The Historicity of Jesus

Whether or not a scholar of ancient times believes that Jesus was raised from the dead may be considered a spiritual, theological, or religious question.  But whether or not said scholar believes that Jesus was in fact a Jewish preacher who was crucified in Jerusalem by the Romans under Pontius Pilate 25-35 AD is simply a historical question.  Practically speaking, modern scholars unanimously attest to these facts, as evidenced by the quotes that follow.

“Today nearly all historians, whether Christians or not, accept that Jesus existed.”  –  Graham Stanton, The Gospels and Jesus (Oxford University Press, 1989) 145.

“That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus … agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact.”  –  John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (HarperOne, 1995). p 145.

“Biblical scholars and classical historians now regard it [theories of the nonexistence of Jesus] as effectively refuted.”  – Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Eerdmans Publishing, 2000) p. 16

[The theories of non-existence of Jesus are] “a thoroughly dead thesis.”  –  James D. G. Dunn, “Paul’s Understanding of the Death of Jesus” in Sacrifice and Redemption, ed. S. W. Sykes (Cambridge University Press: 2007) 35-36.

“Combining the evidence of Thallus, Pliny, Tacitus, and Suetonius one can accumulate enough data to refute the fanciful notion that Jesus never existed without even appealing to the testimony of Jewish or Christian sources.”  Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Downers Grove: IVP, 1987)  p 197.

“Despite [an] enormous range of opinion [on Jesus], there are several points on which virtually all scholars of antiquity agree.  Jesus was a Jewish man, known to be a preacher and teacher, who was crucified (a Roman form of execution) in Jerusalem during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea.  […T]his is the view of nearly every trained scholar on the planet…”  –  Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (p. 12). HarperOne, 2012) 

“I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.”  —H.G. Wells (Source: Apologetics315.com)

The source for the first five quotes above is How to Answer a Jesus Critic (p. 7-9) by Scott M. Sullivan, PhD.  In these same pages, Sullivan himself says:

“When we use the same historical standards as we do in other areas of ancient history, the historical evidence that Jesus existed is overwhelming.”

“[T]he evidence for Jesus is far greater than nearly all other figures from ancient history.”

“Virtually every professional historian regards the existence of Jesus as historically certain.”

“The Christian has every good reason to comfortably rest within the academic mainstream that Jesus really existed.  Those who deny this intellectually marginalize themselves to the crackpot realm.”

See also the Wikipedia article “Historicity of Jesus,” from which the following two quotes are taken:

“There is near unanimity among scholars that Jesus existed historically…”

“Virtually all modern scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed, and most biblical scholars and classical historians see the theories of his non-existence as effectively refuted.”

“There is no evidence today that the existence of Jesus was ever denied in antiquity by those who opposed Christianity.”

Abundant substantiation for these statements, and other like them, can be found in the article.  While some scholars can vary wildly from the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, there is near-universal agreement among all scholars to 1) Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, and 2) his crucifixion under Pontius Pilate.  (Perhaps needless to add, John the Baptist, Paul, James are likewise acknowledged as actual historical persons.)

To say that Jesus did not exist puts you in a category with the sort of people who say that the 1969 moon landing was faked or that the U.S. was behind the 9/11 attack.

All that said, merely believing that Jesus lived and died is not what He’s looking for from us.  Rather, it’s believing that He was raised from the dead and that He lives and reigns forevermore that He wants to see.  But if you let someone talk you into the absurd notion that Jesus never existed, you’ll spend your life as a conspiracy theorist and never even give yourself a chance to believe in His resurrection.

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