Posts Tagged ‘Christ’

Doubt Jesus

There are many stories in the Bible that elicit skepticism. The one that seems to draw the most attention is most definitely the resurrection of Christ, due in part to its significance within the framework of salvation from sin and reconciliation with God. Yet, what I find very intriguing about skepticism of the resurrection is that it didn’t start in the halls of prestigious universities or the courts of Rome. Doubts of the resurrection originated from the people most devout to Christ: His disciples.

Doubt among the Disciples

Throughout Jesus’ ministry we read of numerous times when disciples had doubts in Jesus’ claims. These doubts only escalated when Christ’s crucifixion began. One might immediately think of Peter’s multiple public denials of Christ, or the fact that only a handful of Christ’s followers were present at the time Christ’s death. But no doubts seemed more profound than those that followed Jesus’ death.

What we read of in scripture is a full and complete acceptance of Christ’s death among His followers. There is no inclination what so ever that any of the disciples thought they’d see their Messiah alive and well again. Why would the women go to the tomb with spices to anoint Jesus’ dead body unless they honestly believed He was dead. Why did many of the disciples that saw Jesus resurrected think He was a ghost unless they honestly thought He was dead. We can rest assured that the disciples were certain Jesus was dead.

Thus, we would naturally expect strong skepticism from the disciples when reports began to trickle in that Christ had risen from the dead. And this is exactly what we read of. The disciples continually did not believe the testimony of those that claimed they saw Jesus (Mark  16:11; Luke 24:11, 41; and John 20:25). To me, this is a very important line of evidence in the authenticity of the Gospel accounts because it shows the same logical thought that any rational skeptic today would have upon hearing of a dead man’s resurrection. And what follows is even more profound: That such skeptics would immediately do a 180 and begin boldly preaching of their risen Messiah.

Naturally, skepticism remains today, and a variety of theories have been developed to explain away the disciples’ behavior at this important juncture. There is a theory that Christ rose again spiritually not physically, another that Jesus actually survived the crucifixion and escaped alive without ever dying, and there is a theory that the disciples stole the body. It is not worth discussing such theories in this article because the conclusive doubts of the disciples already disproves them and they are, for lack of better term, ridiculous, as the Gospel accounts in no way support such theories and they would require feats so miraculous it would defeat the whole motive behind these theories, which are to explain away the miraculous. But there are two theories worth exploring that are commonly used to explain the disciples change in behavior after the death of Christ: The Hallucination Theory and the good old fashioned Liar Theory.

Hallucinations

The hallucination theory maintains that the disciples were so distraught at the death of their leader that they hallucinated his return as a coping mechanism. Thus, the disciples went on preaching what they thought to be true, though it really wasn’t. To anyone who doesn’t know the particulars of the gospel narratives that may seem like a plausible scenario, but when the content of story is analyzed its feasibility is remote.

The first thing to consider is the cause(s) of hallucinations. According to the National Institute of Health hallucinations are caused by the following: Drug or alcohol intoxication, dementia, epilepsy, fever, narcolepsy, psychiatric disorders, sensory impairment, and sever illness (1).  Next we need to account for the supposed appearances of Christ after His death. Reappearances of Christ occurred to multiple people at multiple locations, at one point occurring to 500 people. And therein lies the problem with this theory: The causes of hallucination would need to apply to all the witnesses (over 500) at various different times and locations. It is incredibly unlikely for so many people at different times and locations to suffer from these symptoms. It is even more incredible that all these people would, at different times and locations, hallucinate in their own minds, the very same thing. Such a claim seems so preposterous it would necessitate a miracle, which is exactly what the theory looks to dismiss.

Now one might try to escalate the plausibility of this scenario by downplaying the amount of people that hallucinated of the resurrected Jesus. After all, we were told that 500 people saw the resurrected Jesus, but that could very well be an exaggeration. The visions may very well be limited to the disciples alone, and thus, the plausibility of the hallucination theory remains.

This rebuttal, however, overlooks Paul’s declarations regarding these hundreds of witnesses, of which Paul declared that half of the people that had witnessed these events were still alive and could testify of them (1 Corinthians 15:6). Apologist Timothy Keller writes, “Paul indicates [in this text] that the risen Jesus not only appeared to individuals and small groups but he also appeared to five hundred people at once, most of whom were still alive at the time of his writing and could be consulted for corroboration. Paul’s letter was to a church, and therefore it was a public document, written to be read aloud. Paul was inviting anyone who doubted that Jesus had appeared to people after his death to go and talk to the eyewitnesses if they wished. It was a bold challenge and one that could easily be taken up, since during the pax Romana travel around the Mediterranean was safe and easy. Paul could not have made such a challenge if those eyewitnesses didn’t exist,”  (Keller, pp. 204).

So considering Paul’s very public declaration of Christ’s resurrection it is unlikely that he would embellish on the number of witnesses, leaving the original problem of such a wide variety of people suffering the same hallucinations. With that, it would be rational to conclude the hallucination theory holds no weight.  The late apologist and associate professor of evangelism at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield Illinois, Paul E. Little, writes, “To hold the hallucination theory in explaining the appearances of Christ, one must completely ignore the evidence,” (Little, 56).

A Foundation of Lies

With the hallucination theory out of the way the only other scenario skeptics can resort to is the very basic and commonly held notion that the disciples flat out lied about Christ’s resurrection. The theory goes that the return of their Messiah is a concocted tale with motive ranging from saving face to emotional shock. Yet this theory does not hold under pressure either.

