Why are there people that do not believe in the New Testament message? It has so much to offer including hope, forgiveness of sins, wisdom, education concerning how to live, and much, much more. It is the answer to the fall of mankind; together with the Old Testament, the Bible is the manual of life.
For centuries, people have been disputing the message of Christ found in the New Testament, yet, His message still lives. There are some, however, who believe that the New Testament is nothing but a myth. It seems that people choose not to believe in Jesus because people (not evidences), believe truth is relative and are changeable (unlike evidence). In this article, we will ultimately discuss why there is more to unbelief in the New Testament, even though there is not a lack of archaeological proof.
With this, let’s dive right in and analyze some of the archaeological evidence discovered in modern times that date back to the first few centuries A.D. In any event, it is hoped that this writing will bring glory to the Lord Jesus Christ.
One of the main problems is that people tend to need to see the simple things first. What is meant by this is that people appear extremely skeptical when some archaeologist discovers a great piece of history. In other words, it almost seems better to find small things in order for people to see the truth. With this, we will examine discoveries that are relatively simple at first, hopefully progressing in our analysis of discoveries and by the end discuss them as a whole.
We will start this journey with the Dedication Inscription of Pontius Pilate. Pontius Pilate is the person that crucified Jesus, ultimately. Pontius Pilate was the procurator of Judea.
In John chapter eighteen, starting at verse twenty-eight, after the Jews captured Jesus and put Him before Pilate to be judged, Pontius Pilate came out to them and asked what charges they are bringing against this man. The Jews told him that if he were not a criminal, then they would not have brought Jesus to him, implying that Pilate should just trust their judgment. Since the Jews at that time had no right to execute Jesus, it seems they thought that it was something that must be laid in the hands of Pontius Pilate. After Jesus and Pontius Pilate had a discussion on whom Jesus was, Pilate eventually had Jesus brutally flogged and finally crucified on a cross.
Now that we have a good idea of whom Pontius Pilate is, historically speaking, let’s take a look at the Pontius Pilate inscription, which is evidence of Pilate’s existence.
“During the excavation of the Roman Theater at Caesarea, a stone was found in the landing of a flight of steps. It bears the inscription “To the people of Caesarea Tiberium Pontius Pilate Prefect of Judea.” Another line seems to indicate the word meaning “dedication.” It is likely that the stone was originally placed on an outside wall to commemorate the theater’s construction.
So, there is quite a bit of literary evidence from the book of John and from the writings of Josephus that we have seen, but there are also several other writings not mentioned here that contain information about Pontius Pilate.
There has been no physical evidence until 1961, when they discovered the inscription of Pilate on the stone described above which dated to the period from A.D. 26 to 37. With this in mind, one can see that there is enough evidence, both in literary sources and through this inscription, to believe that Pontius Pilate was a real person at the time of Christ. “The inscription further substantiates the existence and position of this Roman who played a pivotal, though unfortunate, role in the plan of God for the Messiah Jesus.”
Mosaics are a form of art, which consist of taking small fragments of stone or other materials and placing them against a wall, floor, or other flat hard surface and are basically cemented into place with the final result being a picture of things, places, words, designs or people, etc. The Megiddo Mosaic Inscription is of superior significance for a couple of reasons, but we should first understand what the inscription actually describes.
The massive mosaic:
Describes a table offered to Christ by a female worshiper named “Akeptous.” The ornate Greek inscription makes reference “to the God Jesus Christ” and that the table was offered to Jesus “as a memorial.” The phrase “God Jesus Christ” has been over-lined for emphasis.
The location of this mosaic offers the notion that Christianity has spread locally, as well as that it was accepted by people who have heard the message of Christ, early on; in fact, in the third century A.D. Now the other good thing about this description is the fact that it shows that people worshiped Jesus as God. In other words, they affirmed His deity. The reason this is significant is because the Bible speaks openly and boldly of Jesus’ deity, with the understanding that He is God and should be worshiped. The fact that this mosaic exists and was local to the events of Christ as well as the time that it happened, points to the fact that the true message of the gospel was not dissolved or distorted because people genuinely believed their eye-witness ancestors. In any event, worshipers of Jesus seek to bring Him glory in modern times as well as ancient times.
It is common for people to vandalize buildings, etc., throughout history. A person can go to Rome today, visit the famous Colosseum and see the type of vandalism that appeared in that period. Most of the graffiti was carved onto the side of a wall depicting anything from fighting gladiators to caricatures to words of protest, etc. In one instance,
A caricature scratched on the wall of the Palatine palace in Rome, dating back to the third century, represents a human figure with an ass’s head, hanging upon a cross, while a man stands before it in the attitude of worship.
This graffiti is known as the Alexamenos Graffito, which is significant not only because it is the oldest known representation of the crucifix, “which was a mock-picture from the hand of a heathen—an excellent illustration of the word of Paul that the preaching of Christ crucified is foolishness to the Greeks,” but it is also significant because it shows that the crucifixion was really used since the actual crucifixion must come before the graffiti itself. In other words, this type of poking fun would not be anything unless there was some truth to it. “It can scarcely be doubted that we have here a contemporary caricature, executed by one of the Praetorian Guard, ridiculing the faith of a Christian.”
So, with this in mind, it almost has more strength to the argument for the cross because it was performed by one who was clearly not a Christian. “We know that in the second century, the Christians were charged with the worship of an ass, and that at that time there were already Christians in the imperial palace.” It appears that there must have been some type of cultural behavior that made fun of Christians because it was also understood to have been a persecution that the Jews endured as well.
