Many people are asking if Jesus existed. Even though billions of people consider Him one of the greatest and most significant figures in the history of humanity, they still doubt it. For example, a 2015 survey by the Christian Church of England revealed that 22% of the adult population in England wasn’t convinced that Christ was real.
Scholars of the Christian Bible’s New Testament, on the other hand, are almost unanimous in their belief that He did live. The extra-biblical proof supporting Christ was the subject of a 2015 Biblical Archaeology Review piece by Lawrence Mykytiuk, a faculty member at Purdue University, who further points out that there was no discussion of the topic in history either.
Mykytiuk claims that Jewish priests who disapproved of Jesus Christ or His supporters accused Him of practicing magic or sorcery and misguiding people, yet they never claimed He didn’t exist.
- Tacitus, a first-century Roman historian, details Jesus’ death under Pontius Pilate, while Flavius Josephus mentions Him as the brother of James in “Antiquities,” and Lucian of Samosata acknowledges Christian admiration for Jesus and his teachings.
- Early Christian writings, such as St. Paul’s epistles, discuss Jesus within 25 years of His death, aligning with the historical context; the argument against creating a Jewish savior figure during widespread hostility adds credibility.
- Michel Onfray sees Jesus as a conceptual hypothesis, sparking ongoing debates, while scholars like Bart Ehrman emphasize evidence from the Apostle Paul’s texts despite acknowledging the lack of archaeological proof.
- 1 Key Takeaways
- 2 What Is The Historical Evidence That Jesus Existed?
- 3 What Do Christian Writings Tell Us About Jesus’ Existence?
- 4 Did Jesus Exist?
- 5 Archaeological Evidence Of Jesus’ Existence
- 6 Evidence From The Old And New Testaments
- 7 How Controversial Is The Existence Of Jesus Now?
- 8 Summary
- 9 Frequently Asked Questions
What Is The Historical Evidence That Jesus Existed?
Given that Jesus’ work was primarily limited to a tiny region in the Roman Empire that was of little significance, a remarkable amount of knowledge concerning Jesus can be obtained from non-religious historical documents. Some important historical pieces mention Jesus.
The first-century Roman historian Tacitus, who is regarded as one of the more reliable writers of the ancient world, made reference to “Christus,” which unmistakably supports some factual details regarding the death of Jesus in the New Testament. Tacitus provides some significant, trustworthy sources of information about the Savior.
- Christus, the word Tacitus used to identify Him, was one of the different ways in which some people addressed Him, even though Tacitus mistook it for an actual name instead of a title or epithet.
- This Christus was related to the commencement of the Christian movement, whose name stemmed from Him.
- He was put to death by the Roman ruler of Judea.
- He passed away while Judea was under the authority of Pontius Pilate, during Tiberius’ term.
The most well-known Jewish historian, named Flavius Josephus, recorded Jesus Christ in his writings. In his historiographical work “Antiquities,” he speaks of James as “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ.”
Furthermore, there is a disputed passage that reads, “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man if it is lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure… He was [the] Christ… He appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.”
Based on one translation, “At this time there was a wise man named Jesus.” Here, He is described as having honorable behavior and a reputation of virtuous character. And a large number of Jews and members of other nations joined as His disciples.
This version also said that Pilate sentenced Him to death by crucifixion. However, those who followed Him as a disciple remained following Him. They said that He had shown up to them just three days after His execution to demonstrate that He was truly alive, indicating that He was possibly the Messiah, about whom the prophets spoke of wonders.
Lucian Of Samosata
A Greek author from the second century named Lucian of Samosata acknowledges that Christians admired and adored Jesus Christ, that He brought new ideologies, and that He endured execution in their honor. He claimed that among the messages of Jesus were the importance of rejecting other deities, the significance of transformation, and the unity of believers.
Christians were known for their commitment to the words of Jesus, their belief in their immortality, their disdain for mortality, and their abandonment of material wealth. Furthermore, Jewish and Roman historians made the earliest mentions and ancient accounts of Jesus in their writings and works:
- Pliny the Younger recounted early Christian worship traditions in Letters 10:96. He mentioned that Christians viewed Jesus as God and were extremely upright people. He also made note of their love of the Lord’s Supper and communal feast.
- The Platonist philosopher Celsus believed that Jesus was a magician who uttered outrageous claims.
- The Babylonian Talmud supports Jesus’ execution on the night of Passover as well as the allegations that Jesus carried out sorcery and promoted Jewish departure.
- Mara Bar-Serapion attests to the truth that Christ was viewed as a wise and righteous man, was widely recognized as the king of the nation of Israel, was executed by the Jews, and maintained his existence in the sermons of His disciples after His execution.
- Julius Africanus references the historian Thallus in an account of the darkness that preceded the crucifixion of Christ and caused His death (Extant Writings, 18).
- Suetonius, a Roman author, historian, and lawyer, spoke of riots among Jews in Rome in 49 C.E. that he felt had been sparked by “the instigator Chrestus,” though his connection with Christ is not entirely certain.
- Finally, all the Gnostic works reference Jesus, including The Treatise on Resurrection, The Gospel of Truth, The Gospel of Thomas, The Apocryphon of John, and many others.
We can nearly reconstruct the gospel from the earliest non-Christian historical writings: Jesus was known as the Christ (Josephus), performed miracles, guided Israel into fresh doctrines, and was executed on Passover (the Babylonian Talmud), which takes place in Judea (Tacitus); however, He additionally proclaimed to be God and that He would come back (Eliezar), which the believers accepted and continued to worship Jesus as God (Pliny the Younger).
What Do Christian Writings Tell Us About Jesus’ Existence?
Writings by early Christians are valuable because they are both thorough and early. The epistles of St. Paul are the oldest Christian works to discuss Christ, and historians generally believe that these first writings were created at most 25 years after the death of Jesus. In contrast, the New Testament narratives’ in-depth descriptions of Jesus are thought by historians to have been written roughly 40 years after His death.
These things occurred during the lifetimes of several individuals and offer details and descriptions that are congruent with the historical and geographical context of Palestine in the first century. Additionally, it is challenging to comprehend why Christian authors would create a fully Jewish savior figure in a period and place where there was widespread antagonism toward Jews when the Roman Empire was in power.
Did Jesus Exist?
In the book Did Jesus Exist? by the historian Bart Ehrman, he compiles every bit of evidence to back up Jesus’ life on earth, such as the Apostle Paul’s texts. According to Ehrman, “Paul tells us all that he knew James, the brother of Jesus, and he knew Peter, who was his closest follower.” Further, he argues, “If Jesus didn’t exist, you would think his brother would know about it, so I think Paul is probably pretty good evidence that Jesus at least existed.”
Ehrman constructs a rational point and demonstrates that one of the reasons we know Jesus lived is that if He had been made up by someone, He would not have invented a savior who was so readily and easily defeated.
In his view, if someone created a Messiah, they would make a magnificent one—a Messiah who can overthrow and defeat the enemy. He said that they wouldn’t fabricate a story about someone who had been killed, tormented, and disgraced by the enemy.
Archaeological Evidence Of Jesus’ Existence
Jesus’ existence has never been proven by concrete physical or archaeological findings. ” Nothing is definitive, nor would I anticipate that there would be,” according to Lawrence Mykytiuk. Moreover, he claimed that ancient peasants don’t usually leave an archaeological trace.
Bart D. Ehrman, a teacher of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, asserts in his historical argument for Jesus, “The reality is that we don’t have archaeological records for virtually anyone who lived in Jesus’ time and place.”
A specific passage in the book argues that the absence of proof does not prove a person’s nonexistence at the time. That implies that he or she had no effect on the world’s archaeological record, just like 99.99% of the world’s population at that period.
Direct relics linked with Jesus, which include the crown of thorns He allegedly wore during His punishment (one such piece of evidence is kept inside of Notre Dame Cathedral, located in the French capital), as well as the Shroud of Turin, a textile burial garment presumably imprinted with the likeness of His face, continue to raise issues of legitimacy.
Archaeologists, on the other hand, were able to confirm portions of the New Testament’s narrative about Jesus. Although some have denied the existence of historical Nazareth, where Jesus lived in His early years, investigators have found a courtyard house made of rock, as well as burials and a cistern. On top of that, they have identified concrete physical proof of Roman crucifixions, including the one where Jesus is mentioned in the New Testament.