A major criticism comes from Anglican bishop and New Testament scholar N. T. Wright, “It will not do… to say that Jesus’ disciples were so stunned and shocked by his death, so unable to come to terms with it, that they projected their shattered hopes onto the screen of fantasy and invented the idea of Jesus’ ‘resurrection’ as a way of coping with a cruelly broken dream. That has an initial apparent psychological plausibility, but it won’t work as serious first century history. We know lots of other messianic and similar movements in the Jewish world roughly contemporary with Jesus. In many cases the leader died a violent death at the hands of the authorities. In not one single case do we hear the slightest mention of the disappointed followers claiming that their hero had been raised from the dead. They know better. ‘Resurrection’ was not a private event. It involved human bodies. There would have to be an empty tomb somewhere. A Jewish revolutionary whose leader had been executed by the authorities, and who managed to escape arrest himself, had two options: give up the revolution, or find another leader. We have evidence of people doing both. Claiming that the original leader was alive again was simply not an option. Unless, of course, he was,” (Wright, pp. 63).

Additional criticism stems from issues in motivation. What motivation did the disciples have for concocting this lie? They surely would not financially or physically prosper from it as they had already left their lives behind to follow Jesus.  Lastly, and most obviously, would the disciples have willingly sacrificed themselves for something they knew to be untrue? A majority of the disciples were killed for their beliefs. It is one thing to die for something you believe to be true, it is quite another to die for something you know to be a lie. The fact that many disciples died painful deaths after a duration of being tortured, without recanting, testifies to the fact that they believed in what they preached, that their leaders was alive. If they had made the whole thing up, they surely would not have willingly died in such ways, or at the very least would have recanted during torture. With that said, the liar theory is not adequate either.

Indirect Evidence

One very interesting source of authentication of this story comes from world famous philosopher, and skeptic, David Hume. Though Hume questioned the claims of scripture in general, he found value in the disciples’ actions after Christ’s death. He writes,

“The direct testimony for this event appears to me to be very feeble… But the indirect evidence is much stronger. We have testimony to the effect that the disciples were exceedingly depressed at the time of the Crucifixion; that they had extremely little faith in the future; and that, after a certain time, this depression disappeared, and they believed that they had evidence that their Master had risen from the dead. Now none of these alleged facts is in the least odd or improbable, and we have therefore little ground for not accepting them on the testimony offered us. But having done this, we are faced with the problem of accounting for the facts which we have accepted. What caused the disciples to believe, contrary to their previous conviction, and in spite of their feeling of depression, that Christ had risen from the dead? Clearly, one explanation is that he actually had arisen. And this explanation accounts for the facts so well that we may at least say that the indirect evidence for the miracle is far and way stronger than the direct evidence,” (Broad , 142-143). To Hume, it is the very change in behavior among the disciples from depressed doubters to highly motivated evangelists is what provides the strongest evidence for Christ’s resurrection.

Little further expands on this, “What was it that changed a band of frightened, cowardly disciples into men of courage and conviction? What was it that changed Peter who, the night before the crucifixion, was so afraid for his own skin that three times he denied publicly that he even knew Jesus. Some fifty days later he became a roaring lion, risking his life by saying he had seen Jesus risen from the dead. It must be remembered that Peter preached his electric Pentecost sermon in Jerusalem, where all the events took place and his life was in danger. He was not in Galilee, miles away where no one could verify the facts and where his ringing statements might go unchallenged. Only the bodily resurrection of Christ could have produced this change,” (Little, 56).

Conclusion

In conclusion, the actions of the disciples after Christ’s death provides compelling evidence to support the claims they made. And with all other conspiracy theories debunked, we’re left with only one explanation that is reasonable, which is that Christ did rise from the dead. Though this will obviously be difficult for skeptics who do not believe in the supernatural to accept. Dr. Jared M. Compton, Assistant Professor of the New Testament at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary explains, “If the facts are patiently considered and one’s worldview is not illegitimately predisposed against the miraculous, then Scripture’s claim that Jesus rose from the dead is at least a possible conclusion. In other words, the Resurrection could be historically reliable. We might even say, for the moment, that since no better alternative explanation of the facts has arisen, Scripture’s explanation is presently the most satisfactory or plausible. The trouble is, Scripture, not least its divine Author, is not content with the Resurrection being deemed ‘possible’ or ‘most satisfactory.’ In fact, Scripture is not even content with ‘definite’ and ‘best,’ because its purpose points beyond belief in historical events. Scripture’s goal is not simply assent to history but, rather, conversion. As such, Scripture not only demands the events it records to be recognized as historical, it wants the explanations it gives those events to be believed (e.g., “Jesus was raised for our justification,” Rom 4:25),” (Compton).

British Bishop, scholar and theologian Brooke Foss Westcott once declared, “Indeed, taking all the evidence together, it is not too much to say there is no historic incident better or more variously supported than the resurrection of Christ. Nothing but the antecedent assumption that it must be false could have suggested the idea of deficiency in the proof of it,” (Westcott, pp. 4).

Alas, doubt of Christ’s resurrection may have originated with the disciples, but it is this same doubt, and the actions that followed afterwards, that go great lengths in authenticating the story.

References:

(1) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003258.htm, accessed 6-22-2013.

