Truth That Matters

"What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" - Jesus Christ

Why did Jesus have a virgin birth?

First I need to refute a misconception. Jesus did not have a virgin birth because sex is dirty. We know this because God created sexuality and pronounced it very good (Genesis 1:27-31). The marriage bed is undefiled (Hebrews 13:4).

The following are Biblical reasons for the virgin birth of Jesus:-
  1. The Savior was promised to be the "seed of the woman" (Genesis 3:15), the son of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14). Thus, the virgin birth was one sign that would herald the Savior.
  2. In Romans 5, we have a contrast between Adam (not Eve) and Christ. When Adam first sinned, he acquired a sinful nature. Romans 5:12 tells us that it was through man that sin entered the world (although Eve was the first to sin). Further, Romans 5:19 tells us that it is through Adam's (not Eve's) disobedience that many were made sinners. These two facts suggest that it is through the man that sin is transmitted during reproduction. Therefore, it was necessary for Jesus to have a virgin birth to avoid inheriting a sinful nature from his parents.

An unmarried woman gets pregnant, and says that an angel has told her that she would be supernaturally made pregnant without sex. Sounds pretty dubious!

I wouldn't believe the girl next door if she said so. But imagine she convinced an income tax officer from New Delhi and a doctor from Singapore. This would make me give a second look. Let us examine some facts about Mary's case that all (Christians as well as skeptics) agree on:
  • The virgin birth was predicted in Genesis 3:15 and Isaiah 7:14 centuries before Mary lived.
  • Matthew the tax official and Luke the doctor were convinced of the virgin birth; along with the other disciples of Christ, they traveled thousands of miles to tell others about Jesus (including his virgin birth) and chose torture and death when they were threatened not to preach Jesus or to deny him. The same applies to the remaining disciples of Jesus.
  • Matthew and Luke report that Joseph (Mary's husband) accepted the virgin birth. If you say they are lying, why were they willing to die for their statements? And if they are telling the truth, why should Joseph believe Mary unless he had powerful evidence that the virgin birth was indeed true?
If Jesus did not have a virgin birth, we are faced with difficult questions:
  • How did a supposedly delinquent girl gain and convince eleven male fans to go all over the world proclaiming to people she would never meet that she had a virgin birth? Why did she wait for forty years before sending them? 
  • If Jesus did not have a virgin birth, why did the New Testament authors propagate it? When the New Testament was written, Mary was an old woman. What she did when she was young would be irrelevant by then.
  • Some skeptics suggest that the virgin birth story was not Mary's concoction, but the apostles'. If so, why didn't someone just obtain a refutation from Mary to silence them once and for all? Why did the apostles travel all over the world, spend all their money and face torture and death to preach a lie? Why would Luke risk ruining his medical practice by claiming something that was medically impossible?
If you still think the virgin birth is false, take the Alternative Scenario Challenge.

Conclusion: Jesus indeed had a virgin birth and therefore is capable of being The solution that God has provided for sin. Also see general arguments for the authenticity of the Bible.

Further reading:

  • J Gresham Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1965)
  • Thomas Boslooper, The Virgin Birth (Philadelphia, Westminster, 1962)
  • Hanke, Howard A. 1963. The Validity of the Virgin Birth, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publ. House.
  • Orr, James. 1907. The Virgin Birth of Christ. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons
  • Sabiers, Karl G.1943. The Virgin Birth of Christ. Los Angeles, CA: Robertson Publ. Co.

What extra-Biblical evidence exists for the existence of Jesus?

The simplest extra-Biblical evidence is AD (Anno Domini - Year of our Lord) and BC (Before Christ) that we use for dates. These terms are proof that there was a person called Jesus Christ who had a great impact on the world of his day - exactly what the Bible says.

The Jewish historian Josephus mentions Jesus:-

"He [Ananias] convened a meeting of the Sanhedrin and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus, who was called the Christ, and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law and delivered them up to be stoned." [Josephus, The Antiquities 20.200, Emphasis added]

No scholar has proven that this passage is fraudulent. It is unlikely that this passage is an insertion by a Christian (for it would be more laudatory of James in that case, since James was a prominent church leader).

