The Evidence for the Historical Jesus

Evidence for the Historical Jesus

see also Part 1 Pagan Parallel "Saviors" Examined

On the 'Reliability' and 'Inerrancy' of the Bible
The Evidence for Jesus from St. Paul and the NT
The Evidence for Jesus from the Gospels
The Evidence for Jesus Outside the New Testament

Summary and Conclusion
Response to the DVD "The God Who Wasn't There"
Additional Books, Links, and Audio

Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus by Wilkins / MorelandIn case you didn't notice, Jesus is 'under fire' on the Internet. Many online skeptics of Christianity and anti-Christian critics are trying to argue that the 'historical Jesus' never existed (a view known as 'mythicism'). There was no 'person' who lived in the first century A.D. named Jesus of Nazareth; he did not have a three-year ministry of parable and sermon preaching on the "Kingdom of God", miracle working and performing exorcisms, helping the poor and needy, healing the sick, raising the dead, etc; he did not travel around ancient Palestine with a band of primary disciples (e.g. St. Peter the "rock" and fisherman; Matthew the tax collector; John the 'beloved', etc) called 'the Twelve' (Apostles); he did not die a cruel death around 30 A.D. by crucifixion at the hands of the Romans, under governor Pontius Pilate; of course he didn't rise bodily from the dead either since he didn't really exist. Christ was not the 'founder' of the Catholic Church and his personal resurrection loudly proclaimed by his earliest followers was not the 'origin' of the 2000-year-old massive world religion that bears his name (i.e. 'Christianity' which includes over two billion Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians). Nope, there was no such historical individual except in the literary 'creation' of some of the earliest 'believers' (the four Gospels are ultimately 'fictions' on the order of Aesop's Fables or Grimm's Fairy Tales, etc).

This 'strange' and extremist view was first made prominent in the 1970s (although it harkens back to German and American radical critics of the 19th, early 20th century, etc) through a couple of books by a professor of German named G.A. Wells (he has since 'changed his mind' about this). In the last two decades or so (in the brief history of the Internet) a couple of books and many websites (e.g. Doherty's The Jesus Puzzle; Robert M. Price in several books; and most recently Carrier's On the Historicity of Jesus, and their associated blogs or sites, etc) have come out that argue there was no 'historical Jesus' as he is a mythical figure invented by the earliest 'Christians'. These are mainly self-published and not academic books, and most of the authors have no scholarly credentials (although Price and Carrier do have relevant academic degrees). Some go so far to argue Jesus Christ was 'borrowed' from previous pre-Christian pagan deities such as Mithras, Dionysos, Horus or Osiris. For a reply to this latter claim, see my Part 1. In this Part 2, I will present the evidence for a historical Jesus, and as I did in Part 1 answer some statements from the "Christ myth" DVD The God Who Wasn't There (from 2005) which feature the leading 'Christ mythicists'.

I am an amateur 'Catholic apologist' myself (my B.Sci. is in Computer Science), but I believe I am well-read on the topic (see the bibliography below updated to 2014), so this will be a summary of the 'best evidence' and arguments for a historical Jesus from seven secondary sources that discuss the subject: Jesus Under Fire (1995) with several evangelical Protestant contributors; The Historical Jesus (1996) by Gary Habermas; A Marginal Jew (1991) first volume by John Meier, a scholarly Catholic source; Jesus Outside the New Testament by Robert Van Voorst (2000); The Jesus Legend (longer) and Lord or Legend? (shorter) by evangelical scholars Eddy / Boyd (2007); and Shattering the Christ Myth (2008) edited by apologist J.P. Holding which is the best recent book (see also Bart Ehrman's Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth [HarperOne, 2012]) that answers the 'arguments' from the more modern 'Christ mythicists' themselves. I find these present the 'best case' for a conservative, evangelical, and orthodox Catholic view of Jesus as well, which is what I hold to and believe. From the Nicene Creed (A.D. 325) we as Catholics (and most Christians) believe:

"I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end...."

On the 'Reliability' and 'Inerrancy' of the Bible

Before we delve into the earliest sources for Jesus, I have to say a word about the 'reliability' of the New Testament. The primary purpose of this Part 2 article is to present the best evidence for a historical Jesus (that he lived as the Gospels generally portray him; we can discern a bare outline of his life; that he died by crucifixion; and rose bodily from the dead, etc). I won't defend a more strict 'reliability' of the NT much less 'inerrancy' ('without error') of the biblical text. Although the Catholic Church teaches the canonical Gospels as handed down are historically reliable and we have a doctrine of 'inspiration' and 'inerrancy' (cf. Catechism CCC 105ff, 124ff) it is not necessary to establish such to prove 'beyond a reasonable doubt' that there was a person Jesus of Nazareth who lived and preached in and around Jerusalem in the first century A.D. A single, clear, unambiguous historical reference to Jesus would be enough. It turns out, we have hundreds of such references, especially from the earliest documents that clearly talk about Jesus' life, words, and deeds (the epistles of St. Paul, the Gospels, Book of Acts, and the rest of the NT), and texts outside those, both Christian and non-Christian sources. The burden of proof would surely fall on the mythicist to disprove every single one of those references as 'myth' or unhistorical or irrelevant or entirely bogus. Good luck to them.

Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994)For the record, the 'official position' of the Catholic Church on Sacred Scripture (Catechism, paragraphs 124ff for the NT) is as follows:

"It was by the apostolic Tradition that the Church discerned which writings are to be included in the list of the sacred books. This complete list is called the canon of Scripture. It includes 46 books for the Old Testament (45 if we count Jeremiah and Lamentations as one) and 27 for the New....'The Word of God, which is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, is set forth and displays its power in a most wonderful way in the writings of the New Testament' which hand on the ultimate truth of God's Revelation. Their central object is Jesus Christ, God's incarnate Son: his acts, teachings, Passion and glorification, and his Church's beginnings under the Spirit's guidance.

"The Gospels are the heart of all the Scriptures 'because they are our principal source for the life and teaching of the Incarnate Word, our Savior'. We can distinguish three stages in the formation of the Gospels:

  1. The life and teaching of Jesus. The Church holds firmly that the four Gospels, 'whose historicity she unhesitatingly affirms, faithfully hand on what Jesus, the Son of God, while he lived among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation, until the day when he was taken up.'
  2. The oral tradition. 'For, after the ascension of the Lord, the apostles handed on to their hearers what he had said and done, but with that fuller understanding which they, instructed by the glorious events of Christ and enlightened by the Spirit of truth, now enjoyed.'
  3. The written Gospels. 'The sacred authors, in writing the four Gospels, selected certain of the many elements which had been handed on, either orally or already in written form; others they synthesized or explained with an eye to the situation of the churches, the while sustaining the form of preaching, but always in such a fashion that they have told us the honest truth about Jesus.'

"The fourfold Gospel holds a unique place in the Church, as is evident both in the veneration which the liturgy accords it and in the surpassing attraction it has exercised on the saints at all times....The Church 'forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. 'Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.' " (saying from St. Jerome)

Here is a summary of points from Handbook of Christian (Catholic) Apologetics (Intervarsity / Ignatius Press, 1994, 2009) by Peter Kreeft / Ronald Tacelli on why the Gospels and New Testament should be considered reliable and authentic, not myth or legend:

  • The style of the Gospels is radically and clearly different from the style of all myths; there are no overblown, spectacular, exaggerated events; nothing is arbitrary, everything is meaningful;
  • There was not enough time for myth to develop; several generations have to pass before the added mythological elements can be mistakenly believed to be facts; eyewitnesses would be around before that to discredit the new, mythic versions;
  • The New Testament could not be myth misinterpreted and confused with fact because it specifically distinguishes the two and repudiates the mythic interpretation (2 Peter 1:16);
  • The Gospels were written by eyewitnesses from internal evidence: the style of writing in the Gospels is simple and alive; the Gospels show an intimate knowledge of Jerusalem prior to its destruction in AD 70; the Gospels are full of proper names, dates, cultural details, historical events, and customs and opinions of that time;
  • The stories of Jesus' human weaknesses and of the disciples' faults also bespeak the Gospels' accuracy: the Gospels do not try to suppress apparent discrepancies, which indicates their originality; the Gospels do not contain anachronisms; the authors appear to have been first-century Jews who were witnesses of the events;
  • The disciples must have left some writings, engaged as they were in giving lessons to and counseling believers who were geographically distant; what could these writings be if not the Gospels and epistles themselves;
  • There were many eyewitnesses who were still alive when the books were written who could testify whether they came from their purported authors or not;
  • The external evidence: extra-biblical testimony unanimously attributes the Gospels to their traditional authors; with a single exception, no apocryphal gospel is ever quoted by any known author during the first three hundred years after Christ; there is no evidence that any inauthentic gospel whatever existed in the first century in which all four Gospels and Acts were written;
  • No other ancient work is available in so many copies and languages, and yet all these various versions agree in content;
  • The text has remained unmarred by heretical additions; the abundance of manuscripts over a wide geographical distribution demonstrates that the text has been transmitted with only trifling discrepancies; the quotations of the New Testament books in the early Church Fathers all coincide; no one could have corrupted all the manuscripts;
  • The text of the New Testament is every bit as good as the text of the classical works of antiquity; to repudiate the textual purity of the Gospels would be to reject all the works of antiquity, since the text of those works is less certain than that of the Gospels.

A much more sustained and detailed argument for the historical reliability of the Gospels is found in evangelical scholar Craig Blomberg's The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Intervarsity, revised/updated 2nd edition, 2007). As for textual integrity and reliability, see the debate book between Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace, The Reliability of the New Testament (Fortress, 2011). Again, it is not required to even 'argue' for a complete or total reliability of the Gospels or New Testament to establish there was a person named 'Jesus' who lived in the first century A.D. However, the book by Blomberg (and others in the bibliography below) is recommended for anyone interested in a full defense.

The Evidence for Jesus from St. Paul and the NT

An Introduction to the New Testament by Raymond BrownThe earliest references to Jesus would be in the writings of St. Paul, dated to around the middle of the first century (c. 50 AD) or slightly after. For these dates and commentary, I will be using the standard scholarly reference work, An Introduction to the New Testament (1997) by the eminent Catholic biblical scholar, Fr. Raymond Brown. According to modern NT scholarship, there are the undisputed epistles of Paul (Galatians [54 AD], Romans [57 AD], 1 Corinthians [56 AD], 2 Corinthians [57 AD], 1 Thessalonians [50 AD], Philippians [56 AD], and Philemon [55 AD]) and from these we have several references to the historical Jesus, and can in fact reconstruct a basic outline of his life. Note that the purpose of these letters was to inform the early Christian churches and communities at the time of some pressing matter, and not to re-state a complete life of Jesus, mainly because these early believers were already familiar with the details about Jesus and the events in his life. These were short letters, written for specific purposes. The writers of these epistles even explictly stated they wrote 'briefly' (e.g. Eph 3:3; 1 Peter 5:12; etc) and they would prefer to teach in person or 'face to face' (i.e. "And when I come I will give further directions." - 1 Cor 11:34 NIV; cf. 2 John 12; 3 John 13-14; etc).

