Wondering about Life
Writing about web page warwickcu.org/wonder
For the past year I have been serving on the Christian Union society committee to organise a week of events that we called – ‘Wonder’. If you’ve been on campus the past week, whether for an open day or as a student, you will likely have seen some of the posters up on the walls and screens. We wanted to hold a week where Warwick students could come and investigate the Christian faith, to test it and see whether it held water, to uncover for themselves if it had any power to explain the world around us and the questions we all ask about life, the universe and everything.
As a historian, I was particularly interested in the talks on Tuesday lunchtime about the historicity of the Christian faith. We were honoured to have New Testament scholar, Dr Michael Green come from Oxford to give the presentations.
First he talked about the evidence for the person of Jesus. Did a real person called Jesus of Nazareth live 2000 years ago and walk around on earth like you and me? Or, is he a mythical figure on a par with the likes of Santa Claus? Dr Green pointed to six non-Biblical sources from the time who attested to different aspects of Jesus’ life and the claims he made. Tacitus writes about the Christians who were being persecuted under Emperor Nero in Rome and confirms Jesus was executed under the reign of Pontius Pilate in Judea. Pliny the Younger attests to the movement of Christians in his region in the Roman Empire (modern day Turkey) who followed Jesus’ teachings, abstaining from ‘wicked deeds’, worshipping Jesus as God. Josephus – a Jewish historian and emphatic critic of Jesus and his followers – describes how Jesus was a ‘doer of marvellous deeds’, a wise man, a teacher, that Pilate condemned him to execution on the cross and that he appeared to his followers three days later, alive again and that his followers had also not subsequently died out. These are 3 of the examples.
The second presentation looked at the the reliability of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life in the Bible. Are they historically credible or are they made up fairy stories? Dr Green told us that contrary to popular belief: all the accounts were written within the lifetimes of his close followers rather than hundreds of years later (all four being quoted by Clement of Rome in 95 AD) and the gap between the first copies and the earliest manuscripts we have of the accounts – 150 years – is extremely favorable in comparison to other historically attested sources. Historically speaking, the gospel accounts are surprisingly water-tight.
I think in today’s society we tend to think that much of what we know about Jesus is built on fairy tales and wishful thinking, but this seems to suggest there’s a lot more substance to the Christian worldview than we might think. If it’s true, it’s certainly worth investigating. University is great for opening up these conversations and providing opportunities to explore different claims and worldviews for yourself. I certainly enjoyed doing just that with Christianity this past week.
If you want to investigate further, have a look at this: