Did Jesus Really Exist?

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Some people are so quick to dismiss the Bible as a historical document because it is a religious document but that logic is just not sound.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 In fact, it can be argued rather easily that the gospels are very reliable historical documents but that is another post for another time.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.

Extra-Biblical Sources

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.

Non-Christian Sources

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.

Dating the Gospel of John

I’ve been putting off this post on dating the Gospel of John for a while now but I feel like its time for me to try and tackle this subject. The man reason I have been putting it off is the sheer difficulty I have had in formulating my own opinion on exactly when the Gospel of John was written. On the dating of John’s Gospel, I have had two lines of thought that have been in a fairly even wrestling match in my mind for some time. The first is that John’s Gospel was written BEFORE AD 70 probably in the late AD 60’s around the time of Peters crucifixion and the second is John wrote his Gospel between AD 90 and AD 100 toward the end of his life. The second option is more widely accepted than the first and arguments can be made for both points. I have encountered arguments for an even LATER dating of John’s Gospel but I feel like those arguments are more motivated by sowing discourse within the Christian religion than actual good reasoning. With that being said I would like to present a few good reasons to believe John wrote his Gospel before AD 70.

Jerusalem, The Temple, and Peters Death

In Jimmy Akins book “A Daily Defense” he makes two observations that point to John being composed before AD 70. The first has to do with John 5:2 which states:

“Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Hebrew called Beth-za′tha, which has five porticoes.”

Akin correctly points out that Jerusalem was destroyed in the summer of AD 70 but here John clearly makes a reference toward architecture in Jerusalem as if it were still standing at the time of his writing.

The second observation that Akin makes is in John 21:19 which states:

(This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Akin points here to the underlying Greek that suggests a future tense of how Peter would die. This would seem to point to a dating of prior to AD 67 since we know that Peter was crucified upside down during the reign of Nero in AD 67. The argument here is that if John had written after Peter’s death he would have indicated that it was indeed how Peter died and not how he was going to die.

A third point I would like to introduce that falls in line with Jimmy’s observations is that at no point in John’s Gospel does he make reference to Jerusalems destruction and the destruction of the temple in the summer of AD 70. In fact, as we can see from Jimmy’s first observation John actually goes the other direction and indicates that the destruction of Jerusalem has not yet taken place. John A.T. Robinson points to another piece of evidence toward this argument in his book “Redating the New Testament”. Robinson quotes John 11:48-52 which states:

48 If we let him go on thus, every one will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Ca′iaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all; 50 you do not understand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.

There are two key points to be made in these verses. First, we see that they are clearly worried about the Roman’s destroying Jerusalem if Jesus is allowed to continue and build support which is what eventually happened despite Jesus being crucified. Second, Caiaphas prophecy about Jesus is very significant and Robinson puts it best:

“It is not that the temple and nation would be swept away but that Jesus should die for the people rather than the whole nation be destroyed”.

The key to Robinson’s point is “rather than”. If John wrote after the destruction of the temple in AD 70 it would have changed the entire complexion of this passage. Instead of one man dying rather than the destruction of the whole nation it would have been he died and it was still destroyed.