-Broad, C.D., (1965) “Hume’s Theory of the Credibility of Miracles,” as written in Alexander Sesonske and Noel Fleming’s Human Understanding, (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth).

-Compton, J.M., (March 2010) “Is the Resurrection Historically Reliable?” http://www.biblearchaeology.org

-Keller, T., (2008) The Reason for God; Christian Belief in an Age of Skepticism, (New York, NY: Dutton).

-Little, P.E. (2000) Know Why You Believe, 4th Edition, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press).

-Westcott, B.F. (1879) The Gospel of the Resurrection, (London).

-Wright, N.T., (1993 ) Who Was Jesus? (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)

If I had a dime for every time I heard the claim that Christian theology contradicts itself because it claims that salvation is earned through works and conversely by faith alone… well, I wouldn’t be rich, but I’d have a lot of dimes. Needless to say, I’ve become very familiarized with this objection and have found the answer not only logistically satisfying, but spiritually satisfying as well.

So where’s the problem?

“…know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” Galatians 2:16 (NIV)

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)

So it seems very straight forward. Salvation is determined by faith and not by works. But here is where skeptics normally start throwing out other verses that seem to contradict this theology.

For example:

“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” James 2:17 (NIV)

“You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” James 2:24 (NIV)

Sounds very contradicting. But like many claims of contradiction, the verses are isolated and out of context. Take the James 2:17 and 24 verse in broader context:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

‘You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” James 2:14-24 (NIV)

Here is the key point: James does not say faith is not valid for salvation. He is detailing what constitutes genuine faith. A faith with good deeds is genuine, a faith without good deeds is dead (v.17).  In other words, if one truly has faith it will show in their good deeds. Your good deeds do not earn your salvation, your faith does, the good deeds are just the consequence of the faith.

Gills exposition on this text concurs: “…good works are second  acts, necessarily flowing from the life of faith; to which may be added, and by these faith appears to be living, lively and active, or such who perform them appear to be true and living believers.”  Matthew Henry’s  commentary summarizes it nicely as well, “This place of Scripture plainly shows that an opinion, or assent to the gospel, without works, is not faith. There is no way to show we really believe in Christ, but by being diligent in good works, from gospel motives, and for gospel purposes. Men may boast to others, and be conceited of that which they really have not. There is not only to be assent in faith, but consent; not only an assent to the truth of the word, but a consent to take Christ. True believing is not an act of the understanding only, but a work of the whole heart.”

GoodDeeds

If you’re having a hard time wrapping your head around that here is an analogy. A thermostat controls the temperature in a room and a thermometer reflects the temperature in the room. The thermostat can make the room get cooler or hotter, but the thermometer cannot make the room get cooler and hotter. However, the  thermometer is a gauge by which you know the thermostat is working. If you set the thermostat to seventy degrees and the thermometer never gets below eighty degrees, then you know the thermostat is not working. Likewise, good works is a way to gauge genuine faith, but it is not how we receive salvation. Good works can’t get you into heaven just as a thermometer can’t make a room cooler or hotter.

In Romans, Paul harmonizes on the issue by referring to obeying the law versus faith. “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus,” Romans 3:19-24 (NIV).

The thought I’m finally left with is this: When once accepts Christ and tries to truly live for Christ and obey God’s commandments, good deeds and works naturally ensue. If someone claims to be a Christian but they’re consistently hurting, slandering, and attacking others, then clearly they do not have faith in Christ, for if so they wouldn’t do these things. One could also say non-action is also a sign of a dead faith, because a faithful follower of Christ would commit to action when it came to helping and serving others. As Henry seems to suggest, it is the only way to really prove your faith in Christ. So with better understanding it is apparent that there is no contradiction at all. Salvation comes through faith in Christ. Faith in Christ manifests good works in our lives. Thus you will see good works in the lives of the faithful, but it is our faith in Christ that achieves our salvation.

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To the layman, it may seem like as easy question to answer; December 25th, year zero! But like many subjects in Christianity, tradition has taken supremacy over actual history. Since I am never satisfied with tradition, I found it necessary to scour my resources to see if I myself could figure out just when exactly Jesus was born. It didn’t seem too hard initially since there are so many reference points; i.e. the Christmas Star, King Herod the Great, a Roman census, Roman Emperor Augustus, Herod Archelaus, Quirinus, etc. With so many historical events and figures already in place, all one has to do is match up the Biblical text and see if everything fits. And everything did fit… for the most part.

 

December 25th? Not Really…

 

First, the December 25th date should be reconsidered. It was Hyppolytus in the 3rd century that supposedly calculated Jesus’ birth to December 25th[1], though there is some skepticism as to the reasoning he used to acquire this date.  What is more substantial is that the Romans celebrated the festival of Sol Invictus on December 25th and exchanged gifts during Saturnalia from December 17-24 leading up to the 25th. The early church chose to connect this holiday with the gifts of the magi (three wise men, kings, what have you), providing an alternative holiday for the large growing Christian population and thus it became the holiday of Christmas.[2] This has only been observed since the 4th century.[3]

 

Something that should also be clarified is the misconception that the magi arrived in Bethlehem right as Jesus was born. Although we could speculate that such timing of a roughly 120 day (900 mile) journey[4],[5] through the desert concluding with such precision could only occur via divine appointment, the scripture itself does not support this. First, nowhere in Matthew’s gospel does it say the magi reached Jesus right as He was born. Second, King Herod ordered the killing of all male children 2 years of age or younger in Bethlehem right after the magi left. Why would he order the killing of male children two years of age or younger if Jesus had just been born? He did so because Jesus wasn’t a newborn at all. Whether Jesus was a few weeks, months or even two years old is still debated. Thus, we must separate the date of Christ’s birth with the event of the magi visiting Him to give gifts and worship Him which we know as Christmas. It may be possible for Jesus to be born on December 25th and the magi arriving later, or Jesus being born earlier and the magi arriving on December 25th, but both events occurring on December 25th is certainly not correct.