In addition, Paul held up Jesus' life as the model for everyone to imitate (1 Cor 11:1; 2 Cor 8:9; 10:1; Rom 15:2-3; Eph 5:1; Phil 2:5-7; 3:8-10). How could Paul and others possibly aspire to be 'like Jesus' and to be 'conformed to his image' (Rom 8:29), unless they already had significant biographical information about him? (Lord or Legend? by Eddy/Boyd, page 48). In fact, they did and so we do.

These Pauline letters were probably all written before the Gospels (e.g. Mark, the first Gospel probably composed by 68-73 A.D.) so the echo of Jesus' words and description of Jesus' deeds found in them stem from the apostolic oral tradition (cf. 1 Cor 11:2, 23ff; 15:1ff; 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6; 2 Tim 1:13-14; 2:2; Acts 2:42; 20:35), and they attest to its careful preservation during the first two decades of Christian history (Jesus Under Fire by Wilkins/Moreland, page 41).

Biographical Information from St. Paul

A summary of the biographical information about Jesus that can be pieced together from just the 'genuine' Pauline letters includes:

  • his descent from Abraham and David (by 'seed' and 'according to the flesh' cf. Rom 1:3; Gal 3:16);
  • his upbringing in the Jewish law and being 'born of a woman' (Gal 4:4);
  • his gathering together disciples, including Cephas (Peter) and John (1 Cor 9:5);
  • his having a 'brother' or relative named James (Gal 1:19; 2:9);
  • his impeccable character and exemplary life (Rom 15:3,8; 2 Cor 8:9; Phil 2:6-8);
  • his Last Supper and betrayal (1 Cor 11:23ff);
  • and numerous details about his death and resurrection (1 Cor 15:1-8; Gal 3:1; 1 Thess 2:14-15).

As for the words or teachings of Jesus, in Romans are examples of these:

  • to Jesus' words on 'blessing those who persecute you' (Rom 12:14; cf. Matt 5:10-12);
  • repaying no one evil for evil (Rom 12:17; cf. Matt 5:38-39);
  • paying taxes and related tributes (Rom 13:7; cf. Mark 12:17);
  • 'loving one's neighbor' as summarizing the 'whole law' (Rom 13:8-9; Gal 5:14; cf. Mark 12:31);
  • and recognizing 'all foods as clean' (Rom 14:14; cf. Mark 7:18-20; Luke 11:41).

Three times in 1 Corinthians Paul explicitly quotes the words of Jesus from the Gospel tradition:

  • on divorce and remarriage (1 Cor 7:10; cf. Mark 10:6-12);
  • on receiving money for ministry (1 Cor 9:14; cf. Luke 10:7; 1 Tim 5:18);
  • and extensively on the Last Supper (1 Cor 11:23-29; cf. Luke 22:19-20).

In 1 Thessalonians some fairly close quotations appear:

  • on the persecution of Judean Christians by their kinfolk (1 Thess 2:14-16 cf. Matt 23:29-38);
  • on the return of Christ (1 Thess 4:15-5:4 cf. Matt 24).

Other New Testament writings

In the letter of James, one finds allusions to the Synoptic tradition, and especially the Sermon on the Mount, and a more explicit quotation of the saying from Jesus: 'Let your Yes be Yes, and your No, No' (James 5:12 cf. Matt 5:37). In the letter of 1 Peter, we have clear references to the passion (suffering) and crucifixion of Christ in his physical body on the cross or 'tree' (1 Peter 2:21-24; 3:18; 4:1,12ff). In the book of Hebrews we have the definitive revelation of Jesus as God has spoken to us through His Son (Heb 1:1ff), who is the 'exact representation' of God's being (Heb 1:3), higher than and superior to any of the angels (Heb 1:4-7), who as the unique Son of God is called 'God' (Heb 1:8), but who as a man was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin (Heb 4:15). A more 'exalted' Christ is also presented in Hebrews after his resurrection and ascension as our great High Priest in heaven (chapters 7-10), yet the book refers to the full humanity of Jesus (Heb 2:14-18; 5:7-10; etc) and his earthly crucifixion which involved the sacrifice of his body on the cross (Heb 6:6; 10:5,10; 12:2; etc).

In the first letter of John we read: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched -- this we proclaim concerning the Word of life...." (1 John 1:1, NIV), who was sent into the world (1 John 4:9ff), has come in the flesh (1 John 4:1ff) which parallels the Word (Logos) as Christ 'who became flesh' in the Incarnation, from the Gospel of John (1:1, 14). We have heard, we have seen, we have handled, sure sounds like an earthly, human, physical, real Jesus to me.

Jesus lived recently according to St. Paul

St. Paul is clearly aware of the fact that Jesus lived recently. Paul refers to Jesus' contemporaries: Cephas or Peter and 'the twelve' (1 Cor 15:5); the apostles, the brothers or relatives of Christ, and Cephas (1 Cor 9:5); James, "the Lord's brother" and the apostle Peter (Gal 1:18-19) who he "stayed with 15 days" to gain information from; the apostles Peter, James, and John (Gal 2:8-9); and Peter alone who he confronted about an issue (Gal 2:11ff). There is also the important passage from 1 Corinthians 15:

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you,
which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved,
if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received,

that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day
according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas [Peter],
then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren
at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;
then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all,
as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. (1 Cor 15:1-8; NASB)

The confession and tradition passed on in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 links the historical life of Jesus, and the central Christian message of the gospel, with those eyewitnesses who testified to his resurrection appearances, beginning on the 'third day' after his death. Paul not only met and interviewed some of these witnesses personally (Gal 1:18-19; 2:9) but he explains that his message concerning these facts is identical with their eyewitness testimony (1 Cor 15:11-15). It is crucially important that this information is very close to the actual events (within a few years, most scholars determine), and therefore cannot be dismissed as 'late material' or as 'hearsay' evidence (Habermas, The Historical Jesus, page 30-31).

Further, the Greek words for 'deliver' (paradidomi) and 'receive' (paralambanomai) in this context (1 Cor 15:1ff) are often used as fairly technical terms for the transmission of tradition. Almost certainly such information would have been related to Paul by the disciples in Damascus (c. AD 33) or in Jerusalem during his first visit there after becoming a Christian (c. AD 35). It is extremely difficult to deny that here at least is accurate information. Even the renowned atheist historian and NT scholar Gerd Ludemann acknowledges that within one to two years after Jesus' death, the belief that He had been raised from the dead was so widespread and central to Christian faith and practice that it formed part of basic catechetical instruction. This is no late 'evolutionary development' of Christianity decades after the 'real facts' were forgotten (Blomberg, Historical Reliability of the Gospels, 2nd edition [2007], page 147-148; cf. Ludemann and Ozen, What Really Happened to Jesus? page 15).

Jesus in the Acts of the Apostles

In the Acts of the Apostles (dated c. 60's A.D. [Colin Hemer] or 70's A.D. [Craig Keener] or 80's A.D. [Raymond Brown]), a few earlier events of Jesus' life are mentioned, from the creeds, traditions or creedal formulas that would date well before Acts was written (from Habermas, The Historical Jesus, page 151ff):

  • Jesus was born in the lineage of David (Acts 13:22-23; cf. Rom 1:3; 2 Tim 2:8);
  • he came from the town of Nazareth (Acts 2:22; 4:10; 6:14);
  • John the Baptist preceded Jesus' ministry (Acts 10:37; 13:24-25);
  • his ministry began in Galilee and afterwards expanded throughout Judea (Acts 10:37);
  • Jesus performed miracles (Acts 2:22; 10:38);
  • and fulfilled numerous OT prophecies (Acts 2:25-36; 3:21-26; 4:11; 10:43; 13:26-41).

Acts: An Exegetical Commentary by Craig Keener (2012-2014)A recent study and commentary on Acts that shows its historical and archaeological accuracy is the new massive 4-volume commentary Acts: An Exegetical Commentary by Craig Keener (Baker Academic, 2012-2014). The Acts of the Apostles is clearly 'historiography' and not 'myth' and the meticulous studies done by Keener and others demonstrates this. A summary of Keener's scholarly research on Acts (and many other excellent commentaries, books and articles) can be found on his official site ( and see this video for the historicity of Acts. Also, note Craig Keener's JETS review of Richard Pervo (who is probably the best modern 'skeptical' commentator of Acts, e.g. skeptic Richard Carrier recommends him, etc). In an interview with Craig Keener on the literary genre of Acts he says:

"One can even learn from some of Pervo's literary insights from novels, since historical works, though meant to be factual, were ideally expected to be told in an entertaining or engaging way. But Acts cannot be a novel, even a historical novel. Where we can test Acts with sources external to Acts, which is in scores of cases, it nearly always corresponds to that data. Granted, Luke, like every other ancient (and modern) historian had his distinctive interests and emphases, but plainly he is writing about real people in real and relatively recent history. Novels normally involved characters of the distant past (usually romances involving fictitious characters, but even historical characters belonged to the distant past, not recent figures as in Luke-Acts). Luke also has a historical preface mentioning the subject of 'what took place among us,' a historical kind of topic, and has other features characteristic of ancient historical monographs. It is with good reason that more Acts scholars view it as historiography than any of the other alternatives. (The proportion is even higher when we recognize biography as a special subtype of or related to ancient historiography)." (See An Interview with Craig Keener -- see also Keener's large 2-volume defense of Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts [Baker Academic, 2011] which was a 'spin-off' from a 'footnote' in his massive Acts commentaries!)

Various other commentaries arguing and demonstrating the same historical accuracy would be:

  • The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History by classics historian Colin Hemer (1990) which contains many instances of detailed correspondence between 1st century history and Acts;
  • The Book of the Acts (1988) and Acts of the Apostles: Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary (1990) by evangelical scholar F.F. Bruce; 
  • Acts (Tyndale NT commentary) and Luke: Historian and Theologian (1998) by I. Howard Marshall;
  • Acts (Baker Exegetical commentary) and A Theology of Luke and Acts (2012) by Darrell Bock;
  • Acts of the Apostles commentaries and History, Literature, and Society in the Book of Acts (Cambridge Univ Press, 2007) edited by Ben Witherington;
  • and the older classic St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen by William Mitchell Ramsay (Kregel, 2001).

