When I was in junior and senior high school, I spent a great deal of effort trying to prove the Christian faith to unbelieving friends of mine. I would refer to books like Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict and Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ. I never had much success in proving the Gospel to anybody.
Over the years, my passion for Apologetics, the art of defending the faith, has changed. Rather than proving the historical validity of Biblical events, I’ve focused more on discussing how I have been experiencing God in my own life.
In recent weeks, though, I’ve had a blast in studying for our Advent sermon series. On each Sunday, Sara and I have considered the familiar elements of the nativity with an emphasis on the geography, topography, and history of these events. This series has forced me to hit the books a little more intensely in preparation. I’ve been reading Bible atlases, Bible dictionaries, some history books, as well as the usual gamut of commentaries. (and a fair share of Google searches if I’m totally honest!)
Although it can sometimes make my head spin to try to piece everything together between the two Gospel accounts, Christian tradition, and modern scholarship, I’ve been able to come away with an encouraging thought. No matter what people might say about various historical critical methods of study and the process of formulating the Bible we have today, the Christian faith is a historical faith.
Sure, there’s debate about the details of Jesus’ birth – was it 2 BC or 4 BC? How could the census take while place Quirinius was governor (likely 6 AD) but also while Herod the Great was alive? (only until 4-2 BC). Did Mary and Joseph travel through Samaria to get to Bethlehem or along the Jordan River?
But in the midst of asking these questions, one sees how utterly rooted in history Jesus’ birth is. We know about various rulers of his day, about the issues going on between the rulers, and political struggles of his time. Non-Christian historians of his day record events corroborated in Scripture. Josephus, for example, was a Jewish historian who wrote about many of the events we have recorded in our New Testament. And as a Jew, it’s easy to imagine that he would have every interest in pointing out how these early Christians were mistaken.
This Christmas season, you might be wondering what the point of all this celebration is about. You might be cynical, thinking about how December 25th only became Christmas Day roughly 300 years after Jesus’ birth.
Without being dismissive of those questions, or that cynicism, I write to you, suggesting that our faith is rooted in history. In Bethlehem, roughly 2000 years ago, a boy named Jesus was born. And in that baby boy, somehow, was the fullness of God. God dwelt in our midst and changed things forever.
Austin D. Hill