The historicity of Jesus focuses on whether Jesus Christ existed as a real historical person, or whether he is simply a mythological imagination. This article will show that the evidence for the existence of Jesus is overwhelming, as is agreed upon by every professor in every academic institution in every relevant field in the world. In other words, for someone to argue that Jesus never existed (and thus is merely a myth) is to place himself against not only the field of scholarship and the historical record, but even against reason and common sense.
The Soviet Union practiced state atheism and was well-known for its propaganda. The only encyclopedia in world history to deny the historicity of Jesus Christ was The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (Moscow, 1952). The Christian Courier indicates: "In our own time, The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (Moscow, 1952), in a two-line entry under “Jesus,” states; “the name of the mythological founder of Christianity.” One scholar notes that this reveals more about the authors’ bias than their historical judgment (Metzger, 1965, 78)."
The sources for the historical existence of Jesus are many. First, there are four biographies – the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – written either by eyewitnesses, or by authors who had access to eyewitnesses. Some scholars have speculated that earlier sources (such as a Passion narrative) were written within a few years of Jesus’ death by members of the Jerusalem Church and were later incorporated in the gospels. There is also a collection of letters by Saint Paul, who wrote from the late 40s to the mid 60s (when he was martyred). These letters include early creedal professions and hymns whose origins have been traced to within a few years of Jesus’ death and coming from the Jerusalem community. There are also other letters written by the apostles or disciples, including Saint Peter himself. A history of the early Church, the Acts of the Apostles contains information on Jesus’ earthly life, including internal source material such as the preserved preaching of Peter. Important testimony is also found in late first and early second century writings of the Apostolic Fathers. Jesus’ earthly life was even mentioned by some pseudo-Christian and non-Christian writings, including the Romano-Jewish historian Josephus Flavius – all to be discussed below.
Obviously, the bulk of the information comes from Christian sources. This is to be expected. The common temptation to radically fissure the sources into Christian / non-Christian categories (with the former then being dismissed) is a practice foreign to historical methods. Historians certainly identify an author's context, motivations, aims, and the like, but to dismiss a source (or whole group of sources) merely because the author(s) was personally invested in his subject is unjustified. For example, the only detailed source for the Roman general Agricola's conquest of Britain was written by Tacitus, his son-in-law, who was obviously personally interested in the career of his subject, and the glorification of Rome in general. But Tacitus's invaluable work has formed the basis for historical reconstructions of the conquest, proving to be a wealth of information – and these reconstructions depend principally on just this one written source. As summarized by Craig L. Blomberg, “…if we can reconstruct reasonably accurate history from all kinds of other ancient sources, we ought to be able to do that from the gospels, even though they too are ideological.” Such an argument naturally extends to other Christian sources as well. That said, the evidence from non-Christian sources, even taken alone, is more than enough to establish the minimal claim of Jesus’ existence and influence.
The four biographies of the life of Jesus written during the first century A.D. are known as the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These works contain the most detailed information about the life of Jesus. Perhaps the best-known material would be Jesus’ birth, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven. The gospels contain all sorts of other information, naming Jesus’ close companions, identifying locations where his teachings were given or miracles were performed, describing Jewish customs in detail, referencing the topography of Jerusalem, etc.
While it is impossible to examine the gospels in detail here, it will suffice to show that they clearly presented themselves as historical documents, describing historical events in a falsifiable way and within a specific historical setting known to their audience. The three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, were written before A. D. 70, with a much earlier date possible concerning Matthew. Their textual relations with one another, and their authorship, are complex topics, but a general summary based on the witnesses of history will prove useful. As the Church Fathers recorded, the Gospel of Matthew was written by Matthew the Apostle, who was an eyewitness to the events he described. Mark was a follower of Peter the Apostle, and he also had access to other sources, including Matthew's Gospel, and probably Luke's. Luke was a follower of Paul, who would have had access to disciples of Jesus, and even his relatives, through connections with Antioch and ultimately Jerusalem. John's Gospel was written last, around A. D. 90, by a disciple of the Lord and eyewitness to the events, referred to as the ‘beloved disciple’ in the text. Historians have established that the Gospel of John is entirely dependent of the Gospels, and is not in any way reliant on them, directly or indirectly, and it has been shown that there is no evidence as of yet to suggest this. Thus, the gospel writers were either on the spot themselves, or they had access to people who were.
