Is the Jesus of faith the Jesus of history? Are the stories about Jesus in the New Testament true accounts or later embellishments? There are many who argue that the Jesus depicted in the New Testament (N.T.) is not the true Jesus of history. The reason for this objection is based in their assumption that miracles are impossible. If miracles are impossible, then the stories of Jesus in the N.T. cannot be completely true. However, those who object to the miraculous claims have to answer a different question. Are the miraculous claims about Jesus in the N.T. something that could have come from the imaginations of the New Testament writers?[1] We can’t deny that these miraculous stories exist, they are in the pages of the N.T. The origination of the miraculous stories of Jesus is what we need to determine.

Powerful People
In order to determine if the N.T. writers dreamt up these stories about Jesus, we need to ask some questions. The first is this: Excluding Jesus, who are some of the most powerful people who have ever existed in actual history or in the history of human imagination (fiction)? Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, and Joseph Stalin all qualify. These were very powerful people who exerted their power on the world through military might, ideologies and politics. As for powerful people in the history of human imagination (fiction), there are characters like Thor, Superman, Odysseus, and Zeus. These fictional characters exhibit power like flying faster than a speeding bullet, wielding a hammer with magical properties, and throwing lightning bolts.

Humble and Selfless People
The second question we need to ask is: Excluding Jesus, who are some of the most humble, selfless people who have ever existed in actual history or in the history of human imagination? The people who fit this description are Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, and Gandhi. People who gave their lives serving others, sacrificing their own well-being for a certain group of people, and  disregarding their comforts and desires to help the needy. I’m sure there are fictional characters who fit the description of humble and selfless, but I honestly can’t think of any. One of the reasons for this is that humble and selfless characters do not contribute to exiting works of fiction.

Jesus' Power and Humility/Seflessness
For the sake of argument, let’s take the position that the New Testament is a work of fiction, and not God’s word. What does this work of literature claim about the power, humility and selflessness of Jesus?

For Power, the N.T. claims:
   1. Jesus can control nature
            -Jesus told the wind and waves to become perfectly still and they did-Mark 4:39-41  
  2. Jesus raises people from the dead
         -Jairus' Daughter-Mark 5:41-42
         -The Widow’s Son-Luke 7:14-15
         -Lazarus-John 11:43-44
  3. Jesus himself was raised from the dead-Matthew 28
         -Jesus is said to be the creator of all things that came into being-John 1:1-3 

Based on these statements about the power of Jesus, he is more powerful than Alexander the Great, Hitler, Zeus, and even Superman. Superman flies quickly through space, yet Jesus created space. Zeus, Hitler and Alexander can wield their militaries, ideologies and even lightning bolts, yet Jesus is the creator of all people, all matter, the intellect, and electricity. It is logical to conclude that Jesus (even as a fictional, literary character) is more powerful than any person who has existed in actual history and fictional history.
 
What does the N.T. say about the humility and selflessness of Jesus?
     1. Jesus states that his purpose is to give his life for others
        -Jesus said, “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give
             His life a ransom for many.”
 –Mathew 20:28
        -Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the
              sheep
.” –John 10:11
     2. Jesus never used his supernatural powers for Himself
        -He is willing to use his power to multiply loaves and fishes for 5,000 people
             (Matthew 14:13-21), but he is unwilling to use his power to change stones into
              bread for his own nourishment (Matthew 4:1-4)
        -He is willing to heal others (John 9:1-12Luke 17:11-19Matthew 9:20-21), but even
             when taunted to save himself from his own wounds, he would not (Mark 15:29-30)
     3. Jesus is focused on the well-being of others, even when being tortured.
        -During the torture on the cross Jesus says “Father forgive them; for they do not
             know what they are doing.
” –Luke 23:34
     4. Jesus is also said to have been been God before he humbled himself and became a
         man (Philippians 2:5-8)
 
 Based on these stories about Jesus, it is logical to conclude that he was the humblest and most selfless person in actual and fictional history. Even more than this, he would be the only person ever qualified to be so humble and so selfless considering he subjected himself to living a human life when he had previously existed outside of his creation.
 
Conclusion
According to this argument, Jesus (the literary character) is the most powerful and most humble/selfless person ever dreamt up by human imagination. So what is the point of all of this? Well, if the N.T. stories about Jesus are fictional what we would have to believe is that a group of fisherman and tax collectors in 1st century Israel were responsible for dreaming up the most powerful and most humble person in all of human literature. Not Shakespeare, not Homer, not Dante, not Mark Twain, fisherman and tax collectors! This is difficult for me to believe, especially when we consider that 90% of 1st century Israel was illiterate.[2]

So where did these stories originate? It seems that it is very plausible to conclude that these stories are not fictional at all, but actual historical accounts. The fisherman and tax collectors did not invent these stories, they saw these events occur and merely wrote down what they saw. If this is the case, which it seems to be, the Jesus of faith is in fact the Jesus of history.


[1] I first heard a version of this argument presented by Tom Gilson at the Defend the Faith Conference at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in January of 2015. I am ever grateful to his work and presentation of this argument.

[2] Ehrman, Bart D. (2012-03-20). Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (Kindle Locations 702-712). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition