Top 10 Reasons Jesus Christ Really Existed
Jesus Christ plays a pivotal role in both the Christian and the Muslim faith. As the promised Messiah for Christians, the son of god born to a virgin who died on the cross, was crucified and resurrected to eternal life; his sacrifice a promise, a new covenant for the faithful that eternal life would be theirs. Muslims also believe that Jesus was born to a virgin and that he had an important ministry. They do not, however, believe that he died on the cross but that another person was crucified in his place. He is considered to be one of the most important and revered prophets in Islam.
For Christians and Muslims therefore the existence of Jesus, both the man and the son of God is a matter of faith. Furthermore, for many centuries past, most people from all other religions (or none) were willing to accept that Jesus was a historical figure, a man who really existed. In recent years, however, there has been a movement amongst certain atheist communities to establish that Jesus never existed at all. Should we believe these statements? Was a man called Jesus born sometime around 4BC and live until he was crucified in or around 33 AD? Or is he a construct – a mythical figure created by a group of men looking for a unifying figurehead to use as the lynchpin of a new religion?
Here are our top 10 reasons to believe Jesus really existed – that he was born and died, a man like any other. Whether or not you believe he was something more is a matter of personal faith and belief between you and your god (or lack of) and that is something we will not delve into!
Josephus Refers To The Crucifixion
Jesus sceptics like to claim that there are no contemporaneous accounts of the life of Jesus in the records of the Temple, the Court of Herod or Roman records. They also like to point out that all the other accounts of the life of Jesus are nothing more than hearsay and therefore should be dismissed as unreliable.
This is a twisted reading of the facts. Extensive research into the historicity of Jesus has been undertaken by a wide range of individuals since the 18th Century and the consensus is that he did exist and is referred to in a number of independently verifiable accounts.
The highly respected Jewish historian Titus Flavius Josephus was born shortly after the death of Jesus. His most important writings included The Antiquities of the Jews which provides a narrative of the history of the world from the Jewish perspective. It is important to note that Josephus was not a Christian, he was a devout Jew who would have been skeptical of any person claiming to be the ‘Messiah’. He writes
‘Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man…He was Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross those that loved him at the first did not forsake him…and the tribe of Christians, so named for him, are not extinct to this day’
Later on in the book he writes
‘He assembled a council of judges, and brought it before the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ, whose name was James’.
There is some thought that the earlier passage may be a forgery or was an authentic reference that was expanded upon by devout Christians. The second reference is considered to be absolutely genuine.
Tacitus The Roman Historian Also Referred To The Crucifixion
The Roman historian Tacitus, writing in the early second century expressly refers to the crucifixion in his Annals. He was writing about the great fire of Rome which the Emperor Nero blamed on Christians. Tacitus writes
‘Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius a the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome.’
Tacitus was a very highly regarded historian who always mentioned any references to hearsay in his works. The passage is believed to be genuine; the extreme antipathy shown to Christians in it makes it an unlikely that it was forged by a zealous Christian.
Furthermore the accounts of Tacitus and Josephus complement each other but did not influence each other meaning there are two independent but compatible sources of evidence.
We Know Pontius Pilate Was In Judea At The Time Of The Crucifixion
Jesus doubters like to point to the fact that there are no artifacts linked to his life. The Shroud of Turin has been proved to be a fake, the ossuary of James, Jesus’ brother has also been exposed as a fraud.
A person of note, they claim, should have left some evidence of his life. The thing was that Jesus was a humble man during his life, a simple carpenter. How many carpenters, plumbers or people in similar employment today will leave evidence of their daily lives in 2,000 years’ time?
2000 years is an incredibly long time during which all evidence that someone was in a certain place or location can disappear. It was only recently that firm evidence that Pontius Pilate was in Judea at the time of the crucifixion has finally come to light. Much like Jesus there was no contemporary evidence of his existence or presence in Judea at the relevant time and, like Jesus he was referred to in Josephus and Tacitus. In 1961 the very first physical evidence was located – a small stone with an inscription that Pontius Pilatus had dedicated it to the Emperor.
If someone as important as the Roman procurator could completely disappear, how much more a humble workman?
The Gospels Were Most Likely Written By People Who Knew Jesus Or His Disciples Well
It is popular, these days to claim that the Gospels in the Bible were written at least 40 years after what they say is the ‘alleged’ crucifixion and given the average life expectancy at the time were unlikely to be written by people who knew Jesus.