Academics have also affirmed that the Gospels were written under the genre of ancient biography. In fact, the great scholar Craig Keener states the following relating to the genre that the four Gospel accounts were written under;
- Through most of history, readers understood the Gospels as biographies, but after 1915 scholars tried to find some other classification for them, mainly because these scholars confused ancient and modern biography and noticed that the Gospels differed from the latter. The current trend, however, is again to recognize the Gospels as ancient biographies.
The gospel accounts were written early on, within a few decades of the death of Jesus, which is comparable to the earliness of most other ancient documents of ancient history. Much of our accounts of King Herod come 150 years after his death from the ancient Jewish historian Josephus, and our earliest biographies on Alexander the Great were written a staggering 400 years after his death. Therefore, the gospels are considered to be historical documents by scholars, and early enough to contain a number of authentic memories of his life and death.
A collection of letters written by Saint Paul also discuss Jesus. Paul was not himself an eyewitness of Jesus until after the resurrection, but was a contemporary of the life of Jesus, and besides whatever knowledge the Lord gave to him in his glorified state, Paul also knew Jesus’ disciples, especially Saint Peter. Paul's letters are pastoral writings meant to address the needs of particular Christian communities, and as such they are not aimed at providing biographical narratives of Jesus’ life. Nonetheless, they do mention Jesus, especially his death and resurrection, but also the Last Supper, and they quote Jesus or reference his teachings. At times Paul qualified his own teachings by stating, “I say, not the Lord”, indicating that he knew Jesus’ teachings.
Some mythicists have proposed that Paul refers to Jesus as a celestial, rather than earthly being, which is another concept that is universally rejected by modern historians. Nevertheless, such a hypothesis can be discarded, because all of the information given to us from Paul about Jesus during His earthly ministry refer to specific, earthly events, that are unknown in ancient Judaic literature to have any precedence in celestial or supernatural regions. For example, we are told by Paul that Jesus was born of a women on Earth under the law which only applies to humans (Galatians 4:4), he tells us that Jesus was killed by crucifixion (1 Corinthians 1:23), that He was executed by earthly rulers (1 Corinthians 2:8), that He was buried (1 Corinthians 15:4). Paul also quotes Messianic prophecies he believes apply to Jesus (e.g. Romans 10:16-Isaiah 53:1, Romans 15:21-Isaiah 52:15), and the Jewish belief in the Messiah was in a specifically earthly being, not celestial by any concept or exaggeration. All of these, and many other aspects that Paul applies to Jesus are only known in context of earthly humans and events, and therefore applying some sort of celestial belief to the Pauline epistles is entirely unwarranted and without any validation.
Many of Paul's letters, and other New Testament epistles, contain quotations from early creeds or creedal hymns. Scholars suppose that some of these creeds date to within a few years of Jesus' death, and were developed within the Christian community in Jerusalem. The great value of these texts as sources is elaborated upon by O. Cullmann, in his, The Earliest Christian Confessions trans. J. K. S. Reid (London: Lutterworth, 1949), and also G. R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (College Press, 1996). Much of the data below is taken from the latter.
1 Corinthians 15:3-4 reads, "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." This contains a Christian creed of pre-Pauline origin. The antiquity of the creed has been located by many Biblical scholars to less than a decade after Jesus' death, originating from the Jerusalem apostolic community. Concerning this creed, Campenhausen wrote, "This account meets all the demands of historical reliability that could possibly be made of such a text," whilst A. M. Hunter said, "The passage therefore preserves uniquely early and verifiable testimony. It meets every reasonable demand of historical reliability."
Other relevant creeds which predate the texts wherein they are found that have been identified are 1 John 4:2:,"This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God", 2 Timothy 2:8, "Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, this is my Gospel", Romans 1:3-4, "…regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.", and 1 Timothy 3:16, "He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory," an early creedal hymn. These early creeds represent enormously early testimony of the historicity of Jesus, and their earliness combined with their large variety are most well-explained and understood in a historical framework where Jesus did exist, rather than some elaborate plan early on that has no known precedent whatsoever.