One final point I want to make toward the destruction of Jerusalem being absent from John’s gospel. We have a strong tradition from the early church fathers that John wrote his gospel last of the four gospels. It is hard to make a convincing case that John wrote before Matthew, Mark, or Luke. With that being said it is a common theory that John wrote his gospel with the knowledge of what had already been recorded in the previous three gospels. The theory goes that since books (or scrolls in this case) were fairly limited to how much material could be put in them, John saw fit to tell aspects and stories of Jesus life that the other’s did not record for whatever reason. John even makes reference that he could not fit all of what Jesus did into his gospel. Thus we see such a divergence from the other gospels in the sense of what stories John chose to include in his gospel about Jesus. The significance of this theory is that John chose NOT to include several accounts of Jesus predicting the destruction of the temple. The destruction of the temple and the Jewish revolt would have been the biggest news in that period of the Jewish world and across the Roman empire. John being an eyewitness to Jesus prediction and its eventual completion would have made a HUGE oversight not to include such a prophecy that came true about a catastrophic event in a document that’s purpose was to convince an audience that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God. Let me use an example of modern day to illustrate my point better. If in 1990 I had claimed to be a prophet and predicted the tragic events of 9/11 and you were telling someone today that I was a true prophet wouldn’t you include the story of how I predicted probably the biggest event in our lifetime? Of course! Because it would be pretty hard evidence that I was indeed a true prophet! John knew this as well as anyone and even goes out of his way in his gospel to establish the fact that Jesus is God (John Chapter 1). It would then follow that the only reason John would leave out such concrete evidence is that the prophecy had NOT come true yet and thus could not be pointed to as evidence to the outside observer.

The absence of any indication of the destruction of the temple being a past event is a HUGE hole in the argument for a post AD 70 composition of John’s Gospel (that goes for the other gospels as well) and it demands explanation before we can move on to any argument for a post AD 70 composition.

Ok, So Why Is This Important?

It’s important to establish when John wrote his Gospel because skeptics point to how much time passed between Jesus life and the writing down of the gospels as a way of saying the Gospels are not a reliable source. Some skeptics will argue that John’s Gospel was written as late as the second century and make the claim that such a late writing could not have been written by an eyewitness or anyone that could substantiate the story would be alive at the time of the writing since so much time had passed.

So When Did John Write his Gospel?

If I was held down and forced to guess the exact year or give a range of when I thought John composed his Gospel I would say the latter half of AD 60’s. Just to cover all my bases I would put the range between AD 65 and AD 70. That range would put John’s Gospel only 32 years after the death of Jesus, well within the lifetime of John the Apostle and well within the lifetime of many of the witnesses of Jesus. Making John’s testament a very reliable source since many of the witnesses John mentions in his gospel would likely still be alive to collaborate his story.

Timeline of the Gospels

Here is my best guess for the timeline of all 4 gospels. This is subject to change as mentioned in my previous blog post about the syntopic gospels. The Mark vs Matthew debate could potentially throw a cog in my view.

Mark (AD 50 to AD 55)
Matthew (AD 56 to AD 59)
Luke (AD 59 to AD 62)
John (AD 65 to AD 70)

Want to Learn More?

Here are a few of the sources I have used in my research of this topic:

A Daily Defense by Jimmy Akin

The Case For Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ by Brant Pitre

Redating the New Testament by John AT Robinson (Free Link)

And a short post I wrote about dating the Synoptic Gospels

Dating The Synoptic Gospels

Did Jesus Write a Letter?

Ever wonder if Jesus ever wrote anything down? I know I certainly have. According to Eusebius of Caesarea Jesus actually responded to a letter sent to him by Abgarus the ruler of Edessa.

Letter of Abgarus to Jesus:

6. Abgarus, ruler of Edessa, to Jesus the excellent Saviour who has appeared in the country of Jerusalem, greeting. I have heard the reports of you and of your cures as performed by you without medicines or herbs. For it is said that you make the blind to see and the lame to walk, that you cleanse lepers and cast out impure spirits and demons, and that you heal those afflicted with lingering disease, and raise the dead.
7. And having heard all these things concerning you, I have concluded that one of two things must be true: either you are God, and having come down from heaven you do these things, or else you, who does these things, are the Son of God.
8. I have therefore written to you to ask you if you would take the trouble to come to me and heal the disease which I have. For I have heard that the Jews are murmuring against you and are plotting to injure you. But I have a very small yet noble city which is great enough for us both.