Another reference of Josephus to Jesus is as follows:-

"About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared." [Josephus, The Antiquities, 18.63-64]

Since this passage is very explicit about Jesus' extraordinary nature, it has been hotly disputed. Skeptics claim that it has been inserted by a Christian. While it is doubtful that Josephus considered Jesus to be the Christ, or more than a man, or believed in the resurrection of Jesus, his calling of Jesus a "wise man" cannot be a Christian interpolation, since Christians think Jesus is much more than a wise man. Similarly, his mention of Jesus' condemnation at the hands of Pilate is unexceptional, and there is no reason to doubt it. Also note that in the first passage that I quoted, Josephus mentions "Jesus who is called Christ (the Anointed One)" without giving any explanation about who he is. This would make sense if Josephus had already described Jesus. This suggests that the second passage I've quoted, which occurs first in Josephus' writings indeed existed. The modern consensus among Jewish scholars is that this passage is genuine, with the more remarkable details such as "He was the Christ" being interpolated by Christian copiers. However, even this evaluation seems unnecessarily harsh because of skeptical bias. If there was interpolation, some details about when, where and by whom it was done would emerge, not to mention copies without the interpolation. Such evidence for interpolation is lacking. The strongest argument for interpolation is that if Josephus really believed that Jesus was the genuine, risen, Messiah, he wouldn't have remained a non-Christian. However, there are many who accept the facts about the Bible or Jesus Christ but are not willing to make a commitment because they cherish some idol too much.

Some skeptics dispute the authenticity of Josephus as a whole. Among the Romans, there were zealous enemies of Christianity - they would definitely pounce on Josephus' writings if they contained inflated claims about Christianity. But we know that they did not - Josephus' works were so well received by the Romans that he was enrolled a citizen of Rome, had a statue erected to his memory, and his writings were admitted into the Imperial Library. Thus, Josephus was authentic, and constitutes genuine extra-Biblical evidence for Jesus.

Rabbi Eliezer who lived in the first century:-

Rabbi Eliezer said, Balaam looked forth and saw that there was a man, born of woman, who should rise up and seek to make himself God, and to cause the whole world to go astray. Therefore God gave the power to the voice of Balaam that all the peoples of the world might hear, and thus he spoke. Give heed that ye go not astray after that man; for it is written, God is not man that he should lie. And if he says that he is God he is a liar, and he will deceive and say that he depart and comes again at the end. He says and he shall not perform (Joseph Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth, London: Collier-Macmillan, 1929, p. 34).

The Talmud (completed AD 500)

On the eve of Passover they hanged Yeshu (of Nazareth) and the herald went before him for forty days saying (Yeshu of Nazareth) is going to be stoned in that he hath practiced sorcery and beguiled and led astray Israel. Let everyone know aught in his defense come and plead for him. But they found naught in his defense and hanged him on the eve of Passover (The Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a, "Eve of Passover").

The Roman historian, Tacitus says in 115 AD:

"Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had origin, suffered the extreme penalty [that is, crucifixion] during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome" [Tacitus, Annals, 15.44, The Oxford Translation, Revised, p423]

Note that Tacitus is absolutely unsympathetic to Christianity, so one can't claim that this is the work of a Christian. The explicit mention of Christ is embarrassing to modern atheists, so some of them claim that that word is fudged (and thus the subject is someone else, not the Jesus of the Bible). But this fails to explain who this other leader is who suffered the ignoble fate of crucifixion and inspired a great following. The logical conclusion is that Jesus Christ is being referred to (and that his crucifixion did not prevent him from getting a following, because he rose again).