Evidence From The Old And New Testaments
Evidence From The Old Testament
Contrary to what Christian apologists believe, there isn’t anything in the Old Testament that is significant to our subject, with the conceivable exception of the possibility that certain prophets may have believed that an “anointed one” (a savior king or priest) would regain control of the Jewish nation.
Each of the numerous instances of the Old Testament “predictions” of Christ is so absurd that one merely needs to look them up to realize their insignificance. The great American Revolutionary heretic Thomas Paine did exactly that; he revealed how irrelevant they were in his work “An Analysis of the Prophecies”, which he meant to be the succeeding part of The Age of Reason.
Evidence From The New Testament
The New Testament evidence and extrabiblical information are the only sources left after the Old Testament is taken into account. The New Testament is mostly made up of two categories of records: letters and possible biographies (or what we call gospels). There is a third type of writing, which the Book of Revelation falls under, but it fails to provide testimony for the historical existence of Jesus.
In truth, it appears to be a cognitive fossil of the world where Christianity arose—a Jewish apocalypse remade for Christian purposes. The book’s central character (mentioned 28 times) seems to be “the Lamb,” an ethereal being who appears in visions that have no historical evidence, and the writings have a distinct astrological tone in their entirety.
The name Jesus appears seven times in the full document, Christ just four times, and the name Jesus Christ is mentioned only twice. While the Book of Revelation may have come from an extremely early era (contrary to the opinions of most biblical academics, who only dealt with the said book in its final version), the Jesus it speaks of is evidently not a man. He is a divine entity.
He hasn’t yet developed the biological and physiological characteristics mentioned in the biblical context. The Jesus of the Book of Revelation is a divine being who afterward transformed into a human, not a person who later transformed into a divine being (god), as liberal theological experts claim.
How Controversial Is The Existence Of Jesus Now?
The French thinker Michel Onfray discusses Christ as a simple hypothesis in his recent piece, referring to him as a concept instead of a historical person. The Jesus Project was founded in the United States about ten years ago, with one of its primary topics of discussion being the question of the existence of Jesus Christ.
Some writers have even maintained that Jesus of Nazareth did not exist at all, claiming that both the figure of Jesus and the place of Nazareth were Christian fabrications. But it’s important to note that Maurice Casey as well as Bart Ehrman, two prominent historians and biblical scholars who have authored the most in opposition to these doubtful claims, are atheists.
Both have harshly criticized the concept of Jesus as a myth and called it pseudo-scholarship. Despite this, a recent poll in England found that four out of ten respondents were not convinced that Jesus Christ was a real historical figure.
Although Jesus Christ was highlighted in numerous historical texts, there is still an absence of archaeological evidence. So, whether or not we have doubts regarding the existence of the Son of God, we cannot disagree that Jesus is indeed the most influential person in history.
The current world’s calendars are based on the birth of Jesus. Even more, occurrences that happened prior to His arrival and those that occurred subsequently are divided by time in history.
This is a clear example of how much Jesus impacted our civilization. It is apparent that something of worldwide significance started with His existence. Undeniably, nobody could have created the influential character of Jesus.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Jesus A Real Person?
The historical existence of Jesus is a subject of scholarly debate. While many accept his existence based on references in non-religious texts like those by Flavius Josephus and Tacitus, others argue the evidence is inconclusive.
The lack of contemporary accounts and the influence of religious sources contribute to the complexity of the question. Overall, perspectives on Jesus’s real existence vary among scholars and individuals.
How Long Did Jesus Exist?
The duration of Jesus’ existence is generally situated in the 1st century CE. According to historical accounts and religious texts, Jesus of Nazareth is believed to have lived during the early part of this century. Commonly accepted estimates place his birth around 4 to 6 BCE and his crucifixion around 30 to 36 CE.
However, it’s important to note that the precise duration of his life is a matter of historical interpretation, and scholarly opinions on specific dates may vary. The information available is largely derived from ancient texts, and while there is a general consensus on the broad time frame, exact chronological details remain subject to scholarly debate.
How Do We Know God Is Real?
The existence of God is a philosophical question with varying perspectives. Believers often rely on religious texts, philosophical reasoning, and personal experiences, emphasizing faith and the order of the universe as evidence. Skeptics may point to scientific explanations, the lack of empirical evidence, or the problem of evil.
Ultimately, beliefs about God’s reality are subjective, shaped by personal faith, philosophical reflection, and interpretation of available evidence.