On this classic book, the Christian Classics Etheral library quotes Ramsay and states:

"The first and the essential quality of the great historian is truth," says Ramsay. Of the four types of historical writing, namely, romance, legend, second rate history, and first rate history, Ramsay classifies the Book of Acts as first rate historical writing. The characterization of Paul found in Acts contains such individualized detail that the author could not have gathered this information by any means other than personal acquaintances and original sources. As such, Ramsay believes that the author of Acts has attained a superior mark of historical accuracy and literary trustworthiness. St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen contains an excellent study of the Book of Acts as well as of Paul's life and travels in first century Asia, Greece, and Rome.

A Scottish archaeologist and New Testament scholar, Ramsay by his death in 1939 had become the foremost authority of his day on the history of Asia Minor and a leading scholar in the study of the NT. Although educated in the very liberal and critical Tubingen school of thought (founded by F. C. Baur) which doubted the reliability of the New Testament, his extensive archaeological and historical studies convinced him of its historical accuracy. On Luke (i.e. the author of Luke-Acts) as a historian, Ramsay concluded:

"...the Acts [of the Apostles] may justly be quoted as a trustworthy historical authority....Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy; he is possessed of the true historic sense; he fixes his mind on the idea and plan that rules in the evolution of history; and proportions the scale of his treatment to the importance of each incident. He seizes the important and critical events and shows their true nature at greater length, while he touches lightly or omits entirely much that was valueless for his purpose. In short, this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians." (William Ramsay, from The Bearing Of Recent Discovery On The Trustworthiness Of The New Testament, page 222).

For other (shorter) modern commentaries there is Acts (For Everyone) by N.T. Wright (IVP, 2010) and an orthodox Catholic commentary from the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: The Acts of the Apostles by Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch (Ignatius Press, 2002).

Let's summarize what we can obtain about Jesus and events surrounding the end of his life from the Acts of the Apostles (whose author most scholars recognize is the same as the Gospel of Luke). Along with the historical data we find in Acts....

  • We are further informed by the creed in 1 Corinthians 11:23ff that Jesus attended a dinner on the evening of his betrayal; he gave thanks before the meal and shared both bread and wine, which he declared was his true 'body and blood' (1 Cor 10:16ff; 11:27,29; cf. Matt 26:26ff; Luke 22:19ff; John 6:51ff) and represented his imminent atoning sacrifice for sin.
  • Later, Jesus stood before Pilate (Acts 3:13; 13:28) and made a good confession, which very possibly concerned his identity as 'King of the Jews' (1 Tim 6:13).
  • Afterwards, Jesus was killed (Acts 3:13-15; 13:27-29) for mankind's sins (cf. 1 Pet 2:24; Rom 4:25; 1 Tim 2:6; 1 John 2:2), in spite of his righteous and sinless life (cf. 1 Pet 3:18; 1 John 3:5; Heb 4:15).
  • Crucifixion was specified as the mode of death (Acts 2:23; 2:36; 4:10; 5:30; 10:39), being performed in the city of Jerusalem (Acts 13:27; 10:39), by wicked men (Acts 2:23).
  • Then he was buried (Acts 13:29).
  • After his death he was resurrected (Acts 2:24, 31-32; 3:15,26; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30-37; cf. 2 Tim 2:8);
  • on the third day (Acts 10:40) he appeared to his followers (Acts 13:31), even eating and drinking with them (Acts 10:40-41).
  • His disciples were all witnesses of these events (Acts 2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 10:39,41; 13:31).
  • After his resurrection, Jesus ascended to heaven and was glorified and exalted (Acts 2:33; 3:21; 5:31; cf. 1 Tim 3:16; Phil 2:6ff).
  • The risen Jesus instructed that salvation be preached in his name (Acts 2:38-39; 3:19-23; 4:11-12; 5:32; 10:42-43; 13:26,38-41).
  • This event showed God's approval of Jesus, by validating his person and message (Acts 2:22-24,36; 3:13-15; 10:42; 13:32-33; cf. Rom 1:3-4; 10:9-10).

Regarding his person in the New Testament (outside the Gospels), Jesus is called:

  • the Son of God (Acts 13:33; Rom 1:3-4; etc);
  • Lord (Acts 2:36; 10:36; Rom 1:4; 10:9; Phil 2:11; cf. Luke 24:34);
  • Christ or Messiah (Acts 2:36,38; 3:18,20; 4:10; 10:36; Rom 1:4; Phil 2:11; 2 Tim 2:8);
  • Savior (Acts 5:31; 13:23);
  • Prince (Acts 5:31);
  • the Holy and Righteous One (Acts 3:14; 2:27; 13:35);
  • regarding his essential nature, he is God (Phil 2:6; Rom 9:5; Heb 1:1-8; Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1; 1 John 5:20).
  • He is the Alpha/Omega, Beginning/End, First/Last (Rev 1:8; 21:6; 22:13,16).

In short, even without the Gospels, we have a historical Jesus, who in the background of first century Palestinian Judaism and in the context of the earliest writings of St. Paul (c. 50 AD), lived and died recently (c. 30 AD); descended from the lineage of Abraham and David (i.e. he was a Jew); taught a number of sublime doctrines; performed miracles and healings; had some disciples, apostles, brothers or relatives who are specifically named; died by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate; and rose bodily from the tomb three days after he was buried. Although the earliest 'Christians' (Acts 11:26) or 'The Way' (Acts 9:2) was merely a small sect of Judaism at the time, many Gentiles and Jews came to believe he was the Son of God, Lord, Christ, Savior, and God incarnate (Col 2:9; 1 Tim 3:16; cf. John 1:1-3,14,18). Now we move to the evidence for Jesus from the Gospels themselves.....

The Evidence for Jesus from the Gospels

The previous section I believe is enough to sink the 'mythicist' ship as there is enough information from St. Paul alone to provide a sketch and brief biography of a historical Jesus. He certainly existed; he lived and preached recently (first century AD); he died a horrible death by crucifixion; after three days his tomb was found empty; and after his resurrection he appeared among his disciples, etc. Moving to the Gospels, which are dated somewhat later than Paul's letters, these provide us even more information about the 'historical Jesus' but almost too much. Since there are certain 'discrepancies' among the Gospel accounts, the problem here is determining what is clearly 'historical' among the four writers, what certainly or probably 'goes back to Jesus' (remember, he no doubt spoke Aramaic, not Greek, etc), and what may have been an 'embellishment' of the Gospel writer. The Catholic Church officially 'unhesitatingly affirms' the 'historicity' of the four Gospels (Vatican II, Dei Verbum 19), but also supports the kind of biblical scholarship that goes on in 'historical Jesus' research (see the famous 1943 encyclical by Pope Pius XII titled Divino Afflante Spiritu).

Gospel Authorship and 'Contradictions'

I am not concerned with who wrote the Gospels per se, although I accept the traditional authorship (Matthew and John were apostles, while Mark was a companion of St. Peter, and Luke the physician and evangelist, who also wrote Acts, knew and travelled with St. Paul). This traditional authorship (accepted from at least the early 2nd century AD) was pretty much unquestioned in the Church until the rise of critical scholarship the past few centuries. The dating of these Gospels can vary among scholars, but the dates provided by Fr. Raymond Brown are: Matthew (c. 80 AD), Mark (68-73 AD), Luke (c. 80's AD), and John (c. 90's AD) with some range given. I also assume what is called 'Markan priority' (that Mark was written first, and Matthew and Luke borrowed from Mark); although I have an article on my site somewhat defending 'Matthean priority' (that Matthew came first). So from Jesus Christ to the earliest Gospel there is a gap of about 30-40 years. However, that gap is somewhat 'filled in' by the letters of St. Paul (c. 50's AD, cf. 1 Cor 15:1-8) and the Acts of the Apostles (written about 80 AD, but which cover the period from 30 AD to about 60's AD).

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Richard BauckhamI mentioned there are 'discrepancies' among the Gospels, and some would even call them 'contradictions' or 'errors' and I don't intend to defend the full 'inerrancy' of any of the Gospels. On my 'Catholic apologetics' site however, I have two articles countering and replying to certain kinds of 'contradictions':

Countering Biblical Contradictions (a response to 143 purported Bible contradictions)

Defending the Gospels (a reply to 'Shredding the Gospels' from Internet Infidels)

Again, this apologetics 'defensive' work really is not necessary here as the purpose of critical scholarship is to distinguish and separate the unhistorical elements from the core historical ones. This has been done using various methods of research and criticism (historical, source, form, redaction, etc), although each scholar is free to come to their own conclusions (a good book from the evangelical perspective is Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods by Darrell Bock). Even if there are parts of the Gospels that are unhistorical or unreliable or 'created' or 'invented' by the Gospel writer or 'early Christian community' it is a non-sequitur to conclude from this 'Jesus did not exist' (i.e. the Gospels are total fictions or 'myth' and all the characters in them are 'made up'). This does not follow at all. Jesus certainly existed as already proved, but we may have to do some work determining, among the early sources available to us, exactly or precisely what Jesus said and did (cf. John 20:30-31). That is one of the goals of responsible 'historical Jesus' scholarship (e.g. see John P. Meier's multi-volume work A Marginal Jew, or N.T. Wright's multi-volume work on Christian Origins, etc).

New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham, in a 500-page groundbreaking tome of Gospel scholarship, argues the Gospels are ultimately rooted in eyewitness testimony, and that we should be seeking that 'Jesus of testimony' rather than worrying about the classic 'historical Jesus' vs. 'Christ of faith' dichotomy. Near the end of his detective work, after sifting through the many problem passages, texts, and issues involved, he concludes we should do away with the high skepticism that used to plague the study of the Gospels in the past, and explains:

"Reading the Gospels as eyewitness testimony differs therefore from attempts at historical reconstruction behind the texts. It takes the Gospels seriously as they are; it acknowledges that uniqueness of what we can know only in this testimonial form. It honors the form of historiography they are...Gospels scholarship must free itself from the grip of the skeptical paradigm that presumes the Gospels to be unreliable unless, in every particular case of story or saying, the historian succeeds in providing independent verification. For such a suspicious approach the Gospels are not believable until and unless the historian can verify each claim that they make to recount history. But this approach is seriously faulty precisely as a historical method." (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Bauckham, page 506)

Basically the reasonable approach is the text of the Gospels should be given the benefit of the doubt ("innocent" until proven guilty, etc).

