I enjoy listening to the Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast. Skeptical investigation is necessary to find truth. But because we can’t personally investigate everything, we may be misled when we have to rely on what appear to be skeptical investigations by others. This seems to have happened to Steve Novella in episode #806 of the Skeptics Guide.
Steve discussed an author who researched the origins of Christianity and concluded that we cannot know whether Jesus was a historical person. What impressed Steve the most was the claim that Paul, the earliest writer to mention Jesus, only referred to Him as a spiritual being and never as having been a living person. This claim is an example of cherry-picking data. Paul wrote 13 letters that have been preserved in the New Testament. Quickly skimming them, I found six that referred to Jesus as having been a living person.
- 1:3: Born of the seed of David according to the flesh.
- 10:9: Believe that God raised Him from the dead.
- 11:23: Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread.
- 15:3-8: Died, was buried, rose again, and was seen by over 500 witnesses.
- 5:16: Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.
- 2:8: Died the death of the cross.
- 6:13: Good confession before Pontius Pilate.
Paul did not meet Jesus until after Jesus had died. Paul’s letters were addressed to those who were already committed believers, so he had no reason to fill his letters to them with details about the life of Jesus. But his message depended on Jesus having been a living person.
Paul was clear about why his main focus was on the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Gospels record that Jesus preached about the kingdom of God. After Jesus had died, His followers could only keep preaching about the kingdom if they also preached about His resurrection and His gift of the Holy Spirit to maintain a connection with them. Paul, at the time known as Saul, violently opposed their preaching. To Saul, the death of Jesus proved that those who followed Him were under a dangerous delusion. After Saul had his own vision of the risen Jesus, he changed his name to Paul and devoted his life to explaining why the death of Jesus was important to us.