 

Historical Figures

There are many historical figures in play regarding the nativity story and they prove to me the most concrete factor in dating Christ’s birth. We’ll start with the big players first.

 

Emperor/Cesar Augustus: Cesar Augustus lived from 62BC to 14AD, coming to power in 31 BC, until his death.[6] He is important because in Luke 2:1 we read that a census goes out ordered by Cesar Augustus. The census being the reason for Joseph and Mary to pack up and head to Bethlehem. Now, a census in the ancient world could take up to 12 years to complete, so we’re left with a decent window of time for Jesus to be born after his family leaves town.[7] This gives us our first window, a broad one, of 31 BC to 14 AD.

 

Caesar Augustus (62 BC - 14 AD)

Caesar Augustus (62 BC – 14 AD)

Govenor Quirinius: Quirinius was a Roman aristocrat that became governor of Syria in 6 AD, presiding over the property census which occurred when Judea was condensed into a Roman province.[8] Quirinius is mentioned in Luke 2:2 in reference to Augustus’ census, more specifically that the census took place while (or before[9]) Quirinius took office. Since he took office in 6 AD, and the Augustus’ census took place before this, then our window shrinks to 31 BC to 6 AD.

Govenor Quirinius

Govenor Quirinius

 

At that, it should be mentioned that the term of office for Quirinius Luke mentions may not have necessarily been his stint as the Governor of Syria. Many historians believe Quirinius had been assigned to governing in the near-east ten years prior to his post in Syria.[10] Some speculate a date of 10 to 7 BC.[11] According to Dr. Jared M. Compton, assistant professor of New Testament studies for the Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, “Others suggest that Quirinius held some other office at the time of Jesus’ birth, a tenable hypothesis especially since Quirinius precise capacity at this time is unknown.”[12] This will become the first variable in the overall equation.

 

Herod the Great: King Herod was left in charge of Judea and Galilee in 37 BC.[13] In relation to the Bible, Matthew 2:1 says Jesus was born during the reign of King Herod. It is calculated that Herod died in 4B.C.[14] This is based on the works of ancient historian Josephus who wrote that Herod died a few days after an eclipse of the moon which was followed a week later by Passover. The only eclipse of the moon within these parameters during this time period occurred on March 13, 4 B.C.[15]

 

King Herod the Great

King Herod the Great

Other hypothesis shows King Herod died in 1BC.[16] The hypothesis that Herod died in 1 BC comes from Josephus’ writings that Herod’s reign lasted a little over 34 years from the capture of Jerusalem, which was on a sabbatical year and of which the Jewish lunar calendar held Tishri 10 during September. If we start from the winter of 4 BC as an estimated time of Herod’s death, and subtract 34 years (and handful of months) to the capture of Jerusalem we are at 39 BC. The problem with 39 BC is that it was not a sabbatical year. The year 36 BC, however, was. Take back the 34+ years of Herod’s rein to his death and you’re left with a death in 1 BC. Better yet, there was a lunar eclipse on January 9th of the year 1 BC.[17] So 1 BC appears to be the more accurate date for Herod’s death. Our window for the birth of Jesus is now smaller; 31 BC to 1 BC.

 

But the citing of “King Herod” is arguably a vague one for there were many King Herods; Herod the Great, Herod Agrippa, Herod Archeaus, Herod Antipas, Herod Philip etc.[18] How do we know which King Herod Matthew is speaking of? The King Herod mentioned above is that of Herod the Great. But there is also Herod Archelaus, one of Herod the Great’s sons who ruled from 4BC to 6AD (or 1BC to 6 AD if we are using the theory of Herod the Great dying in 1 BC). Matthew even mentions this son in 2:22 and his reign is within the window of Quirinius and Augustus. Therefore, some have proposed that Herod Archelaus is the “King Herod” Matthew originally spoke of in verse 1. But, there is a counterargument however. A counter argument which comes from the written dialogue of the Gospel of Matthew. First, why would Matthew write “King Herod” in verse 1, but just “Archelaus” in verse 22? Why not refer to him as King Herod again? Unless that is, Matthew is trying to distinguish Herod the Great from his son Archelaus. Second, and most importantly, verse 19 says “After Herod died.” Clearly, the “Herod” referred to here is Herod the Great since Archelaus is alive and well in verse 22. So it is safe to say that the King Herod Jesus was born under is indeed Herod the Great, and thus, our 31 BC to 1 BC window remains.

 

Emperor/Cesar Tiberius: Tiberius lived from 42 BC to 37 AD, and took Augustus’ seat as emperor after Augustus’ death.[19] Therefore Tiberius began his reign in 14 AD.[20] Now this becomes important because the Bible states that Jesus began his ministry when he was about 30 years old (Luke 3:23), and Luke 3:1 says that Jesus began his ministry during the 15th year of Tiberius’ reign. Granted, Jesus’ exact age isn’t given, but we do know that he was around 30 years old when he started his ministry, so we’ll work with 30 plus or minus a year. Since Tiberius began his reign in 14 AD, and Jesus started His work 15 years later, we’re given an exact date of 29 AD for the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Now to work backwards: By subtracting Jesus’ age of 30 (plus or minus a year) we get a possible birth date of Jesus ranging from 2 BC to 1 AD.