Mostly Myth or Highly Historical?

The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition by Eddy/BoydNext, I'll comment on whether the Gospels could or should be seen as 'fictions' (e.g. myth) as all 'mythicists' would assert. Could the Gospels be 'historicized fiction' ? There are major problems with this (from Lord or Legend? by Eddy/Boyd, page 42ff):

  • The Gospels simply do not read like a fictional genre of literature; they give us many indications that they genuinely intend to report reliable history; they pass the tests that scholars generally apply to ancient documents to determine whether they are generally reliable;
  • Why would the authors of the Gospels want to create a new, 'fictionalized' Jesus story? What was their motivation when Christians at that time around the Roman Empire were being tortured and killed for their faith (e.g. the Neronian persecutions of AD 64); what could these authors 'gain' by fabricating and embracing this fictional story? 
  • How did these authors think they could have gotten away with creating a fiction situated in the recent past and in close geographical proximity to their audiences? It would have been relatively easy to expose the story as false since they wove it around a number of well-known public figures (e.g. Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate) which would have made their story extremely vulnerable to falsification; no one in ancient history ever accused the Christians of just 'making the whole thing up';
  • If the Gospels are fictions, then we must also accept that the version of church history given in the book of Acts is largely false; there are many reasons (e.g. classics historian Colin Hemer; and evangelical biblical scholar Craig Keener's massive 4-volume commentary on Acts) to conclude that the Acts of the Apostles is a remarkably reliable piece of ancient historiography;
  • Understanding the Gospels as fiction ignores the role that writing plays in orally dominant cultures; information was passed along primarily by word of mouth and these cultures were orally dominant or orally oriented; the primary purpose of writing was to faithfully re-express an established oral tradition (e.g. 1 Thess 2:13; 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6; 1 Cor 11:2,23ff; 15:1ff; 2 Tim 1:13-14; 2:2; 1 Peter 1:25; 2 Peter 3:1f; 1 John 2:7f; etc); recent orality studies have suggested that oral traditions -- particularly relatively recent, religiously oriented traditions -- in orally dominant cultures tend to be quite resistant to change in terms of the essential components of the message.

Criterion of Embarrassment: Mark is Authentic

In addition, the Gospel of Mark contains a number of potentially embarrassing things and these episodes are presented in their starkest light:

  1. Jesus' own family did not believe him and even questioned his sanity (3:21; cf. John 7:5)
  2. Jesus was rejected by people in his hometown and couldn't perform many miracles there (6:2-5);
  3. Some thought Jesus was in collusion with or even 'possessed' by the devil (3:22,30);
  4. Jesus' healings weren't always instantaneous (i.e. they didn't work the 'first time' cf. 8:22-25);
  5. Jesus associated with people of ill-repute and gained a reputation of being a 'glutton' and 'drunkard' (2:15-16; cf. Matt 11:19);
  6. Jesus seemed to disregard Jewish laws, customs, and cleanliness codes (2:23-24);
  7. Jesus 'cursed' a fig tree for not having any figs when he was hungry, despite the fact that it wasn't the season for figs (11:12-14);
  8. The disciples who were to form the foundation of the new community consistently seem dull, obstinate, and cowardly (8:32-33; 10:35-37; 14:37-40,50);
  9. Jesus was betrayed by an inner-circle disciple (14:43-46) and his primary apostle St. Peter denied any association with him (14:66-72);
  10. Women were the first to discover Jesus' tomb was empty -- while the men were hiding in fear (16:1-8).

Most significantly we must remember that the Gospel of Mark (probably the earliest Gospel, c. 60s-70s) and the subsequent Gospels are centered on the fact that Jesus was crucified by the Romans. It is hard to imagine a surer way to convince first-century Jews that someone is NOT the Messiah than by telling them their would-be savior was executed by Israel's military oppressors! If ever there was something an early, predominantly Jewish oral tradition would not invent, or at least would try to 'smooth over' this embarrassing fact, yet it forms the center of their story! When we consider these self-damaging features of the Jesus tradition together, it becomes difficult to deny that this tradition is substantially rooted in history and 'eyewitness' testimony (cf. Luke 1:1-4; 24:48; Acts 1:1-3; 1:8; 2:32; 3:15; 5:32; John 21:24-25; 2 Peter 1:16). Likewise, it becomes difficult to deny that the Gospel authors were concerned to faithfully convey the essential elements of the Jesus tradition that formed the very self-identity of their respective communities (Lord or Legend? by Eddy/Boyd, page 108-109; see also the 'criterion of embarrassment' and other criterion clearly explained in A Marginal Jew (volume 1) by John P. Meier, page 168ff).

The Gospels are Ancient Biographies (not myth!)

What are the Gospels? A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography by Richard BurridgeIn the conclusion to What Are The Gospels? A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography (2nd edition, 2004) Richard Burridge states that he had

"....argued that the gospels were a form of Graeco-Roman biography, and suggested that there might be some generic and hermeneutical implications to follow from this result. As this survey has shown, those conclusions have been more than amply demonstrated over the decade since the book's first publication. Despite the fact that it was against the scholarly consensus of the uniqueness of the gospels which had prevailed for the previous half a century, our arguments for the biographical genre of the gospels have rapidly become part of a new consensus." (page 306) 

It was Burridge's Ph.D. study (originally published 1992 by Cambridge University under the mentoring of eminent NT scholar and historian Graham Stanton) that helped turn the tide of modern NT scholarship to view the Gospels (once again) as ancient biography, or bioi. This is the genre of the Gospels that is generally accepted today by biblical scholars and well-established by Burridge's arguments in his 300+ pages. The Gospels are not of the genre of 'myth' or 'legend' or 'novel' or 'fairy tale'; they are ancient biographies of the life of Jesus, and therefore that Jesus certainly existed as a real person on earth in the first century AD is firmly established by four writers of his life from the second-half of that same century AD (which means Anno Domini or 'in the year of our Lord' -- we name our very calendars after him!).

Minimal Historical Facts

There are a minimum number of historical facts agreed upon by practically all critical scholars, and these facts are considered to be knowable history (Habermas, The Historical Jesus, page 158f)

  • Jesus died by crucifixion;
  • he was buried;
  • his death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope, believing that his life had ended;
  • many scholars hold the tomb in which Jesus was buried was discovered empty just a few days later;
  • the disciples had 'experiences' which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus;
  • because of these experiences the disciples were transformed from doubters who were afraid to identify with Jesus to bold proclaimers of his death and resurrection;
  • this message was the center of preaching in the early Christian church;
  • it was especially proclaimed in Jerusalem, where Jesus died and was buried shortly before;
  • as a result of this preaching the church was born and grew;
  • with Sunday becoming the primary day of worship;
  • James, the brother of Jesus, who had been a skeptic, was converted to the faith when he also saw the resurrected Jesus;
  • a few years later, Paul was converted by an experience which he believed to be an appearance of the risen Jesus;

These facts are derived from the four independent biographers (the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and early sources (Q, M, L, etc) for Jesus' life story, his parables, sayings, deeds and actions; the book of Acts which recounts the very early history of the church (c. 30 AD to 60's AD); Paul's early letters (composed in the 50's AD); and the rest of the New Testament. From these minimal facts we can argue that "God raised Jesus from the dead" (cf. Acts 2:22-24; etc) is the best explanation for the empty tomb, the tangible 'appearances' of Jesus alive after his death, the origin of the Christian faith, and the apostles' and disciples' strong and dangerous belief in his resurrection proclaimed in the very area where it happened.

See Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ on this site for a detailed argument.

Let's now consider what we find and what we can learn about Jesus from outside the New Testament.....

The Evidence for Jesus Outside the New Testament

While the evidence for Jesus outside the New Testament is not as important (in my opinion), not as rich in content (although the later Christian writings are very clear), not dated as early, etc it does provide plenty of confirmation for Jesus outside the primary Christian material. There are several Jewish and pagan sources that mention Jesus and the early Christian movement which confirm and corroborate what we already know from the New Testament. The historical Jesus scholar John P. Meier reminds us that... 

"...Jesus was a marginal Jew leading a marginal movement in a marginal province [Judea, found in the lower right of the map] of a vast Roman Empire [the area in purple on the map below]. The wonder is that any learned Jew or pagan would have known or referred to him at all in the 1st or early 2nd century." (A Marginal Jew, volume 1, page 56).

The Roman Empire at the time of Christ, Judea is in the lower right     Click to expand this Map of Judea in the Roman Empire at the time of Christ

This is an important point that is completely lost on most 'Jesus mythicists' who seem to think we should have dozens of references to "Jesus Christ" (outside those early Christian documents) from all areas of the Graeco-Roman world in the first century A.D. Those who think this do not consider (a) the smallness and obscurity of the 'Christian' movement; (b) the size of the Roman Empire and known Mediterranean world; (c) the paucity of texts and scant copies that have survived; (d) the lack of 'communication' (there was no radio, TV, or Internet!); etc (for a reply to the infamous 'Remsburg' list, see Shattering the Christ Myth by J.P. Holding, page 89ff).

The following are the main references outside the New Testament to "Jesus" or "Christ" or "Jesus Christ" (and other names, etc) and the early Christian movement in the latter part of the 1st century and 2nd century (to c. 150 AD). There are both non-Christian (Jewish, pagan, Roman, etc) and Christian sources. I will be following closely Jesus Outside the New Testament by Robert Van Voorst, with some added information from A Marginal Jew (volume 1) by Meier, Shattering the Christ Myth by J.P. Holding, and The Faith of the Early Fathers (volume 1) by William Jurgens which does a good job explaining these numerous clear references to Christ.

Jewish or Roman or pagan (non-Christian) sources

Jesus Outside the New Testament by Robert Van VoorstJosephus (c. 93-94 AD)

'At this time there was a wise man called Jesus, and his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. Many people among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive. Accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have reported wonders. And the tribe of the Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to this day.' (Antiquities XVIII, 63 from Josephus: The Essential Writings by Paul L. Maier, page 264-265; this text is from An Arabic Version of the Testimonium Flavianum and Its Implications by S. Pines [Jerusalem, 1971]; another translation of above found in Van Voorst, page 97; for a different version of the text infamously interpolated by later Christian editors, see discussion in Van Voorst, page 85ff; also full discussion in A Marginal Jew, volume 1 by John P. Meier, pages 56ff)

  • this text, which definitely mentions Jesus and his crucifixion under Pilate by a well-known Jewish historian of the first century, is hotly disputed because of possible later 'Christian interpolation' but the above is the Arabic text found without these 'Christian' additions;
  • this version leaves the question of Jesus' messianic status neutral ("perhaps the Messiah");
  • this is another piece corroborating a 'neutral reconstruction' of the Testimonium (which is the preferred view among scholars);
  • the neutral reconstruction, which isolates and removes the later pro-Christian interpolations, makes good sense of the pattern of ancient Christian witnesses to Josephus (e.g. Van Voorst, page 95-97).

