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Some people are so quick to dismiss the Bible as a historical document because it is a religious document but that logic is just not sound.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 In fact, it can be argued rather easily that the gospels are very reliable historical documents but that is another post for another time.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

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.