! a voice out of the cloud, saying: ‘This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved; listen to him.’ At hearing this the disciples fell upon their faces and became very much afraid.”—Matthew 17:1-6; Luke 9:28-36.
27. (a) What effect did the transfiguration have on the disciples? (b) How do we know that Jesus was not a myth?
27 This audible and visible confirmation from God served to strengthen Peter’s faith enormously, for he later wrote: “No, it was not by following artfully contrived false stories [Greek: myʹthois, myths] that we acquainted you with the power and presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, but it was by having become eyewitnesses of his magnificence. For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when words such as these were borne to him by the magnificent glory: ‘This is my son, my beloved, whom I myself have approved.’ Yes, these words we heard borne from heaven while we were with him in the holy mountain.” (2 Peter 1:16-18) The Jewish disciples Peter, James, and John actually saw the miracle of the transfiguration of Jesus and heard God’s voice of approval out of the heavens. Their faith was based on a reality they had seen and heard, not on mythology or on “Jewish fables.” (See box, page 237.)—Matthew 17:9; Titus 1:13, 14.f
Jesus’ Death and Another Miracle
28. In the year 33 C.E., how was Jesus falsely accused?
28 In the year 33 C.E., Jesus was arrested and put on trial by the Jewish religious authorities, falsely accused of blasphemy for calling himself the Son of God. (Matthew 26:3, 4, 59-67) Since those Jews did not have the legal authority to put him to death, they sent him to the Roman rulers and again accused him falsely, this time of forbidding payment of taxes to Caesar and of saying that he himself was a king.—Mark 12:14-17; Luke 23:1-11; John 18:28-31.
29. How did Jesus die?
29 After Jesus had been passed from one ruler to another, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, on the insistence of the religiously inspired mob, took the line of least resistance and sentenced Jesus to death. As a consequence, Jesus died in disgrace on a stake, and his body was placed in a tomb. But within three days an event took place that transformed the disconsolate disciples of Jesus into joyful believers and zealous evangelizers.—John 19:16-22; Galatians 3:13.
30. What steps did the religious leaders take to prevent a hoax?
30 The religious leaders, suspecting that Jesus’ followers would resort to trickery, went to Pilate with a request: “‘Sir, we have called to mind that that impostor said while yet alive, “After three days I am to be raised up.” Therefore command the grave to be made secure until the third day, that his disciples may never come and steal him and say to the people, “He was raised up from the dead!” and this last imposture will be worse than the first.’ Pilate said to them: ‘You have a guard. Go make it as secure as you know how.’ So they went and made the grave secure by sealing the stone and having the guard.” (Matthew 27:62-66) How secure did it prove to be?
31. What happened when faithful women went to Jesus’ tomb?
31 On the third day after Jesus’ death, three women went to the tomb to grease the body with perfumed oil. What did they find? “And very early on the first day of the week they came to the memorial tomb, when the sun had risen. And they were saying one to another: ‘Who will roll the stone away from the door of the memorial tomb for us?’ But when they looked up, they beheld that the stone had been rolled away, although it was very large. When they entered into the memorial tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side clothed in a white robe, and they were stunned. He said to them: ‘Stop being stunned. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was impaled. He was raised up, he is not here. See! The place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, “He is going ahead of you into Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”’” (Mark 16:1-7; Luke 24:1-12) In spite of the religious leaders’ special guard, Jesus had been resurrected by his Father. Is that a myth or a historical fact?
32. For what solid reasons did Paul believe that Jesus had been resurrected?
32 About 22 years after this event, Paul, a former persecutor of Christians, wrote and explained how he came to believe that Christ had been resurrected: “For I handed on to you, among the first things, that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried, yes, that he has been raised up the third day according to the Scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that he appeared to upward of five hundred brothers at one time, the most of whom remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep in death. After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-7) Yes, Paul had a factual basis for risking his life in the cause of the resurrected Jesus, and it included the testimony of some 500 eyewitnesses who had seen the resurrected Jesus in person! (Romans 1:1-4) Paul knew Jesus had been resurrected, and he had an even more powerful reason for saying so, as he further explained: “But last of all he appeared also to me as if to one born prematurely.”—1 Corinthians 15:8, 9; Acts 9:1-19.
33. Why were the early Christians willing to be martyrs for their faith?
33 The early Christians were willing to die as martyrs in the Roman arenas. Why? Because they knew that their faith was based on historical realities, not on myths. It was a reality that Jesus was the Christ, or the Messiah, promised in prophecy and that he had been sent to the earth by God, had received God’s approval, had died on a stake as God’s integrity-keeping Son, and had been resurrected from the dead.—1 Peter 1:3, 4.
34. According to the apostle Paul, why is Jesus’ resurrection so essential to the Christian faith?
34 We recommend that you read the whole of that chapter 15 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians 1Co 15 to understand what Paul believed about the resurrection and why it is essential to the Christian faith. The essence of his message is expressed in these words: “However, now Christ has been raised up from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep in death. For since death is through a man [Adam], resurrection of the dead is also through a man. For just as in Adam all are dying, so also in the Christ all will be made alive.”—1 Corinthians 15:20-22.