Another Roman, Pliny the Younger, says in AD 111:

"I have asked them if they are Christians, and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and third time, with a warning of the punishment waiting them. If they persist, I order them to be led away for execution...they had met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately among themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god..." [Pliny the Younger, Letters, 10.96, Loeb Classical Library. English translation by William Melmoth, revised by W M L Hutchinson, Vol 2, p403]

Lucian was a satirist in the second century:-

"...the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced his new cult into the world...furthermore the first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers one of another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshiping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws" [Lucian, The Passing of Peregrinus, pp 12, 13. Loeb Classical Library. English translation by A H Harmon, p13, 15

Suetonius was a Roman historian writing at the end of the first century:-

"Since the Jews were continually making disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, Claudius expelled them from Rome" [Suetonius, The Life of Claudius, 25.4]. This expulsion is alluded to in Acts 18:2.

The Letter Of Mara Bar-Serapion to his son (written after A.D. 73, now in the British Museum):

"What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King? It was just after that their kingdom was abolished . . . . But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise King die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given."

Note that Jesus died in AD 32 and the Jews lost their kingdom in AD 70. Serapion must have been referring to Jesus as there is no one else who fits his description.

Other Roman writers testifying to the existence of Christianity in the first and second centuries and the persecution of Christians by the Roman authorities include Phlegon, Thallus, Martial, Juvenal, Porphyry, Marcus Antoninus and Epictetus. There are also references to Jesus in the Talmud and other Jewish writings. Encyclopedia Britannica comments on the situation:

"These independent accounts prove that in ancient times even the opponents of Christianity never doubted the historicity of Jesus, which was disputed for the first time and on inadequate grounds by several authors at the end of the 18th, during the 19th, and the beginning of the 20th centuries."

Thus, there is extra-Biblical evidence for Jesus Christ. The references to him are not many because there were many religious leaders in Jewish circles, and Roman historians didn't bother themselves with every little movement and sect among the Jews. During the earliest days of the church, the Romans thought that Christianity was a sect among the Jews (Acts 18:12-16). More about references to Jesus Christ

Further Reading:

  • Bruce, F. F. Jesus and Christian Origins outside the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974
  • Habermas, Gary. The Historical Jesus. Joplin, Mo.: College Press, 1996
  • McDowell, Josh, and Bill Wilson. He Walked Among Us. Nashville: Nelson, 1994

Why are the gospels very brief about Jesus’ growing up years?

The word “gospel” means “good news”. The purpose of the gospels is to present the good news – that God came down to earth as a man, namely Jesus Christ, and he is the only person who can be your savior. Specifically to the nation of Israel, the good news is that Jesus is the one who will put an end to antisemitism and reign from Jerusalem, just as King David did in 1000 BC. Jesus explained both these purposes to his countrymen and authenticated himself as the Messiah by doing miracles and demonstrating a spotless character. However, Jesus spent only the last three years of his life doing this. During his growing up years, Jesus lived much like anyone else, helping his father in his carpentry business. This is why the gospels in the Bible devote very little space to his growing up years.

What about the reports that Jesus came to India and studied under gurus in the Himalayas before returning to Palestine?

When we examine the evidence for such a claim, we should keep a couple of things in mind:
  1. In around 722 BC, King Shalmaneser of Assyria [modern Iraq] deported thousands of Jews to Iraq (2 Kings 17:3-6). Although they were allowed to return to Palestine (then called Judah) in 537 BC (Ezra 1:1-4), many of them chose not to. Today, DNA and other evidence exists that many of these Jews migrated eastwards into Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.
  2. The name “Jesus” in other forms such as “Issa”, “Yashua”, etc was a common Israeli name.
So it is absolutely possible that there were Jews named “Jesus” in Kashmir or other parts of India in ancient times. But are any of these the same as the Jesus of the gospels? The answer is a firm NO. How can we be sure? Let me explain.

