Westside church of Christ - Irving, Texas

How Do We Know Jesus Really Existed?

Ed Whittlesey

Some say Jesus never really existed and the stories about Him are just legends or myths. Before establishing Jesus’ deity we must establish that He did live. How can we know today that Jesus actually did exist? Are there historical documents or sources to confirm it? We will see that we can rely on both biblical and non-biblical sources to support the fact that Jesus did indeed exist.

Biblical. After more than a century of endless scrutiny and criticism, the Bible stands as being a credible and trustworthy historical document. It passes three tests used by historians to establish whether an ancient document is reliable. The first of those tests (bibliographical) checks the accuracy of the copies from the original writings. The second test (internal) looks at whether there are contradictions. This particular test is especially valuable when examining the gospels, since so much history about Jesus is contained therein. The last test (external) considers whether other sources confirm what the gospel writers recorded. We will explore what some of the other sources had to say, in the next section. Knowing the Bible overwhelmingly passes these tests used by historians, we can be confident in its value as a historical document. How is all of this relative to Jesus’ existence? It proves we can believe in the Bible, both as the word of God and a viable piece of history, to support Jesus’ existence. Let us consider then some facts contained in the Bible which serve as evidence that Jesus existed.

The gospels provide an accurate and harmonious picture of Jesus’ life, from His birth to His physical death and resurrection. Each gospel is a powerful eyewitness account of not only Jesus’ existence, but His teachings, miracles, and rebuking, as well. The Gospel of John, in particular, tells us Jesus existed before the creation, John 1:1-2. John also states that Jesus became flesh, and dwelt among us. That he and others beheld His glory, John 1:14, 18. Furthermore, each gospel writer was inspired by God, which means they could specifically impart the word(s) of God. Writers of the gospels help us see how Jesus fulfilled many Old Testament prophecies. For example, His birth in Bethlehem (see Micah 5:2 and Matthew 2:1), and His death (see Isaiah 53:12 and Luke 23:46.) This is important because long before Jesus ever came to earth, prophets were telling about Him. To say Jesus never existed, is essentially saying the prophets (God’s messengers) and Gospel writers (inspired of God) were liars. We can be confident Jesus existed because the Bible (God’s inspired word, 2 Timothy 3:16) tells us He did.

Non-Biblical. Several secular sources support Jesus’ existence as well. In a book coauthored by Dr. Gary Habermas, an American Christian apologist, theologian, and philosopher of religion, he writes that approximately eighteen non-Christian, extra biblical sources mention more than one hundred facts, beliefs, and teachings from the life of Christ (Did Jesus Rise From The Dead? The Resurrection Debate, p. 43). Gaalyah Cornfield, a Jewish scholar, says in his book that “Modern archaeology and scholarship have now established beyond all doubt that a man known as Jesus certainly did exist in history and that the criticism of the skeptics was ill founded … We are today able to assert beyond a shadow of a doubt that the historical Jesus existed” (The Historical Jesus, A Scholarly View of the Man and His World, pgs. 11-12).Cornfield’s research and findings are significant because he’s an unbeliever, and a non-Christian, yet he acknowledges Jesus’ existence. Furthermore, Josephus, a Jewish historian, described Jesus as a wise man who was crucified by Pilate, in his book, Antiquities of the Jews. The Talmud, books about Jewish law, also mentions Jesus of Nazareth several times, and never disputes His status as a historical figure. Interestingly, both Josephus and The Talmud mention other figures noted in the gospels, e.g. John the Baptist. Other pagan writers from the first and second century A.D. also provide proof that Jesus existed. Among them was Cornelius Tacitus, a Roman historian, who wrote of Jesus in his Annals. As well, Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor, wrote to the emperor, Trajan, about Christians’ devotion to Christ. Importantly, none of these extra biblical sources disprove the historical facts which the gospel writers penned about Jesus.

Through careful examination of details supplied by the prophets, gospel writers, and non- Christian historians, it is obvious Jesus existed. These sources work hand-in-hand, as important pieces of history, to provide us with overwhelming evidence about Jesus’ life on earth. We can be sure that Jesus did indeed live. Let us then build upon this truth to see the other truths about Jesus that the Bible reveals - His deity and that He is the Savior of the world.