Okay, then, what are the evidences for Christianity? Some say, for instance, that Jesus never existed, that he's just a fictional character.
The most important evidence for His existence is the New Testament, a collection of twenty‑seven writings (the first four devoted entirely to telling about His life and teachings‑two of these written by eyewitnesses), all of which tell of Jesus, of His life, of His teachings, and of the movement He started, which we know today as Christianity. These documents are strong evidence for the existence of Jesus.
But the New Testament isn't the only document attesting Jesus' existence. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, not a Christian, wrote of Jesus in his Antiquities of the Jews. In describing the period of Pontius Pilate, Roman governor of the area where Jesus lived, Josephus said:
Now, there was about this time, Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works‑a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was (the) Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day. (Antiquities, Bk. XVIII, Ch. iii)
Josephus wrote his Antiquities in the late first century, completing it in the thirteenth year of the Roman emperor Domitian (A.D. 93‑94). It is one of the primary sources of historical information about late Jewish history.
The Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus, writing around A.D. 112 about the reign of Nero, refers to Jesus and the existence of Christians in Rome (Annals, XV,44). Roman historian Seutonius wrote around A.D. 120 mentioned Jesus and His followers Life of Claudius, 25.4); and the Roman historian Pliny the Younger wrote of Jesus around A.D. 112 (Epistles X.96)
The Apostle Luke, one of the writers of the first four books of the New Testament the »Gospel of Luke,« was a careful historian (he also wrote the New Testament Book of Acts). At the beginning of his writing about the life of Jesus, Luke assured his friend that he intended to convey the most carefully‑researched historical facts:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word have handed them down to us, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you might know the exact truth about the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1‑4)
When Luke began writing about the public works of Jesus, he put it in a historical setting:
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas.... (Luke 3:1‑2)
The other three Gospels, or stories of the life and teachings of Jesus. also contain clear historical references. They were written by people who respected historical fact. Two of these men, Matthew and John, were followers of Jesus during His ministry; one, Mark, was the close friend of another follower, Peter (who himself wrote two short letters in the New Testament), and Luke was a close companion of Peter and several others of Jesus' followers, and recorded not only the life and teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, but also the lives and works of His closest followers and their first followers in the Book of Acts.
So there's very good historical evidence for the existence of Jesus. In fact, we know more about the life and teachings, and even the birth and death of Jesus than about almost any other figure in the ancient world.
All right, Jesus existed. But why should I believe you when you say he's God in the flesh? I think of Him simply as a good moral teacher.
Good moral teachers don't knowingly teach falsehoods, do they? And they don't lead people to trust them to do things they can't do, do they? They also don't make grandiose claims about themselves, like claiming to be God, do they?
No, I suppose not But did Jesus make any such claims?
Yes, He did,
One of the ways Jews referred to God in Jesus' day was the »the Father,« and Jews and Christians to this day refer to Him as such. At one point in His teaching, one of his followers, Philip, asked Him to show him and others of His followers the Father. Jesus responded, »Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father Is in Me? ... Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me...« (John 14:8‑11)
At another time, Jesus was assuring His followers that the Father would take care of them; he concluded by saying, “I and the Father are one.» The response of the Jewish leaders to this made it clear they had understood Him to be claiming to be God: «The Jews took up stones again to stone Him» (stoning was a way of killing people believed to have dishonored God by blasphemy). «Jesus answered them, 'I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?“ The Jews answered Him, »For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.« (John 10:30‑33)
In the Old Testament, the most commonly‑used name for God is Jehovah or Jahweh. This name is a rough transliteration of YHWH, Hebrew meaning »I AM.« It is a name for God that expresses His eternal existence, or, in terms borrowed from our earlier conversation, His noncontingency. I AM" as a name for God indicates that He owes His existence to nothing else, that He is in fact the first Cause, not an effect (Exodus 3:13‑15).
The Jews of Jesus' day were thoroughly familiar with this designation for God, and so was Jesus. But Jesus applied this designation to Himself when He said, for instance, »... unless you believe that I AM, you shall die in your sins« (John 8:24), and »When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM...« (John 8:28). Later Jesus said to the Jewish leaders, »Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.« The Jews puzzled over this and responded, »You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?« Jesus answered, »Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham came into existence, I AM« (John 8:56‑58). Notice the distinction Jesus makes between Himself and Abraham here? He claims that Abraham came into existence, but claims eternal, non‑contingent existence for Himself. What was the Jews' response? »Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him« (John 8:59). They believed He had dishonored God by calling Himself God.
Not only did Jesus claim to be God, His followers believed that claim. The Apostle John, one of His closest followers, called Jesus God in the first verse of his Gospel; John also quoted Thomas, another of Jesus' followers, calling Jesus God (John 20:28). Peter, another of Jesus' closest followers, called Jesus God in the first verse of his second letter (2 Peter 1: 1). The Apostle Paul called Jesus God in his letter to another Christian named Titus (Titus 2:13).