'Upon Festus' death, Caesar sent Albinus to Judea as procurator. But before he arrived, King Agrippa had appointed Ananus to the priesthood, who was the son of the elder Ananus [or Annas of the Gospels]. This elder Ananus, after he himself had been high priest, had five sons, all of whom achieved that office, which was unparalleled. The younger Ananus, however, was rash and followed the Sadducees, who are heartless when they sit in judgment. Ananus thought that with Festus dead and Albinus still on the way, he would have his opportunity. Convening the judges of the Sanhedrin, he brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law, and condemned them to be stoned to death.' (Antiquities XX, 197; from Josephus, Maier, page 275-276; another translation in Van Voorst, page 83)

  • we have a passing but clear reference to Jesus here, and to Jesus' brother named James (cf. Gal 1:19);
  • the overwhelming majority of scholars holds that the words 'the brother of Jesus called Christ' are authentic, as is the entire passage in which it is found;
  • the passage fits in well with its own context;
  • a Christian 'interpolator' would have used laudatory language to describe James and especially Jesus, calling him 'the Lord' or similar language.

Pliny the Younger (c. 112 AD)

'An anonymous accusatory pamphlet has been circulated containing the named of many people. I decided to dismiss any who denied that they are or ever have been Christians when they repeated after me a formula invoking the gods and made offerings of wine and incense to your image [or statue], which I had ordered to be brought with the images of the gods into court for this reason, and when they reviled Christ [Christo male dicere]. I understand that no one who is really a Christian can be made to do these things. Other people, whose names were given to me by an informer, first said that they were Christians and then denied it. They said that they had stopped being Christian two or more years ago, and some more than twenty. They all venerated your image and the images of the gods as the others did, and reviled Christ. They also maintained that the sum total of this guilt or error was no more than the following. They had met regularly before dawn on a determined day, and sung antiphonally a hymn to Christ as if to a god [carmenque Christo quasi deo decere secum invicem]. They also took an oath not for any crime, but to keep from theft, robbery and adultery, not to break any promise, and not to withhold a deposit when reclaimed.'  (Letter 96:10; Van Voorst, page 25)

  • Christ is mentioned three times in this letter to the emperor Trajan;
  • the text of the two letters (Pliny's Letter 96, and Trajan's reply Letter 97) are well-attested and stable, and their authenticity is not seriously disputed;
  • supposed 'Christian interpolators' would not have testified to Christian apostasy or speak disparagingly of Christianity calling it 'madness' (amentia), etc.
  • Christ here is the divine leader of this religion, worshiped by Christians, so that cursing him is tantamount to rejecting Christianity (cf. 1 Cor 12:3).

Tacitus (c. 116 AD)

'Therefore, to put down the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits and punished in the most unusual ways those hated for their shameful acts [flagitia], whom the crowd called 'Chrestians.' The founder of this name, Christ, had been executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate [Auctor nominis eius Christus Tiberio imperitante per procuratorem Pontium Pilatum supplicio adfectus erat]. Suppressed for a time, the deadly superstition erupted again not only in Judea, the origin of this evil, but also in the city [Rome], where all things horrible and shameful from everywhere come together and become popular. Therefore, first those who admitted to it were arrested, then on their information a very large multitude was convicted, not so much for the crime of arson as for hatred of the human race [odium humani generis]. Derision was added to their end: they were covered with the skins of wild animals and torn to death by dogs; or they were crucified and when the day ended they were burned as torches. Nero provided his gardens for the spectacle and gave a show in his circus, mixing with the people in charioteer's clothing, or standing on his racing chariot.' (Annals 15:44; Van Voorst, page 41-42)

  • Christ is definitely mentioned here by a major Roman historian as being 'the founder' of Christianity and as 'executed in the reign of Tiberius' under Pontius Pilate;
  • there are good reasons to conclude with the vast majority of scholars that the passage is fundamentally sound, despite some difficulties (e.g. compressed style);
  • Christian forgers would not have made such disparaging remarks about Christianity;
  • the only textual difficulty is the word Christians, Christianoi or Chrestianoi, with the latter being the 'earliest reading' although more difficult.

Seutonius (c. 120 AD)

'He [Claudius] expelled the Jews from Rome, since they were always making disturbances because of this instigator Chrestus [Judaeos impulsore Chresto assidue tumultuantis Roma expulit].' (Lives of the Caesars, book 5, Claudius 25:4; Van Voorst, page 30)

  • Christ appears to be mentioned by this Roman historian under the name 'Chrestus';
  • besides one textual variant that reads 'Christ' (instead of 'Chresto') the Latin text is sound;
  • a Christian interpolator would more likely have spelled his name correctly, and would not have placed him in Rome in 49 AD or called him a 'troublemaker';
  • the overwhelming majority of modern scholarship concludes this sentence is genuine, and that 'Chrestus' is indeed Christ.

Mara bar Serapion (c. after 73 AD)

'What advantage did the Athenians gain by murdering Socrates, for which they were repaid with famine and pestilence? Or the people of Samos by the burning of Pythagoras, because their country was completely covered in sand in just one hour? Or the Jews [by killing] their wise king, because their kingdom was taken away at that very time? God justly repaid the wisdom of these three men: the Athenians died of famine; the Samians were completely overwhelmed by the sea; and the Jews, desolate and driven from their own kingdom, are scattered through every nation. Socrates is not dead, because of Plato; neither is Pythagoras, because of the statue of Juno; nor is the wise king, because of the new laws he laid down.' (Letter in Syriac to his son; Van Voorst, page 54)

  • while Jesus is not named, and 'wise king' is not a common Christological title, Jesus is doubtless meant by 'their wise king';
  • Mara a Jew writing to his son, speaks of this 'wise' Jew as a king, and 'king [of the Jews]' is prominently connected to Jesus at his trial (e.g. Mark 15:26);
  • the link between the destruction of the Jewish nation and the death of the 'wise king' is parallel in Christianity to the destruction of Jerusalem as a punishment for Jewish rejection of Jesus (cf. Matt 23:37-39; 24:2; 27:25; Mark 13:1-2; Luke 19:42-44; 21:5-24; 23:28-31);
  • the mention of 'the new laws he laid down' is probably a reference to the Christian religion, especially its moral code;
  • Mara probably doesn't mention Jesus directly because it was the Romans who desolated and dispersed the Jews -- he does not want to offend his captors, the people who hold his loved ones.

A Marginal Jew (Volume 1) by John P. MeierChristian sources outside the NT

Epistle of Barnabas (c. 70 to 130 AD)

"Moreover, my brethren, if the Lord endured suffering for our souls although he is the Lord of the whole, then, did He endure suffering at the hands of men? Learn this: The prophets, having the gift from him, prophesied concerning him; and since he must manifest Himself in the flesh [cf. 1 Tim 3:16; Col 2:9; John 1:1,14], He suffered so that he might destroy death and demonstrate the resurrection from the dead, in order to fulfill the promise made to the fathers and personally to prepare for Himself the new people, and to show while he was on earth that He Himself will raise the dead and judge the risen. Besides, while teaching Israel and working such great signs and wonders, he preached to them and loved them greatly. And when he chose His own Apostles, who were about to preach His gospel, He chose men who were the worst kind of sinners in order to show that he came not to call the righteous but sinners [cf. Mark 2:17] -- and then He showed himself to be the Son of God. If He had not come in the flesh, there would be no way in which men could be saved by beholding Him....For this reason, then, the Son of Man came in the flesh; to fill to the brim the measure of the sins of those who persecuted His prophets to death." (Epistle of Barnabas 5:5; Jurgens, page 14)

St. Clement of Rome (c. 80 - 90s AD)

"The Church of God which sojourns in Rome to the Church of God which sojourns in Corinth, to those who are called and sanctified by the will of God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Grace and peace from Almighty God be multiplied unto you through Jesus Christ. Owing to the sudden and repeated calamities and misfortunes which have befallen us, we must acknowledge that we have been somewhat tardy in turning our attention to the matters in dispute among you, beloved...." (First Letter to the Corinthians addr, 1:1; Jurgens, page 7);

"Consider the noble examples of our own generation. Through jealousy and envy the greatest and most righteous pillars were persecuted, and they persevered even to death. Let us set before our eyes the good Apostles: Peter, who through unwarranted jealousy suffered not one or two but many toils, and having thus given testimony [or having thus 'endured martyrdom'] went to the place of glory [the city of Rome] that was his due. Through jealousy and strife Paul showed the way to the prize for endurance. Seven times he was in chains, he was exiled, he was stoned; he became a herald in the East and in the West, and he won splendid renown through his faith..." (First Letter 5:1ff; Jurgens, page 7-8);

"The Apostles received the gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; and Jesus Christ was sent from God. Christ, therefore, is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ. Both of these orderly arrangements, then, are by God's will. Receiving their instructions and being full of confidence on account of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and confirmed in faith by the word of God, they went forth in the complete assurance of the Holy Spirit, preaching the good news that the kingdom of God is coming. Through countryside and city they preached; and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers. Nor was this a novelty: for bishops and deacons had been written about a long time earlier. Indeed, Scripture somewhere says: 'I will set up their bishops in righteousness and their deacons in faith' [cf. Isaiah 60:17]." (First Letter 42:1; Jurgens, page 10)

"Remember the words of our Lord Jesus. For He said: 'Woe to that man. it were good for him if he had not been born, rather than that he should scandalize one of My elect. It were better for him that a millstone should be hung on him and he be cast into the sea, than that he should turn aside one of My elect' [Mark 9:42; 14:21; Luke 17:2; 22:22; Matt 18:6; 26:24]. " (First Letter 46:7; Jurgens, page 11)

St. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 107 AD)

