The Big Question 46: Was Jesus A Real Historical Figure?
Mar 18, 2019 1632
Was Jesus a real historical figure?
It’s interesting that a recent survey in the United Kingdom discovered that 40% of adults don’t believe that Jesus was a real, historical figure.
And the reason why this is interesting, is because qualified historians, whether Christians or atheists, almost universally agree that Jesus actually really did exist. It just goes to show the power of the myths out there in popular culture.
The evidence for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth is both long-established and widespread. In addition, it’s early, detailed, and able to be corroborated – basically everything you’d look for if you were trying to find reliable historical evidence.
Of course, you’d expect any surviving eye-witness accounts to be written by his friends and that’s precisely what we find. Every now and then you come across someone saying that you have to discount the written Gospels in the Bible because they’re biased.
Well, of course they are! The eye-witnesses wrote about Jesus because they were impressed by him. You have to have some reason for putting things down on paper otherwise no-one would every write anything. And if you discounted any writings from ancient history on the basis that they were for or against their subject, you’d basically have almost nothing left! So, that arguments about the gospels having to be discounted because they were written by Christians is ridiculous. You have to evaluate each piece of evidence on its own merit.
The first writings that talk about Jesus were written around 25 years after his life, with his detailed biographies dating from around 15 years after that. These writings are full of verifiable historical details, written down very soon after the events themselves. Any one among thousands of people who lived through the events could have objected and said,
“That story about Jesus of Nazareth, it’s all made up! It’s a load of rubbish. I know. I was there!
But that never happened.
It’s a striking fact of history that there was never any debate at all in the ancient world about whether Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure, and not even among his opponents! The Jewish Rabbis denounced Jesus for various reasons but never doubted his existence. The same was true for the pagan writers like Celsus who wrote against Christianity. So, there’s also plenty of hard evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ that comes from people who were biased against him, like from the Jews themselves, including the historian Josephus, and pagan writers and historians like Pliny and Tacitus.
Even if you wanted to throw out all of the irrefutable evidence for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth as a person of history, the bottom line that you’d still have to deal with is that something seismic happened in the south-eastern corner of the Roman empire in the first third of the first century. Whatever it was turned the world upside down, conquering the Roman empire, and it profoundly shaped civilisation on this planet as we know it today.
Take away Jesus and you’ve got nothing…. Nothing with which to explain all of that. All you have is a Jesus-shaped hole in history.
Of course, one question always leads to another. And if Jesus really did exist, then you can’t just rule a line under that and say, “OK, that’s it. Yes, he existed.” At least not if you are a rational person.
Because I believe that the implications of the existence of Jesus Christ lead you to recognise who he is, and to accept him as Lord and Saviour.