You spend a lot of time talking about the “Historical Jesus.” Why is it so important that we believe that Jesus was a real person? Isn’t it enough to believe in the teachings of Jesus, regardless of whether he actually existed?
It seems to me that the reason it is important to believe in the historicity of Jesus Christ is because it is that historicity that distinguishes Christianity from other religions. Other religions, such as Islam, Buddhism, or Mormonism are really just philosophies based on the writings of a historical person. Religions such as these began with a person who believed (or at least purported) himself to be enlightened or divinely inspired to write a holy book that followers would later base their lives on.
If one believed in merely the teachings of a person, then their belief could continue even if it turns out that the supposed author of those teachings didn’t exist. For example, about 25,000 people are members of the Church of Scientology  despite the fact the religion has been exposed as a fraud. The founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, has been quoted as saying, “Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wanted to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion. ” While the person, L. Ron Hubbard was not fictional, it is obvious that the religion he founded was. Yet many people continue to practice this religion because what they actually believe in is the philosophy of the religion not the religion itself, and definitely not the person who founded it.
Not so with Christianity. Christianity is not as much a belief in the teachings of a person as it is a belief the person Himself. Jesus Christ is not understood to be a prophet, or an enlightened teacher, but rather God incarnate. As such His followers believe in Him, not merely his teachings. In order to believe in a person, that person would have to actually exist. Just like the members of the Church of Scientology; even though their religion is fictional, the philosophy of the religion (which is the part they actually believe in) is very real. In the same way, since Christians believe in Jesus (not just His teachings) then Jesus would have to be real.
This point is even more emphasized by Paul who said that “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is useless and so is your faith (1 Corinthians 15:14).” According to Paul, our faith doesn’t remain useful in the absence of Christ’s resurrection just because we still hold a fideistic belief in God. Here Paul is pointing to an actual event that occurred in history and said that if it didn’t happen, then Christianity is a complete waste of time.
This also has enormous apologetic value. One of the biggest complaints that atheists make about religion is the fact that God is unfalsifiable. While I’m not interested in arguing for the unfalsifiablity of Christianity as it exists today, it is clear that in the first century Christianity was very falsifiable. The entire movement was founded on the belief that God raised Jesus from the dead. This belief would be easily falsified by simply investigating the tomb where he was buried. As William Lane Craig puts it, it is very clear that “the location of Jesus’ tomb was known to Jew and Christian alike. ” This means that anyone could have investigated it to confirm or deny the Christian proclamation that God raised Jesus from the dead.
Without the historical Jesus at the core of Christianity, it would be impossible to claim that Christianity is true. Christianity would simply fade into the background along with every other world religion. It would become nothing more than another belief system that people hold to because it feels good. It would have no evidence, and more importantly, it would have no truth.
For more articles by Brian Colon, please visit his website at www.knowitstrue.com.
1.Bernstein, Fred (09 November 2010). “In Pasadena, a Model for Scientology’s Growth Plan”.http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/10/business/10scientology.html, The New York Times. Retrieved 1 December 2011.
2. Gabrielle Devenish, (20 November 2011). “Cults in Culture: Scientology – A Fictional Route to Happiness (Part 4), http://www.christianpost.com/news/cults-in-culture-scientology-a-fictional-route-to-happiness-part-4-62428/, Christian Post, Retrieved 2 December 2011.
3. William Lane Craig, On Guard (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2010), 221.