35. What blessings are promised by God for the earth and for mankind? (Isaiah 65:17-25)
35 The resurrection of Christ Jesus thus has a purpose that will eventually benefit all mankind.g It also opened the way for Jesus eventually to fulfill the rest of the Messianic prophecies. His righteous rulership from the invisible heavens must soon extend to a cleansed earth. Then there will be what the Bible describes as “a new heaven and a new earth” in which God “will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”—Revelation 21:1-4.
Apostasy and Persecution Expected
36. What took place at Pentecost 33 C.E., and with what result?
36 Shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection, another miracle took place that gave strength and momentum to the preaching by those early Christians. On the day of Pentecost of the year 33 C.E., God poured out from heaven his holy spirit, or active force, upon some 120 Christians met together in Jerusalem. The result? “And tongues as if of fire became visible to them and were distributed about, and one sat upon each one of them, and they all became filled with holy spirit and started to speak with different tongues, just as the spirit was granting them to make utterance.” (Acts 2:3, 4) The foreign-language-speaking Jews who were in Jerusalem at that time were astonished to hear those supposedly ignorant Galilean Jews speaking in foreign tongues. The result was that many believed. The Christian message spread like wildfire as these new Jewish believers returned to their homelands.—Acts 2:5-21.
37. How did some Roman rulers react to the new Christian religion?
37 But storm clouds soon gathered. The Romans became apprehensive of this new and apparently atheistic religion that had no idols. Starting with Emperor Nero, they brought down terrible persecution upon the Christians in the first three centuries of our Common Era.h Many Christians were condemned to die in the coliseums, to satisfy the sadistic bloodlust of the emperors and the mobs who flocked to see prisoners being thrown to wild beasts.
38. What condition was prophesied that would disturb the early Christian congregation?
38 Another disturbing factor in those early days was something that the apostles had prophesied. For example, Peter stated: “However, there also came to be false prophets among the people, as there will also be false teachers among you. These very ones will quietly bring in destructive sects and will disown even the owner that bought them, bringing speedy destruction upon themselves.” (2 Peter 2:1-3) Apostasy! That was a falling away from true worship, a compromising with the current religious trends of the Roman world, which was saturated with Greek philosophy and thought. How did it come about? Our next chapter will answer that and related questions.—Acts 20:30; 2 Timothy 2:16-18; 2 Thessalonians 2:3.
a By “Christendom” we refer to the realm of sectarian activity dominated by religions that claim to be Christian. “Christianity” refers to the original form of worship and access to God taught by Jesus Christ.
c The Bible teaching of the ransom and its importance will be clarified in Chapter 15.
d The expression “immortal soul” appears nowhere in the Bible. The Greek word translated “immortal” and “immortality” appears only three times and refers to a new spirit body that is put on or acquired, not something inherent. It applies to Christ and to anointed Christians, who become corulers with him in his heavenly Kingdom.—1 Corinthians 15:53, 54; 1 Timothy 6:16; Romans 8:17; Ephesians 3:6; Revelation 7:4; 14:1-5.
e For a more detailed consideration of this Kingdom rulership, see Chapter 15.
f “Moses” and “Elijah” in the vision symbolized the Law and the Prophets that were fulfilled in Jesus. For a more detailed explanation of the transfiguration, see Insight on the Scriptures, 1988, Volume 2, pages 1120-1.
g For a detailed consideration of the resurrection of Jesus, see the book The Bible—God’s Word or Man’s?, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 1989, pages 78-86.
h Roman biographer Suetonius (c. 69-140 C.E.) recorded that during Nero’s reign, “punishments were . . . inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief.”
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Was Jesus a Myth?
“Is the life story of the founder of Christianity the product of human sorrow, imagination, and hope—a myth comparable to the legends of Krishna, Osiris, Attis, Adonis, Dionysus, and Mithras?” asks historian Will Durant. He answers that in the first century, to deny that Christ had ever existed “seems never to have occurred even to the bitterest gentile or Jewish opponents of nascent Christianity.”—The Story of Civilization,: Part III, “Caesar and Christ.”
The Roman historian Suetonius (c. 69-140 C.E.), in his history The Twelve Caesars, stated regarding the emperor Claudius: “Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus [Christ], he expelled them from the city.” This occurred about the year 52 C.E. (Compare Acts 18:1, 2.) Note that Suetonius expresses no doubt about the existence of Christ. On this factual basis and in spite of life-endangering persecution, early Christians were very active proclaiming their faith. It is hardly likely that they would have risked their lives on the basis of a myth. Jesus’ death and resurrection had taken place in their lifetime, and some of them had been eyewitnesses to those events.
Historian Durant draws the conclusion: “That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and appealing a personality, so lofty an ethic and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood, would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the Gospels.”