Reason 1: When Jesus did his ministry, his most vocal opponents were the Pharisees, a sect made of Jewish purists who advocated a strict, ritualistic adherence to the Jewish law of the Old Testament (plus their own traditions) and detested foreign influence. The Pharisees were proud of their Jewish heritage and regarded foreigners to be second rate human beings. The Bible records several occasions where the Pharisees accused Jesus of not adhering to (their interpretation of) Old Testament law, and claiming to be God. There is one accusation that is conspicuous by its absence: they did not accuse Jesus of polluting Jews with foreign teaching. If Jesus had spent time outside Israel, the Pharisees would surely accuse him on the lines of: “You went and sat at the feet of those good for nothing Gentiles in India, and are polluting the people of our nation with the non-sense they taught you”

Reason 2: Jesus’ teaching is very different from what one would expect from someone who was exposed to Eastern mysticism. Jesus maintained that:
  • All humans are absolutely distinct from God and intrinsically sinful
  • He would pay for people’s sins by shedding his blood and dying.
  • There is no reincarnation
  • Other so called incarnations of God are “thieves and robbers”
  • There is no virtue in isolating yourself in a remote place and suffering discomfort (asceticism)
  • Any human being can be saved only by believing and trusting in him.
All these teachings are contrary to Eastern mysticism. In particular, far from toeing the Buddhist or Hindu teaching that we can somehow attain divinity, Jesus himself claimed to be the self-existing, eternal God.
 
Reason 3: Jesus never gave any credit to some Eastern master.
 
Reason 4: When Jesus visited his hometown, the people there recognized him as the familiar carpenter (Mark 6:1-3). This would be unlikely if Jesus had spent a lot of time outside Israel.
 
Reason 5: The story of Jesus in Kashmir is based on hear-say stories about a record existing in a Tibetan monastery. Such a record has never been produced. It is ironic that those who doubt the authenticity of the Bible despite heaps of evidence are willing to take such a hear-say story so seriously.
 
Hence, there is no credence for the notion that Jesus came to Kashmir and learned stuff from people there. Could he have come to Kashmir after his resurrection? No – his disciples claimed to be eye witnesses of his ascent to heaven and were willing to die rather than deny their claims. (See Acts 1:1 to 5:42 for their witness and click here for an account of their deaths).

How reliable is the claim that Jesus was sinless? There are rumors that Jesus had an affair with a certain Mary Magdalene.

Of all Jesus’ disciples, Peter was the man of action. He recorded that Jesus did not commit sin (1 Peter 2:22). John was the disciple of Jesus who was closest to him. He writes that in Him [Jesus] there is no sin (1 John 3:5). Paul the apostle was the man of knowledge. He writes that Jesus knew no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21).

These passages not only attest to Jesus’ sinless-ness but also illustrate how God the Holy Spirit has used different people to write the Bible. Although the words of scripture are God’s words, the Holy Spirit has not superseded the personalities of the authors that he used. There are good reasons to believe that Biblical writers are authentic.
 
Could it be that Jesus had some dirty secrets? When Jesus got his first two disciples, they asked him where he lived. He said, “Come and see” - John 1:39. For the next three years, Jesus’ 12 disciples were always with him. There were also those who followed him for some time and then backed off (John 6:66). They were apparently disillusioned with him [since it became evident that Jesus was not interested in liberating Israel from Rome]. If he was into anything that could be found fault with, these disciples would have known it, and leaked it. However, there is no record of such a thing. When these disciples left, Jesus asked his 12 disciples whether they would leave him:-

“Then Simon Peter answered Him, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the Words of eternal life. And we have believed and understood that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” - John 6:68-69

Peter spent each day with Jesus. Peter could have gone back to fishing if he thought Jesus was not genuine, but he chose to stick with Jesus. This flies in the face of any theory that Jesus had some dirty secrets.

In Jewish society, an affair between a man and woman outside marriage was considered very scandalous, and if there was any evidence of such conduct on the part of Jesus, his vehement opponents, the Pharisees would pounce on it to accuse him. However, for all the accusations that the Pharisees hurled at him, not once did they mention misconduct with women. Even after Jesus' ascension, when Peter and others were preaching that Jesus is the Savior of the world, the Pharisees could have checked the growth of Christianity by simply producing a woman whom Jesus had an affair with - but they couldn't - they merely warned the disciples to stop preaching!
 
