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How Can We Know That Jesus Really Existed?

Historical Evidence for Jesus Christ

The question of Jesus Christ's historical existence has been extensively examined, and a wealth of evidence confirms His presence in history. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John provide detailed accounts of Jesus' life, ministry, death, and resurrection. These accounts were written by eyewitnesses or those who had direct access to eyewitnesses, ensuring the reliability of their narratives.

External historical sources also affirm Jesus' existence. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, writing in the late first century C.E., refers to Jesus in his work "Antiquities of the Jews." Josephus writes, "Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be 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." This passage confirms Jesus' historical existence and His reputation as a wise teacher and miracle worker.

Testimony from Roman Historians

Roman historians also provide independent confirmation of Jesus' existence. Tacitus, a Roman senator and historian, wrote about the persecution of Christians by Nero in his work "Annals." In this account, Tacitus refers to "Christus," who "suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate." This reference aligns with the Gospel accounts of Jesus' crucifixion under Pilate, providing external validation from a non-Christian source.

Suetonius, another Roman historian, mentioned Christians and "Chrestus" in his work "The Twelve Caesars," referring to disturbances in Rome caused by followers of Christ. These references from Roman sources, written within a century of Jesus' life, corroborate the New Testament accounts and affirm Jesus' historical presence.

Archaeological Evidence Supporting the New Testament

Archaeological discoveries have also supported the historical reliability of the New Testament accounts of Jesus. The discovery of the Pilate Stone in Caesarea Maritima provides tangible evidence of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who sentenced Jesus to crucifixion. This stone, inscribed with Pilate's name and title, confirms the Gospel accounts of his role in Jesus' trial and execution (Matthew 27:2; John 19:1).

The Pool of Bethesda, where Jesus healed a paralytic (John 5:2), has been excavated in Jerusalem. The discovery of this pool, with its five porticoes, matches the description given in the Gospel of John, providing further evidence for the accuracy of the New Testament narratives.

Eyewitness Testimony in the New Testament

The New Testament is grounded in eyewitness testimony, which is crucial for establishing historical reliability. The Gospels were written by individuals who either witnessed the events themselves or recorded the accounts of those who did. Luke, in the introduction to his Gospel, states, "Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught" (Luke 1:1-4).

The apostle Peter emphasizes the importance of eyewitness testimony in 2 Peter 1:16, where he writes, "For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty." This emphasis on firsthand accounts underscores the credibility of the New Testament documents.

The Consistency of the Gospel Accounts

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John provide harmonious accounts of Jesus' life and ministry, despite being written by different authors for different audiences. The consistency among these accounts, particularly in the core events of Jesus' birth, miracles, teachings, crucifixion, and resurrection, reinforces their reliability. While there are variations in detail, these differences reflect the distinct perspectives and purposes of the authors rather than contradictions.

The synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—share many similarities, often recounting the same events in similar sequences. This synoptic relationship suggests a common source or tradition, further affirming the historical reliability of their accounts. The Gospel of John, while more theological in nature, corroborates the synoptic accounts and provides additional insights into Jesus' ministry and teachings.

The Early Composition of the New Testament

The New Testament documents were written within the first century C.E., within the lifetime of those who witnessed Jesus' ministry. This early composition is crucial for historical reliability, as it minimizes the potential for legendary development or distortion of the original events. Paul's letters, some of the earliest New Testament writings, date to the 50s C.E., just two to three decades after Jesus' crucifixion.

The early date of the New Testament writings is supported by the lack of mention of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. in the synoptic Gospels. Given the significance of this event, its absence suggests that these Gospels were composed before the destruction, likely in the 60s C.E. This proximity to the actual events enhances the credibility of the New Testament accounts.

Testimony from Early Christian Writings

The writings of early church fathers provide additional testimony to Jesus' existence and the reliability of the New Testament. Clement of Rome, writing around 95 C.E., refers to Jesus' teachings and the resurrection in his letter to the Corinthians. Ignatius of Antioch, writing in the early second century, also affirms Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection in his letters to various churches.

These early Christian writings demonstrate the continuity and consistency of the Christian faith from its inception. They also reflect the widespread acceptance of the New Testament accounts as accurate records of Jesus' life and ministry.

The Martyrdom of the Apostles

The willingness of the apostles to suffer and die for their testimony is a powerful testament to the reliability of their accounts. According to tradition, all the apostles, except John, were martyred for their faith. Their willingness to face persecution and death rather than renounce their testimony suggests that they genuinely believed in the truth of their message.

Peter, for instance, was crucified upside down, as recorded by early church tradition. Paul was beheaded in Rome under Emperor Nero. These accounts of martyrdom highlight the apostles' unwavering commitment to their testimony, providing strong evidence for the reliability of their witness.

Non-Christian Sources Confirming Jesus' Existence

In addition to Jewish and Roman sources, other non-Christian writings also reference Jesus. The Talmud, a central text of Rabbinic Judaism, mentions Jesus in a few passages, albeit with a hostile tone. These references, despite their negative portrayal, affirm Jesus' historical existence and His impact on Jewish society.

Pliny the Younger, a Roman governor, wrote to Emperor Trajan around 112 C.E., describing how Christians worshiped Christ "as to a god." This correspondence indicates the spread of Christianity and the recognition of Jesus as a central figure of worship, further attesting to His historical existence.

Addressing Skepticism and Alternative Theories

Skepticism regarding Jesus' historical existence often arises from a naturalistic worldview that denies the possibility of the supernatural. Some skeptics argue that the accounts of Jesus are mythical or symbolic rather than historical. However, the Historical-Grammatical method of interpretation, which seeks to understand the text in its original context and meaning, supports the literal understanding of Jesus' existence and the events recorded in the New Testament.

Alternative theories, such as the Christ myth theory, which posits that Jesus is a fictional or mythological figure, lack substantial historical evidence and are not widely accepted by scholars. The overwhelming consensus among historians, both Christian and non-Christian, is that Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure who lived in the first century C.E.

The Impact of Jesus' Life and Teachings

The historical impact of Jesus' life and teachings provides further evidence of His existence. Jesus' teachings on love, forgiveness, and the Kingdom of God have profoundly influenced Western civilization and continue to shape ethical and moral thought. The rapid growth of the early Christian church, despite intense persecution, testifies to the powerful impact of Jesus' message and the conviction of His followers.

The spread of Christianity from a small group of Jewish disciples to a global faith within a few centuries underscores the historical reality of Jesus and the transformative power of His teachings. The early church's commitment to preserving and disseminating the New Testament writings reflects their belief in the historical accuracy and significance of these documents.

The Role of Faith and Reason

While historical and textual evidence for Jesus' existence is substantial, faith also plays a crucial role in accepting His identity and message. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Faith in Jesus Christ is not blind belief but is grounded in reasonable evidence provided by Scripture and the internal witness of the Holy Spirit.

Christian apologetics bridges the gap between faith and reason, demonstrating that belief in Jesus' historical existence and His divine identity is intellectually viable and spiritually enriching. As 1 Peter 3:15 exhorts, "But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence." This call to defend the faith includes providing reasons for believing in the historical reality of Jesus Christ.

About the Author

EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 220+ books. In addition, Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).



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