Did Jesus Exist?

Many people ask, “Did Jesus Exist?”

Historically, the evidence is pretty straightforward:

Jesus is presented as a living person in various texts, most notably throughout the New Testament. But beyond that, there is evidence for the existence of Jesus in a variety of other texts, including:

  • Celsus
  • Clement of Rome
  • Ignatius of Polycarp
  • Josephus
  • Justin Martyr
  • Lucian
  • Mara Bar Serapion
  • Papias
  • Phlegon
  • Pliny the Younger
  • Quadratus
  • Seutonius
  • Tacitus
  • The Babylonian Talmud
  • The Didache

Jesus himself is not referenced by name in all of these texts, for instance, in Mara Bar Sarapion. Nevertheless, Sarapion’s letter speaks of, among the Jews, a “wise king, because of the new laws he laid down.”

In addition, the “criteria of embarrassment” reasonably suggests that people are less likely to record evidence that is disadvantageous to their position. In presenting Jesus as the Messiah, it was highly awkward to detail his suffering and crucifixion. In other words, for his supporters to publicly affirm that the religious and state authorities rejected Jesus is weighty evidence that he did exist.

Further, we have the uniqueness of Jesus’ teachings. These are distinctive from both Jewish sources and the writings of the early Christian church. I think that Paul, for instance, writes in a way that is entirely consistent with the Beatitudes. However, Jesus’ formulation is distinct from Paul’s ethical codes. The simplest explanation for the origin of this teaching is the person of Jesus.

Altogether, we have solid evidence that Jesus existed.

So I wonder why the idea persists that Jesus didn’t exist?

Have you heard someone present arguments that he didn’t exist?

Or is it more of a skeptical attitude? That might sound like, "It’s ancient history, who knows what happened so long ago?

Or is this question less intellectual and rooted in our experiences? We might pick up on something like this:

Functionally, Jesus doesn’t exist. He seems like a myth, totally irrelevant to my life. I don’t even see Christians acting like Jesus!

I’m curious about your take. Why do people ask if Jesus existed?

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