Early Church Fathers
Early Christian sources outside the New Testament also mention Jesus and the historical details of his life. Important texts from the Apostolic Fathers are, to name just the most significant and ancient, Clement of Rome's Letter to the Corinthians (c. 100), Ignatius of Antioch's many epistles (c. 107-110), Justin Martyr's second century apologetic works, and others. But perhaps the most significant Patristic sources are the early second century references of Papias and Quadratus (of Athens). They both mention disciples of Jesus – eyewitnesses who testified to his life and miracles – who were still alive at the time they wrote. Papias, in giving his sources for the information contained in his (now lost) gospel commentaries, stated:
- …if by chance anyone who had been in attendance on the elders should come my way, I inquired about the words of the elders — [that is,] what [according to the elders] Andrew or Peter said, or Philip, or Thomas or James, or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples, and whatever Aristion and the elder John, the Lord’s disciples, were saying.
Thus, while Papias was collecting his information (c. 90), Aristion and the elder John (who were Jesus’ disciples) were still alive and teaching in Asia minor, and Papias gathered information from people who had known them. Another Father, Quadratus, who wrote an apology to the emperor Hadrian, stated:
- The words of our Savior were always present, for they were true: those who were healed, those who rose from the dead, those who were not only seen in the act of being healed or raised, but were also always present, not merely when the Savior was living on earth, but also for a considerable time after his departure, so that some of them survived even to our own times.
By “our Savior” Quadratus means Jesus, and by “our times” he presumably refers to his early life, rather than when he wrote (117-124), which would be a reference contemporary with Papias.
Other early Christian texts mention Jesus is in detail. The Didache, for example, is a collection of teachings based on the apostolic witness, which itself was based on Jesus’ doctrine. Many of these texts, however, are too late (dating to the second half of the second century) to be used as proper historical sources, at least not without much caution, and they cannot establish the same claim to eyewitness authority as can the other writings mentioned above.
See also Diatessaron
An early heretical section known as gnosticism produced texts that purported to contain information about Jesus, generally his (enigmatic) sayings. They are very dubious sources, dating to the second half of the second century at the earliest, and lacking a historical connection to the disciples (despite their claims). They are perhaps most useful in reminding us of how good the earlier (and orthodox) gospels are, by presenting us with an example of what an inaccurate source concerning Jesus really looks like. Furthermore, the gnostic texts show a general disinterest in the historical details of Jesus’ life, and they fail to present a standard historical narrative, giving only a list of sayings framed in the structure of an alleged secret revelation.
Nonetheless, certain Gnostic texts do mention Jesus in the context of his earthly existence, and some scholars have, with great caution, sought to glean certain bits of information about Jesus from them. The relevance for us in not so much the conclusions of these scholars, but the fact that, in a minimal and contingent way, they help dispel the notion that Jesus never existed as a historical figure. Examples of such texts include the Gospel of Truth, Treatise on Resurrection, and the Apocryphon of John, the latter of which opens with the following:
- It happened one day when John, the brother of James – who are sons of Zebedee – went up and came to the temple, that a Pharisee named Arimanius approached him and said to him: "Where is your master whom you followed?" And he said to them: "He has gone to the place from which he came." The Pharisee said to him: "This Nazarene deceived you all with deception and filled your ears with lies and closed your hearts and turned you from the traditions of your fathers."
Greco-Roman sources of the time show little to no interest in the religious movements of the backwater and troublesome Jewish province of Judea, or even the Near East in general. Perhaps the exception would be Josephus, a Romano-Jewish historian who was interested in recording Jewish history, especially the political conflicts that lead to the military downfall of zealous Jewish nationalistic movements. Though not centrally concerned with religious developments, Josephus did mention Jesus, and other Christians such as James and the Precursor of the Lord, St. John the Baptist (who may be considered Christian since he accepted Jesus as the Christ, though he would be beheaded long before Jesus’ death and glorification). Furthermore, other writers do mention Jesus as well, and their passages will be examined below.
The sum total of this material establishes that Jesus existed, and that he was a significant figure who made a marked religious impact. His Messianic claims, his reputation and following, his crucifixion, and the controversy between him (and his followers) and the Jewish authorities are all supported by these texts. Furthermore, it may be that more dramatic occurrences, such as his miracles and even resurrection, are witnessed by Josephus – though these greater claims about the Greco-Roman material are certainly open to debate. Without a doubt, the best material concerning Jesus remains the gospels and other New Testament texts, as well as the testimony of the Apostolic Fathers. But these Greco-Roman sources provide important secondary testimony and, even taken alone, are enough to refute the view that Jesus is merely a mythological imagination.
