As a Christian, the answer may seem pretty obvious. Even most people who are not Christians acknowledge that Jesus once lived and was in fact a historical person. However, during a discussion I had last month with my atheist friend, he stated that Jesus never existed. This was a new claim I had never considered before. As a Christian, I know that Jesus is real through His Holy Spirit, which I experience all the time…leading, guiding, and answering prayers in ways that pure chance will never explain. Yet I had never really considered what evidence there is for Jesus Christ outside what I experience subjectively in my own life. While I vaguely remembered hearing examples of evidence for Jesus’ existence in the past, my friend’s statement motivated me to search for myself to find out if there is truly evidence for Jesus Christ in history. The conclusion of my research? Absolutely!
First, Jesus is proven through the gospels. While many people claim that the gospels were written by crazy, unintelligent fishermen and filled with myths, this is disproved by examining their writings.
- Their writings were written in sober, meaningful accounts that included details which would be unnecessary and embarrassing if they did not have a purpose. Some examples are: 1. The inclusion of women as witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. (During the time and place of the gospel writings, the witness of women were considered invalid.) 2. The virgin birth. (This would be considered impossible.) 3. Jesus weeping at the news of Lazareths’ death. (Showing that he was human and had emotions.) 4. Jesus’ death on the cross. (The death of one’s leader, especially by such humiliating punishment, would put shame on those who followed him.) Each of these accounts would not have been included in a myth, yet not only one, but several writers affirmed these details and many other “unnecessary” details as fact
- The gospels were all written within 80 years after Jesus’ death and by people who had lived alongside him. (The first biography of Alexander the Great was written 400 years after his death.) Historians agree that 80 years is way to little of a time for a myth to have been cultivated and spread so fast, especially since it typically takes several generations to come to the point of popular exception.
- More than 5,000 Greek New Testament papyri manuscripts have been found to date and the only other ancient manuscript that even comes close to touching that number is Homer’s Iliad which has 650 Greek copies. Plus, it was written 1000 years before the writings of the New Testament which gave it even more time to grow and yet it did not even reach half of the amount the New Testament did.
- While it is a popular argument that the translations of the scriptures changed significantly over time, archaeological evidence and translation of the 5,000 Greek copies of the New Testament have shown that the text is 99.5% pure.
“In no other case is the interval of time between the composition of the book and the date of the earliest manuscripts so short as that in the New Testament.”
-Sir Frederic Kenyon (Former director of the British Museum and author of The Paleography of Greek Papyri.)
Second, Jesus is written about by several other historians and writers besides those included in the Bible including: Julius Africanus, Thallus, Pliny the Younger, Flavius Josephus, Lucian of Samosata, Tacitus and also a possible reference by the philosopher Mara Bar Serapion. This excludes the gospels and also Gnostic writings such as The Apocryphon of John, The Treatise on Resurrection, and the Gospel of Thomas.
While most of these writers did not believe in Jesus as God’s Son, they did believe in Jesus as a historical figure and several affirm the events that happened in Jesus’ time such as the census, crucifixion of Jesus, and the disappearing of the body.
In fact, we can almost reconstruct the gospel just from early non-Christian sources: Jesus was called the Christ (Josephus), did “magic”, led Israel into new teachings and was hanged on Passover for them (Babylonian Talmud) in Judea (Tacitus), but claimed to be God and would return (Eliezar), which his followers believed, worshiping Him as God (Pliny the Younger).
An important question to ask could also be why other religions and people who opposed Jesus and the Christians did not rise up and deny the very existence of Jesus if he wasn’t real? For example, the Jewish Talmud talks about Jesus and how His teachings were incorrect. If the Jews hated Jesus so much, why did they just not discredit His very existence? Maybe because He did exist. Imagine how ridiculous a racist would sound if he said Nelson Mandela never existed? People would call him crazy because everyone knows that he was a real person and just because the racist does not like Nelson Mandela does not make Nelson Mandela any less of a historical person than he is.
This study provided me with plenty of examples to show that Jesus Christ is a real historical person. However, one of the articles I read gave the reminder that “We can’t prove absolutely that Jesus existed, but we can give sufficient evidence…It’s up to the person to decide whether or not to accept or reject the evidence.” It is my hope and prayer that God will provide me an opportunity to share this evidence with my atheist friend. I earnestly pray that he will accept the evidence or at least even reconsider his conclusion that Jesus Christ never existed and begin reexamining the evidence. Please join me in praying that God will be present throughout any discussions we have and that His promise will be fulfilled:
“So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:11