What Do Muslims, Jews & Atheists Have in Common With Jesus?

What if two of the world’s major religions and at least some atheists, each opponents of Christianity, all agreed on a common fact about Jesus of Nazareth? When opposing forces agree on a fact, it becomes the strongest form of evidence.

Scriptural literature of both Islam and Judaism acknowledge the historical life of Jesus. Yet, his teachings strike such an acrimonious cord with both religions, severe tensions continue millennia later. Surely if either religion could prove that Jesus never existed, both would certainly do it.

Their avowed antagonism towards the founder of Christianity and his teachings provides a completely different validation perspective of the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth that stands apart from both secular sources and Christian Gospel sources.

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Writing of the Quran was finished in 632 AD and has served as the scriptural foundation for Muslims over the 1500 years since. It may come as a surprise to many that the Quran recognizes Jesus as a historical figure. It makes reference to him in 28 separate verses including 22 that reference “Jesus, Son of Mary,” such as this verse: [i]

“Behold! the angels said: “O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah.”[ii]

To be clear, the Quran does not say that Jesus is the Son of God, only that he is the “son of Mary.” The Quran does teach that Jesus was a prophet mentioned in the same company with Noah, Abraham, Ismael, Isaac, Jacob and Moses.[iii] To be a prophet, Jesus had to have lived just as did these other great prophets.

Connections between Judaism and Jesus or Yeshua are like a magnet – inseparable but with polar opposites that forever repel each other. The existence of Jesus of Nazareth, who was himself a Jew, cannot be denied by Judaism where he is treated as very real person in its history reference materials. The Jewish Encyclopedia, Volume 9, published in 1912, republished online as JewishisEncyclopedia.com makes many references to the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, specifically commenting about the accuracy of the Gospel of Luke:

“The whole picture of John the Baptist and of Jesus as bearers of good tidings to the poor has the stamp of greater truthfulness.”[iv]

In its biography of “Jesus of Nazareth,” JewishEncyclopedia.com sets the date of his birth at “around 2 BC” and his death in the year “3789 (March or April, 29 AD)”.[v] The Jewish Virtual Library fixes the date for the death of Jesus by crucifixion between 27 and 36 AD.[vi] Encyclopedia Judaica goes further saying matter-of-factly that the four New Testament Gospels themselves are reliable, historical records of an actual historical Jesus:[vii]

“The Gospels are records about the life of Jesus. John’s Gospel is more a treatise reflecting the theology of its author than a biography of Jesus, but Matthew, Mark, and Luke present a reasonably faithful picture of Jesus as a Jew of his time… The Jesus portrayed in these three Gospels is, therefore, the historical Jesus.”

Now throw into the mix a group that is antagonistic towards all religions – atheists. Self-described atheist blogger, Tim O’Neill, specializes in historical reviews and atheism. With a Master of Arts degree in Medieval Literature from the University of Tasmania, he is a member of both the Australian Atheist Foundation and the Australian Skeptics. In his 2-part webpage article “An Atheist Examines the Evidence for Jesus,” he decimates the theories of a mythic origin of Jesus. For example, O’Neill says that a false idea of a mythical crucified Messiah creates so many problems needed to support the myth, it makes the myth idea is so unrealistic it could only mean the Bible account is true:[viii]

“It’s hard to see why anyone would invent the idea of a crucified Messiah and create these problems.And given that there was no precedent for a crucified Messiah, it’s almost impossible to see this idea evolving out of earlier Jewish traditions. The most logical explanation is that it’s in the story, despite its vast awkwardness, because it happened.”

Islam, Judaism and at least some atheists have one thing in common with Christianity – they affirm that Jesus of Nazareth was a true historical figure. The center of the open debate asks, instead, who exactly was Jesus of Nazareth…just a Jewish preacher who stirred up trouble, or a prophet of God, or the Son of God? The starting point is accepting that Jesus did, in fact, walk this Earth.

What do you think?

REFERENCES:

[i] Quran.  Trans. Abdullah Yusuf Ali. n.d. <http://search-the-quran.com>  “The Descriptive Titles of Jesus in the Quran (part 1 of 2): “The Messiah” and “a Miracle.”’ IslamReligion.com. 2014.  <http://www.islamreligion.com/articles/230
[ii] Quran.  Ale-‘Imran 3:45-51.  Trans. Abdullah Yusuf Ali.
[iii] Al-Ahzab: 33:7.  Al-Baqara 2:136.  An-Nisa 4:163, 171.  Aal-e-Imran 3:84. Al-Maeda 5:75.
[iv]  “The New Testament.”  Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com>  
[v] “Jesus of Nazareth.”  Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011.  “Flavius Josephus.” Encyclopædia Britannica.  2014. 
[vi] “Crucifixion.”  Jewish Virtual Library. 2014. American-Israel Cooperative Enterprise.  <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org>
[vii] “Jesus.” Encyclopaedia Judaica. Page 246
[viii] O’Neill, Tim. “An Atheist Historian Examines the Evidence for Jesus (Part 2 of 2).  StrangeNotions.com. <http://www.strangenotions.com/an-atheist-historian-examines-the-evidence-for-jesus-part-2-of-2/> Last accessed 22 Jan. 2017.

What People Believe About Jesus, the Bible, Heaven & Hell

Hundreds of millions believe Jesus is the Son of God; then again, hundreds of millions do not. Sadly, many are unsure about what they believe.

A Gallup poll found that 84% of respondents in the United States believe that Jesus is the Son of God.[i]What is shocking is that most of those who believe Jesus to be the Son of God, don’t completely buy into the truth of the very source that proclaims it – the Bible!