The Acts of the Apostles is the first book of the Bible after the four Gospels. It was written by Luke, a doctor who travelled with Paul. The work documents the early struggles and history of the Church. We can date it fairly accurately because there are several key events that would have had an impact on the young Church – The Martyrdom of Paul in AD62, the Fire of Rome and subsequent persecution of Christians in AD64 and the sacking of Jerusalem in AD70. None of these events are mentioned in Acts although it does mention Paul’s imprisonment in Rome. This means that it must have been written very shortly before his martyrdom.
The opening words of Acts are ‘The former treatise have I made O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach…’ The former account referred to can only be the Gospel of Luke which we know, from the opening verses was also written to Theophilus. This means that the Gospel of Luke must predate AD62. Those same opening verses also refer to eyewitness accounts which have been given to the church by which he means the Gospels of Matthew, one of the Apostles and Mark who was a companion to Peter. The Gospel of Mark is understood by Bible Scholars to be the earliest of the four. If the Gospel of Luke was written before the Acts, sometime in the late 50s AD it is likely that, giving time for copies to be made and disseminated the Gospel of Mark is likely to have been written in the late 40s or early 50s AD and so could easily have been written by people who knew and worked closely with Jesus and witnessed the crucifixion.
The Gospels Have Been Faithfully Transcribed Through The Centuries.
Some sceptics claim that the fact that the earliest copies of the Gospels that have survived date to about a century after the life of Jesus – about 150AD for the earliest document means that they cannot be trusted to be accurate. They say that transcription errors could have crept in or information could have been added at a later date and that the record is therefore unreliable.
We know, however, because of the synchronicity between all the discovered early versions of the books of the New Testament (ie they all say the same thing with a divergence of less than 5%) that copies that were made were faithful to the original. If they were not we would have different versions of the original books all saying very different things. We also know that old documents get lost and have to be copied. That does not mean that we discount the original. The earliest copy of Plato’s works available to us today is 1,200 years younger than he is but we do not claim it to be an inaccurate rendering of his work.
St Paul Was A Self Publicist – He Would Not Have Chosen To Invent Jesus.
St Paul was born in around 10 AD to an Israelite family. He served as a tax collector and was well known for his anti-Christian views and is said to have participated in the stoning of St Stephen. He became one of the most high profile converts to the new religion when he was said to have had a divine vision of the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. He was subsequently baptized and went to Arabia before returning to work on behalf of the early church. He made long journeys around the Mediterranean during which he spread the word and wrote his now famous epistles. These works are some of the earliest in the New Testament but St Paul never knew Jesus personally.
7 of the 13 Epistles attributed to St Paul (Philemon, Romans, Corinthians I, II, Philippians, Thessalonians I and Galatians) are considered to have been written by him directly. St Paul was a dynamic self-publicist who rarely mentioned Jesus at all but rather encourages Christians to live their lives according to a framework designed by Paul himself. Sceptics claim that this proves that Jesus did not exist but that he was a construct which Paul could use to hang his new way of life on.
The Epistles themselves, however, put the lie to this claim as St Paul’s writings mention 2 meetings with James, the brother of Jesus. Even if Paul had made up a fake ‘man/god he would not have gone to the trouble to invent a living brother for him, someone whose existence the Christian faithful could verify for themselves and someone with whom Paul did not seem to enjoy a harmonious relationship.
The New Testament Is Full Of Contradictions.
If you read the four Gospels and the other works of the Bible with a fine tooth comb you will find that there are a large number of contradictions. In fact the only pertinent facts that the Gospels really agree on is that Jesus was baptized by John and that he was crucified and rose from the dead. Sceptics love to claim that this is proof that the whole thing is a construct but nothing could be further from the truth. If the early Christians had sat down to create a narrative around which to build a religion they would have ensured that it was a single coherent story on which all commentators agreed. For example while Mark claims that Jesus was from Nazareth Luke and Matthew claim he was from Bethlehem. Of course the prophecy of the Messiah claims that he would be born in Bethlehem. If Mark was making the whole thing up why would he make a simple mistake like claiming Jesus was from Nazareth. He wouldn’t if people want to make things up they generally try to make them look as good as possible.
Much is made by sceptics of the other gospels including the Gospel of Thomas which is believed to predate Mark. They do not make reference to Jesus as a historical figure or even as the Messiah. They were denounced as heretical in the second century. Sceptics claim that this denunciation is proof that the early Church ran a cynical campaign to create a ‘history’ for Jesus, a combined story. What is more likely is that they were excluded from the New Testament, not as a cynical ploy but simply because they were wrong, not in a confusion of memory as shown by the contradictions in the four main Gospels but in their core understanding of the teachings and ministry of Jesus and the church he founded. It is notable that one of the heretical gospels excluded from the cannon was the Gospel of Peter. This ascribes fantastic miracles and spectacles to Jesus far more in line with the traditions and expectations of the Jewish Messiah. It would have been an extremely valuable piece of propaganda to help lure converts to the new faith yet the early church fathers excluded it – why? Because they were interested in the truth not lies.
