Did Jesus Actually Exist?

Did Jesus Exist?

QUESTION: I’m continually amused by people who build their life on a person we don’t even know existed. And please don’t cite the Bible as evidence, it’s a story written by insiders long after the fact, without anything we could consider fact. The whole thing is biased, and suspect as history. You’d think if Jesus was everything it claims I’d love to see at least SOME reference to him elsewhere, but there’s not.  The best we can say is that Jesus is a person alleged to have existed.

RESPONSE: I`m pleased by your commendable openness to correction from real, empirical evidence.  In fact there is evidence for the existence of Jesus outside the Bible and of a quantity and type that make this case something of a slam dunk.  Given your openness (and assuming you will verify what I`m saying represents the real state of the evidence) I look forward to changing your mind on Jesus!

For starters, I don`t think it`s fair of you to make sweeping invalidation of the whole New Testament as an historical source simply because it`s biased, or polemical or that contains the supernatural.  “Mein Kampf” is biased and erroneous in places, but it is not for that reason completely void of historical facts.  The great majority of history as we know it was written without much consideration for “objectivity” – that includes a ton of stuff that you would consider historically true, such as “Gaulic Wars” by Julius Caesar.

So the Gospels can`t, in one fell swoop, be invalidated as historical sources simply because they are “sermons”. They are… but Luke/Acts for example, contains tons of verifiable, falsifiable historical information that any real historian would pay attention to, no matter what Luke`s agenda is. Yes, he writes of many account that you might consider untrue because they are miraculous, but no scholar thinks Luke is writing mythology. He lodges his story in time and space with incredible precision, naming names, citing places and events that can be verified.

To rule this out as a valid historical source simply because there`s an account of some non-physical phenomena in it, not very scholarly. By this criteria you would rule out much of recorded history. Verifiable and falsifiable content in the Gospels include the names of Roman rulers, Herod, Pilate, Philip; geographical facts about towns and places, religious facts about 1st century Judaism, facts about structures in and around Jerusalem that have been confirmed by archaeology – Herod`s Temple, the 5 sided portico at the pool of Siloam, the pool of Bethesda, the sheep gate, the Hulda gates, Caesarea, the existence of Nazareth etc, etc.

These are unquestioned facts.

But, we don`t have to only rely on the Gospels alone to confirm the mere existence of Jesus. Here`s a list of sources:

The Gospel of Q: We don’t have an existing fragment of Q but many believe this collection of sayings, teachings, and stories about Jesus was transmitted orally and was first written down by Jesus` followers long before 50 – they form the base material for the Synopics (Matthew, Mark, Luke).

Epistles from the New Testament: Liberal theologians believe that some of these were written as late as 150 CE, but ALL scholars believe that Paul authored Galatians, 1&2 Corinthians, Romans and 1&2 Thessalonians prior to his death in the mid 60`s.  This is another source.

The challenge here is to have a more scholarly view of the Bible. That is, you ought not to see the Bible as ONE SOURCE for the existence of Jesus (that can be all swept aside in one move) but as at least 5 to 8 sources which all have to be independently evaluated.

Paul is an independent witness from the Gospels and Paul is even earlier than the Gospels. That Paul was a man writing in the middle of the first century is considered unquestioned fact by every reputable scholar.  He confirms the physical existence of a man named Jesus repeatedly, writing during a time that witnesses could verify his claims – certainly the most basic claim that Jesus actually LIVED would have been beyond dispute. Paul also mentioned that a fellow Christian, James, the brother of Jesus, headed up the Jerusalem Church. Paul alone is a strong indicator that a man named Jesus had lived in the early 1st century.

The Gnostics: This early Christian movement (strong from 100-200 CE) was composed of Gnostic Christians, Jewish Christians, and Pauline Christians. They had non Orthodox views, but they believed that a man “Jesus” was imbued with the “Christ” essence in the 1st century.

Flavius Josephus: He was a Jewish historian who was born in 37 CE. He wrote a book, Antiquities of the Jews circa 93 CE. He described Jesus` as a wise man who was crucified by Pilate:  “About this time arose Jesus, a wise man, [if indeed it be lawful to call him a man. For he was a doer of wonderful deeds, and a teacher of men who gladly receive the truth.] He drew to himself many [both of the Jews and of the Gentiles. He was the Christ]; and when Pilate, on the indictment of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him at the first did not cease to do so, [for he appeared to them again alive on the third day, the divine prophets having foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things about him.] And even to this day the race of Christians, who are named from him, has not died out.” The passages in parenthesis may be the result of a later Christian forger who appended the text to confirm the Bible`s story. But even if you take those out, Josephus, a trusted historian, unquestionably claims that Jesus existed. Other Roman historians:

TACITUS: who lived from 55 to 120 CE and wrote a book Annals, circa 112 CE) “But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration. Hence, to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of that name, was put to death as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time, broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome…”

SUETONIUS: He was the author of The Lives of the Caesars circa 120 CE.  He wrote: “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, [Emperor Claudius in 49 CE] expelled them from Rome.” This passage is sometimes said to refer to someone other than Christ (since the name is misspelled) but in fact this confirms exactly what Luke said – that Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome around that time.

SUETONIUS: “Punishment [by Nero] was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.”

PLINY: In questioning Christians brought to trial he discovered (120 CE?)… “They affirmed, however, the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor to deny a trust when they should be called on to deliver it up…”

LUCIAN: Greek writer and satirist (150? CE): “…the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world…Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers one of another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshiping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws.”

Jewish literature: The Talmud (from 2nd Century CE) states that Jesus lived. They confirm his miraculous deeds and attribute them to demons.

In the book, “Case for Christ” Dr Edwin Yamauchi summarizes what we can know about Christ even if there were NO New Testament:

  1. Jesus was a Jewish Teacher
  2. Many people believed he performed healings and exorcisms
  3. some people believed he was the Messiah
  4. he was rejected by the Jewish leaders
  5. he was crucified under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius
  6. despite his shameful death, his followers, who believed that he was still alive, spread in Rome by A.D. 64, and
  7. all kinds of people from the cities and countryside – men and women, slave and free – worshiped him as God.

I think you`ll find it`s a minority opinion among scholarship (believing and non-believing) that Jesus didn’t even exist. The question that is truly controversial is, given that Jesus did exist, who was he really, what did he teach and what did he say he came to do? I hope you`ll now consider those important questions.