Some conversations I have had recently have gone on the topic of Jesus' actual existence. There seems to be a popular challenge going around these days to question everything we know, and even assume that which we know is myth or incorrect. Just under two years ago, I'd done some research which I added to a thoughtleader.co.za post, where the author had himself asked the very same question.
I replied with this response (edited), which I feel specifically is a strong argument. The reason I think this is that often the people asking the question of Jesus' existence logically don't hold a high view of scripture and it's accuracy. The accuracy of scripture is a whole other discussion, and could in itself be seen as a distraction from the main point, so I decided to reply from the perspective of extra-biblical accounts of the true historical Jesus. Here are some references and thoughts on that:
- Extra-biblical accounts of Jesus and Christians
There is more extra-biblical evidence of the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, than there is of Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great. This has been disputed and challenged, and so I reply with this:
Let’s start recently and move backwards. We have the Protestant Christians today, starting with Luther about 400 years back. So Christianity is definitely as old as that. We have the Roman Catholic Christians. We know that in the 9th Century AD there was a division between the Eastern (or Greek Orthodox) church and Western (or Roman) church. Hence we know it dates back to at least then. We also know that in the 4th Century AD, Christianity had become so powerful that it had pretty much taken possession of the Roman Empire, the mightiest power of the world at that time.
Going earlier, we have Eusebius in 315 AD who wrote a large volume, giving the history of Christ and his church. We also have the testimony of about a hundred Christian authors, dating to the first 3 Centuries.
Let’s set that aside, because if Jesus is in fact a myth made up by dubious early Christians (paranoid anyone?) - we’d need to focus on non-Christian accounts.
Here are 11 of the most noted authors and historians of antiquity, reaching from the middle of the fourth century back to the very days of Christ himself.
Julian (361 A.D.) Julian was a Roman emperor who saw fit to try very hard to put down Christianity. He wrote a book against Christianity, in which he acknowledged that there were multitudes of Christians in Greece and Italy in the days of the apostles, and that many of them were men of high character, such as Cornelius and Sergius Paulus, proconsul of Cyprus. [Lardner’s Works, vol viii. pp.394-411]
Porphyry (270 A.D.) This learned writer acknowledges that Christians were very numerous in the Roman Empire. He admits that miracles were wrought by the apostles (which he ascribed to a magic art). He endeavours to expose them to reproach as the cause of the calamities that befell the Roman Empire. [Horne’s Introduction, vol 1 p. 209]
Galen (220 A.D.) Acknowledges the virtuous principles of the Christians. [Lardner’s Works, vol. viii pp. 90, 91]
Marcus Antoninus (161 A.D.) mentions Christians as furnishing examples of an obstinate contempt of death [Id. vol vii. p 398]
Epictetus (109 A.D.) Mentions the fortitude and constancy of the Christians under persecution. He calls them Galileans.
Lucian (176 A.D.) in his numerous writings bears testimony to the leading facts and principles of Christianity. He says that Christ was crucified in Israel and was worshiped by the Christians. He mentions their contempt for this world, and how they courageously suffered for their religion. He mentions that they were noted for their honesty and integrity, that they were well known in the world, and that they were numerous in Pontus and Paphlagonia and adjoining countries. He ridicules many of their practices and doctrines.
Pliny the Younger (107 A.D.) wrote a detailed letter regarding Christians and seeking advice regarding carrying out his instructions to punish Christians.
Suetonius (65 A.D.) The first general persecution of the Christians was in 65 A.D. under Nero, the tyrant under whom Paul was martyred. This Roman historian said “The Christians likewise were severely punished, - a sort of people addicted to a new and mischievous superstition.”
Tacitus (65 A.D.) was a contemporary with the apostles, one of the most noted secular historians of the Roman world. Mentions Christ, and that he was put to death in the reign of Tiberius, as a criminal under the procurator, Pontius Pilate. He mentions Christianity as a pestilent superstition that broke out afresh and spread not only all over Judea, but Rome also. He continues by putting down the accounts of the persecution of the Christians.
Josephus was a Jewish priest who lived in the very days of the apostles, and in the land of Judea, in his History of the Jews, after referring to their sedition against Pontuis Pilate, bears testimony to Jesus Christ :
“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he performed many wonderful works. He was a teacher of such men as received the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him many of the Jews and also many of the gentiles. This was the Christ.”
He continues with how Pilate condemned him to the cross, how he appeared to his followers alive again and how they were known as Christians.
Pontius Pilate - the very man by whose authority Christ was crucified has left on record a careful account of that event. The Romans were very careful to make a record of all important events occurring within the empire. This record is preserved in their “Acts of the Senate”. This document was referred to by early Christians in disputes with gentiles, and it was referenced in some of their writings. They would not have done this if this document was not in existence.
Jews - Of all nations, the Jews are the very ones who ought to know best whether there ever was such a man as Jesus Christ, and whether he was put to death in Judea as the new testament affirms. Jesus was a Jew, he lived among the Jews, all his apostles were Jews. It was among the Jews entirely that Christianity was first founded. Now if all this was false, and Christ had never lived, what would the testimony of the Jews be on the life of Christ and his ministry? Could they be persuaded that all these things happened right among their people yet without their knowledge? No. The whole nation would rise up and declare that no such person as Jesus Christ ever lived or died among them. This would settle the point. But now if you were to ask a Jew if he believes that a man such as Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew, lived in Judea 2000 years ago, and that he was put to death on a cross. Every Jew would say “Yes, we have no doubt of that, though we do not believe he was the true Messiah”
To quote Josh McDowell, “the evidence is conclusive. Jesus really lived among us and accomplished powerful works that even hostile, non-Christian sources do not fail to confirm. The skeptics about Jesus’ historicity are simply wrong.”
*main source: New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell;