Did Jesus Really Exist?

Several years ago my (now) wife and I were having a discussion about religion with a friend of ours that I would describe as Agnostic at best. Knowing this persons background I expected to hear dismissing claims about Christianity, however, one claim this person made caught me especially off guard. My friend made the statement “There is more evidence that aliens exist than that Jesus ever really existed”. That’s a pretty strong claim don’t you think? I didn’t really know how to respond. Partly because I wasn’t prepared to give a good argument for the existence of Jesus but also because I was totally flabbergasted that someone could deny the existence of Jesus the man. Since that moment I regretted not blowing up such an outlandish claim. I knew that Jesus existed but I did not know how to defend it. So it is with this blog post that I intend to vindicate that situation a little bit and give a few good reasons that you can pass on to someone that makes this or another outlandish claim. First I want to outline some parameters for this post. It is not the intent of this post to prove that Jesus was the Son of God or that he rose from the dead, although my evidence touches on some of that. This post is to simply prove beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was a real man, that lived in the first century, and founded the Christian religion. Now with that being said let us jump into the evidence.

The New Testament Counts As Evidence

Some people are so quick to dismiss the Bible as a historical document because it is a religious document but that logic is just not sound. Just because something is a religious document does not make it a historically unreliable document (or set of documents in this case). In fact, it can be argued rather easily that the gospels are very reliable historical documents but that is another post for another time. If you are a follower of this blog you will know that I believe that at least 3 of the 4 gospels were written BEFORE 70 AD. If that is accurate then these accounts of Jesus life would have been written within 35 years of the events they describe. It would follow that in less than 35 years a large majority of the witnesses (or lack thereof if you are a skeptic) of Jesus life would still be alive. If Jesus had not existed then we could expect some kind of outcry after the release of these documents from contemporary sources calling out the Gospels for being false. One could reason that a resident of Jerusalem could easily come forward and say the stories of Jesus crucifixion are false however this does not happen. One could reasonably conclude that of all the people the Gospels say saw Jesus not a single person coming forward to say those claims are false is in itself proof that Jesus did exist.

Extra-Biblical Sources

The bible is not the only Christian sources we have detailing Jesus. The Didache, Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, and Polycarp of Smyrna are all first-century witnesses to Jesus that still exist to this day. The Didache could have been produced as early as AD 50 while Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp were all contemporaries of the Apostles and  original disciples. All three of these men could have easily verified if Jesus was a real man or not. Not only did they not come to this conclusion but they also all died for the faith. We can conclude that the evidence was so strong it made them all willing to die for what they believed.

You can read about these men and The Didache at New Advent.

Non-Christian Sources

Some people will not be convinced by Christian sources whether biblical or extra-biblical but do not despair. Below are 3 Non-Christian Sources for the existence of Jesus. Many more exist but I chose just these. A simple Google search will reveal more.

Josephus (AD 93)

[H]e convened a judicial session of the Sanhedrin and brought before it the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ—James by name—and some others, whom he charged with breaking the law and handed them over to be stoned to death.

Tacitus (AD 116)

“Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius.”

Pliny the Younger (AD 110)

They were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing together a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food—but ordinary and innocent food.

10 of the 12 Apostles Died Horrible Deaths

This is one of my favorite arguments for the existence of Jesus. I like this argument because it is a little bit outside of the box of just citing sources. The argument goes like this. We have evidence that 10 of the 12 Apostles that Jesus chose died horrible deaths for the faith. The only two that were not martyrs was Judas, who killed himself after betraying Jesus and the Apostle John who died an old man around the year 100 AD. Now you may be asking why the vast majority of Apostles dying as martyrs is evidence for the existence of Jesus? Well, let us think about that for just a moment. If you believe that Jesus was not a real person that actually existed what you are saying is you believe that 10 men who self-reported as eyewitnesses of the man Jesus of which none were particularly noted men were persecuted and died horrible deaths by crucifixion, beheading, and fed to animals for a man that never existed! That’s what you are telling me? 10 men (and countless others for that matter) all died horrible deaths because they would not deny that Jesus was God. That’s a pretty good liar that can be tortured to the point of death and still maintain a fabricated story that if he were to just fess up and deny would likely spare him such a fate. It just doesn’t make sense. Not a single one of these guys tapped out and gave up and just admitted that they made the whole thing up. This is just out of the Apostles too. There were an untold amount of other eyewitnesses who suffered similar fates but NO evidence that any number of them submitted and admitted that Jesus was not real. The fates of the Apostles and the disciples just does not make any sense if he did not at the very least exist. I would go further and argue that anything short of watching a man rise from the grave would not be enough to make these men die for his cause in the manner that they all did.