Flavius Josephus (c. A.D. 37 – 100) was a Jew and a Roman citizen who worked under the patronage of the Flavian dynasty. Josephus is unusual in that, while he was Jewish, he was loyal to the Roman political powers. In A. D. 93 he wrote his Antiquities of the Jews, a work recording the history of the Jews. In it, Jesus is mentioned twice. The second mentioning is the shorter, and will be discussed first. It is a completely disinterested comment made in passing, where, when talking about James, Josephus specifies which James he means by identifying his subject as James "the brother [or kinsman] of Jesus, who was called Christ". Scholars have found little or no reason to doubt the authenticity of this passage and have, by and large, accepted it as genuine.
More notably, an earlier mention of Jesus is made in a passage that has come to be called the Testimonium Flavianum:
- About this time came Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it is appropriate to call him a man. For he was a performer of paradoxical feats, a teacher of people who accept the unusual with pleasure, and he won over many of the Jews and also many Greeks. He was the Christ. When Pilate, upon the accusation of the first men amongst us, condemned him to be crucified, those who had formerly loved him did not cease [to follow him], for he appeared to them on the third day, living again, as the divine prophets foretold, along with a myriad of other marvelous things concerning him. And the tribe of the Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to this day.
Most scholars accept the authenticity of the majority of the passage. However, certain parts have been called into question, especially those which conform with the Christian creed. These doubts are not based on the manuscript record, which is consistent, nor on the language, which is stylistically harmonious with Josephus. Concerning the Testimonium Flavianum, Habermas wrote, "There is no textual evidence against it, and, conversely, there is very good manuscript evidence for these statements about Jesus, thus making it difficult to ignore." And there are even a few scholars who support the authenticity of the entire passage.
Nonetheless, the fact that Josephus, by all accounts an adherent to Judaism, would so openly proclaim Jesus to be the Messiah who rose from the dead has been hard for many to accept, especially given Josephus's later statement, which reservedly said only that Jesus was “called” the Christ. Likewise, the fact that some of the early Church Fathers did not employ this text, even when quoting from Josephus, has contributed to the doubts. However, this is (with one exception) an argument from silence, and some (later) Fathers did know the passage. The exception is Origen, who wrote that Josephus did not believe Jesus was the Christ. Though it is important not to take this one utterance too far, it does raise a legitimate question about the authenticity of the entire passage. Whatever the case, it is in no sense necessary to affirm the entirety of the passage in order to establish that Josephus did indeed record Jesus as a historical person, a claim that virtually every scholar (opinions about the integrity of the passage aside) would agree with. Indeed, the brief reference, concerning James, alone is enough to establish not only that Jesus was a real historical person, but that he had a significant impact, since Josephus could clarify which (of the many) people named James he was talking about merely by pointing to his relation with Jesus.
Tacitus was a Roman historian who, writing c. A. D. 116, included in his Annals a mention of Christianity and Jesus Christ. In describing Nero's persecution of Christians following the Great Fire of Rome in A. D. 64, he wrote:
- Nero fastened the guilt [of starting the blaze] and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christ, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius [14-37] at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and the most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.
Tacitus was obviously hostile to Christianity and thus had no desire to give credence to the claims of the faith. Nonetheless, he identifies “Christ” (Latin Christus) as the origin of the religion, and even mentions his crucifixion at the hands of Pontius Pilate. Tacitus's source was likely an imperial record, and it has been speculated that this may even have been one of Pilate's reports to the emperor. No scholar doubts the authenticity of the passage, in part because, as R. E. Van Voorst noted, it would be most improbable that a Christian would have interpolated "such disparaging remarks about Christianity".