Jesus’ Response to Abgarus:

9. Blessed are you who hast believed in me without having seen me. For it is written concerning me, that they who have seen me will not believe in me, and that they who have not seen me will believe and be saved. But in regard to what you have written me, that I should come to you, it is necessary for me to fulfill all things here for which I have been sent, and after I have fulfilled them thus to be taken up again to him that sent me. But after I have been taken up I will send to you one of my disciples, that he may heal your disease and give life to you and yours.

So while it would seem according to Eusebius that at the very least Jesus dictated a letter or response to Abgarus.  Eusebius goes on later to say that Jesus’ followed through with his promise and one of disciples went to Abgarus and healed him.

Is This Letter Real?

Eusebius certainly considered it to be real. Eusebius is considered the Father of Church History and was a respected source for Church history in the early Church. One could conclude that Eusebius had no reason to make up such an account.

So Is It Legit?

Maybe! It’s hard to say really. I know that is not the answer you were looking for from me but the way I see it we have a few options for the origin of this letter. These theories are in no particular order.

  1. It was a forgery. Eusebius believed the letter to be legit but who’s to say that someone did not forge the letters say 100 years before Eusebius. That would put the date of the letters forgery around AD 200 well before Eusebius would of been on the Earth but old enough to lend it some credence to Eusebius.
  2. It’s possible that these letters were produced later in history after the death of Jesus but were meant as a reflection of an actual event.
  3. They are totally legit and were produced during the time of Jesus ministry.

I tend to lean toward option #2. I believe it is possible that Abgarus heard about Jesus and possibly sent a messenger to Jesus with a message and Jesus thus returned the messenger with his reply. This would explain why we do not have any record from Jesus earliest disciples of our Savior haven ever produced any written works. If king Abgarus would of received a written document from Jesus it seems likely that such a document would of risen very quickly in popularity and thus found its way into the earliest church documents.

What do you think? Its an interesting tidbit from Eusebius to say the least.

Dating The Synoptic Gospels

The general consensus is that Luke wrote the last of the synoptic gospels. I tend to agree with this notion (based on several factors but that is another blog post entirely) and for this reason, I have chosen to use this premise as a good starting point. By establishing when the last synoptic gospel was written we can then set a boundary for when the other two had to have been written. John’s gospel is a whole other can of worms and I will tackle that one later. Please note that this is not meant to be an exhaustive post on dating the Synoptic Gospels but a few good reasons I have for dating them prior to AD 70.


Luke Didn’t Just Write the Gospel

Luke didn’t just write his gospel he also wrote Act’s of the Apostles and maybe a few of Paul’s letters but for the sake of this discussion, let us focus on his gospel and Act’s. Luke wrote his gospel as the first of a two volume history to a man named Theophilus. Luke intended for his writings to confirm what Theophilus had been taught and that he would have an authoritative history of the Christian ministry thus far (Luke 1:3-4). Which leads us to our first clue about when Luke composed his gospel.

The most convincing clue I have found for Luke being written prior to AD 70 (and thus our starting point) has very little to do with Luke’s gospel but more to do with Act’s of the Apostles. Particularly I want to focus on the end of Acts. Acts of the Apostles ends rather abruptly with Paul being imprisoned awaiting trial in Rome, which leads to the question why would Luke end his story at this point? The simplest and to me the obvious answer is because the rest of the story had yet to unfold. Think about it for just a moment. If Luke had written Act’s of the Apostles sometime after AD 80 after he had written his Gospel as most scholars today propose, that means he wrote AFTER both Peter and Paul died glorious deaths as martyrs of the faith at the hands of Emperor Nero. Why would he not include these events in his history of Christianity? What logical reason would he have for leaving out the martyrdoms of the two most important men in Christianity? One of which he was a life long companion of? It just doesn’t make sense. The only logical conclusion is that Luke ended Act’s where he did because he had reached his present day around AD 60. It would then follow that Luke’s Gospel was written prior to Paul’s imprisonment in Rome since it was the first of the two volume set.