The Balls In Their Court

I’ve outlined a few good reasons to believe that the man Jesus of Nazareth existed. I believe that any of these arguments can stand on there own and that any one of these arguments are reasonable enough to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Jesus did in fact exist. It is also my belief that the combined weight of these arguments (as well as a litany of others good arguments) make it reasonable to believe that there is NO good reason to NOT believe in the existence of Jesus of Nazareth. So with that being said put the ball in the court of the person that is making this statement. Ask this person why they believe that? What evidence can they produce to arrive at such a conclusion? I would bet that most people will not have a very convincing argument or no argument at all to support there claim. It is very hard to find any serious scholar (Christian or not) that believes Jesus did not at least exist. So once again the ball is in their court. Let them show you what so many people before them have missed.

Infant Baptism

For the past few weeks, I have felt compelled to get back into the swing of blogging with a post detailing the reasons for infant baptism. Finally today I have gotten around to doing just that. I feel like this is an important topic for Catholics and Non-Catholics in Appalachia. Unlike most of the Christian world, where baptizing infants is the majority view, in my part of Appalachia, Christian faith’s that do not baptize infant’s actually carry the majority. This is due in large part to the high number of Pentecostal, Baptist, and Non-Denominational Christians that historically do not support infant baptism. In this part of the world, it is easy to envision a house such as my own that is divided with one spouse believing in infant baptism and the other finding the idea totally contradictory to there idea of baptism. So it is with this blog post that I intend to provide the Appalachian Catholic with some ammo to help your spouse/friend/general inquisitor understand the importance of infant baptism.

Why Baptize Babies?

To Catholic’s well educated in there faith this question can seem so obvious that when asked this question by a Baptist, Pentecostal or similar type of Protestant Christian it is easy for the Catholic to answer in an “are you serious?” way. This approach, as anyone that has ever used it can attest, is not the best way of discussing this issue (or rarely any issue for that matter). To best answer this question we must first understand where the person that is asking the question is coming from. Typically if a Christian is posing this question it is because they believe that baptism is a public symbol of a faith that has already been confessed. In other words baptizing is a symbol of the commitment already made to God by that person after they have come to an age where they can choose to accept God’s salvation for them. They believe that baptism does not convey any grace to the person being baptized but is strictly a public profession of the faith they have conveyed.  Thus rendering it both impossible and irrational to baptize an infant. Afterall an infant is incapable of making a confession of faith and choosing to display this decision with the outside world by being baptized. This position, as my Catholic readers will know, is fundamentally contradictory to the Catholic point of view. From the Catholic point of view, baptism is the beginning of one’s faith. That initial sanctification and grace that a person needs to begin their spiritual life. 1 Peter 3:21 states “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,”. Here we clearly see the Catholic point of view spelled out by Saint Peter himself. It is through baptism that we are saved and it is through baptism that we are born again into a new person and our sins (original sin of Adam and Eve included) are wiped clean. Although it is true that an infant has not committed and cannot commit personal sin, it is the Catholic view that baptizing infants cleanses them of the stain of original sin, infuses them with the saving grace of God, and starts them on there salvific journey. Understanding these opposing viewpoints is very important for both sides when answering this question. Being conscious that your Protestant friend has a view that baptism is more a public profession of saving faith and not as Catholics believe an essential part of a Christians salvific journey can at least help start down a path of understanding and respect for one another as to why a person does or does not choose to baptize infants.

What Biblical Evidence Is There For Infant Baptism?