Gaius Suetonius Tranquillas, a Roman historian, wrote in A. D. 112 his Lives of the Twelve Caesars. In his biography of the Emperor Claudius, he mentioned riots that had broken out in the Jewish community in Rome in 49, stating "As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus [other manuscripts read Christus, that is, “Christ”], he [Claudius] expelled them from Rome". (The riots and expulsion of the Jews was also recorded in Acts 18:2). Though some manuscripts read “Christus”, the original text may have read “Chrestus”, a possible spelling error or spelling variant intending to mean “Christ”. The term Chrestus also appears in some later texts as a reference Jesus. Obviously, the riots occurred some years after Jesus’ death and ascension, and so the precise meaning of the passage is open to speculation.
Thallus, whose identity is difficult to determine, is known to have written a history from the Trojan War to his own time, which was sometime in the first or early second century. His work has been lost. However, an important reference to it was made by Sextus Julius Africanus. Julius Africanus, writing around 221, described the darkness and earthquakes which occurred when Our Lord was crucified (mentioned in the gospels). He cited Thallus as a non-Christian who gave testimony to these events:
- On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in his third book of History, calls (as appears to me without reason) an eclipse of the sun.
(lost) Acts of Pilate
The Acts of Pilate is a lost text, purportedly an official document (of the commentaii principis) from Pilate to the Emperor Tiberius reporting events in Palestine. It was mentioned by Justin Martyr, in his First Apology (c. A. D. 150) to Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, and Lucius Verus. Justin said that his claims concerning Jesus' crucifixion, and some miracles, could be verified by referencing the official record, the "Acts of Pontius Pilate". With the exception of Tertullian, no other writer is known to have mentioned the work, and Tertullian's reference says that Tiberius debated the details of Jesus' life before the Senate, an event that is almost universally considered absurd. However, Tertullian may not have been well informed about the work's genuine contents, and doubts about the supposed debate need not necessarily extend to the Acts of Pilate itself.
There is a later apocryphal text, undoubtedly fanciful, by the same name, which was likely inspired by Justin's reference. It is highly unlikely that Justin's reference was to the known apocryphal text. And it would be unlikely that Justin would cite a document, one he claimed to be official and kept in the imperial archives, that was known to be fallacious or non-existent in a letter written to the emperor designed to defend Christianity. Nonetheless, it is impossible to conclude any certain position about the text, given the obscure nature of the evidence.
Rabbi Akiba, before his death in A. D. 135, recorded oral traditions, especially of a legal nature, in what is known as the Mishnah. This, together with commentaries called the “Gemaras”, constitute the Talmud. Sanhedrin 43a, which dates to the earliest period of composition (Tannaitic period) contains the following:
- One the eve of the Passover, Yeshu was hanged. Forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried: "He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf." But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of the Passover.
The reference is certainly laconic, and at first the details seem incompatible with what is known about Jesus’ death. However, once it is observed that the phrase “hanged” was a manner of speech that was used to signify crucifixion (as in “hanged from a tree”), the passage may be interpreted as providing important support for Jesus’ death, around the Passover, in part because of accusations of blasphemy (enticing Israel to apostacy) and because of his wonderworkings (taken as sorcery, i.e. the product of devilish aid – an accusation recorded in the gospels). The act of stoning is not directly paralleled in the gospels, though John's gospel does record such an attempt. It is important not to push this harmonization too far, especially because it misses the point, which is to observe a plausible Jewish record of key feature's of Jesus’ life.
Christian Apologetics and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is critical to the Christian faith. The Apostle Paul wrote, "if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain" (I Cor:15:14). Traditionally, Christianity has believed in a physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Christian apologist Michael Horner of CRU has an excellent resource which offers a defense of the resurrection of Jesus Christ entitled Did Jesus really rise from the dead?. In addition, Dr. Gary Habermas offers an online audio library which defends the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Tim Chaffey of Answers in Genesis offers an excellent defense of Jesus's resurrection, as does GotQuestions.org.
In recent history, Dr. Gary Habermas is considered the foremost Christian apologist for defending the resurrection of Jesus. Dr. Habermas had a debate against the philosopher Antony Flew regarding the resurrection which was chronicled in the work Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate and the debate had a panel of debate judges. J. Hampton Keathley, III, Th.M. in his essay Evidences for the Resurrection wrote: "The decision of the judges were as follows. The panel of philosophers judging content cast four votes for Habermas who argued for the fact of the resurrection, none for Flew, and one draw. The panel of professional debate judges voted three to two, also in favor of Habermas, this time regarding the method of argumentation technique." 
