C.A. Smith on the “Jesus Bowl” and the Reliability of the Gospels

Christians often wonder if the reliability of Scripture is purely a matter of faith or if there are other ways of demonstrating the trustworthiness of God’s Word.  The answer to that question is a resounding yes, there are many other lines of evidence which support the accuracy and reliability of the Bible.

For instance, a couple of years ago, marine archaeologist Franck Goddio of the Oxford Center of Maritime Archaeology announced the discovery of what is being called the “Jesus bowl”.  This bowl, found in the underwater ruins of Alexandria’s ancient harbor, was apparently used for divination rituals by occult practitioners. In other words, it was used by pagan magicians. The bowl itself may date to as early as 2nd century BC. What is most intriguing about the object, however, is that it was later inscribed with the words DIA CHRESTOU O GOISTAIS sometime in the mid-1st century A.D.  This translates to either “through Christ the magician” or “the magician through Christ”:

What we have here, then, is likely a revered magical object that was “updated” some 200 years later by adding Christ’s name to it.  Finding the name of Christ here is interesting enough simply because it may be the earliest written reference to him.  More importantly, however, is that in this object we have evidence that the name of Christ was thought to have great power.  Why would that be?  Because the word was spreading throughout the ancient world that Christ did miracles!  Of course pagan magicians probably misunderstood the nature of those miracles, mistaking Jesus for an occultist like themselves, but the point is that Jesus was famous for doing miracles and this was quite likely before the Gospels were even written. 

Skeptics today often charge that the church invented the miracles in their attempt to turn Jesus into something that He never claimed to be.  As the charge goes, Jesus was a good man and a great teacher, but He never claimed to be God or claimed to be able to do miracles.  This was something the church foisted onto Jesus in later centuries.  Therefore, the Gospels, which contain many reports of miraculous deeds performed by Jesus, are untrustworthy because they are the product of a PR campaign conducted by the church.

But as the “Jesus bowl” demonstrates, Jesus was closely associated in people’s minds with miraculous powers long before the church even existed as an organized entity.  This find, along with numerous others, indicates that the Gospels are not the product of the church’s view of Jesus but that, instead, the church’s view of Jesus is the product of the Gospels and that the Gospels were simply telling the truth about Jesus, a truth that was already widely-known, even among pagans:  Jesus worked miracles.

Many thanks to my new friend, Craig Evans (main-stage speaker for the 2011 Word Conference), for bringing this exciting discovery to my attention.  Can’t wait to hear more at the Word Conference in October!  (www.wordconference.org)