Jesus preached and performed miracles in this Galilean region of ancient Palestine
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Who Wrote the Bible?
The Christian Bible consists of the 39 books of the Hebrew Scriptures (see box, page 220), called by many the Old Testament, and the 27 books of the Christian Greek Scriptures, often called the New Testament.i Thus, the Bible is a miniature library of 66 books written by some 40 men in the course of 1,600 years of history (from 1513 B.C.E. to 98 C.E.).
The Greek Scriptures include four Gospels, or accounts of the life of Jesus and the good news that he preached. Two of these were written by immediate followers of Christ, Matthew, a tax collector, and John, a fisherman. The other two were written by the early believers Mark and Luke, the physician. (Colossians 4:14) The Gospels are followed by the Acts of Apostles, an account of the early Christian missionary activity compiled by Luke. Next are 14 letters from the apostle Paul to various individual Christians and congregations, followed by letters from James, Peter, John, and Jude. The final book is Revelation, written by John.
That so many persons of diverse backgrounds and living in different times and cultures could produce such a harmonious book is strong proof that the Bible is not simply the product of human intelligence but is inspired by God. The Bible itself states: “All Scripture is inspired of God [literally, “God-breathed”] and beneficial for teaching.” Thus, the Scriptures were written under the influence of God’s holy spirit, or active force.—2 Timothy 3:16, 17, Int.
This incomplete Roman inscription using Pontius Pilate’s name in Latin (second line, “IVS PILATVS”) confirms that he was an influential figure in Palestine, as the Bible states
i The Catholic Bible includes some additional books that form the Apocrypha and that are not viewed as canonical by Jews and Protestants.
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The Messiah in Bible Prophecy
Prophecy Event Fulfillment
the son of Jesse
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Jesus and the Name of God
When teaching his disciples how to pray, Jesus said: “You must pray, then, this way: ‘Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified. Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.’”—Matthew 6:9, 10.
Jesus knew the vital significance of his Father’s name and gave emphasis to it. Thus, to his religious enemies, he said: “I have come in the name of my Father, but you do not receive me; if someone else arrived in his own name, you would receive that one. . . . I told you, and yet you do not believe. The works that I am doing in the name of my Father, these bear witness about me.”—John 5:43; 10:25; Mark 12:29, 30.
In prayer to his Father, Jesus said: “‘Father, glorify your name.’ Therefore a voice came out of heaven: ‘I both glorified it and will glorify it again.’”
On a later occasion, Jesus prayed: “I have made your name manifest to the men you gave me out of the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have observed your word. And I have made your name known to them and will make it known, in order that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in union with them.”—John 12:28; 17:6, 26.
As a Jew, Jesus had to be conversant with his Father’s name, Jehovah, or Yahweh, for he knew the scripture that says: “‘You are my witnesses,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘even my servant whom I have chosen, in order that you may know and have faith in me, and that you may understand that I am the same One. Before me there was no God formed, and after me there continued to be none. . . . So you are my witnesses,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘and I am God.’”—Isaiah 43:10, 12.
Therefore, the Jews as a nation were chosen to be Jehovah’s witnesses. As a Jew, Jesus was also a witness of Jehovah.—Revelation 3:14.
Apparently by the first century, most Jews were no longer pronouncing God’s revealed name. However, there are manuscripts that prove that early Christians using the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures could have seen the Hebrew Tetragrammaton used in the Greek text. As George Howard, a professor of religion and Hebrew stated: “When the Septuagint which the New Testament church used and quoted contained the Hebrew form of the divine name, the New Testament writers no doubt included the Tetragrammaton in their quotations. But when the Hebrew form for the divine name was [later] eliminated in favor of Greek substitutes in the Septuagint, it was eliminated also from the New Testament quotations of the Septuagint.”
Therefore, Professor Howard reasons that first-century Christians must have clearly understood texts such as Matthew 22:44, where Jesus quoted the Hebrew Scriptures to his enemies. Howard says, “The first century church probably read, ‘YHWH said to my Lord’” instead of the later version, “‘The Lord said to my Lord,’ . . . which is as ambiguous as it is imprecise.”—Psalm 110:1.
That Jesus used the divine name is attested to by the Jewish accusation centuries after his death that if he performed miracles, it was “only because he had made himself master of the ‘secret’ name of God.”—The Book of Jewish Knowledge.
Jesus certainly knew God’s unique name. In spite of Jewish tradition at that time, Jesus would surely have used the name. He did not allow the traditions of men to overrule the law of God.—Mark 7:9-13; John 1:1-3, 18; Colossians 1:15, 16.
Papyrus fragment (first century B.C.E.) showing the Hebrew name of God in the Greek Septuagint text
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By God’s power, Jesus performed many miracles, including the calming of a storm
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The Tetragrammaton, or four consonants YHWH (Jehovah)
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The account of the raising of Lazarus to life makes no mention or even suggestion that he had an immortal soul
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Peter, James, and John knew that God’s approval of Jesus was not a myth—they heard and saw it at the transfiguration