apologetics, Apologetics of Christ, Historical Christianity, philosophy

Jesus: A Fact of History

This post is part of a series, “Jesus: The Living God.” See other posts in the series here.

The belief that Jesus existed is, quite simply, historical fact. The historical figure of Jesus is beyond denial. Jesus walked on this planet. There are those who actually deny this fact. They say things about our knowledge of Jesus being derived only from “hearsay” accounts, or that the other historical sources outside the Gospels aren’t reliable because they were written after Jesus died.

What people who try to deny Jesus as a historical fact don’t realize is that we have more evidence for the historicity of Jesus than we do for historical figures such as Alexander the Great. Our sources on Alexander the Great date from sources written utilizing biographical accounts about him. This is hearsay, if that is how those who want to attack the historicity of Jesus want to define such historical accounts. The sources we do have date at least 200 years after Alexander’s death (derived from Green, Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Age, pp. xxii–xxviii). But according to the “historical standards” set by those who wish to deny that Jesus ever existed, we absolutely must accept that Alexander the Great existed either!

We know of Alexander the Great only through accounts written hundreds of years after his death (scholars date the Gospels to about 70AD–40 years after the death of Jesus [see Blomberg, Craig, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels)! Sure, there are many reasons to think Alexander existed, such as the shape of western civilization, various corroborating evidence, etc… but we have reasons like that to believe Jesus existed too!

The reality is that no serious scholar denies the historicity of Jesus, due not only to the Gospel accounts, but also Josephus, Tacitus, etc. Those who wish to discredit the accounts of the Gospel, Josephus, etc. should realize they should be consistent in their “historiography” and discredit the accounts written about Alexander the Great, not to mention other figures like Attila the Hun, Confucius, etc.! If this is the kind of historical relativism and denial we are forced to embrace due to the denial of the historical Jesus, then almost all ancient history is thrown into question.

The fact of the matter is that the reason people try to deny the historicity of Jesus isn’t due to historical reasons, it’s either due to ignorance about how historiography operates or simply willingness to blatantly deny historical fact.

Recommended reading

Wright, N.T. The Challenge of Jesus, The New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God, and The Resurrection of the Son of God

Blomberg, Craig The Historical Reliability of the Gospels

Strobel, Lee The Case for the Real Jesus and The Case for Christ

Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace Reinventing Jesus

Note that even accounts critical of Jesus do not deny his historicity, cf Crossan, John Historical Jesus or Borg, Marcus Jesus

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.


About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

8 thoughts on “Jesus: A Fact of History

  1. “They say things about our knowledge of Jesus being derived only from “hearsay” accounts, or that the other historical sources outside the Gospels aren’t reliable because they were written after Jesus died.”

    Actually, it’s more because all the historical sources were written after he was supposed to have died, including the gospels. Josephus and Tacitus weren’t even born until after Jesus was supposed to have died, so I don’t see how they’re supposed to be impressive sources.

    Now, I happen to think there was probably a historical figure named Yeshua who did some preaching and may have been killed, like many others at the time, for preaching against the Romans.

    But so what? In no way does that make any of the supernatural claims true.

    The evidence backs up Gaius Julius Caesar having existed. But they don’t back up his claims of being descended from Venus.

    Posted by morsec0de | April 16, 2010, 1:50 PM
    • And the point of the post is that Jesus himself existed. You agreed.

      “Actually, it’s more because all the historical sources were written after he was supposed to have died, including the gospels”

      True… If you are ascribing to earlier scholarship that has largely been abandoned in recent years (cf. Blomberg, cited in the post), then you may still make this argument for truth, but such a position has largely been abandoned by modern scholarship, including critical scholarship (Blomberg, Wright, cited above).

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 16, 2010, 10:34 PM
  2. True… If you are ascribing to earlier scholarship that has largely been abandoned in recent years (cf. Blomberg, cited in the post), then you may still make this argument for truth, but such a position has largely been abandoned by modern scholarship, including critical scholarship (Blomberg, Wright, cited above).

    Abandoned by who? What utter nonsense! No scholar worth his/her salt thinks this. It is the consensus opinion of biblical scholars – both secular and Christian – that the gospels were written decades after Jesus supposedly lived.