Establishing understanding for why Catholic’s baptize infants is just the first step in the process. Even if the person questioning you about infant baptism is at least understanding of the fact that Catholic’s believe baptism washes away our sins, conveys the grace of sanctification, and buries us/raises us up with Christ, you will find that the nobility of our reason is not enough to sway someone’s opinion in most cases. Protestants by virtue of the Sola Scriptura (Bible alone) doctrine need to see compelling evidence within the scriptures itself and understandably so. So what evidence do we have for infant baptism in the bible? Of course, the number one objection is “Nowhere in the bible does it say to baptize an infant” and while this claim is true it is worth pointing out that also nowhere in the bible does it say specifically NOT to baptize infants. So where does that leave us if there is no direct evidence one way or the other? Well, it just means we have to dig a little deeper. The bible actually has quite a bit of evidence within its pages that baptism is meant for infants as well as adults. Look at Luke 18:16 for example, Jesus says “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” While Jesus is not referring directly to baptism here we see a principle being set by Jesus. He is not excluding children from his promise, on the contrary, he is welcoming them and even warning others to not hinder the children coming to Christ. If we back up to verse 15 we see the context of which Jesus is speaking about, it says “Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them”. Now it becomes even clearer that Jesus is referring to infants as well as older children. Next let us look at Acts 2:38-39 which says “And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.”” here again, we see that baptism is for the forgiveness of sins and confers God’s grace onto us but we also see that this “promise is to you and to your children”. Wait, what? You read that right. Baptism is for you and your CHILDREN. Now if we go on a few verses we find out that the crowd Peter was talking to that day was around 3,000 people. Granted he did not specifically refer to infants BUT the odds that of those 3,000 people he was not referring to a SINGLE infant in that crowd would be downright astronomical. On top of that if Saint Peter meant to exclude infants it would have been fairly reckless for him to have been talking to 3,000 people and not clarified that hey I was only referring to kids 9 years and older. Afterall it is very likely that a large portion of these people that heard this message had children of all sizes. 

I could go on and on with the litany of verses of baptizing of entire households and other proof texts for the baptism of infants but since I am trying to keep this blog post a readable length I will refer you to Catholic Answers for more biblical references.

What About the Connection To Circumcision?

Saint Paul makes a very clear parallel between baptism and circumcision in Colossians 2:10-12. It states

11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12 and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Here was see Paul refer to baptism as “the circumcision of Christ”. Drawing a direct connection to circumcision. If Saint Paul intended that infants not be baptized then he certainly picked an extremely odd parallel to draw here. For those not familiar, circumcision was a Jewish practice that required baby boys born in the faith to be circumcised on the 8th day after there birth. Drawing a parallel with a custom that was performed on infants would not have been a good way of illustrating baptism to the people if Saint Paul had intended that infants be excluded. Its worth also noting that Saint Paul makes no attempt to correct the assumption that infants were to be baptized too. It would have been clear to the Colossians that he wanted to include infants in baptism.

What Did the Early Church Think?

The early church was unanimous in its teaching that infants should be baptized. In fact, the only controversy regarding infant baptism was not about if it was right to do but how quickly after birth should it be done! Some Christians drawing on Saint Pauls parallel argued that baptism should be withheld on until the 8th day just as circumcision was. The debate got so hot that a council was called in Carthage in the year 253 AD to settle the matter. The council subsequently ruled that Baptism should NOT be withheld until the 8th day and should be performed as quickly as possible. What’s more, after this decision by the council of Carthage there was no outrage from the Christian community that believed that infants should not be baptized at all. The reason being, no such group of Christians existed. In fact, at no point before the Protestant Reformation can you find any significant rebuking of the practice of infant baptisms. Below are a few quotes from Early Church Fathers on the subject.

Saint Cyprian of Carthage
But in respect of the case of the infants, which you say ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, and that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded, so that you think that one who is just born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day, we all thought very differently in our council. For in this course which you thought was to be taken, no one agreed; but we all rather judge that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to anyone born of man. (Letter 58:2 AD 253)

Saint Augustine of Hippo
“The custom of Mother Church in baptizing infants is certainly not to be scorned . . . nor is it to be believed that its tradition is anything except apostolic” (Literal Interpretation of Genesis 10:23:39 [A.D. 408]).