A Baylor University study found that of those who considered themselves to be either mainstream Protestants or Catholics, astoundingly less than 12% believe the Bible to be literally true, yet somehow they still believe that Jesus is the Son of God. That suggests a lot of uncertainty.[ii]If the Bible is the only source that claims Jesus to be the Son of God, then with what certainty is the basis of their beliefs if they don’t accept the truth of the Bible? 

From the opposite side of the spectrum, the same uncertainty exists.  Pollster George Barna once found that half of all people claiming to be Atheists or Agnostics believe that “every person has a soul, that heaven and hell exist and that there is life after death.” And, of those who said that they believe in a Heaven and Hell, a scant 14% said that it is only a symbolic place.[iii]How is it possible to believe in Heaven and Hell, but not believe that there is a God who determines where a soul will spend eternity in either place?

Consistently with the theme of uncertainty, the Baylor study found that 99% of those with no religious affiliation do not believe the Bible to be literal, yet 17% of them believe the Bible to be more than just legendary tales. Why would they hold open the possibility that the Bible contains certain truths?

It is a conundrum. Neither the believers nor the detractors have an absolute single piece of evidence that proves that Jesus is or is not the Son of God. Still, there can be no in-between… he either is or he was not. If Jesus was the Son of God 2000 years ago, he still is now, but there is no easy answer based on a single piece of evidence. What’s the answer?

A person looking for a quick and easy answer will be sorely disappointed – it is not that simple, but the answers can be found. The information is vast and deep, ancient and new, ultimately leaving each person to weigh its believability.

Professor Peter W. Stoner, Chairman of the Departments of Mathematics and Astronomy and later Professor Emeritus at Pasadena City College during the 1950s published a book entitled Science Speaks.[iv]He calculated the probability of only 8 out of the some 48 Messiah prophecies covering predictions from his birth to his death that could be fulfilled by any one person from the time of the prophecies to the present day. Conservatively, the result was 1 chance in 1017 (1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000).

By comparison, the uniqueness odds of a DNA code matching to a single individual is 1 in 1015 even though there are not even close to being that many humans who have ever lived on this planet over the ages.[v] In spite of the incredible improbability that one person could ever fulfill even a fourth of all the messianic prophecies attributed to the circumstances of the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, these astounding odds alone will sway very few people to conclude that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.

Why? Probably because it is our nature to casually make many of our daily decisions without having all, even none of the facts. We quickly assess which traffic route is faster without checking a traffic report; take a chance on not getting a speeding ticket with no idea where the police are running radar; selecting a product based on habit or advertising; ordering a menu item that looks most appealing while having not tasted it; picking a movie based on the trailer but not checking viewer reviews; betting on the weather lacking a weather forecast; etc.

Evaluating the odds of whether or not Jesus is the Son of God, for most people, is no different. It is often a decision based only on tradition, assumptions, experiences, or bits and pieces of things we have heard and seen – a conclusion drawn without at least making a modest effort to look into it in more detail. There is a lot of variables to consider – what are the prophecies; how specific are they, are they legitimate; can a potential prophecy fulfillment be confirmed or is it merely a coincidence; not to mention the things that seem to defy logic and science? Looking at just one piece of the puzzle does not reveal the whole picture.

Look at today’s news where a video of a minute or less of an incident leads to an initial snap conclusion, but after more evidence is brought to light, the video evidence takes on a completely different context – the snap conclusion may have been wrong. Likewise in a courtroom trial, one piece of evidence also does not tell the whole story. Much goes into the ultimate decision to be made by a judge or jury after weighing all the many pieces of evidence. In a circumstantial case, one without any direct evidence or proof, the jury must be able to link a series of indirect evidence in order to draw a single conclusion.

In a court room setting, a verdict is derived, in part, by weighing the alternatives – is there another reasonable explanation; what is the probability it was someone else; moreover, what are the chances that all the circumstantial evidence is just one big coincidence?[vi]

Doctrine of Chances, a U.S. Federal legal concept, says the probability that recurrence of events with the same or similar circumstances pointing to a specific individual is not merely an accident. The greater the number of similar occurrences pointing to that central figure, the stronger the probability that they occurred by design, not by chance.

What is the improbability of mere chance that the confluence of events and circumstances at a single point in history surrounding the life of Jesus of Nazareth coincided with the Hebrew legacy of the many messianic prophecies, events, and circumstances over the previous 2000 years? Was it all nothing more than a big coincidence…or was it by divine design?

REFERENCES:

[i] Gallup, George H. Jr.  “Who Is Jesus?”  Gallup. 24 Dec. 2002.  <http://www.gallup.com/poll/7471/who-jesus.aspx> >
[ii] American Piety in the 21st Century:  New Insights to the Depth and Complexity of Religion in the US.  Baylor University. Sept. 2006. “Table 2: Religious Beliefs and Practices by Religious Tradition.” Page 14. <http://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/33304.pdf
[iii] “Most in U.S. believe they are heaven-bound, study says.” Austin American Statesman.   1 Nov. 2003.  Newspaper edition.
[iv] Stoner, Peter W. and Newman, Robert C.  Science Speaks. Chicago:  Moody Bible Institute. 1958. Online Edition 2005.  Chapter 3, #8.  <http://sciencespeaks.dstoner.net/>
[v] Trautman, Dave, “Probabilities Associated with DNA Profiling.”  The Citadel Mathematics and Computer Science publication website. <http://www.mathcs.citadel.edu/trautmand/stuff/dnapapers/little.htm>.  “DNA Fingerprint.” World of Forensic Science. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. <http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3448300188.html
[vi] The Free Dictionary by Farlex.  2014. Legal Dictionary.  “Circumstantial Evidence.”  <http://www.thefreedictionary.com/dictionary.htm