"Ignatius, also called Theophorus, to the church at Ephesus in Asia, which is worthy of all felicitation, blessed as it is with greatness by the fullness of God the Father, predestined from eternity for a glory that is lasting and unchanging, united and chosen through true suffering by the will of the Father in Jesus Christ our God...."; "There is one Physician, who is both flesh and spirit, born and not born, who is God in man, true life in death, both from Mary and from God, first able to suffer and then unable to suffer, Jesus Christ our Lord."; "You are like stones for a temple of the Father, prepared for the edifice of God the Father, hoisted to the heights by the crane of Jesus Christ, which is the cross, using for a rope the Holy Spirit. Your faith is what pulls you up, and love is the road which leads you to God."; "For our God, Jesus Christ, was conceived by Mary in accord with God's plan: of the seed of David, it is true, but also of the Holy Spirit." (Letter to Ephesians addr; 7:2; 9:1; 18:2; Jurgens, volume 1, p. 17-18)

"The prophets, who were men of God, lived according to Jesus Christ. For that reason they were persecuted, inspired as they were by his grace to convince the disobedient that there is one God, who manifested Himself through his Son, Jesus Christ, who is His Word proceeding from silence, and who was in all respects pleasing to him that sent him....through which mystery we received faith, through which also we suffer in order to be found to be disciples of Jesus Christ, our only Teacher -- how then will we be able to live without him of whom even the prophets were disciples in the Spirit, and to whom they looked forward as their Teacher...."; "Take care, therefore, to be confirmed in the decrees of the Lord and of the Apostles, in order that in everything you do, you may prosper in body and in soul, in faith and in love, in Son and in Father and in Spirit, in beginning and in end, together with your most reverend bishop..." (Letter to the Magnesians 8:1-2; 9:1-2; 13:1; Jurgens, p. 19-20)

"Ignatius, also called Theophorus, to the Church that has found mercy in the greatness of the Most High Father and in Jesus Christ, his only Son; to the Church beloved and enlightened after the love of Jesus Christ, our God, by the will of him that has willed everything which is; to the Church also which holds the presidency in the place of the country of the Romans...named after Christ and named after the Father: her therefore do I salute in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father. To those who are united in flesh and in Spirit by every commandment of his, who are filled with the grace of God without wavering, and who are filtered clear of every foreign stain, I wish an unalloyed joy in Jesus Christ, our God." (Letter to the Romans address; Jurgens, p. 21)

"I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible." (Letter to Romans 7:3);

"I give glory to Jesus Christ, the God who has made you wise; for I have observed that you are set in faith unshakable, as if nailed to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ in body and in soul; and that you are confirmed in love by the blood of Christ, firmly believing in regard to our Lord that he is truly of the family of David according to the flesh, and God's Son by the will and power of God, truly born of a virgin, baptized by John so that all justice might be fulfilled by him..." (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 1:1; Jurgens, p. 24)

"Take care, then, to use one Eucharist, so that whatever you do, you do according to God: for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup in the union of his blood; one altar, as there is one bishop with the presbytery..." (Letter to Philadelphians 4:1)

"They [i.e. the gnostics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again." (Letter to Smyrnaeans 7:1)

St. Polycarp of Smyrna (c. 135 AD)

"Everyone who does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is an Antichrist [cf. 1 John 4:1ff]; whoever does not confess the testimony of the cross, is of the devil; and whoever perverts the sayings of the Lord for his own desires, and says that there is neither resurrection nor judgment, such a one is the first-born of Satan...."; "Let us, then, continue unceasingly in our hope and in the Pledge of our justification, that is, in Christ Jesus, who bore our sins in His own body on the tree [cross], who did no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth; yet, for our sakes, that we might live in Him, He endures everything..." (2nd Letter to the Philippians 7:1; 8:1; Jurgens, page 29)

St. Justin Martyr (c. 150 AD)

"...It is inescapable that this is the Christ of God...that he pre-existed as the Son of the Creator of all things, being God, and that he was born a man by the virgin." (Dialogue with Trypho 48; Jurgens, p. 60)

"We call this food Eucharist; and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [baptism], and is thereby living as Christ has enjoined....for not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the Word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nourished, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus. (First Apology 66);

"Well, we do indeed proclaim ourselves atheists in respect to those whom you call gods, but not in regard to the most true God, the Father of righteousness and temperance and the other virtues....on the contrary, we reverence and worship him and the Son who came forth from him and taught us these things...and the prophetic Spirit..."; "...they are led by us to a place where there is water; and there they are reborn in the same kind of rebirth in which we ourselves were reborn: in the name of God, the Lord and Father of all, and of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they receive the washing with water [Matt 28:19; John 3:3-5]...."; "Although the Jews were always of the opinion that it was the Father of all who had spoken to Moses, it was in fact the Son of God, who is called both Angel and Apostle, who spoke to him; they are, therefore, justly accused by both the prophetic Spirit and by Christ himself of knowing neither the Father nor the Son. They who assert that the Son is the Father are proved to know neither the Father, nor that the Father of all has a Son, who is both the first-born Word of God and is God [John 1:1]."; "For everything that has been given to our use, we praise the Creator of all through his Son Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit." (First Apology 6, 61, 63, 66, 67; Jurgens, p. 51, 54-55)

"To the Father of all, who is unbegotten, no name is given; for anyone who has been given a name has received the name from someone older than himself. Father and God and Creator and Lord and Master are not names but appellations derived form his beneficences and works. His Son, who alone is properly called Son, who was both with him and was begotten by him before anything was created [John 1:1-3; 17:5; Col 1:15-17; etc], when in the beginning the Father created and put everything in order through him -- he is called Christ, from his being 'anointed'...." (Second Apology 6; Jurgens, p. 57)

Summary and Conclusion

So there we have it! Jesus Christ as a historical person in the first century A.D. certainly existed. We have the clear and indisputable historical evidence in the form of early writings first from St. Paul (c. 50's AD); then from the biographies (bioi) of the Gospels (dated to the latter-half of the 1st century); the Acts of the Apostles (60's or 80 AD); other portions of the New Testament; some 1st and early 2nd century non-Christian writers (Jewish, Roman, or pagan) who mention Jesus; and a fuller and more fleshed-out Christology in the writings of the early Church Fathers, bishops and saints of the primitive Catholic Church (also highly recommended is The Fathers Know Best [Catholic Answers, 2010] by Jimmy Akin).

Here are a few choice quotes from various historians, biblical scholars, and skeptics on the historical Jesus and what we can know:

  • Jeffery Jay Lowder of Internet Infidels: 'There is simply nothing intrinsically improbable about a historical Jesus; the New Testament alone (or at least portions of it) are reliable enough to provide evidence of a historical Jesus. On this point, it is important to note that even G.A. Wells, who until recently was the champion of the christ-myth hypothesis, now accepts the historicity of Jesus on the basis of 'Q'.' ("Josh McDowell's 'Evidence' for Jesus," also Wells The Jesus Myth [Open Court, 1999])
  • Secular historian Will Durant: 'The Christian evidence for Christ begins with the letters ascribed to Saint Paul....No one has questioned the existence of Paul, or his repeated meetings with Peter, James, and John; and Paul enviously admits that these men had known Christ in his flesh. The accepted epistles frequently refer to the Last Supper and the essentials the synoptic gospels agree remarkably well, and form a consistent portrait of one reading these scenes can doubt the reality of the figure behind them. That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and appealing a personality, so loft an ethic and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood, would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the Gospel.' (Ceasar and Christ, volume 3 of Story of Civilization)
  • Graham Stanton of Cambridge: 'Today, nearly all historians, whether Christians or not, accept that Jesus existed and that the gospels contain plenty of valuable evidence which has to be weighed and assessed critically. There is general agreement that, with the possible exception of Paul, we know far more about Jesus of Nazareth than about any first or second century Jewish or pagan religious teacher.' (The Gospels and Jesus)
  • Bishop N.T. Wright: 'It is quite difficult to know where to start, because actually the evidence for Jesus is so massive that, as a historian, I want to say we have got almost as much good evidence for Jesus as for anyone in the ancient world....the evidence fits so well with what we know of the Judaism of the period....that I think there are hardly any historians today, in fact I don't know of any historians today [aside from G.A. Wells, etc], who doubt the existence of Jesus....No Jewish, Christian, atheist, or agnostic scholars have ever taken that [proposition] seriously since. It is quite clear that in fact Jesus is a very, very well documented character of real history. So I think that question can be put to rest.' ("The Self-Revelation of God in Human History" from There Is A God by Antony Flew and Roy Abraham Varghese [HarperOne, 2007])

The 'mythicists' are wrong, sadly and tragically wrong, and they are in denial of the facts and historical evidence. Jesus of Nazareth did exist, and we can know a lot about him.

Shattering the Christ Myth by J. P. HoldingResponse to Brian Flemming's DVD "The God Who Wasn't There"

Now I want to respond to a few quotes from the "Christ myth" DVD by former fundamentalist and filmmaker Brian Flemming. This DVD is now 10 years old (2005) but it does feature the still 'prominent' Christ mythicists Earl Doherty, Robert M. Price, and Richard Carrier (whose own full book on the subject has recently been published).

BF = Brian Flemming, Q = Question by interviewer, RC = Richard Carrier

BF: "Christianity was wrong about the solar system, what if it's wrong about something else too?"

Christianity got geocentrism wrong, but you can't blame them since that was the science of the day and had been since Ptolemy (for 1500+ years, up until Copernicus and Galileo in the early 16th and 17th centuries who began to see things differently, etc). It took a while for science itself to catch-up and demonstrate the earth's rotation and revolving around the sun. And those scientists were mainly Catholics and Christians (Do I have to provide you with a list?) Christians are not wrong about the historical Jesus existing, and there is no comparison between the two. What if you're wrong? Indeed, you are.

BF: "Of course those aren't the only faces of Christianity." (pics of Charles Manson, Pat Robertson, Dena Schlosser, LaHaye and Jenkins, David Koresh)

Cheap shot. What about atheist dictators, atheist regimes, atheist murderers, do I need to bring those up? Pat Robertson, and LaHaye/Jenkins (of "Left Behind" fame) are not that bad, once you get to know them. (Just kidding). They have some messed up theology, at least when you compare it to Catholic doctrine, and I disagree with them since I'm Catholic.

Q: "After Jesus died and was resurrected, in your own words, what happened then? How did Christianity begin to spread?"

Response (1): Read the NT book of Acts of the Apostles (it's all in there), and some relevant biblical commentaries on Acts.

Response (2) Perhaps the below diagram will help a little bit. Acts covers the period from 30 AD to about the early 60's AD (those years before the Gospels are written).