Once again I could cite a litany of early church sources that clearly spell out the church’s beliefs on Infant Baptism however that would be outside the scope of a simple blog post.

Conclusion

I hope that you find this post informative and helpful. If you have any questions please feel free to drop me a line or if you would like me to go more in depth let me know.

Purgatory Explained

What is Purgatory exactly?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this about Purgatory:

“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”

Purgatory is the process of the final purification that the soul must undergo before entering Heaven. It is where we go to be cleansed of any stain of sin that remains on our soul at the time of our death. Purgatory is not a place that one can earn their salvation after death but is reserved for those that still need some final purification that has already been judged for eternal salvation.

Why Do We need Purgatory?

Revelation 21:27 states:

But nothing unclean shall enter it, nor any one who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Here we see the primary need for Purgatory. As I stated earlier Purgatory is the state of final purification before one can enter Heaven. We know from the verse quoted above that nothing unclean can enter into Heaven. When we die we may still be guilty of some venial sin or have the stain of sin still on our soul. If we die in a state of grace and friendship with God and are granted Heaven but still have the stain of sin on our soul then it follows that we must be purified before we enter Heaven. Afterall we must pay the price of our sin to the last penny. (Luke 12:59) .

Where Is Purgatory In Scripture?

One of the primary arguments you will hear from opponents of Purgatory is that nowhere in the Bible is the word “Purgatory” mentioned. While this is true it is not a sound reasoning for not believing in the existence of Purgatory.  The word “Trinity” for example is not found in the bible but yet a very vast majority of professing Christians still believe in this doctrine. Also, the word “Bible” is not found in the Bible. It does not then follow that since “Bible” is not found in the pages of the Bible itself that we should not believe in a Bible. What we do find is verses in the Bible which speak to the concept of Purgatory.  Here are a few of my favorites.

1 Corinthians 3:14-15:

14 If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

These verses from 1 Corinthians are my favorite “pro purgatory” verses. Essentially what Saint Paul is saying here is after death we are tested. If our foundation is in Christ we will receive our reward but if some of our foundation is somewhat shaky and not in Christ then we must suffer to burn off the excess. We will still be saved but it will be like escaping through fire! Or by the skin of our teeth, you might say. This is a very good breakdown of Purgatory by Saint Paul and fairly direct. When we die our soul is judged. If we are grounded in Christ and die in his friendship we are saved but we may still have some stains of our sin on our soul. We must be cleansed of these sins once and for all and suffer for those sins (remember Luke 12:59) but in the end, we are still saved and join up with Christ in Heaven. It is also worthy to note that this verse cannot be talking about strictly Heaven because we know we will not “suffer” in Heaven but it cannot be Hell because we know once someone is damned to Hell they cannot be saved.

2 Maccabees 12:40-45

40 Then under the tunic of every one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jam′nia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was why these men had fallen. 41 So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous Judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; 42 and they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out. And the noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. 43 He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. 44 For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. 45 But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.[a]

Here we see in scripture an example of an offering being made for the sin of soldiers who have already passed away. One could reason that there is no point in trying to atone for the sin committed if the person is already in Hell but here we see that these people died in friendship with God but still had a stain of sin on their soul. A lot of non-Catholics will scoff at these verses since a very vast majority of Protestants will not accept 2 Maccabees as God inspired scripture but they may be used to help with the idea of Purgatory anyway. Some opponents of Purgatory will contend that Purgatory is a made up Catholic doctrine that came along some time after Christ and his Apostles (more on that later) however, even if you do not accept 2 Maccabees as God inspired scripture, you must recognize that this is an ancient Jewish document that predates Christ and the Apostles and clearly outlines some of the basic truths of Purgatory. It is clear that at the very least the basis for Purgatory can be found BEFORE Christ.

Matthew 12:32

32 And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

“either in this age or in the age to come” would indicate that sins “in the age to come” could possibly be forgiven but not all sins have that trait. We know that there is no sin in Heaven and thus no need for sin to be forgiven there and we know that sin cannot be forgiven once a person is in Hell. So what does it mean? There must be a 3rd state in which sins can be forgiven. That state is Purgatory.