In recent history some notable defenders of the resurrection include: William Lane Craig, Ben Witherington, Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, Edwin M. Yamauchi, N.T. Wright and Michael Horner.
Christian legal apologetics
For more information please see: Christian legal apologetics
Legal scholars, legal authorities, and eminent lawyers such as Simon Greenleaf, John Warwick Montgomery, Lord Darling, John Singleton Copley, Hugo Grotius, Lord Caldecote, J. N. D. Anderson, Lionel Luckhoo, and many others have asserted that western legal standards argue for the resurrection of Christ.
The boldness of the early Christian church and the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ
Eric Lyons, M. Min. wrote about the explosive growth of early Christianity:
|“|| To say that the first-century church was a growing church would be a major understatement. The early church did not merely grow; she exploded onto the scene and continued multiplying in number for many years. About 3,000 souls obeyed the Gospel the very day the church was born in Jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago (Acts 2:41). To that number, “the Lord added…daily those who were being saved” (2:47). Despite attempts to stifle the preaching of Jesus and the growth of His church, “many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men1 came to be about five thousand” (Acts 4:4). “Believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (5:14). In Jerusalem, “the disciples multiplied greatly;” even “a great many” of the Jewish priests were “obedient to the faith” (6:7). In Samaria, “the multitudes with one accorded heeded the things spoken by Philip” (8:6); “both men and women were baptized” (8:12). Indeed, “the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria…continued to increase” (9:31, NASB).
After Paul’s conversion to Christ, He took the Gospel to Cilicia where the young “churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily” (16:5). Later, “all who dwelt in Asia [Minor] heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (19:10). Even Paul’s enemies testified to how “throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people” from idolatry (19:26). Paul and his companions also carried the Gospel to Europe, where “a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women” joined them (17:4). And what did Paul learn upon his return to Jerusalem following his third missionary journey? That “many myriads of Jews” had come to believe in Jesus (21:20). That is, within less than 30 years, the Lord’s church had increased to become many tens of thousands of Christians strong...
Luke, the physician and inspired writer of Acts, sets the “defense” tone from the very beginning of his brief history of the first 30 years of the Lord’s church. In the first sentence, He reminds his readers of his previous account (the Gospel of Luke), where he recorded those things that Jesus did and taught. In the very next sentence, he concisely, yet reasonably, addressed one critical piece of evidence that would be repeated throughout Acts9 and that lies at the heart of the Good News: Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. How did Luke briefly convey the resurrection of Christ? Was it merely an unverifiable “hope” that he communicated? Did he make an emotionally based appeal using flowery words? Not at all. From the very outset, Luke set an apologetic tone for the book of Acts.
Luke indicated that to the apostles Jesus “presented Himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (1:3, ESV). Notice that Luke affirms that Jesus “presented” (parestasen) Himself alive. Jesus’ dead body was not stolen and buried elsewhere. He did not just escape the tomb to leave everyone in doubt about a possible resurrection. He “presented” or “showed” (NIV) Himself. Luke used this term 13 times in Acts, including in Acts 9:41 where, after God raised Dorcas from the dead, Luke noted that Peter “called the saints and widows” and “presented her alive” to them. He proved to them that she was no longer dead. Likewise, the once-lifeless body of the Lord rose from the dead, and then, over the next 40 days, Jesus repeatedly presented Himself alive to the apostles—offering “many proofs.”
The John Ankerberg website notes:
|“|| After Jesus’ death his apostles were scared, scattered, and skeptical. Only one, John, was at the crucifixion (John 19:26-27). The rest fled (Matt. 26:56). They also were skeptical. Mary, the first one to whom Jesus appeared, doubted, thinking she had seen a gardener (John 20:15). The disciples doubted the reports of the women (Luke 24:11). Some doubted until they saw Christ for themselves (John 20:25). One would not even believe when all the other apostles told them Christ had appeared to them. Two disciples on the road to Emmaus even doubted as they talked with Jesus, thinking he was a stranger (Luke 24:18).
A few weeks [later] these very same men and women who had huddled in secret (John 20:19) were fearlessly and openly proclaiming the resurrection of Christ—even before the Sanhedrin that was responsible for Christ’s death (Acts 4-5). The only thing that can account for this immediate and miraculous change is that they were absolutely convinced they had encountered the bodily resurrected Christ.