Paul's Missionary Journeys

An outline of the book of Acts can go like this (with help from the student site

  • Our story starts off where the Gospel of Luke left off (cf. Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-3) -- Jesus is back.
  • Now that he's resurrected, Jesus decides to hang out and chat with his disciples (whom Luke calls 'apostles') for forty days. The fun can't last forever, though, and Jesus ascends into Heaven on a cloud. What can we say? The guy knows how to make an exit.
  • What are the apostles supposed to do now? Luckily, Jesus left very specific instructions. First, they're to spread his message to 'the ends of the Earth'. Second, they're supposed to pick up his dry cleaning. Jesus loves freshly laundered robes. Ok, not so much on that whole second part. Plus, the first part should keep them plenty busy.
  • So the apostles get to work. Peter takes the lead and they all preach and teach about how Jesus is the Jewish Messiah and the fulfillment of everything that Jewish scripture says will happen. Awesome, right? They also perform lots of miracles (your run-of-the-mill healing and raising from the dead -- no biggie). Oh, and their preaching also makes the religious authorities in Judea very, very mad. Like master, like disciples. The whole crew gets arrested a couple times (luckily, angels break them out of prison -- angels are crafty like that) and one of the disciples, Stephen, even gets stoned to death. It's a bad time to be a believer.
  • But because God likes irony, one of the guys involved in the death of Stephen gets converted (and blinded) when he's on his way to Damascus to persecute some more Christians. He changes his name to Paul and takes up the discipleship torch. Paul and some friends travel all around the Roman Empire talking about Jesus non-stop. He has all kinds of zany adventures. He's stoned, worshiped as a god, starts riots, and talks so long that people fall asleep. He's also pretty good at the whole spreading-the-word-of-God thing and he manages to set up churches in loads of different cities around the Empire. Go, Paul.
  • Meanwhile, back in Judea, there are issues. When Peter sees a vision from God, he realizes that Christians have got to branch out and start trying to convert Gentiles (i.e., non-Jews) as well as Jews. This is big. Like Mark Zuckerberg creating Facebook big. Paul thinks this is a swell idea, but he just wants to know one thing -- do Gentile converts need to follow Jewish law and be circumcised? Because that's gonna make convincing the guys to join up a little bit harder.
  • Finally, Paul manages to tick off enough people and he's arrested when he comes back to Jerusalem to visit. This time, it's the Jewish people who are against him (they're mad about the whole you-don't-have-to-follow-Jewish-law-if-you're-Christian thing). The naysayers haul him before Roman authorities and Paul is tried and held as a prisoner for a really long time. We're talking years.
  • Finally, he gets tired of all the nonsense in Judea and asks to be shipped to Rome so he can take all this up with the emperor. Paul lands on Roman soil and is welcomed by the church there. He hangs out for a couple years, but we never find out what really happens. We've got a hunch it's not good, though. Poor Paul.

Or see the Cliffs Notes summary of the book of Acts online.

BF: "Why is it that Christians can be so specific about the life of Christ, but they're vague about what happened after he left?" "Aren't Christian leaders telling them the story?"

Many Christians are ignorant about what they believe and why, but if they've read the Acts of the Apostles, or a commentary on Acts, they can answer your question. It's not that difficult.

BF: "Mark was the first one written, and the other three are clearly derived from Mark. Mark mentions the destruction of the Jewish temple which happened in the year 70, so the Gospels all came later than that, probably much later." (graphic appears to have Mark 70+, Matt 80+, Luke 95+, John 110+)

The late dating is exaggerated. The common dating for the Gospels is Mark in the 60s or early 70s, Matthew and Luke in the 70s or 80s, John in the 90s.

BF: "There's a gap of four decades or more. Most of what we know about this period comes from a man who says he saw Jesus Christ come to him in a vision. He was the apostle Paul, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus."

The gap between Jesus and the Gospels is indeed about 40+ years. However, the gap between Jesus and the earliest writings of St. Paul is about 20 years, etc. We only have to 'bridge' that small gap, and I have done so above (note comments on 1 Corinthians 15:1-8).

BF: "Paul says the Lord told him to start spreading the word of Jesus Christ, and he did it with a vengeance." "Paul was a bit of a scold, but the salvation he offered through the God he called Christ Jesus was very popular. He traveled widely and in his wake left behind groups of new Christians who formed the early Christian church. Paul wrote lots of letters about Christianity, in fact, he wrote 80,000 words about the Christian religion. These documents represent almost all we have of the history of Christianity during this decades long gap."

Not much issue with this paragraph, except for the 'very popular' bit -- the early believers were met with much opposition and persecution, so it wasn't 'very popular' to be a Christian. St. Paul indeed wrote many letters, and I wish you would read them. (Maybe you have, by now, thank you).

BF: "And here's the interesting thing. If Jesus was a human who had recently lived, nobody told Paul. Paul never heard of Mary, Joseph, Bethlehem, Herod, John the Baptist. He never heard about any of these miracles. He never quotes anything that Jesus is supposed to have said. He never mentions Jesus having a ministry of any kind at all. He doesn't know about any entrance into Jerusalem, he never mentions Pontius Pilate, or a Jewish mob, or any trials at all. Paul doesn't know any of what we would call 'the story of Jesus' except for these last three events [graphic has Christ put on the cross, The Resurrection, and The Ascension]. And even these, Paul never places on earth."

Here is where the DVD starts to go 'off the rails' a bit. The logic is 'Paul (supposedly) doesn't mention those things in his short letters'; therefore 'he doesn't know about any of those things.' Your logic is faulty. Why should St. Paul have to recount the entire story of Jesus and his ministry in his short letters to Christian believers who already knew the story of Jesus? This 'argument from silence' can only take you so far. Paul indeed mentions a lot of historical items and facts about Jesus (see above), even refers to things Jesus said (see above, Paul calls him 'the Lord' cf. 1 Cor 7:10ff; 11:23ff; Acts 20:35; etc), and refers to and interviews Jesus' contemporaries (those who lived with Jesus very recently, his apostles or disciples, his brothers or relatives, etc). The crucifixion took place on earth, outside but near Jerusalem, probably on a hill in a place called 'Golgotha' (or Calvary). We know that from St. Paul, the NT epistles, the book of Acts, the Gospels, later confirmed by the Jewish historian Josephus and the Roman historian Tacitus. So you are very wrong on all counts.

BF: "Just like the other savior gods of the time, Paul's Christ Jesus died, rose, and ascended all in a mythical realm."

Totally false and demolished above. Roman crucifixion was done on earth, not 'in the heavens' or 'in a mythical realm'. It was very cruel and real (see Wikipedia article on Crucifixion). Jesus was crucified at 'Golgotha' (Calvary) and his crucifixion under Pontius Pilate is described in all four canonical Gospels, in the book of Acts, and in the letters of the New Testament (Acts 2:23,36; 4:10; 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; 1 Cor 1:13-23; 2:2-8; 15:1ff; Gal 2:20; 3:1,13; 6:12-14; Phil 2:8; Col 1:20; 2:14-15; 1 Thess 2:14-16; Heb 6:6; 12:2; etc), and affirmed by non-Christian sources (Josephus, Tacitus, see above). The 'atonement' is a theological concept, and the book of Hebrews does describe Christ as our High Priest in heaven (Hebrews chap 7-10 cf. Rom 3:25; 1 John 2:2). Death by crucifixion however, occurs on earth. Jesus died on earth, and after three days in the tomb, rose again. The Ascension is a separate doctrine to discuss (Acts 1:9ff). See also Part 1 on the previous 'savior gods' claim.

BF: (shows on screen Hebrews 8:4, translated as) "If Jesus had been on earth, he would not even have been a priest." (Hebrews 8:4)

The meaning is that Jesus is in heaven now as our 'great High Priest', he is not on earth now, etc. Literally: 'if He were on earth..." [i.e. now at the present time] "...he would not be a priest, for there are already priests [on earth] who offer the gifts...." (Heb 8:4). The preceding context presents Jesus 'our Lord' as coming 'from the tribe of Judah', therefore he certainly was on earth and his death on the cross was a sacrifice for sin, according to Hebrews (Hebrews 7:14ff; cf. 2:9ff; 5:7ff; 6:6; 9:28; 10:5ff; 12:2ff; 13:12; etc). His priesthood continues in heaven, since he is no longer on earth. See the context Hebrews 8:1-6, and other clear passages from Hebrews:

"Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being. Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: 'See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.' But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises." (Heb 8:1-6, NIV)

"Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity [or 'took part in the same'] so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death -- that is, the devil -- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way [or 'made like His brethren in all things'], in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." (Heb 2:14-18 NIV)

"During the days of Jesus' life on earth [or literally 'in the days of His flesh'], he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek." (Heb 5:7-10 NIV)

The more literal NASB of Hebrews 8:4 has "Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law..." The teaching of Hebrews is Jesus continues as our great High Priest in heaven and that is only possible because of his one-time sacrifice of his body on earth (Heb 10:5,10, 14; 2:14-18; 5:7-10; cf. Romans 3:25; 1 Pet 2:24; 1 John 2:1-2; etc). The old Jewish sacrificial system (which was a copy and shadow) is done away with and fulfilled in the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross. "Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, 'Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me....' ....By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." (Heb 10:5,10 NASB). In Catholic theology, this single sacrifice is renewed or re-presented (made present) every time the priest says Mass and offers Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ (1 Cor 10:16ff; 11:23ff; Matt 26:26ff; Luke 22:19ff). When we sin, we can be forgiven and continue to be cleansed 'by the blood of Christ' through this one ever-present sacrifice (Hebrews 9:11-28; cf. 1 John 1:7-9). Hebrews is quite clear that Jesus Christ like us had flesh and blood, shared in our humanity, was made fully human in every way, lived on earth 'in the flesh', and he came to earth to die on the cross for the sins of the people, etc.

BF: "Paul doesn't believe that Jesus was ever a human being. He's not even aware of the idea. And he's the link between the time frame given for the life of Jesus, and the appearance of the first gospel account of that life. This is why you don't hear many Christian leaders talking about the early days of Christianity. Because once you assemble the facts, the story is that, Jesus lived, everyone forgot [referring to decades from 30 AD to 70 AD], and then they remembered [referring to the Gospels beginning in 70 AD]."

This is 'Jesus mythicism' at its worst. All answered above. "Once you assemble the facts, the story is that...." Jesus was born of a virgin; lived a sinless and miraculous life; had a three-year ministry of gospel preaching about the 'kingdom'; said and did many wonderful things, also things that got the leading authorities upset; was crucified under Pontius Pilate; was buried and his tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers; he appeared in his resurrected body to many people, at various times and places, to individuals and groups; and after forty days he ascended into heaven. You 'forgot' to read the book of Acts which recounts the early days of Christianity and infant history of the church. 'Everyone' didn't forget. Read Luke and Acts, please (cf. Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-3).

