Christianity is an historical religion. We make claims of history. Unlike other religions from the ancient world, the central story of our faith is based in fact, not myth.
If you were to ask an ancient Roman about when Hercules lived, he may say something like, “In the days of legend that came before,” but he could not give you a specific date. A great deal of ancient Greeks and Romans in the 1st Century understood that the stories in their mythologies really did not happen.
But if you asked a Christian when Jesus lived, they could point to a specific time in history, beginning when Augustus Caesar was Emperor of Rome and Herod the Great was King of Judea through the reign of Tiberius Caesar when Pontius Pilate was procurator, after which He ascended into Heaven. We pinpoint the events of Christ’s life that remind us that these are not mythological, but historical events. This is why the only other human named in the Apostles and Nicene Creed besides Jesus and Mary is Pilate.
The Gospels are the main source of our historical information about Jesus. How historical are they?
This is a large question about which many books have been written. This article will attempt to give a brief answer.
It is important to remember that we have to read each book of the Bible in its proper context. Leviticus is a book of law. The Psalms are a collection of poems. When we read the Gospels, we have to remember that they are not like modern biographies.
Modern biographies look for journalistic detail. If you were to write a biography about Robert Downey Jr., you would have to make sure that all of the events of his life are in the proper order and that all of the quotes were exact. If you wrote that Iron Man came out before Sherlock Holmes or if you quoted one of his movie lines as “I am Iron Person,” you would be rightly criticized as a bad biographer.
People in the ancient world did not write this way. Jesus did not have a group of reporters who were taking down quotes for print in articles later. The Gospels were written years later. However, they are based on the eyewitness accounts. Only the author of the Gospel of John claims to be an eyewitness to the events. Luke states at the beginning of his Gospel that he is not an eyewitness, but he is basing his account into an orderly narrative based on the eyewitness accounts.
The Gospels are salvation history.