Christians don’t believe in Jesus because of artifacts. They believe in Jesus because of his life-changing impact in their lives today.
First, as historical “proof” of the existence of Jesus Christ, the discovery is not very important. No serious scholar disputes that a first-century Galilean named Jesus altered the course of history. For starters, the earliest written witness to Jesus’ life and witness—the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians—dates from the mid-first century. That is well within the lifetime of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry.
Further, there are references to Jesus and his followers from secular sources dating as early as the first and second centuries. Finally, the enduring impact of Jesus speaks for itself. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey are a good read, but neither changed the world.
Still, there is something powerfully moving about an ancient attestation to Jesus Christ, etched in stone. As Hershel Shanks, editor of the Biblical Archaeology Review noted in a Time magazine interview, “You can talk about Egyptian civilization, but the day you visit the pyramids, it speaks to you in a different way.” I had something of that feeling when I visited the Holy Land. Sitting on a lush, green hillside by the Sea of Galilee, I trembled at the thought of Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount from that very hill.
Nonetheless, the Christian proclamation of Jesus of Nazareth as the crucified and risen Son of God cannot be proven at the level of history. From the beginning, seeing Jesus as God’s holy, healing Presence in history required an eye-opening experience called “faith” (cf. Mt 16:15-17). Christians don’t believe in Jesus because of artifacts. They believe in Jesus because of his life-changing impact in their lives today.
The box of bones, reportedly those of James, the brother of our Lord, is a powerful reminder that the Christian faith is rooted in history. The Christian story is not a fable. It is a real story about a real, live, flesh-and-blood Person, radiant with a love divine.
But neither can the Christian faith can be reduced to history. Jesus burst the bounds of history as we know it. For unlike his brother James, he left no bones behind. And on that staggering, world-altering fact rests the salvation of the world.
Bob Setzer is pastor of First Baptist Church in Macon, Ga.
Buy Setzer’s book, Encounters With the Living Christ: Meeting Jesus in the Gospel of John, from Amazon.com.