Prediction of the Destruction of the Temple

The most common argument I have heard from people that support dating the gospels after the destruction of the Jewish Temple in July/August of AD 70 is that Jesus’ predictions of the destruction of the temple were not actually predictions but details added after the destruction of the temple itself thus putting the composition of the gospels after AD 70. I, however, believe that this line of thinking is flawed. From my research on the subject,  there is compelling evidence to actually turn this argument around and use it as a piece of the puzzle to dating the gospels prior to AD 70.

The first thing I would like to look at is the fact nowhere in the gospels is the destruction of the temple looked at as a past event. It would follow that if the temple had been destroyed the authors would make a reference to the event actually taking place. One would expect a line similar to “and so it happened in X year” but no such reference is made.

Secondly, the references to the destruction of the temple that do exist actually would not make sense had they been written AFTER the destruction of the temple. Brant Pitre in his book “The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ”, points out that Mark warns his audience to pray that the destruction of the temple does not occur in the winter (Mark 13:18), while Luke says not to enter into the city when the armies surround it (21:20-21), and Matthew adds to the warning to pray it doesn’t happen on the Sabbath (Matthew 24:20). None of these passages of scripture would make sense if the author was talking about a past event that had already occurred. They would know that the temple was destroyed in the summer and a warning to not enter the city when armies surrounded it would be obvious since it already occurred.

Then When Were They Written?

So now for the 64 million dollar question, when was the synoptic Gospels written?  We have good reason to believe that Jesus was crucified in AD 33 so we have a starting point on the range. We also have established a couple of good reasons as to why the Synoptic Gospels could not be composed after AD 70. We also are operating under the assumption that Luke wrote his Synoptic Gospel last and since we know that Luke had to have written his Gospel before AD 62 before the end of Paul’s first imprisonment, we can establish a range of AD 33 to AD 62 for when the Synoptic Gospels were written. Can we narrow it down a little further? Possibly. Here is my (current) best stab at narrowing it down. Since Paul was imprisoned from AD 60 to AD 62 I believe it is likely Luke wrote his gospel during this time frame or maybe slightly before. So I will go with AD 59 to AD 62 for Luke’s Gospel. I believe Luke used Mark and Matthew’s gospel to write his own, Matthew used Mark, and Mark used Peter’s sermons for a primary source for his gospel. With that being said if Mark used Peter as his primary source for his gospel it would have been after he parted ways with Paul and became Peter’s interpreter. It is believed that this event occurred around AD 49. So for Mark, I will assign a range of AD 50 to AD 55 (leaning toward the middle of that range) and AD 56 to AD 59 for Matthew. Of course, someone could find an Aramaic version of Matthew’s Gospel dating from the AD 30’s or AD 40’s and my dates will just fly out the window but I’ll cross that bridge when/if it ever happens.

The next part of this series will focus on the Gospel of John. Stay Tuned and as always feel free to comment or write me with opinions. Even if you disagree with me, it’s good to hear other viewpoints.

Dating the Gospels

Much debate exists about when each gospel was written. The common view currently seems to be that Mark was written first on or around AD 70, followed by Matthew between AD 80 and AD 90, then Luke between AD 80 and AD 100, and finally John between AD 90 and AD 100. While I do not necessarily disagree with the order (although I’ve wrestled with it in the past), I am in 100% disagreement with such a late dating of all 4 gospels. In fact instead of dating the gospels starting with AD 70, I believe strong evidence exists to say that ALL 4 gospels were written before AD 70 or at least before the destruction of the temple in AD 70. While dating the gospels later than AD 70 is currently in the majority view, it has not always been that way. As a matter of fact for most of Christian history the line of thought has been for a pre-AD 70 authorship of all 4 gospels. I believe that this stance is the most plausible and is starting to make a comeback among Christian scholars. Going forward I intend on presenting evidence that I have garnered during my research on the topic in a series of posts detailing the evidence for each gospel being written before AD 70 and when I believe each document was written specifically. As I publish each part of the series I will update this post with the links to each part.