 

Cesar Tiberius (42 BC - 37 AD)

Cesar Tiberius (42 BC – 37 AD)

When we compare our previous birth date window of 31 BC to 1 BC to our new window of 2 BC to 1 AD we run into our first problem. The information based off of Jesus’ adult life excludes the possibility of King Herod dying in 4 BC. If King Herod died in 4 BC, then Matthew was wrong when he said Jesus was born during his reign, or Luke was wrong when we wrote of the details of when Jesus began His ministry. However, if we accept the possibility that King Herod died in 1 BC, then we find both Matthew and Luke in harmony. Considering Matthew and Luke’s track record for historical accuracy and that they accurately recorded events from eye witness testimony I believe it reasonable to stand by their claims and side with the 1 BC death of Herod. This ultimately leaves us with a narrower window for the birth of Christ: 2 to 1 BC.[21]

 

 

The Christmas Star

Yet, historical figures aren’t the only references to be made for the birth of Christ. The Christmas star is a noteworthy (if not the most popular) historical event surrounding the birth of Christ. So if we can date the Christmas star, we can date the birth of Christ. But  first we have to establish what exactly the star was.

 

The Greek word used is aster, for star. Its biblical use being that of any luminous object in the sky.[22] It could have been a star, planet, supernova, shooting star, comet, ect. A supernova did occur in 5 BC, and a comet (Haley’s) appeared in 12 BC.[23] Although supernovas are incredibly luminescent and seem to fit the description of the Christmas star, it doesn’t fit with the text since it would have been seen by everyone, including King Herod. Herod however, had no clue about the star. This same problem persists with the star being a comet. In the ancient world when comets appeared people would, for lack of a better term, flip out. Herod would definitely know if a comet had been in the skies. This rules out comets and supernovas. Shooting stars can be ruled out easily since they last a few seconds at best. This just leaves stars and planets.

 

The Christmas star may have been a conjunction of planets and stars, when two planets move so close together (that is, in appearance in the sky) they can sometimes appear as one large star to the naked eye. The same can occur when a planet and significant star move very close together.

 

Since the solar system moves like a clock, and we know the fine tuning of that clock, we can run the clock in reverse and know what people in the ancient world saw in the night sky. For example, Jupiter and Saturn had a triple conjunction in 7BC, one on May 29th, again on September 29, and one more time on December 4.[24] Though scholars point out that that both planets never got within close enough range of another to appear as one bright star.[25] However, the conjunction was 11 months long overall, an event that occurs only every 800 years.[26] This makes the event very noteworthy, especially to the ancient world.

 

Jupiter and the star Regulus had a triple conjunction in the beginning of year 3BC.[27] Jupiter was often considered the “King” or the “King of the Gods,” in the ancient world, and Regulas was known as the “King star,” so their conjunction may have been interpreted (especially by the magi) as a heralding of the coming of the King of the Kings.

 

In 2 BC however, Jupiter and Venus came so close together they appeared in the sky as one single star. Such an event is extremely rare.[28] However, we know the magi saw the star on at least two occasions, which to many, rules out this conjunction as the Christmas star. Others point out that the “star” may have been a series of celestrial events, starting with the Jupiter and Regulus conjunction, then the Jupiter and Venus conjunction, and finalizing with a very interesting event on December 25th, 2 BC, when Jupiter appeared in the sky over Bethlehem, and then stopped periodically (in appearance in the sky of course) before retreating in the direction it came.[29] This might explain Matthew’s claim that the star stopped over Bethlehem over the place where the child was (2:9). So the Christmas star may not have been one object or event, but a combination of celestial events (conjunctions).

 

Another way to look at the Christmas star is that which defied natural law. Just as the virgin birth of Christ defies natural law, maybe such is the case for the Christmas star. This view was adopted by Archbishop of Constantinople John Chrysostom, who wrote, “We learn from scripture that this star is by no means just one of the stars. It wasn’t even a star, it seems to me, but some invisible dynamis (a sign of God) which took on the appearance of a star. And one can prove this by the route it took, for we see the sun, the moon and the other stars travel towards the west but this one went north to south. It did not appear at night but in the full light of the sun… It did not have a course of its own but went and stopped where it had to stop, according to the occasion demanded, much like the pillar of the cloud which appeared to the Jews when they had to move on or set up camp.”[30]

 

In Acts 9 Paul receives a vision from Jesus that none of the men around him saw. A similar situation happens in Daniel 10:7. It is reasonable to suggest that the magi had a likewise experience with the Christmas star. The fact remains that we should not limit God to just using the natural order of things, celestial objects and planetary motion for example, when He is fully capable of miraculous events of the supernatural, like a luminous object in the sky that only the magi saw.

 

Ultimately the Christmas star is no help what so ever in pinpointing the birth of Jesus. In order for it to help in such a way we would have to know exactly what the Christmas star was. But we do not. Instead we’re left with two possibilities; a natural conjunction of stars or a supernatural element that only the magi saw. The former fits nicely with our 2 BC to 1 BC window established earlier. The latter could also support our established window since it could have occurred at any time.