Taken together, all these considerations show that Jesus' character was indeed impeccable.

Was Jesus a fraud who tried to prove that he is the Messiah by looking up the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament and then deliberately trying to fulfill them? A Passover Plot?

There are several problems with this hypothesis:

Problem # 1
There are Messianic prophecies that cannot be “deliberately” fulfilled. It was prophesied (in the Bible) that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem and that he would be a descendant of King David who lived in 1000 BC. When Jesus entered Jerusalem four days before his death, the people who welcomed him addressed him as “Son of David” (this is not the only occasion on which he was addressed this way). The Jews had a penchant for genealogy (they still do), and it would be easy to discredit any impostor who was not truly descended from David, or born in Bethlehem.

Problem # 2
The Bible records that many people believed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and Son of God because he was able to raise Lazarus from the dead, four days after he was buried (see John 11:1 to 12:19). On another occasion, an argument doing the rounds of the Jews was: “When the Christ comes; will He do more signs than these which this Man has done?” – John 7:31

If Jesus was an impostor, he wouldn’t be able to perform miracles and develop a following like he did. There would then be no threat to the Jewish religious establishment, and so no need to demand his crucifixion. But we do know that the Jewish leaders felt threatened by Jesus, and decided to crucify him (also see Mark 3:1-6).

Problem # 3
A person who clings on to this hypothesis has to explain what Jesus’ motives were. What’s the point in pretending you’re someone else and then getting killed for it? Why would someone do that? OR: Do you think Jesus thought he wouldn't get killed? Assume for a moment that Jesus was an impostor who was not aware of the prophecies predicting that the Messiah would be killed, and he was captivated by those prophecies that predicted that the Messiah will be a king. This does not explain why Jesus avoided those who wanted to make him king (John 6:15) or didn’t bother to attempt any defense or escape when he was arrested (Matthew 26:51-54).

Problem # 4
The prophecies surrounding the Messiah’s death are too varied to be manipulated. If Jesus was an impostor, he would have to hire a crowd to welcome him to Jerusalem (to fulfill Zechariah 9:9, written ~500 BC). He would have to allow Judas (who helped the Jewish authorities get Jesus when he was not surrounded by a crowd of fans) to get him at just the right time so he would be killed on the Passover Day (to fulfill Exodus 12, written 1500 BC). He would have to know who were the Roman soldiers on duty that day and bribe them to avoid breaking his bones although that was the technique usually used to finally kill a crucifixion victim (to fulfill  Exodus 12:46, written ~1500 BC), distribute some of his clothes, and cast lots for his seamless tunic (to fulfill Psalm 22:18, written ~1000 BC). He would have to bribe someone to open the tomb on Sunday morning and take his body away. He would also have to bribe the Roman soldiers guarding his tomb to admit (at the risk of being crucified themselves) that they slept and allowed someone to steal his body. Finally, he’d have to bribe his disciples to propagate this great hoax for the rest of their lives in his absence, and be willing to die for it!

Okay, enough said. Those who want to believe will!

Why did Jesus pray: "Father forgive them..."

At least some of the Roman soldiers who drove the nails into Jesus' wrists and feet were not malicious - they were only doing their duty according to Roman law. They were not aware that their "victim" was the innocent, pure, Son of God himself. So Jesus asked God to forgive them (Luke 23:34). What amazing love! God does not forgive those who insist on sinning and do not repent.

Why did Jesus say: "My God, My God why have you forsaken me?"

It is difficult for the human mind to fully understand what happens between the Persons of the Godhead. However, we know that Jesus was made sin on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21) and that God does not tolerate sin (Habakkuk 1:13). Thus, there was some separation between Jesus the Son and God the Father, and Jesus was suffering at the hands of the Father (Isaiah 53:10). The resulting agony prompted this rhetorical question (Mark 15:34) from the Lord Jesus - rhetorical because he knew precisely what was going on (Mark 10:45, John 12:27).