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.

Even Bart Ehrman Believes That Jesus Lived and Died

Like John Dominic Crossan, Bart Ehrman is a biblical scholar who denies that Jesus was raised from the dead.  But also like Crossan, Ehrman, along with practically all other modern scholars, is convinced of certain historical facts about Jesus.  When he says “virtually all scholars of antiquity” in the quote below, Ehrman indeed means “all” – he is not just talking about Christian scholars.

“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…”

Source:  Ehrman, Bart D. Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (p. 12). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.  (373 pages total)

Did Paul Meet Jesus Before the Damascus Road? Stanley E. Porter

On February 19 – 21, 2014, Dr. Stanley E. Porter gave a series of four lectures titled “Did Paul Meet Jesus Before the Damascus Road?  The Evidence and the Implications.”  This lecture series was part of the H. Orton Wiley Lecture Series in Theology held by Porter’s alma mater Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU) in San Diego, California.

Lecture 1  –  “What Scholars Have Said in the Past”

(During the period 1901-1913, William Ramsey, Johannes Weiss, James Hope Moulton argued that Paul indeed had interaction with Jesus during the days of His flesh.)

Lecture 2  –  “What Scholars Now Say”

(F.C. Bauer, William Wrede, and Rudolph Bultmann drove a wedge between Jesus and Paul which, more or less, eliminated the question from consideration.)

Lecture 3  –  “What the Bible Does and Does Not Say”

(Acts 9:1-9; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 2 Corinthians 5:16 can be best understood if Paul had encountered Jesus during the latter’s earthly life.)

Lecture 4  –  “The Implications of Paul Having Met Jesus”

(The implication is that we should look for continuity between Jesus and Paul, not discontinuity.)

The parenthetical notes above are mine.  I should add that while Porter did not convince me that Paul interacted with Jesus before the crucifixion, he did convince that Paul might have interacted with Jesus before the crucifixion.  In other words, there’s no basis for assuming that Paul had no interactions with the earthly Jesus.

You should be able to find this lecture series on iTunes University.  You can also find PLNU’s page describing all this here.

Conclusions About Historical Accuracy of the Bible by Glenn Smith

This post is mainly about the historical reliability of Luke-Acts.

Excerpts:

– The best evidence shows that Luke and Acts were composed by 60 A.D.

– Luke and Acts are so well attested historically and archaeologically that they have more support than any other book in ancient history.

– There is no reasonable way that Luke/Acts could have been written by anyone other than someone living in the region in the first century.

(4 min read; 1,021 words)

Conclusions About Historical Accuracy of the Bible | Thomistic Bent
(
HT: Greg West at The Poached Egg from Ratio Christi)

What and When Were the Earliest Claims About Jesus? – J. Warner Wallace

Jim Wallace builds a timeline of events backwards from 70 A.D. to 33 A.D., relying on Acts, then Luke, then Mark, then 1 Corinthians 15 (per Gary Habermas).

What and When Were the Earliest Claims About Jesus? – YouTube.

What Were the Disciples Saying About Jesus Prior to Writing the Gospels? | J. Warner Wallace

J. Warner Wallace shares a panel discussion with Gary Habermas.

(6 min read; 1,494 words)

What Were the Disciples Saying About Jesus Prior to Writing the Gospels? | Cold Case Christianity.

The Apostle John’s Chain of Custody (Video) | J. Warner Wallace

The Apostle John’s Chain of Custody (Video) | Cold Case Christianity.

Are The New Testament Documents Historically Credible? – William Lane Craig

The questioner in this video demonstrates a common but seldom-admitted skepticism about the New Testament documents – a skepticism that is abandoned when it comes to practically all other ancient literature.

The questioner leads me to imagine a court case where a man is convicted of murder based on ample evidence, to which his defense attorney replies, “Yes, but do you have any other evidence?” – thus implying that all the existing evidence is tainted but without offering any reasonable argument as to why we should consider it tainted.

Such people think that we believe the story of Jesus because we believe the New Testament to be the word of God.  No.  We believe the story of Jesus because we treat the New Testament documents the same way we treat all other documents from antiquity.  Only after we are convinced of the reality of Jesus – what he said and did – do we need to come to a conviction about the New Testament being the word of God.

At about the 4:50 mark, Craig notes that the earliest biographies we have of Alexander the Great come from Plutarch and Arrian about 400 years after the fact.  This compares with the four Gospels which give us Jesus’ life within a generation or two at the most.  The questioner is employing a double standard, regarding the New Testament documents with a far greater skepticism than is applied toward other documents from that time period.

Are The New Testament Documents Historically Credible? – YouTube.

How Ancient Eyewitness Testimony Became the New Testament Gospel Record by J. Warner Wallace

(4 min read; 1,093 words)

How Ancient Eyewitness Testimony Became the New Testament Gospel Record | Cold Case Christianity.

(HT:  The Poached Egg from Ratio Christi)

The Case for the Eyewitness Status of the Gospel Authors by J. Warner Wallace

(6 min read; 1,455 words)

The Case for the Eyewitness Status of the Gospel Authors | Cold Case Christianity.

(HT: The Poached Egg from Ratio Christi)