 

 

Testing the Hypothesis

If we settle on a 2-1 BC birth date then there is also an opportunity to test the hypothesis with later historical references. For example, we know Jesus started his ministry in his thirties, and, in addition, we know Jesus celebrated three Passovers during His ministry (John 2:23, 6:4, and 11:55-57). The last Passover celebration was also simultaneous with Christ’s crucifixion and subsequent death and resurrection, so three years passed from the beginning of His ministry to its end. It can therefore be concluded that Jesus died around the age of 33, plus or minus a year. Therefore, if Jesus was born in 2-1 BC, then His death occurred anytime from 30 AD (if born in 2BC and lived 32 years) to 33 AD (if born in 1 BC and lived 34 years). If we can then calculate when Jesus died based off the Biblical data available and it fits within our range of 30 AD to 33 AD then we’ll have more certainty of the birth date.

 

To calculate Jesus death, we’ll again look to historical figures. Jesus was tried by Pontius Pilate who was governor of Judea from 26AD to 36AD.[31] From this we can deduct that Jesus died within this time range. However, we can narrow down the date of Jesus’ death further based of Emperor Tiberius. If Jesus started his ministry during the 15th year of Tiberius’ reign, then His ministry started in 29 AD, and lasted three years, then Jesus was surely crucified around 32 AD.

 

Pontius Pilate- governed Judea 26 AD - 36 AD)

Pontius Pilate- governed Judea 26 AD – 36 AD)

When further examination of the calendar events around Jesus’ death are examined as recorded in the Gospels, we see that Jesus died on Preparation Day (the day before the Sabbath) as indicated in Mark 15:42. The Sabbath normally falls on a Saturday, but during Passover, Preparation day is the day before Passover begins. But since Passover can begin on any day of the week depending on the year, then the preparation day Jesus was crucified on could have been on any day. At that, we do know that Jesus spent three days and three nights in the grave after He died before He resurrected, and additionally that He resurrected on a Sunday (Matthew 12:40, Mark 14: 58, and Mark 16). So if we go backwards three days from Sunday we land on a Thursday crucifixion/death, and therefore a Thursday preparation day.

 

Since we now know the day of Christ’s crucifixion, we know that the Passover He died on started the next day, Friday. So if we look back at every Passover during this point in time that started on a Friday we’re left with 33 AD and 36 AD.[32] And though both these dates fit with the time frame for Pilate’s term of office, only 33 AD works with Luke’s dating of Jesus’ ministry in 29 AD. From this information we can conclude Jesus died on April 3rd in the year of 33AD. This date fits very nicely within the projected range of 30 to 33 AD if Jesus was born in 2-1 BC.

 

 

 

What Month?

 

So we seem to have a very reasonable two year period for Jesus’ birth. But is it possible to pin down a month? Unfortunately in my research I couldn’t settle on a month, but I could settle on a season based on the shepherds.

 

Those shepherds we always hear of in Christmas songs are said to have been keeping watch over their flocks at night (Luke 2:8). Many scholars have pointed out that keeping watch over their flocks at night reveals two facts; 1) Scholars point out that the shepherds wouldn’t watch over their flocks at night during the winter because of the cold. 2) Others argue that shepherds would only watch their fields at night in the springtime when lambs were being born.[33] So based on the shepherds we can deduce that Jesus was not born in winter, possibly fall or summer, but most likely in spring.

 

The final consensus; without more accurate historical references the exact date of Christ’s birth to the day cannot be ascertained. However, I believe it is possible to speculate with a fair degree of accuracy that Jesus was born sometime in spring in 2 or 1 BC. This projected range works with perfectly with Augustus’ census, King Herod’s reign, Tiberius’ reign, and Pilate’s time as governor. So although Jesus wasn’t necessarily born in December, it may have been the time the magi reached Jesus to give gifts and worship Him.


[1] “Was Jesus born on December 25th?” http://www.gotquestions.org

[2] Lang, J.S., (2010) 1,001 Things You Always Wanted to Know About the Bible, (New York, NY: Barnes & Noble, Inc.) pp. 305.

[3] Gardner, J., (Ed.) (1981) Reader’s Digest Atlas of the Bible (Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.) pp. 172.

[4] Geating, W., (October 2005) “The Star of Bethlehem,” http://www.biblearchaeology.com

[5] Other historians believe the journey could be done in as short as three weeks. Parpola, S., (2009) “The Magi and the Star,” as written in The First Christmas, The Story of Jesus’ Birth in History and Tradition, Edited by Sara Murphy, (WashingtonDC: Bible Archaeology Society) pp. 19.

[6] “Augustus,” http://www.pbs.org

[7] Laurentin, R., (1986) The Truth of Christmas; Beyond the Myths, (Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications) pp. 328.

[8] Laurentin, R., (1986) The Truth of Christmas; Beyond the Myths, (Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications) pp. 328.

[9] Luke uses the word, “prote,” which doesn’t necessarily mean “during,” but can also mean “before.” Thus, the census in question occurred prior to Quirinius term of office, which is most likely referring to his prominent one in Syria which began in 6 AD. Per Compton, J. M. (November 2009) “Once More: Quirinius’ Census,” http://www.biblearchaeology.com

[10] Laurentin, R., (1986) The Truth of Christmas; Beyond the Myths, (Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications) pp. 328.

[11] Gardner, J., (Ed.) (1981) Reader’s Digest Atlas of the Bible (Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.) pp. 172.

[12]Compton, J. M. (November 2009) “Once More: Quirinius’ Census,” http://www.biblearchaeology.com

[13] Gardner, J., (Ed.) (1981) Reader’s Digest Atlas of the Bible (Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.) pp. 168.

[14] Lang, J.S., (2010) 1,001 Things You Always Wanted to Know About the Bible, (New York, NY: Barnes & Noble, Inc.) pp. 103.

[15] Geating, W., (October 2005) “The Star of Bethlehem,” http://www.biblearchaeology.com

[16] Laurentin, R., (1986) The Truth of Christmas; Beyond the Myths, (Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications) pp. 328.

[18] Gardner, J., (Ed.) (1981) Reader’s Digest Atlas of the Bible (Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.) pp. 169.

[19] “Tiberius,” http://www.pbs.org

[20] Mason, S., (2009) “Where Was Jesus Born?” as written in The First Christmas, The Story of Jesus’ Birth in History and Tradition, Edited by Sara Murphy, (Washington DC: Bible Archaeology Society) pp. 48.

[21] The exact date of Herod’s death and the exact details of Quirinius’ political career in totality will ultimately impact the accuracy of these dates. Until these details can be pinned down accurately, they remain variables to consider.

[22] Lisle, J., (2008) “What was the Christmas Star?” as written in Ken Ham’s The New Answers Book 2, (Green Forest, AR: Master Books) pp. 179.

[23] Gardner, J., (Ed.) (1981) Reader’s Digest Atlas of the Bible (Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.) pp. 172.

[24] Gardner, J., (Ed.) (1981) Reader’s Digest Atlas of the Bible (Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.) pp. 172.

[25] Parpola, S., (2009) “The Magi and the Star,” as written in The First Christmas, The Story of Jesus’ Birth in History and Tradition, Edited by Sara Murphy, (WashingtonDC: Bible Archaeology Society) pp. 16.

[26] Parpola, S., (2009) “The Magi and the Star,” as written in The First Christmas, The Story of Jesus’ Birth in History and Tradition, Edited by Sara Murphy, (WashingtonDC: Bible Archaeology Society) pp. 17.

[27] Lisle, J., (2008) “What was the Christmas Star?” as written in Ken Ham’s The New Answers Book 2, (Green Forest, AR: Master Books) pp. 180.

[28] Lisle, J., (2008) “What was the Christmas Star?” as written in Ken Ham’s The New Answers Book 2, (Green Forest, AR: Master Books) pp. 180.

[29] This is possible because of retrograde motion. Retrograde motion is a visual effect that occurs when a viewer from a moving platform is viewing another moving object traveling at varying speeds, distances and directions. The result can make an object, such as a planet, appear to change directions in the sky despite the planet not actually doing so.

[30] As quoted in Laurentin, R., (1986) The Truth of Christmas; Beyond the Myths, (Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications) pp. 396.

[31] “Pontius Pilate,” http://www.britannica.com

[32] “How Long was Jesus’ Ministry?” http://www.gotquestions.org

[33] Geating, W., (October 2005) “The Star of Bethlehem,” http://www.biblearchaeology.com

Christianity all revolves around a critical facet of the New Testament; the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. If Jesus never resurrected from the dead that Christianity is pointless for the most part. His conquering of death is the climax of His divine life. Though there are many conspiracies regarding whether Jesus died or not, there is one in particular regarding His burial that stands out. This is the conspiracy that Jesus’ body was eaten by dogs or other wild animals. And therefore there was no resurrection because there was no body left to resurrect.

Before proceeding, it should first be put to rest the debate on whether Jesus was actually crucified. The vast majority of scholars (secular and non-secular) agree Jesus was crucified. The writers of the gospels wrote an incredibly detailed and accurate account of it. It was also the most shameful way to die, which leads one conclude the stories were not concocted, as why would followers write of their Messiah dying in the most humiliating and shameful way? Unless it was true. Also non-Christian Roman historian Tactitus recorded Jesus’ crucifixion. So rest assured it can be logically established that Jesus was crucified. But what happened to Jesus’ body after it was crucified.

J.D. Crossan writes, “The norm was to let the crucified rot on the cross or be cast aside for carrion.”[1] Crossan believes Jesus most likely incurred the same fate of being left on the cross, his body then eaten by wild animals. Crossan’s conclusion is reached from evidence from the historical event from AD70 when Emperor Titus captured and crucified 2,000 Jewish rebels leaving their bodies to rot on the crosses from which they hung. There are numerous occasions when mass executions were recorded in Rome with bodies left to rot. Many Roman writers mentioned crucifixion in their literature, “The Vulture hurries, from dead cattle to dead dogs to crosses.”[2] Lastly Crossan points out that of the tens of thousands of crucified people killed for centuries, only one bone has been found of a crucified person. This, he claims, is testimony that the crucified had their bodies consumed by wild animals.

