Is Jesus a real historical figure?

“Yes, after all…
  • AD 30-175 sources report on Jesus

      Between AD 30 and AD 175, many Christian and non-Christian sources/writers testify to Jesus's existence.
      See this page to analyze these 20 proposed examples:
      In [AD 33] The 1 Corinthians 15 creedal formula was asserting Jesus was “born of a descendant of David,” he had a “brother”, that “[Jewish leaders] both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets,” and “that Christ died… and that He was buried” etc.
      In [AD 45] Paul's letters to churches at Corinth, Galatia, etc. were speaking of an historical Jesus (e.g. “born of a woman, born under the Law,”
      In [AD 55] Thallus's 3rd volume of his history book speaks of Jesus's crucifixion, and consequences in “many places in Judea and other districts”
      In [AD 70] The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke spoke of Jesus as a historical figure, “just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses”
      In [AD 70] Acts of the Apostles we also hear often of "Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified,"
      [AD 80] The Gospel of John we hear often of this historical "Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph"
      [AD 93] Josephus's Jewish Antiquities 18 speaks of this Jesus who "won over many Jews and many of the Greeks"... "Pilate... condemned him to be crucified"
      [AD 93] Josephus's Jewish Antiquities 20 we hear of how "the Sanhedrin [was convened] and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ," (note James is well-known as Jesus's biological brother often in Paul's letters; Paul knew James personally).
      [AD 95] 1 Clement's letter speaks of Jesus, e.g. "remembering the words of the Lord Jesus" who came from "the line of Judah."
      [AD 100] The Didache speaks of Jesus, from "the holy vine of... David" (i.e. a descendent).
      [AD 100] Mara-Bar Sarapion's letter to his son likely refers to Jesus in a line of references ot historical figures like Socrates, saying the Jews gained nothing from "executing their wise king".
      [AD 105] Papias's report speaks of hearing what living disciple-witnesses of Jesus were still teaching ("the Lord’s disciples, and whatever Aristion and the elder John, the Lord’s disciples, were saying")
      [AD 107] Ignatius's Epistle to the Smyrnæans also speaks of "the seed of David according to the flesh," "baptized by John," and "under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch, nailed [to the cross]"
      [AD 110] Polycarp's letter to the Philippians speaks of Jesus as a historical figure, e.g. how he was killed "upon the tree" (a Jewish prophetic reference to the cross).
      [AD 111] Pliny the Younger's letter to Trajan speaks of Jesus as a historical figure, and even how Christians sang "a hymn to Christ as to a god" (obviously believing Jesus was merely a recently executed man.)
      [AD 115] Tacitus's Annals speaks of "Christus, from whom the name ["Christians"] had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus"
      [AD 120] Seutonius's Life of Emperor Claudius also mentions "Chrestus" and his followers ("[Claudius] expelled them from Rome," which is true of Christians).
      [AD 150] Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho records that the historical Jesus was "crucified under Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judæa, in the times of Tiberius Cæsar."
      [AD 165] Lucian's book, The Death of Peregrinus speaks of Christians quite a bit, and how Jesus "was crucified", calling him a historical "crucified sage."
      [AD 175] Irenaeus's book, Against Heresies too refers to Jesus as a historical figure, "being of flesh and blood.... [and was less than] fifty years old;"
      This is relevant because Jesus died in AD 30 (or AD 33) and these reports represent a true diversity of independent attestations supporting his existence. These sources reporting on Jesus by and large were in a position to know the truth of the matter, and so have a justified belief. At the same time, there are no existing reports suggesting that people believed in a Jesus myth--not even one.

  • The Gospels stories are based in witness testimony

      Among the four gospels are many stories of Jesus's sayings and deeds, culminating in his death by Roman crucifixion. As it happens, we can know that the Gospel stories are largely or entirely rooted in witness testimony. This page analyzes 7 evidences:
      • Gospel authors got it all witness-approved or close.
      • Gospels spew witness-based stories.
      • Gospel stories are not lies/legends.
      • Gospel stories are a subset of 1st church’s.
      • The Gospels are historically reliable.
      • Pop Jesus-bio was a subset of what witnesses said.
      The Gospels being rooted in witness testimony counts in favor of Jesus's historicity because these stories are precisely about a historical Jesus and his dealings. That these reports would exist is not at all surprising if Jesus did exist, but they are quite difficult or frankly impossible to explain if there were no historical Jesus.