Proponents of the Myth argument
A few academics, notably not including historians or biblical scholars, have asserted that Jesus never existed and that he is simply a mythological imagination. These include G. A. Wells (a professor of German, who has subsequently abandoned this position after reading the works of the renowned J.D.G. Dunn), Earl Doherty (who only holds a bachelor's degree and once wrote a self-published booklet on the subject), Robert M. Price (a systematic theologian), Michael Martin (a philosopher), Richard Carrier (who, although he has a doctoral degree, failed to find an academic position in an institution of higher learning and is therefore currently a blogger), Timothy Freke (who holds no postgraduate degree), and Peter Gandy (who holds no doctoral degree). By such parenthetical comments this article does not intend to be uncharitable to the academics or others who hold to this position, but it is no disparagement to observe what it true: that these scholars are not historians or biblical scholars. Neither is it unfair to observe how this has, at times, impeded the quality of work produced. For example, in their work The Jesus Mysteries, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy used as cover art an image of an amulet of “Orpheus crucified” (their position being that Jesus was a mythological figure patterned after Osiris-Dionysus) which has been proven to be a forgery.
The mythological view has been rejected by the historical community. Michael Grant stated that the view derives from a lack of application of historical methods:
- …if we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus' existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned.
Perhaps the scholarly opinion of the position is best summed by Robert E. Van Voorst:
- The nonhistoricity thesis has always been controversial, and it has consistently failed to convince scholars of many disciplines and religious creeds. ... Biblical scholars and classical historians now regard it as effectively refuted.
Atheists and the denial that Jesus existed
Despite their being an abundance of historical evidence for Jesus Christ living in the first century, many atheists embarrassingly claim the Jesus never existed.
In an article entitled Scholarly opinions on the Jesus Myth, Christopher Price wrote concerning individuals who insist that Jesus Christ was merely a mythical figure:
|“||I have often been asked why more academics do not take the time to respond to the Jesus Myth theory. After looking into this question, I discovered that most historians and New Testament scholars relevant to the topic have concluded that Jesus Mythers are beyond reason and therefore decide that they have better things to do with their time.||”|
For more information, please see: Atheists and the denial that Jesus existed.
Atheists and selective use of academic consensus
An irony of atheists asserting that Jesus never existed is that atheists often appeal to the academic consensus when it comes to pseudoscience such evolution. Atheists only seem to find it typical to quote the scholarly consensus when it appeals to their positions as something with value, however scholarly consensus seems to lose all value when it does not agree with them.
- See also: Atheist hypocrisy
John Lennox's discussion with New Atheist Richard Dawkins
John Lennox pointed out to New Atheist Richard Dawkins that Dawkins claimed in his book The God Delusion that Jesus may have never existed and that Dawkins errantly claimed that ancient historians have some disagreement on whether Jesus existed or not. After some additional discussion with Dawkins, Dawkins conceded that Jesus existed and said, "I take that back. Jesus existed".
- Ehrman, Bart D. Did Jesus exist?: The historical argument for Jesus of Nazareth. Harper Collins, 2012. Second introductory page.
- False Ideas About Jesus Christ by Wayne Jackson, Christian Courier
- quoted by Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), p. 31.
- Quotations of academics on genre of the Gospels
- Keener, Craig, Commentary on Matthew, Intervarsity Press, Downer’s Grove, Ill., 1997, 24
- Neufeld, The Earliest Christian Confessions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964) p. 47; Reginald Fuller, The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives (New York: Macmillan, 1971) p. 10; Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man translated Lewis Wilkins and Duane Pribe (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1968) p. 90; Oscar Cullmann, The Earlychurch: Studies in Early Christian History and Theology, ed. A. J. B. Higgins (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1966) p. 64; Hans Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians, translated James W. Leitch (Philadelphia: Fortress 1969) p. 251; Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament vol. 1 pp. 45, 80-82, 293; R. E. Brown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (New York: Paulist Press, 1973) pp. 81, 92
- see Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man translated Lewis Wilkins and Duane Pribe (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1968)p. 90; Oscar Cullmann, The Early church: Studies in Early Christian History and Theology, ed. A. J. B. Higgins (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1966) p. 66-66; R. E. Brown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (New York: Paulist Press, 1973) pp. 81; Thomas Sheehan, First Coming: How the Kingdom of God Became Christianity New York: Random House, 1986 pp. 110, 118; Ulrich Wilckens, Resurrection translated A. M. Stewart (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew, 1977) p. 2; Hans Grass, Ostergeschen und Osterberichte, Second Edition (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1962) p96; Grass favors the origin in Damascus.