There Is Historical Evidence Of A Darkening Of The Sky And A Severe Earthquake In The Region About The Time Of Jesus’ Crucifixion.
The crucifixion is mentioned in detail in two of the Gospels, the Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 27) and the Gospel of Luke (Chapter 23). A reading of both Gospels shows that there was a sudden darkness that fell on the land between the 6th and 9th hours of the day. They also explain that at the moment of Jesus’ death there was an earthquake so severe that the graves of the dead burst open.
Evidence in the geologic record shows that there were earthquakes in the Jerusalem area during that period although nothing can be dated exactly we know that there was a large earthquake in around 31AD and a more localized earthquake at sometime between 26 and 36 AD but most likely after the 31AD earthquake.
There is also near contemporaneous evidence of an unexpected eclipse or other darkening of the sky around the time of the crucifixion. Thallus, a non-Christian with no reason to make something up, mentioned the unexpected event in some works published in 52 AD. Although his work has been lost this passage was referred to in the works of Julius Africanus about 2 centuries later who saw the writings of Thallus and says that they referred to a severe earthquake and an eclipse. The darkening of the sky might not have been the result of an eclipse at all (as an eclipse is not possible during the full moon) but as a result of a nearby volcanic eruption. Ash from the Jabal ad Druze volcanos could have easily darkened the sky of Jerusalem and it is not unlikely that any earthquake activity could have set off some volcanic activity in that field.
If there truly was an earthquake on the day of the crucifixion a strong aftershock might account for the stone at the entrance to the tomb having moved on the day of the resurrection.
Jesus Was Baptized By John.
The Gospels tell us that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist (it is one of the events on which they all agree – see above), in an event that marked the start of his great ministry. In Jewish society and religion at the time the concept of a superior being baptized by their junior would have been a hard concept for people to understand – it should have been the other way around particularly as Jesus was without sin and therefore did not need to be ‘washed clean’ by baptism. Much like the fact that Mark has Jesus coming from the ‘wrong city’ the baptism plays into the ‘criterion of embarrassment’ a doctrine of historical analysis that states that the more embarrassing a story is to the people who are writing it the more likely it is to be true.
Jesus Is An Unlikely Superhero Or God.
The Jewish Messiah was not supposed to be an innocent, a savior who sacrificed himself. This is a Christian concept. The Jewish Messiah is the person who will be anointed king at the end of days. A human but a great political and military leader for Israel. Jesus quite simply did not fit the model of the perfect Messiah.
The Gospels attribute miracles to him – he can even kill with a word when he chooses to but far from using his powers for the glory of Judea and to attack the hated Roman invaders he preached a ministry of love and humility. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, hardly a glamorous steed and he was executed in the most embarrassing way possible (see the criterion of embarrassment above). As the Christmas Carol puts it ‘he was gentle, meek and mild’. These are hardly the attributes of a Messiah so if you were creating a religion from the start and trying to claim that your central figure was the Messiah you would surely make his behavior fit the expectation a little more. They didn’t do this however, rather than create a fake ‘savior’ who met all the criteria they had the humility to realize that the criteria had changed and supported their man. They ‘did not invent Jesus, they invented the idea that the Messiah had to be crucified’.
It is a shame this list is limited to only 10 points as there are many other proofs of the life of Jesus, including the tantalizing evidence of what might be included in the intriguing but still missing Q (source) Gospel, believed to be the original on which all others were based. The debunking of the many parallels that sceptics try to draw between the story of Jesus and that of other ‘gods’ such as Mithras, Osiris, Horus or many others.
When we look at the evidence we see a story that no person in their rational mind would use as the basis for a religion and yet it took off. For it to do so Jesus must have existed and inspired people with his life and his work to go out and inspire others. We have access to documents that were written just over 100 years after his death which refer to sources that were around before that. An amazing fact when compared with the works of Plato, Homer or many other writers or personalities of antiquity. We know that the oldest documents we have are very similar to each other, they hardly deviate at all which shows that their contents are unlikely to have been tampered with.
The truth of the matter is that a man called Jesus was born in Judea around 4BC, he was baptized by John the Baptist and crucified in about the year 33 AD when Pontius Pilatus was procurator of Judea. Whether or not that humble and extraordinary man was a prophet or the Son of God we leave to you.