So, then, the Alexamenos Graffito “supports the Gospel statements describing the crucifixion as the manner by which Christ died, a method of capital punishment that has previously been disputed.” In any event, the people, things, and events surrounding the life of Jesus are clearly real, so what reason is there to doubt the rest of it? Let’s, however, continue our journey through the world of the first few centuries in Christian history before we get to that.
The final archaeological discovery that we will discuss is an ossuary. An ossuary is basically the ancient equivalent to our modern day casket, but only held the bones of the deceased and not the entire body. Ossuaries were hewn from stone, and sometimes had very ornate designs on them depending whose bones were actually in the box. They were normally very small, because all they would contain are bones, not intact skeletons, and they were also small for obvious reasons, such as they were easy to store and easy to move.
There have been several ossuaries found in modern times that date back several years, but there is definitely a few that stand out from among the rest. Here, we will be discussing the James Ossuary, which is supposedly the bone box of James, who was the brother of Jesus. The significance of this ossuary is almost obvious: that, for one, we have a testimony of Jesus’ family, and secondly, that the time Jesus existed is in line with historical documents and other evidence.
So, now that we understand the value of the bone box, that James was the brother of Jesus according to the Bible as well as Flavius Josephus, we can move on to the issue of whether or not the ancient relic is fraudulent or not.
It is believed by some that the bone box’s inscription, which attests to James, the son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus, that it is a modern forgery as alluded to above. An argument against the authenticity of the James Ossuary is that
Though the bone box itself and the first half of the inscription are not contested, arguments that the second half of the inscription (“brother of Jesus”) was recently engraved (forged) and was not completed by the same hand have been posited due to the absence of natural occurring patina.
The argument could be dissolved, one would think, “If the same consistency of the patina is equally distributed on the ossuary and found within the engraved grooves.”
The Geological Survey of Israel certified that the patina that was found in the engravings of the ossuary was the same as the patina found on the side of the ossuary. So, what this means is that the patina, which is created through great lengths of time, is not only on the places surrounding the inscription, but the patina is also in the inscription. It was also believed, as mentioned above, that the second half of the inscription was later added, but both inscriptions were examined and both were found to have had the same consistent patina. Thanks to modern technology, we can come to the decision that the ossuary is authentic.
Another important thing to note is that neither the buyer nor seller realized the value of what was being bought and sold. The seller sold it for a few hundred dollars which is the ordinary price for something like that. On top of that, the owner of the James Ossuary “did not regard it as important enough to have it on display with other major items in his collection.” With these in mind, it is beyond reasonable that the James Ossuary is absolutely authentic.
Because the James Ossuary has fell under so much scrutiny (in courtrooms, under microscopes, and the bifocals of several paleographers), it can be considered the most authenticated artifact in history. In other words, the fact that someone accused the ossuary to be a forgery made it even more under a microscope, so to speak, than it would have been if it were instantly accepted as authentic.
If you're still reading, then you definitely understand where this is going. Because the Pontius Pilate Inscription exists, Pilate must have existed. Because people worshiped Jesus as God in the 3rd century as the Megiddo Mosaic reveals, the people must have believed it was the truth. Because Alexamenos was roasted, so to speak, because he worshiped Jesus who was hung on a cross, the crucifixion of Jesus must have taken place. Finally, because the James Ossuary is clearly authentic, Jesus clearly existed.
So now the question becomes, how can people still doubt the historicity in the gospels? One might argue that, sure, these things could have existed and maybe even Jesus was really on earth, but that doesn’t mean He is Lord. The problem with this line of thinking is that if Jesus is who He claimed to be, then He is either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord as C.S. Lewis famously put it.
Nicodemus, when He came to Jesus at night in the book of John chapter three, he was confused at what Jesus was telling him. Jesus replied to his confusion, “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” It seems that Jesus asked Nicodemus in order to open his eyes. It is hard to read the Bible in the manner that a person who has never read it before, but it seems that this is what we must do. In other words, consider the Bible innocent until proven guilty and not the other way around. Truth shouldn’t have to prove itself, but since this seems to be the way things go, it will only give strength to the Word of God.
Jesus said to those who opposed Him, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” In other words, Jesus seemed to have the mindset that no matter what you told someone, they might still be skeptical. He says again in John chapter eight, “He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”
A few chapters later in the book of John, Jesus pleads with people and speaking of His miracles, says, “Even though you do not believe me [when I say who I say I am], believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." It then appears that the necessary element is not Jesus being visible Himself in order for a person to believe in His message, but it is that one must only hear the message of truth: “I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”
What does all of this mean? It means that people choose to keep their eyes and ears shut to the truth. Modern Doubt comes from the false idea that truth is relative. If something is true, then it can’t be denied no matter how many people try to argue with it or no matter how old the truth is. All of these archaeological discoveries listed above, the fact that they exist points to the truth. The reason there isn’t more evidence for the existence of Jesus is because God wants us to have faith. The evidence we have currently is absolutely enough evidence to understand that Jesus is Lord, that He existed on earth, that He saves mankind from sin, and that He is God. In other words, we do not even need all of the evidence that He has given to us in order that we might believe, but He truly loves us and wants to see us saved from our sins and in heaven with Him.
In conclusion, even though religions in the past have come and gone, the message of truth will last forever. As stated in the introduction, it seems that people choose not to believe in Jesus because they perceive truth as being relative. The thing that is more to unbelief is not only a lack of integrity, bending the rules of truth, but that people do not want to answer to a just God with Laws that can’t be broken in order to receive eternal life. The thing that some call truth is something that seems to fit their needs and nothing more. Jesus said, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead." There is definitely something more to unbelief than a lack of proof. Hopefully, some will see that we do not naturally treat anything as guilty until proven innocent, so also it shouldn’t be that way for the message of salvation found in the Bible.
Written by Nace Howell through the grace of the Lord Jesus