“In the ancient mind, the supreme honor of crucifixion was to lose public mourning, to forfeit proper burial, to lie separate from one’s ancestors forever… In normal circumstances the soldiers guarding the body until death and thereafter it was left for carrion crow, scavenger, dog, or other wild beast to finish the brutal job. That non-burial consummated the authority’s dreadful warning to any observer and every passerby.” John Dominic Crossan, Jesus Seminar.[3]

Jewish Law:

Sure, in most areas of theRoman Empirecrucified bodies were left for the wild animals. But Jesus was crucified inJudea, a Jewish country. AndJudeawas governed by Jewish Law, particularly Deut. 21:22-23; “If someone guilty of a capital offense is put to death and their body is exposed on a pole, you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance (NIV),” and Ezekiel 39:14-16, “People will be continually employed in cleansing the land. They will spread out across the land and, along with others, they will bury any bodies that are lying on the ground. After the seven months they will carry out a more detailed search. As they go through the land, anyone who sees a human bone will leave a marker beside it until the gravediggers bury it in theValleyofHamon Gog, near a town called Hamonah.And so they will cleanse the land (NIV).”

The Temple Scroll from Qumran from before the time of Christ also testifies to this, “You shall not allow bodies to remain on a tree overnight most assuredly, you shall bury them, even on the very day of their death,”[4]  The Jewish Book of Tobit written between the OT and the NT says that burying an abandoned corpse is an act of supreme piety.[5]

Rabbis of the time also recorded that even the death of criminals deserved proper burial.[6] Then take into consideration that Jesus died on the eve of a significant Jewish holiday, Passover. If there is one time you don’t break Jewish law, it’s a major holiday like Passover. That’s plenty of motivation to bury Jesus’ body, which is exactly the gospels say happened. Now you might be thinking, so what? Roman Law supersedes Jewish Law, so it doesn’t matter what the Jewish Law were.

Roman Law:

True it didn’t matter what the Jewish Laws were during periods of war. Like the Jewish revolt in AD 70, when the Romans crucified thousands of Jews and left their bodies to rot on crosses. But we’re talking about Jesus’ crucifixion forty years earlier. Jesus wasn’t crucified during a time of war, but in fact during a relatively peaceful time inJerusalem.

During times of peace, Romans respected the laws of the nations they controlled, in this case the Jewish law. Jewish-Roman historian Josephus wrote the following, “The Romans do not require… their subjects to violate national laws.”[7] Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria wrote the following of Jewish practices, “I’ve known cases when, on the eve of a holiday of this sort, people who have been crucified were taken down, their bodies handed over to the families, because it was considered good to give them burial and allow their ordinary rites. It was appropriate that the dead also should have the advantage of kindness upon the emperor’s birthday and also that the sanctity of the festival should be maintained.”[8]

Josephus records an event where Herod Antipas gave the body of John the Baptist back to his disciples after John was beheaded.[9] It is very probable Pontius Pilate gave the body of Jesus back to His family based off what was common place at that time, even though Roman law didn’t command it. It would have been in Pilate’s best interest to keep the peace anyways before such a big Jewish festival took place.

Even the Roman Law itself allowed leeway for this. Pandectae summarized Roman legal code for crucifixion as follows; “The bodies of those who are condemned to death should not be refused their relatives; and [Caesar] Augustus the Divine, in the tenth book of his Vita, said that this rule had been observed. At present the bodies of those who have been punished are only buried when this has been requested and permission granted; and sometimes it is not permitted, especially when the persons have been committed of high treason… The body of persons have been punished should be given to whoever requests them for the purpose of burial.”[10]

So then why is their so much recorded history of people being left on the cross and their bodies left to rot and be picked apart by wild animals? Because being crucified was the ultimate form of humiliation, torture and death, reserved only for the worst criminals. It was the most shame one could endure. So if a family member was crucified it would be a shame to the family to take the body down. Many people sent to the cross were disowned by their families. Then take into consideration that theRoman empirecovered vast regions of the earth were there were no Jewish inhabitants with such strict burial laws and it becomes clear why there are so many accounts of bodies being left to rot on the cross. But when taking into consideration Roman and Jewish law and the circumstances of Jesus’ death on the eve of Passover, there is no reason to assume Jesus’ body was left to rot.

What about their being only one bone of a crucified person found? This claim comes from the fact that there has only been one bone discovered in which a crucifixion nail was still imbedded in the bone. But there could be dozens of reasons why only one has been found in such a fashion: Not all crucifixions involved nails penetrating actual bone. If a body was taken off a cross the nails would be removed and why would someone bury the crucified body along with the nails? Just because we haven’t found any more bones with nails in them doesn’t mean they’re not out there. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. And just because nails were not found among the skeletal remains of a body does not mean there was no crucifixion. In other words, it’s quite a stretch to draw such a conclusion that only one bone found with a nail means that all crucified bodies were eaten by wild animals.

In conclusion, if one understands Jewish and Roman Law and crucifixion practices at that time, it becomes pretty clear that there is no basis to speculate Jesus’ body was left to rot, eaten by wild animals.


[1] J.D. Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, (Harper One 1995) Pg. 127

[2] Juvenal, Satires 14:77-78

[3] As quoted in Crossan and Reed’s, Excavating Jesus; Beneath the Stones, Behind the Text, (Harper Collins 2002) pg.290-291; J.D. Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, (Harper One 1995) Pg.153.

[4]11QT64:11-13, 4Q524l 11QT48:10-14

[5] Book of Tobit 1:18-20, 2:3-8, 4:3-4,14:10-13

[6] Mishnah Sanhedrin 6:4-6

[7] Josephus, Contra Apionem, 2:6

[8] Philo of Alexandria, In Flaccus, 10.81-85

[9] Josephus, Antiquities Judaica, 18:5

[10] Corpus Iuris Civilis, Pandectae 48.24.1-3