- Hans von Campenhausen, "The Events of Easter and the Empty Tomb," in Tradition and Life in the Church (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968) p. 44
- Archibald Hunter, Works and Words of Jesus (1973) p. 100
- Cullmann, Confessions p. 32
- Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament vol 1, pp. 49, 81; Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus translated Norman Perrin (London: SCM Press, 1966) p. 102
- Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man translated Lewis Wilkins and Duane Pribe (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1968) pp. 118, 283, 367; Neufeld, The Earliest Christian Confessions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964) pp. 7, 50; C. H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980) p. 14
- Reginald Fuller, The Foundations of New Testament Christology (New York: Scriner's, 1965) pp. 214, 216, 227, 239; Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus translated Norman Perrin (London: SCM Press, 1966) p. 102; Neufeld, The Earliest Christian Confessions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964) pp. 7, 9, 128
- translation by Richard Bauckham in his Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2006), pp. 15-16.
- Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2006), pp. 15-21.
- Quoted in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 4.3.2, translation by Richard Bauckham in his Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2006), p. 53.
- Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2006), pp. 53l.
- James M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library in English (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1977) and especially his essay in Hedrick and Hodgson, Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism, and Early Christianity (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1986); R. E. Brown, "The Christians Who Lost Out" in The New York Times Book Review, 20 January 1980 p. 3; Koester in Robinson, Nag Hammadi in English, vol. 2 pp. 4, 47, 68, 150-154, 180.
- Apocryphon of John 1:5-17
- Josephus Antiquities 20:9.1
- Louis H. Feldman, "Josephus" Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 3, pp. 990–91
- Josephus Antiquities 18.3.3
- John Drane Introducing the New Testament (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1986) p. 138; also, James H. Charlesworth, Jesus Within Judaism (Garden City: Doubleday, 1988) p. 96
- Henri Daniel-Rops, Silence of Jesus' Contemporaries p. 21; J.N.D. Anderson, Christianity: The Witness of History (London: Tyndale, 1969)p. 20; F.F. Bruce, New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1967) p. 108.
- G. R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus p. 193
- Daniel-Rops, Silence of Jesus' Contemporaries p. 21
- Tacitus, Annals 15.44.
- F.F. Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), p. 23.
- Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Eerdmans, 2000), p. 43.
- Francois Amiot, Jesus A Historical Person p. 8; F. F. Bruce, Christian Origins p. 21
- see his translation of Suetonius, Claudius 25, in The Twelve Caesars (Baltimore: Penguin, 1957), and his introduction p. 7, cf. p. 197
- Julius Africanus, Extant Writings XVIII in Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973) vol. VI, p. 130
- Justin Martyr, First Apology 48
- see Tertullian, Apology V.
- For a discussion, see Daniel-Rops, Silence of Jesus' Contemporaries, p. 14
- The Babylonian Talmud, translated I. Epstein (London: Soncio, 1935), vol. 3, Sanhedrin 43a, p. 281
- Apologetics and the growth of the early church, Eric Lyons, Apologetics Press website
- EVIDENCE FOR THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST FROM THE DEAD, John Ankerberg website
- "In his review of this book in Gnomon, 1935, 476, Kern recants and expressed himself convinced by the expert opinion of Josef Keil and R. Zahn (AGGELOS, Arch. f. neutest. Zeitgesch. und Kulturkunde, 1926, 62 ff.) that the Orpheoc Bakkikos gem is a forgery." W. C. K. Guthrie, Orpheus and Greek Religion: A Study of the Orphic Movement, 2nd ed. (London: Methuen, 1952), p. 278, n. to p. 265. This problem was identified by James Hannam; see his comments on his Blog
- M. Grant, Jesus: An Historian's Review, pp. 199-200
- Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), p. 16.
- Scholarly opinions on the Jesus Myth by Christopher Price
- Richard Dawkins admits Jesus existed