Let's look at the evidence. What we know
about Jesus can be found in the gospel
accounts. But even a cursory glance reveals
many inconsistencies. Only Luke and Matthew
include any information about Jesus' birth.
Most of it is suspect from the beginning.
Luke has Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem
to participate in a census called by the
Emperor in the days of King Herod. Herod
died in 4BCE. The only census recorded
around that time occurred in 6CE. Governor
Quirinius ordered it for tax assessments.
People did not need to return to their
birthplace, but were required to go to
the town where they owned property. Joseph
could not have owned property in Bethlehem,
since they were very poor and had no place
to stay once they arrived.
Matthew's story is equally legendary.
He doesn't mention the census, in part
because he already has Mary and Joseph
living in Bethlehem. He focuses on the
slaughter of innocents by Herod, for which
there is no record. He also has the star
and magi. And of course, the genealogy
supplied by Matthew does not correspond
with the one Luke records.
All the evangelists describe Jesus' mighty
deeds -- that he healed the sick, raised
the dead, and controlled nature. Jesus
was not the only ancient healer. In fact,
one main issue with the Pharisees is whether
Jesus' healing ability comes from Satan
or God. And of course, a careful reading
of the healing stories reveals many discrepancies
or a merging of various stories.
All the gospels record Jesus' death by
crucifixion, but Mark and John differ
on which day this occurred. Most of the
events that are described are problematic.
The trial before the Sanhedrin would have
constituted a colossal violation of Jewish
law. Pilate thought Jesus was innocent
but allowed him to be killed. There is
no known custom for releasing a prisoner
(Barrabbas) on feast days. Then there
is the brouhaha over the empty tomb --
a point that is never even mentioned by
the earliest writer, Paul.
These inconsistencies provide plenty
of fodder for any skeptic. However,
let's be real here. We live in a world
of inconsistencies. Just watch any presidential
debate or go to any courtroom and listen
to both sides. Even where there is no
controversy, people will describe the
same event differently. Few scholars would
ever make the claim that the evangelists'
main point was to record Jesus' history.
They were not interested in chronological
events, historical accuracy, or verbatim
reports. They were interested in telling
those events that had value because there
were lessons to be learned from what was
Clearly, Jesus did have an amazing impact
on people's lives.
- Perhaps the most striking change involved
Paul. He was a zealous Jew enthusiastically
persecuting Christians, when one day
he encountered the Christ. He immediately
did a 180-degree turn and just as enthusiastically
worked for Christ.
- The disciples were devastated and
"cowering behind locked doors"
after Jesus' death. After the resurrection
and an encounter with the Christ, they
boldly went out and could not be intimidated
by the leading Jewish authorities.
- Jesus' family thought he was "out
of his mind" earlier in his career.
After the resurrection, his brother,
James, became a great leader in the
- Within a few years after Jesus' death
and resurrection, thousands of people
claimed to be his followers and were
willing to die for it.
Something happened to these people to
cause such changes.
- Was it the empty tomb? Was that tomb
really empty? We will never know.
- But consider this: Each gospel reports
that the first eyewitnesses were women.
Women were not highly regarded back
then. As a matter of fact, when Mary
ran to tell the disciples, they didn't
even believe her. If the gospel writers
were going to make up the story, they
wouldn't have had women be the
ones to discover the empty tomb. That
important role would have been assigned
to the men.
- The same argument can be used throughout
the gospels. For example, if Peter hadn't
really denied Christ, he certainly would
never have allowed that story to circulate
because it made him look bad. In the
intervening years, he had become a very
prominent leader in the church, and
that would have been edited out -- unless
it really happened! Then it became a
classic event, illustrating what had
happened before, and how he'd changed.
- Time after time, the disciples are
presented in a very unflattering way
while they are with Jesus. They either
don't understand what he's done; they
ask inappropriate questions; or they're
just plain dense. With the exception
of Judas, they all went on to become
leaders and workers in the church. Why
would they have told those stories
over and over unless they were true?
That was before; this is now.
The same can be true for us. We can acknowledge
that Jesus had a purpose and a message.
Does it really matter if he was born in
a stable with shepherds and animals nearby?
His life was dedicated to revealing God's
mercy and love. His was the way of truth,
life, and love. When he talked, people
listened. He wasn't out there bragging
about himself, he was telling people about
God. That message is just as clear, just
as viable as it was 2000 years ago. God
hasn't changed. We have only to make it
our own, to follow, and to do likewise.
There cannot be any hoax about that.