1 Peter 3:19-20

19 in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

Here we see a concept of Christ preaching to the spirits in “prison”. Again we know that Heaven could not be described as a prison and there is no reason for Christ to have preached to spirits in Hell. So where is this prison? It must be a state between Heaven and Hell. While not direct proof for Purgatory it is yet another weight on the side of evidence for an existing third state other than Heaven and Hell.

What Do the Church Fathers Have to Say?

While the doctrine of Purgatory was not specifically defined until the Council of Florence in the 1400’s we have a wealth of information from the early Church that points to a definite belief in the concept of Purgatory. Here are a few examples.

“And after the exhibition, Tryphaena again received her [Thecla]. For her daughter Falconilla had died, and said to her in a dream: ‘Mother, you shall have this stranger Thecla in my place, in order that she may pray concerning me, and that I may be transferred to the place of the righteous’” (Acts of Paul and Thecla [A.D. 160]).

“A woman, after the death of her husband . . . prays for his soul and asks that he may, while waiting, find rest; and that he may share in the first resurrection. And each year, on the anniversary of his death, she offers the sacrifice” (Monogamy 10:1–2 [A.D. 216]).

You can read more references at this link on the Catholic Answers website.

If the Church has always believed in Purgatory, why did it take 1400 years to define it?

This is a common argument for a lot of Catholic teachings that have been defined over the years. What needs to be realized by the person making the argument is that Catholic councils do not invent doctrine, on the contrary, they define doctrine that is already believed when a question arises about said doctrine. It is a testament to the rock solid foundation Purgatory has had in the Church that it was not defined until the 1400’s. That means that Christianity went 1400 years without raising a significant question about the teaching of Purgatory that needed to be cleared up.

Want to learn more?

If you want to dig deeper into the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory I suggest visiting Catholic Answers. Just go to their website and in the search bar type in Purgatory. They have a wealth of information on the subject.

Will We Know One Another In Heaven?

While at a funeral last weekend, the Pentecostal preacher who was delivering the sermon raised the question “Will our loved ones know us in Heaven?” His position was that he could not say or did not seem to know if we would be able to recognize our loved ones once we got to Heaven. Having not considered the question before I began to think about the question he had posed. Immediately a couple of passages from the bible came to mind that seem to answer this question.

The very first passage that comes to mind when pondering this question is Luke 16:19-31, the story of the rich man and Lazarus.

19 “There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Laz′arus, full of sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Laz′arus in his bosom. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Laz′arus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Laz′arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.’”

In this story the rich man not only identifies Laz’arus but also Abraham, which suggest two things to me. First is the most obvious and more direct to the question we are attempting to answer, is that the rich man who has just died recognizes Laz’arus who has also just died. This seems to be clear evidence that after death we will retain our memory of our earthly life and also be able to recognize people we knew in our life in the afterlife. Secondly and perhaps less obvious is Laz’arus identifies Abraham which would suggest that not only will we be able to recognize people we knew in our past life but also anyone in Heaven. It is assumed that the rich man did not live during the time of Abraham but yet he still is able to recognize him and even know his name.  I can only conclude that this is due to God sharing in his knowledge with us.

The second passage that comes to mind is Revelations 6:9-10, Johns vision of the martyr’s in Heaven.

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne; 10 they cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?”

In this passage John see’s the martyr’s who have died on Earth and are now in Heaven. It would seem from this passage that the Saints in Heaven are aware that God has not avenged their deaths and thus they are aware of the fates of those that martyr’d them. If the Saints in Heaven have a knowledge of those people who are not in Heaven and are on Earth then it would follow that they recognize those people and know who they are. If the saints have this knowledge of people that are not in Heaven, it is only logical they would have this knowledge of those in Heaven.

These are just two different passages that come to mind that seem to prove that we will in fact know our loved ones in Heaven. The passage I presented from Luke would even seem to go further and indicate that we will know people in Heaven that we did not know in this life. What do you think? Feel free to comment or send me an email to let me know what you think.