Several years ago my (now) wife and I were having a discussion about religion with a friend of ours that I would describe as Agnostic at best. Knowing this persons background I expected to hear dismissing claims about Christianity, however, one claim this person made caught me especially off guard. My friend made the statement “There is more evidence that aliens exist than that Jesus ever really existed”. That’s a pretty strong claim don’t you think? I didn’t really know how to respond. Partly because I wasn’t prepared to give a good argument for the existence of Jesus but also because I was totally flabbergasted that someone could deny the existence of Jesus the man. Since that moment I regretted not blowing up such an outlandish claim. I knew that Jesus existed but I did not know how to defend it. So it is with this blog post that I intend to vindicate that situation a little bit and give a few good reasons that you can pass on to someone that makes this or another outlandish claim. First I want to outline some parameters for this post. It is not the intent of this post to prove that Jesus was the Son of God or that he rose from the dead, although my evidence touches on some of that. This post is to simply prove beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was a real man, that lived in the first century, and founded the Christian religion. Now with that being said let us jump into the evidence.
The New Testament Counts As Evidence
Some people are so quick to dismiss the Bible as a historical document because it is a religious document but that logic is just not sound. Just because something is a religious document does not make it a historically unreliable document (or set of documents in this case). In fact, it can be argued rather easily that the gospels are very reliable historical documents but that is another post for another time. If you are a follower of this blog you will know that I believe that at least 3 of the 4 gospels were written BEFORE 70 AD. If that is accurate then these accounts of Jesus life would have been written within 35 years of the events they describe. It would follow that in less than 35 years a large majority of the witnesses (or lack thereof if you are a skeptic) of Jesus life would still be alive. If Jesus had not existed then we could expect some kind of outcry after the release of these documents from contemporary sources calling out the Gospels for being false. One could reason that a resident of Jerusalem could easily come forward and say the stories of Jesus crucifixion are false however this does not happen. One could reasonably conclude that of all the people the Gospels say saw Jesus not a single person coming forward to say those claims are false is in itself proof that Jesus did exist.
The bible is not the only Christian sources we have detailing Jesus. The Didache, Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, and Polycarp of Smyrna are all first-century witnesses to Jesus that still exist to this day. The Didache could have been produced as early as AD 50 while Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp were all contemporaries of the Apostles and original disciples. All three of these men could have easily verified if Jesus was a real man or not. Not only did they not come to this conclusion but they also all died for the faith. We can conclude that the evidence was so strong it made them all willing to die for what they believed.
You can read about these men and The Didache at New Advent.
Some people will not be convinced by Christian sources whether biblical or extra-biblical but do not despair. Below are 3 Non-Christian Sources for the existence of Jesus. Many more exist but I chose just these. A simple Google search will reveal more.
Josephus (AD 93)
[H]e convened a judicial session of the Sanhedrin and brought before it the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ—James by name—and some others, whom he charged with breaking the law and handed them over to be stoned to death.
Tacitus (AD 116)
“Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius.”
Pliny the Younger (AD 110)
They were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing together a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food—but ordinary and innocent food.
10 of the 12 Apostles Died Horrible Deaths
This is one of my favorite arguments for the existence of Jesus. I like this argument because it is a little bit outside of the box of just citing sources. The argument goes like this. We have evidence that 10 of the 12 Apostles that Jesus chose died horrible deaths for the faith. The only two that were not martyrs was Judas, who killed himself after betraying Jesus and the Apostle John who died an old man around the year 100 AD. Now you may be asking why the vast majority of Apostles dying as martyrs is evidence for the existence of Jesus? Well, let us think about that for just a moment. If you believe that Jesus was not a real person that actually existed what you are saying is you believe that 10 men who self-reported as eyewitnesses of the man Jesus of which none were particularly noted men were persecuted and died horrible deaths by crucifixion, beheading, and fed to animals for a man that never existed! That’s what you are telling me? 10 men (and countless others for that matter) all died horrible deaths because they would not deny that Jesus was God. That’s a pretty good liar that can be tortured to the point of death and still maintain a fabricated story that if he were to just fess up and deny would likely spare him such a fate. It just doesn’t make sense. Not a single one of these guys tapped out and gave up and just admitted that they made the whole thing up. This is just out of the Apostles too. There were an untold amount of other eyewitnesses who suffered similar fates but NO evidence that any number of them submitted and admitted that Jesus was not real. The fates of the Apostles and the disciples just does not make any sense if he did not at the very least exist. I would go further and argue that anything short of watching a man rise from the grave would not be enough to make these men die for his cause in the manner that they all did.
The Balls In Their Court
I’ve outlined a few good reasons to believe that the man Jesus of Nazareth existed. I believe that any of these arguments can stand on there own and that any one of these arguments are reasonable enough to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Jesus did in fact exist. It is also my belief that the combined weight of these arguments (as well as a litany of others good arguments) make it reasonable to believe that there is NO good reason to NOT believe in the existence of Jesus of Nazareth. So with that being said put the ball in the court of the person that is making this statement. Ask this person why they believe that? What evidence can they produce to arrive at such a conclusion? I would bet that most people will not have a very convincing argument or no argument at all to support there claim. It is very hard to find any serious scholar (Christian or not) that believes Jesus did not at least exist. So once again the ball is in their court. Let them show you what so many people before them have missed.