BF: "But it gets even shakier than that. Allegorical literature was extremely common back then [again graphic shows the Gospels]."

The 'allegorical literature' was definitely not the Gospels, nor Acts of the Apostles, nor the epistles of the NT. The book of Revelation can be classified as apocalyptic literature and there you have much 'symbol' and 'allegory'. The Gospels are ancient biographies of the life of Christ.

RC: "Mark himself probably did not believe he was writing history. He was writing a symbolic message, he was writing a Gospel, the good news, and symbolizing it using biblical parallels, using parallels to pagan religions, and so forth."

This is Richard Carrier's interpretation of the Gospels (he has no choice if he is to remain a 'mythicist') and his views are held contrary to and fly in the face of modern NT scholarship. Most biblical scholars would consider his attempts at 'exegesis' poor, speculative, idiosyncratic, eccentric or 'crank' level (a comment William Lane Craig once made about him in debate). The Gospels are ancient biography, or bioi (see Burridge What Are The Gospels?; Bauckham Jesus and the Eyewitnesses; and Eddy/Boyd The Jesus Legend). As for Carrier's new large book which I eventually will get (although I've already heard via YouTube many of his weird 'lectures' on the topic, i.e. the 'cosmic Jewish zombie' Jesus, comparing belief in a historical Jesus to the 'Roswell UFO crash', etc trying to be 'funny' and appeal to his mainly skeptical audiences, etc) see some critical reviews of Carrier's On the Historicity of Jesus on this site.

As for what most (liberal, moderate, or conservative) NT and Jesus scholars think of "Christ mythicism" :

"Contemporary New Testament scholars have typically viewed their [i.e. Jesus-mythers] arguments as so weak or bizarre that they relegate them to footnotes, or often ignore them completely....The theory of Jesus' nonexistence is now effectively dead as a scholarly question....Biblical scholars and classical historians now regard it as effectively refuted." (Robert Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament, pages 6, 14, 16)

To pound the point home, I want to add what Bart Ehrman has to say from his recent Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (HarperOne, 2012). Before he published this book, Ehrman -- who is a former Christian, agnostic critic of evangelical Christianity, and prominent New Testament textual scholar -- was the 'darling' of the skeptical / atheist / 'freethought' community, but even he concludes (although he shows some respect for and responds in detail to Doherty, Robert M. Price, and Carrier, etc) the so-called 'arguments' of the 'mythicists' are mostly garbage, their views 'conspiratorial', their case 'weak' and their claims 'irrelevant' :

"....I am trained as a scholar of the New Testament and early Christianity, and for thirty years I have written extensively on the historical Jesus....Like all New Testament scholars, I have read thousands of books and articles in English and other European languages on Jesus....I should say at the outset that none of this [skeptical or 'mythicist'] literature is written by scholars trained in New Testament or early Christian studies teaching at the major, or even the minor, accredited theological seminaries, divinity schools, universities, or colleges of North America or Europe (or anywhere else in the world). Of the thousands of scholars of early Christianity who do teach at such schools, none of them, to my knowledge, has any doubts that Jesus existed.....The reality is that whatever else you may think about Jesus, he certainly did exist....virtually everyone who has spent all the years needed to attain these qualifications is convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was a real historical figure....Anyone who chooses to believe something contrary to evidence that an overwhelming majority of people find overwhelmingly convincing -- whether it involves the fact of the Holocaust, the landing on the moon, the assassination of presidents, or even a presidential place of birth -- will not be convinced.....But as a historian, I think evidence matters. And the past matters. And for anyone to whom both evidence and the past matter, a dispassionate consideration of the case makes it quite plain: Jesus did exist....he did exist, and we can say a few things, with relative certainty, about him....Jesus existed, and those vocal persons who deny it do so not because they have considered the evidence with the dispassionate eye of the historian, but because they have some other agenda that this denial serves. From a dispassionate point of view, there was a Jesus of Nazareth." (Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? page 2, 4, 5, 6; emphasis added). 

See also the harsh comments that Robert M. Price received for his essay arguing along similar lines in The Historical Jesus: Five Views (Intervarsity, 2009):

  • Luke Timothy Johnson: "Robert M. Price gets Jesus to the vanishing point by the simple expedient of denying all the evidence that makes him visible." (page 89)
  • James D.G. Dunn: "Gosh! So there are still serious scholars who put forward the view that the whole account of Jesus' doings and teachings are a later myth foisted on an unknown, obscure historical figure. The Arthur Drews and G.A. Wells versions have been responded to sufficiently, one would have thought. But, no! Robert Price raises the banner once again...This is always the fatal flaw with the 'Jesus myth' thesis: the improbability of the total invention of a figure who had purportedly lived within the generation of the inventers, or the imposition of such an elaborate myth on some minor figure from Galilee. Price is content with the explanation that it all began 'with a more or less vague savior myth.' Sad, really....[he] ignores the much more substantial data of the New Testament writers, writing within a generation or two of Jesus himself, [which] simply smacks of some desperation.... [if this] is a true expression of the state of health of the Jesus-myth thesis, I can't see much life in it." (page 94, 95, 98)
  • John Dominic Crossan: although he says he agreed with 'vast swaths' of Price's essay, tells us the 'convergence' of two non-Christian sources from Josephus and Tacitus give us the following facts about Jesus: (a) there was a movement started by Jesus; (b) there was an execution by Pilate; (c) there was a continuation despite attempts to end it; (d) there is still an ongoing movement of 'Christians'; another point is that "the clash between the nonviolent historical Jesus and the violent apocalyptic Jesus [is] that [which] convinces me that the former was an actual and factual person. If those earliest Christians were inventing him as a parable person, they would not have needed to invent two divergent parable persons..." (page 86,88).  

I'll let Mike Licona's review and critique answer the rest of the DVD. BTW, when is that so-called 'second edition' of the DVD due? You have a lot to correct.

see also Part 1 Pagan Parallel "Saviors" Examined


Additional Books, Links, and Audio (MP3)

on the reliability of the New Testament

  • The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? by F. F. Bruce (Intervarsity/Eerdmans, 1981 sixth edition)
  • The Historical Reliability of the Gospels by Craig Blomberg (Intervarsity, 1987, revised/updated 2nd edition, 2007)
  • An Introduction to the New Testament (and appendix on the "Jesus Seminar") by Raymond Brown (Doubleday, 1997)
  • Can We Trust the New Testament? Thoughts on the Reliability of Early Christian Testimony by G.A. Wells (Open Court, 2004)
  • Can We Trust the Gospels? by Mark D. Roberts (Crossway Books, 2007)
  • The Reliability of the New Testament : Bart D. Ehrman & Daniel B. Wallace in Dialogue, edited by Robert B. Stewart (Fortress, 2011)

on the genre of the Gospels

  • What are the Gospels? A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography by Richard Burridge (Cambridge / Eerdmans, 1992, 2004)
  • Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham (Eerdmans, 2006)

on the historical Jesus (Christian scholars, historians, skeptics, and answers to skeptics)

  • Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels by Michael Grant (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1977, 1992)
  • The Evidence for Jesus by R.T. France (Intervarsity Press, 1986)
  • A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (volume 1) by John P. Meier (Anchor / Doubleday, 1991)
  • The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant by John Dominic Crossan (HarperSanFrancisco, 1991)
  • Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth by Bart EhrmanThe Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders (The Penguin Press, 1993)
  • An Introduction to New Testament Christology by Raymond Brown (Paulist Press, 1994)
  • Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus edited by Wilkins / Moreland (Zondervan, 1995)
  • The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels by L.T. Johnson (HarperSanFrancisco, 1996)
  • Jesus and the Victory of God by N. T. Wright (Fortress, 1996)
  • The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ by Gary Habermas (College Press, 1996)
  • Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? : A Debate between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan (Baker Academic, 1998)
  • Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium and Did Jesus Exist? and How Jesus Became God all by Bart Ehrman (Oxford, 1999 / HarperOne, 2012, 2014)
  • The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? by Earl Doherty (Age of Reason, 1999, 2005)
  • Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence by Robert van Voorst (Eerdmans, 2000)
  • Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods by Darrell L. Bock (Baker Academic, 2002)
  • The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable is the Gospel Tradition? by Robert M. Price (Prometheus, 2003)
  • What Have They Done With Jesus? by Ben Witherington III (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006)
  • Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels by Craig Evans (Intervarsity, 2006)
  • The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition and Lord or Legend? both by Eddy / Boyd (Baker Academic, 2007)
  • Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI (Doubleday, 2007)
  • Shattering the Christ Myth: Did Jesus Not Exist? and his The Best Evidence for Jesus (e-book) edited by James Patrick Holding (2008, 2014)
  • The Historical Jesus: Five Views by R.M. Price, J.D. Crossan, L.T. Johnson, J.D.G. Dunn, D.L. Bock (Intervarsity, 2009)
  • The Historical Jesus of the Gospels by Craig Keener (Eerdmans, 2009)
  • Proving History and On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Have Reason for Doubt by Richard Carrier (2012, 2014)
  • How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus' Divine Nature -- A Response to Bart D. Ehrman by Bird, Evans, Gathercole, et al (Zondervan, 2014)

on the resurrection of Jesus

  • The Son Rises by William Lane Craig (Moody, 1981, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2000)
  • Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology by Gerd Ludemann (Fortress, 1995)
  • Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment? A Debate Between William Lane Craig and Gerd Ludemann (Intervarsity Press, 2000)
  • The Resurrection of the Son of God by N. T. Wright (Fortress, 2003)
  • The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Habermas / Licona (Kregel Publications, 2004)
  • The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave edited by Robert M. Price and Jeffery Jay Lowder (Prometheus, 2005)
  • The Resurrection of Jesus : John Dominic Crossan and N. T. Wright in Dialogue (Fortress, 2006)

Articles on the "Jesus Myth" from Bede's Library
Shattering the Christ-Myth by J. P. Holding of
Extrabiblical, Non-Christian Witnesses to Jesus by Glenn Miller of Christian Think-Tank
Analysis of "The God Who Wasn't There" by GDon
Review and Critique of "The God Who Wasn't There" by Mike Licona
Josh McDowell's 'Evidence for Jesus' : Is it Reliable? by Jeffery Jay Lowder

Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ from Kreeft/Tacelli (chapter 8 of Handbook of Christian Apologetics)
Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus? The Craig-Ehrman Debate (2006)


by P -- completed Christmas 2014

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