When science and religion clash, it is usually difficult to declare a winner because of their fundamental differences. Religion flourishes under the sunshine of faith, while science is rooting in the firmament of proof and evidence.
This dichotomy is obvious in the discussion of Jesus Christ. Arguably, the most famous and most important figure in antiquity, Jesus been the basis for a tug-of-war between scholars and believers; however, a few scientific findings have left open the door between believing in, and proving, the existence of this important man.
The Bible, the most comprehensive source for the life of Jesus, warned of the effects of scientific discipline. The Apostle Paul wrote in I Timothy 6:20-21, "avoiding profane and vain babblings and the oppositions of science falsely so called: which some professing have erred concerning the faith." Since its premise demands that science NOT accept anything by faith, what are some of its findings to prove the life of the central figure in history?
Biblical References to Science. While the Bible warns of the negative effects that science can have, it also confirms many scriptural principles, some, even before they were commonly embraced. The book of Job, chapter 40:15-23, has a lengthy description of what was likely a Brontosaurus:
"Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee; he eateth grass as an ox. Lo now, his strength is in his loins, and his force is in the navel of his belly…He moveth his tail like a cedar…his bones are like bars of iron…Behold, he drinketh up a river, and hasteth not: he trusteth that he can draw up Jordan into his mouth." This passage paints a picture of an enormous creature that no longer exists…a dinosaur!
In addition, the Bible touches on a number of other disciplines. Genesis 22:17 refers to astronomy when it says, "I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore. It harkens to fluid dynamics in Job 28:25, when it says, "To establish a weight for the wind, and apportion the waters by measure."
Archeology has confirmed many of the cities listed in the Bible (Babylon, Jericho, Macedonia and others), and its words have served as a map for much of what is known about ancient Jerusalem. While it is not a scientific document, the accuracy of the Bible itself supports both the discipline and in turn, the existence of Jesus.
Ancient Historians Supported the Existence of Jesus. Jesus was mentioned by several prominent historians, including Justin Martyr, Tacitus and Josephus. Justin Martyr was born more than sixty years after the death of Jesus. A professed Christian, he spoke at his heresy trial of the report of Pontius Pilate regarding the crucifixion of Jesus, a document likely well known to then-Emperor Antonius Pius.
Tacitus, the Roman governor of Asia less than 100 years after the death of Jesus, was an important source of information for historical Roman figures such as Tiberius, Claudius and Nero. He wrote in Annals xv. 44, "Christus, the founder of the name [Christians], was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius."
Josephus, an important Judaic historian, was born less than five years after the death of Jesus, and his historical record, "The Antiquities of the Jews," is a crucial account of the Jewish legacy. This historian made several references to Jesus, including the following:
"At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus…and many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned Him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that He had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that He was alive; accordingly, He was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders."
The Shroud of Turin Offers Compelling Evidence. The Biblical account of Jesus' death relates not only the wounds he received while being crucified, but also how his body was prepared for burial. The Gospels of Matthew (27:59-60), Mark (15:46) and Luke (23:53) all mention the cloths used to wrap Jesus' body after death.
The Gospel of John (20:6-7) states after the Resurrection, the Apostle Peter found the burial cloths, but not Jesus.
It is the main cloth that covered His body that many believe is the Shroud of Turin. Mentioned as far back as the 12th century, this 14-foot long cloth has the image of a man who was killed in a manner that is consistent with the Crucifixion of Christ.
While scientists have performed hundreds of tests on the cloth, most (including pollen and dust analysis, among others) have done more to prove its veracity than a potential fraud.
The "Jonah Ossuary" Provides New Clues.
The most exciting discovery in Christian archeology since the Dead Sea Scrolls was recently made in Jerusalem. Known by many as the "Jonah Ossuary," a burial box was discovered in a tomb located beneath a building of condominiums in suburban Jerusalem. Although the first-century tomb has not been opened, robot cameras have shown the presence of Christian symbols that represent the earliest known references to the faith and Jesus himself.
The findings were made during an expedition led by James Tabor, the renowned historian from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Images from his cameras have shown that the ossuary prominently features images of a whale with a stick figure inside. This of itself alludes to the story of Jonah, an early Hebrew prophet who resisted God's commands and was swallowed by a whale.
New findings have added credibility to the image, thanks to distinguished Hebrew language expert James H. Charlesworth of the Princeton Theological Seminary. Dr Charlesworth announced that previously unnoticed writing on the fish included the name Jonah.
Tabor quickly mentioned the significance of Charlesworth's findings, saying, "This discovery by Prof. Charlesworth is quite remarkable and had been overlooked in our initial analysis." He added, "The engraver has apparently rather ingeniously combined what we took to be the stick-figure of Jonah with the four Hebrew letters spelling out his name."
The Struggle to Reconcile Science and Religion. Fundamentally at odds, the life of Jesus has forced science and religion to come together in an effort to demonstrate the existence of history's central character. Through archeology, literary records and some of the latest breakthroughs in technology, science has inched closer to confirming the life of Jesus while leaving gaps that only faith can fill.