  • The Jesus stories spew unchurchy content

      The stories we find in the Gospels are often very “dissimilar” to church in AD 31-90. Their behavior and language which was quite discontinuous with post-Jesus attitudes. (This include post-Easter beliefs, expectations, styles, background, understanding, and preferred vocabulary). See this page to explore 3 evidences:
      Gospel stories spew church-hated content. For example, they spew content about Jesus that is quite embarassing to themselves. These range from things like his being baptized by John the Baptist, to his being disbelieved by his family (which was very shameful), up to his own apostles abandoning him in the end. See inside for 10+ examples.
      Speakers in Gospels think-talk as pre-Christians. The idea here is that the Gospel characters sound nothing like post-Easter Christians. For example, we never see Jesus or individuals in the Gospels speaking of believers "receiving" Jesus, which was par for the course in post-Easter Christianity. And if the Gospels were legends, we would see that language here. Explore inside to learn about several additional examples.
      Gospel Jesus-sayings repeat consistent quirks. This is the inverse of the point just above. For example, across our sources Jesus habitually prefaces his comments with "amen." Similarly, across our sources Jesus habitually identifies himself as the "Son of Man." These are quirks that are unique to the reported Jesus, however, and the church had no cooresponding tendency to apply these to Jesus.
      Of course, this is significant insofar as these stories essentially presuppose an historical Jesus, and insofar as Christians are supposed to be the group of persons who invented him. The idea is that if this Jesus in the Gospels is radically different than they are (and in curiously consistent ways across sources!), then the hypothesis that they invented him becomes unmanageable.

  • Justifiable facts about Jesus entail his existence

      In addition to reports explicitly on his existence, there are several justifiable facts about the historical Jesus which entail that he is a real historical figure.1 Consider one example (among many):
      We know that Jesus was crucified. Among our evidences for this (e.g. a panopoly of independent attestations from people who would know) is the fact that it is not the sort of thing Christians would invent; it was the highest humiliation and Jews in particular regarded it as a sure sign that God has cursed someone. Paul confirms the stigma associated with it when he dismissively says, “I am not ashamed” (Rom 1:16) and when in 1 Cor 1:23 he says “Christ crucified, [is] to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness.”
      This is relevant because if we know things about a historical Jesus, then there must be a historical Jesus.

      1. Mark Allen Powell (NT professor at Trinity Lutheran, a founding editor of the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus): “Jesus did more than just exist. He said and did a great many things that most historians are reasonably certain we can know about today.” [Jesus as a Figure in History (Westminster, 1998), 168.]
  • “No, after all…
  • Miracle-workers aren't real historical figures

      Miracles-workers are not going to be real historical figures. After all, miracles do not happen in the real world (e.g. because we know there is no God or because God obviously does not do that kind of thign). This fact comes in to play because, if Jesus existed, he was unquestionably a miracle worker. That is unacceptable, so it is better to say he did not exist at all.

      But, by way of response
      • Miracles can occur in history if God exists (especially if God has plausible reasons for performing said miracle).

      And so what if miracle workers can't be real historical figures?
      • Rather than denying that Jesus existed, it is easier to just say that Jesus was historical but did not actually perform miracles. Perhaps the miracles are legends. That is more rational than denying his existence altogether. (The same goes for Alexander the Great, Muhammad, and other historical figures who had miracles attributed to them.)

  • 1st century historians are silent on Jesus

      There are various historians or general writers in the 1st century (or soonafter) which speak on this or that issues relevant to their time. And yet as we survey this particular list of writers, they make no mention of Jesus. That is to say, even if some historians to speak of Jesus, there are many writers of the time who do not.

      In response, however:
      • We would not expect Jesus to be mentioned in all sources. (In fact, modern historians say we are lucking in seeing how much Jesus is mentioned, given his lowly status)1

      1. Craig Blomberg: “When we realize that ancient historians focused almost entirely on the exploits of political and military leaders or officially recognized religious and philosophical spokespersons, one should not be surprised that Jesus gets so little attention in ancient historiography. Indeed, one might be surprised that he and the Baptist get as much press as they do. For example, Apollonius of Tyana (in what today is central Turkey) was a late first-century teacher and wonder-worker with several striking parallels in his message and deeds to the life of Jesus. Yet we know about his life almost exclusively from the third-century Greek biographer Philostratus. The passing reference made to him in Dio Cassius' Roman History (68:17) is briefer than Josephus' accounts of Jesus.9 2” [Jesus Under Fire, eds. Wilkins & Moreland (Zondervan, 1996), 40.]
  • Jesus matches prior mythic deities

      Details about Jesus match the details of prior mythic deities or mythical figures.
      This article analyzes one evidence,...
      • …Horus is just like Jesus.
      This is relevant because to the degree that Jesus resembles pre-existing mythical deities, to that degree we have reason to suspect Jesus is a copy of these deities (and therefore himself mythical).