Christianity is an historical religion. Not just in the sense of having a long history, which it does. But Christianity is also historical in this manner: the central event – the one thing that makes Christianity what it is – is an historical event, namely, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. To be sure, other world religions have history, that is, in the former manner of speaking . But they lack the same quality of historical integrity, verifiability, veracity, and most of all, falsifiability.
I usually ask skeptics and Christians alike this same question: “are there any facts, which if they were proven to be true, would cause you to give up your faith?” I’ve heard the skeptic and the Christian both answer with an adamant and definitive, “NO!” You see the problem here, don’t you? Both answers have removed the subject of inquiry from the field of knowledge, facts and history, something the Christian ought never to do. Paul says if Christ is not dead, then our faith is in vain and futile and we are still in our sins (1 Cor. 15:1ff). In other words, show the body and it’s all over; eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.
But in fact, Christ has been raised. And this didn’t happen once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, or in never-never land. But in history. In time and space. Somewhere between the years 30-33 AD (depending on which crucifixion dating you go with). It’s CSI Jerusalem! There were eyewitnesses. They saw him dead on a Friday. Saw where he was buried. Knew the tomb. Went to the tomb on Sunday. Saw him alive again. Touched him. Heard him. Saw him (1 John 1:1-4). Ate fish with him. And not just once, but many times. And he was seen by over 500 witnesses. There are codices. Manuscripts by the thousands. Even the stones cry out. We confess that Christianity is historic and factual on a weekly basis. He was crucified under Pontius Pilate. No other world religion is able to make these kinds of claims to historical investigation. It’s as if Paul is saying, “Go ahead; put Christianity on trial. Just the facts. There’s more than enough there for a verdict.”
Christianity and history are intricately woven together. Makes sense. As we confess, “He was made man.” The author of history appeared on the page. The playwright became the lead role in the greatest drama ever staged, as Sayers calls it. And she’s right.For the greatest drama ever staged also happens to be the one myth that became fact. It is the greatest true story, but it does not for that reason lose the drama or the beauty of a good story. It is the best story precisely because it is true. It is concrete, tangible, and historical in every sense of the word. Sure enough there are myths of dying gods in many mythologies. However, to compare these to Christianity is like comparing The Simpsons to a reputable nightly news program. Here’s what Dorothy the apologist has to say about all this.
Christianity is, of course, not the only religion that has found the best explanation of human life in the idea of an incarnation and suffering god. The Egyptian Osiris died and rose again; Aeschylus in his play, The Eumenides, reconciled man to God by the theory of a suffering Zeus. But in most theologies, the god is supposed to have suffered and died in some remote and mythical period of prehistory. The Christian story, on the other hand, starts of briskly in St. Matthew’s account with a place and a date: “when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King.” St. Luke, still more practically and prosaically, pins the thing down by a reference to a piece of government finance. God, he says, was made man in the year when Caesar Augustus was taking a census in connection with a scheme of taxation. Similarly, we might date an event by saying that it took place in the year that Great Britain went off the gold standard. About thirty-three years later (we are informed), God was executed, for being a a political nuisance, “under Pontius Pilate” – much as we might say, “when Mr. Johnson-Hicks was Home Secretary.” It is as definite and concrete as all that.
Dorothy Sayers, The Greatest Drama Ever Staged, Letters to a Diminished Church. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2004, p. 2-3.