    As for the evidence of a historical Jesus, there is very little. The Tacitus entry is likely a forgery (it is doubtful he would have got Pilate’s title wrong) and the only thing that can be concluded from Josephus is that there were Christians. The passage where Josephus calls Jesus the Messiah is at the very least an interpolation by a later Christian translaters if not an outright forgery as well. Josephus was a Jew and would never have called Jesus the Messiah.

    There is nothing in history that requires Jesus to have existed as a real person. The belief in Jesus is sufficient to explain verified historical events. This quite different from other historical figures like Alexander or Attila. It is difficult to explain the Helenistic influence in regions distant from Macedonia. We have coins from Alexander’s time with his likeness. The history of Asia would look very different indeed had Attila not actually lived.

    If morse agrees that there was a historical Jesus, and I think this likely too since it is the most parsimonious explanation, it does not mean we believe for one moment that the biblical Jesus ever existed. They are most certainly NOT the same thing. There is nothing extraordinary about a carpenter named Yeshua that did some theological teaching whom the Romans executed because he was making a claim to kingship.

    But the claims of a god-man that performed astounding miracles is quite another matter and requires a far higher evidentiary bar that those who make the claim of existence have nowhere near met. The stories of Jesus and miracles were a dime a dozen in a time that was rampant with superstition. The stories of miracles that Jesus supposedly performed could just as easily (and were) applied to Appolonius of Tyana (who, by the way, we have more evidence of existence than Jesus). And there is no more reason to accept the claims of Appolonius the miracle worker than for Jesus the miracle worker. That is to say, no reason at all.

    Posted by Shamelessly Atheist | April 17, 2010, 12:15 AM
    • All this post was trying to establish was that Jesus existed as a person. You, like morse, have conceded this. Thank you for your other comments, even if they are point-missing.

      Also, in regards to your comments about Tacitus and Josephus, cf. Habermas, Gary, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus for responses to the very claims you make. Further, I wasn’t trying to say that the Gospels weren’t written decades after his death, only that such a claim doesn’t discredit them. I see my wording was terrible for this, I meant to point to the origins of the Gospels as oral history, which originated with eyewitness accounts.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 17, 2010, 12:27 AM
  3. First and most important morsec0de was spot on and he didn’t make your point of J-sus existing. Yeshua (Yehoshua) is the polar opposite of J-sus. One required that those who would follow him needed to keep all the Torah they could, the polar opposite J-sus is the poster boy for Torah rejection. Jzeus doesn’t even exist in the minds of those who say they “follow” him. He is merely the excuse they give to follow their own heart and eyes.

    Posted by Eliyahu Konn | April 17, 2010, 1:20 PM
    • Interesting comment. I don’t think it’s correct, however. See my post here on Jesus and the covenant. Jesus and יהושׁע are one and the same. I believe you may miss the point of what it is Jesus’ purpose was on this earth, which was to open salvation to all mankind–but this through a very real fulfillment of the Torah. The book of James and the book of Galatians make these dual points clear.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 17, 2010, 1:41 PM
  4. The fact of the matter is that the reason people try to deny the historicity of Jesus isn’t due to historical reasons, it’s either due to ignorance about how historiography operates or simply willingness to blatantly deny historical fact.

    I think the prime reason is to avoid having to deal with the implications of his death and resurrection. It’s all part and parcel with an unwillingness to accept as evidence anything which points to the Divine: “I don’t like where that leads, so I will discount its validity as evidence altogether”.

    If you recall C. S. Lewis’ three-pronged conundrum of “liar, lunatic or Lord”, Lewis pointed out that the “soft” option of claiming that Jesus was merely a great teacher doesn’t wash with the historical reality. The evidence also rules out the liar/lunatic options and indicates compellingly that Jesus is Lord.

    But if we just pretend he didn’t exist, we can ignore all of that and not have to deal with the implications for how we live our lives.

    Posted by Sentinel | April 21, 2010, 2:34 AM
    • Yes indeed. Gary Habermas, in The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, points out that C.S. Lewis’ “trilemma” misses the possibility of denying Jesus existed. While such an option shows disregard for historical facts, it does allow the one who willingly ignores history to avoid the trilemma.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 21, 2010, 8:23 AM

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