But that doesn't mean it's true. Just because someone claims to be God doesn't mean he is.
You're right. But what are the alternatives? We know Jesus claimed to be God. If He isn't God, then how else might we explain that claim?
I suppose he could have been lying, or he could have been insane.
Those are the only options if he is not God. But each option fails to stand careful questioning.
Was He a liar? Jesus always condemned lying. It seems psychologically pretty unlikely that Jesus was such a liar if He also condemned lying so thoroughly and consistently. Besides this, the idea that He purposely deceived people just doesn't fit with His whole character. Jesus loved people. He went out of His way time after time to help them. He healed them, got them out of trouble, fed them when they were hungry, urged them to love each other, and told them how. That someone like this could have been a liar of the magnitude of a man who would claim to be God when he wasn't is pretty hard to imagine.
Was He insane? Again, the idea just doesn't fit with what we know about Jesus. His teachings about human psychology, contentment, fulfillment, service to others, and the path to happiness are clear, compelling, and enormously convincing to many psychologists. Indeed, if people would live consistently in accord with His teachings in the »Sermon on the Mount« (Matthew 5‑7) their lives would be enormously more fulfilled and their mental health much greater than it is when they live contrary to those teachings.
One great Christian writer, C.S. Lewis, became a Christian after years as an atheist and, later, an agnostic, and was a professor of medieval literature and philosophy at Cambridge and Oxford universities in England. In his book Mere Christianity Lewis stated this dilemma forcefully,
... even His enemies, when they read the Gospels, do not usually get the impression of silliness and conceit. Still less to unprejudiced readers. Christ says that He is »humble and meek« and we believe Him; not noticing that, if He were merely a man, humility and meekness are the very last characteristics we could attribute to some of His sayings.
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: »I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.« That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be alunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg‑or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronzing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, London, England: Collins Fontana Books, 1960, pp. 52‑53.)
Of course, in the long run, this must be your decision. The only good way for you to decide whether you think Jesus was a liar, or a lunatic, or really who He said He was, God in human flesh, is to get to know Him, to read thoroughly about Him in the four Gospels of the New Testament. Read those, or at least one of them, and you'll have a clear picture of Jesus' character‑then decide for yourself whether you think He was lying, insane, or God.
Perhaps Jesus never really made these claims. Maybe the writers of the New Testament just made those things up. Maybe their histories of the life and teachings of Jesus aren't really accurate.
That's a logicial possibility, of course, but the evidence is entirely against it.
First, historians and archeologists, Christians and non‑Christians alike, who specialize in studying the region and times of the New Testament are coming to realize increasingly how accurate and reliable the New Testament is as a collection of historical documents. They are finding again and again that if the New Testament says something happened, it happened.
There's another reason, too, for believing those claims weren't made up by Jesus' followers. Of the twelve foremost followers of Jesus (called »Apostles«), eleven suffered horrible, painful deaths at the hand of persecutors because they refused to renounce their faith in and preaching of Jesus, His resurrection, and His deity. The twelfth, John, died in extreme old age, exiled from his homeland by anti‑Christian authorities. He, too, refused to renounce his faith in Jesus. And before their deaths these men all repeatedly underwent terrible persecutions for their faith and never once wavered from it.
People do not die for what they know is false‑but they willingly die if need be, for what they firmly believe is true. The apostles claimed to be eye‑witnesses of the risen Jesus and to have heard His teachings with their own ears and so have come to the belief that He was God come to save them and all who believe in Him. It just doesn't make sense to think the apostles lied about Jesus.
Finally, there's one more evidence that Jesus was who He said He was. He claimed He would raise Himself from the dead, and that that miracle would be the chief sign that His claims about Himself were true. The resurrection of Jesus is the greatest proof of His diety and of the truth of the whole Christian faith.
Now you're talking about a miracle as the greatest proof for Christianity. But miracles are impossible. They're contrary to the laws of nature, and the laws of nature can't be broken.
The laws of nature don't tell us what can happen; they only tell us what nature can do unassisted by anything outside itself. If there's nothing outside nature, then nothing can ever happen that nature cannot cause by itself. If there is something outside nature that can affect nature, then things can happen that nature by itself could not cause.
You and I agreed earlier that there is something outside nature‑that is intelligent and powerful‑God. We know God can affect nature, because He created it. If God could create nature, then He can also affect it in other ways.
A miracle is not a violation of the laws of nature. It is simply the effect of a cause outside nature reaching into nature and producing what nature by itself could not have produced.
The laws of nature simply tell us that effects are appropriate to their causes. Natural causes produce natural effects. Unnatural causes would, if they acted on nature, produce unnatural effects.