Why Do Scholars Think Jesus Christ Existed Historically?

What are the reasons scholars and historians think Jesus Christ existed historically? In this entry, we look at a few of these reasons in hope to answer this question. We will briefly look at the textual sources and some facts of early Christianity’s development that can only be made sense of if there really was a historical figure behind the movement’s beginning.

There is Nothing to the Contrary

If Jesus really were a non-existent figure of history it would be expected that some anti-Christian group or writer would have made this known. In fact, the most hostile group towards Jesus and the message of early Christianity were the Jewish religious authorities, yet they affirmed Jesus’s existence by trying to accuse the disciples of stealing Jesus’ body from the tomb in order to fake a resurrection (Matthew 28:13, Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho, 108; Tertullian’s On Spectacles, 30). We also find anti-Jesus material in the much later Jewish Talmud accusing him of treachery and leading Israel astray. Those that hated Christianity the most just had to discover that the historical Jesus was a figment of the early Christians’ imagination and expose it, and that would be the end of Christianity; however, not once does this happen.

Take, for example, the polemic against the empty tomb. Paul Maier in his work In the Fullness of Time says that the “Jewish polemic shared with Christians the conviction that the sepulcher was empty, but gave natural explanations for it. And such positive evidence within a hostile source is the strongest kind of evidence.”

Why did the Jews try to explain away Jesus’ tomb if there was no Jesus in the first place? It’s almost certainly because Jesus existed and was buried in a tomb. To continue with Paul Maier

“Now you can argue about whether he was the Son of God or not, you can argue about the supernatural aspects of his life, but in terms of the historical character there is absolutely no evidence to the contrary and all the evidence is in the favor.”

Scholars Think the Evidence is Persuasive

The most credible New Testament, Biblical, historical, and early Christianity scholars today, from all backgrounds of belief, agree that Jesus existed and stands as the founder of the Christian religion. As Professor Rudolf Bultmann, Professor of New Testament studies, once remarked:

“Of course the doubt as to whether Jesus really existed is unfounded and not worth refutation. No sane person can doubt that Jesus stands as founder behind the historical movement whose first distinct stage is represented by the oldest Palestinian community.”

Paul Maier explains that “The total evidence is so overpowering, so absolute that only the shallowest of intellects would dare to deny Jesus’ existence.” Craig Evans, a specialist in historical Jesus studies, says that,

“No serious historian of any religious or nonreligious stripe doubts that Jesus of Nazareth really lived in the first century and was executed under the authority of Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea and Samaria.”

Skeptical New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman states that: “These views are so extreme (that Jesus did not exist) and so unconvincing to 99.99 percent of the real experts that anyone holding them is as likely to get a teaching job in an established department of religion as a six-day creationist is likely to land on in a bona fide department of biology.”

Scholar Michael Grant says: “To sum up, modern critical methods fail to support the Christ-myth theory. It has ‘again and again been answered and annihilated by first-rank scholars.”

The claim that Jesus never existed as a historical person is not a question or matter of debate on the table of historical scholarship. In the words of Richard Burridge: “I have to say that I do not know any respectable critical scholar who says that (that Jesus did not exist) anymore.”

Jesus’ Crucifixion is Historically Certain

There are many independent sources that attest to Jesus’ crucifixion. So many that it is beyond doubt that there was a figure called Jesus who really died on a cross. We find that all four canonical gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke, John) attesting to this fact.

We also find Serapion, in his letter, refers to the crucifixion of the “wise king”. Josephus Flavius, writing within the first century CE, refers to Jesus’ crucifixion vividly, “And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross.” Cornelius Tacitus, writing in the early second century, in his work Annals refers to Jesus’ crucifixion. Eddy and Boyd state that it is now “firmly established” that Tacitus provides a non-Christian confirmation of the crucifixion of Jesus. The much later Jewish Talmud states that “On the eve of the Passover Yeshu (Jesus) was hanged.” The early Church fathers unanimously believed that Jesus was crucified on a cross, for instance Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp.

Today no credible historian rejects that Jesus was crucified. Scholar John Crossan writes: “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.” According to scholar Gerd Ludemann: “Jesus’ death as a result of crucifixion is indisputable.”

The Gospels Sources as Evidence

This should count for four reasons to accept Jesus’ existence as each gospel contains, to a greater or lesser degree, independent traditions from Jesus’ life.

The gospels are our most reliable historical information on Jesus’ brief ministry. They are generally classified as Greco-Roman biography. Graham Stanton of Cambridge University has observed: “I do not think it is now possible to deny that the Gospels are a sub-set of the broad ancient literary genre of ‘lives,’ that is, biographies.”

The gospels are based on a historical figure and that figure’s ministry and deeds. There are likewise sources behind the gospels. Mark is the earliest source and Luke and Matthew come after Mark. Luke and Matthew do use Mark as a source material for much of their content, yet they also consult another unknown lost source which is called hypothetical Q (thought to contain sayings of Jesus). There is also unique material that scholars suggest Matthew’s author consulted called M. The same is said for Luke’s gospel which is believed to contain unique material called L. Lastly, John comes in at the latest (around 90 CE), and is mostly unique in its sayings and events of Jesus. Bart Ehrman explains that,

“With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the gospels (and the writings of Paul) — sources that originated in Jesus’ native tongue Aramaic and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life… Historical sources like that are is pretty astounding for an ancient figure of any kind.”

The Early Willingness to Suffer and Die for Jesus

There is evidence that the members of the earliest Jesus followers and Christian community were willing to suffer and die for their belief in their historical saviour figure Jesus and for their belief that he had been raised by God from the dead. This indeed makes sense if Jesus was a real historical figure rather than some mythical being who did not exist.

But what accounts for this willingness on behalf of the followers? Certainly there were no material interests motivated by greed. We can disqualify financial greed as the disciples traveled in poverty with Jesus both before and after he died. Jesus is also alleged to have taught that finances if misused and worshiped would end up getting someone rejected from inheriting eternal life in heaven if not avoided (Matt. 19:24).

The desire for reputation and fame also does not seem a likely explanation. The apostles were heavily despised by their Jewish peers because of their leadership within the early Christian community. If they were lying about their testimony to gain the respect and admiration of the culture they were trying to convert, they were taking the wrong approach. Secondly, many of the disciples (Paul included) and early Christians, only succeeded in gaining the infamy that constantly put them at risk, and eventually, for some of them that we can tell, eventually cost them their lives. They knew their testimony would leave them powerless but they maintained it anyway. The apostles were pursued and mistreated, and the New Testament narratives and letters describe their efforts to avoid capture. They continually evaded capture so as to continue their personal ministries as eyewitnesses. The New Testament accounts describe followers who were bold enough to maintain their ministry, but clever enough to avoid capture for as long as possible

The disciples had nothing to gain in terms of power and fame for their efforts. There was no financial incentive either. It is our contention here that the most basic fact of this reality to the early Christian movement is that it saw Jesus as a historical figure who had recently died and was believed to have been raised from the dead.

Gary Habermas’ The Minimal Facts Approach

Historian and philosopher Gary Habermas is the mind behind the minimal facts approach based upon his study of 3400 articles written by scholars in the fields of New Testament studies and history on the historical Jesus; according to Habermas,

“My bibliography is presently at about 3400 sources and counting, published originally in French, German, or English. Initially I read and catalogued the majority of these publications, charting the representative authors, positions, topics, and so on, concentrating on both well-known and obscure writers alike, across the entire skeptical to liberal to conservative spectrum.”

Habermas finds that he can present four basic facts about Jesus that all of the scholars in these relevant fields agree on; these are:

  • That Jesus was crucified.
  • That he was buried in a tomb.
  • That three days later the tomb was found empty.
  • That the disciples, skeptics Paul and James had encountered the risen Jesus.

All four of these facts are accepted by the majority of historians in the field; the only exception is that point 3, the empty tomb, is accepted by roughly 75% (or two-thirds) of scholars in the field, which is still the vast majority. This would suggest the historical evidence for Jesus is quite compelling for scholars from a wide array of backgrounds. In other words, the view that Jesus existed historically is not the conclusions of just Christian scholars in the relevant field, but scholars who are atheists, agnostics, Jewish, secular, and of other worldviews. As scholars will know, attaining such a broad consensus in any academic field is a special thing in a field where scholars rigorously debate and dispute each others ideas.

Jesus in Early Creeds

Creeds are important for historians because they often date much earlier than the actual texts from which they are learned, and it is with this in mind that one finds that the New Testament has these too. The New Testament has creeds, hymns, and formulations that date to the earliest church (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Philippians 2:5-11, Romans 10:9, etc.).

The most important one that is discussed is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. In it, Paul tells us that Jesus, after he had been raised from the tomb, appeared to his chief disciple Peter, then to the inner circle of disciples known as the Twelve; then he appeared to a group of 500 disciples at once, then to his younger brother James, who up to that time was apparently not a believer, then to all the apostles. Finally, Paul adds, “he appeared also to me,” at the time when Paul was still a persecutor of the early Jesus movement (I Corinthians 15.5-8). Given the early date of Paul’s information as well as his personal acquaintance with the people involved, these appearances cannot be dismissed as mere legends. What is important about this creed is that Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 is quoting an ancient Christian tradition that he himself received and which goes back to within five years after the crucifixion. In fact, the prominent New Testament scholar James Dunn dates it to within 18 months of Jesus’ death. We have only looked at one creed, but it provides a strong basis for Jesus’ historicity. It is early and predates the gospels and any of the Pauline and other New Testament literature. Those objecting to this creed would have to make a strong argument that Paul did not believe in a physical, historical Jesus who he claimed was raised from the dead. But no-one has succeeded in doing this. The natural reading is that Paul believed in a physical Jesus that had been crucified, buried in a tomb, and then raised from that tomb to make his appearances.

The Negligible Time Gap Between Jesus’ Ministry and the New Testament

The four gospels were written between 35 (Mark) and 60 (John) years after Jesus’ life. This by historical standards is early, as prominent New Testament scholar Michael Licona writes,

“A gap of sixty to seventy years between the writing and the events they purport to describe is quite early compared to what historians work with when it comes to other ancient biographies.”

We need only compare this to other sources for ancient figures. For example, the bulk of our information on the famous Alexander the Great (323-356 BCE) comes from the prominent ancient historian Plutarch (46-119 CE). This means that the earliest source for Alexander used by modern historians is more than 350 years removed from his death. This goes for other ancient religious figures too. In my field of religious studies, one can certainly appreciate the negligible time gap for Jesus when we realize that what we have for the Buddha in the Pali Canon is four hundred years removed; for Confucius it is between one hundred and four hundred years; the information we have for the legendary Lao-Tzu took several hundred years to form after his traditional time of existence; and for Muhammad most of our biographical information in the Hadith is 200 and more years removed. In other words, if we want to poke holes in Jesus because it took around 20 years for Paul to begin writing and around 40 for Mark, we are being petty and trying to find room for skepticism.

Moreover, this negligible period would allow for the impact events of Jesus’ ministry such as his miracles, exorcisms, prophecies, death, resurrection to be fresh in the minds of the eyewitnesses and witnesses the gospel authors consulted for their information. Why is an impact event an important detail here? Consider an analogy: for many today the 9/11 tragedy was an event that shook the world. It is also an impact event because it is one that we will never forget; in fact, it will be to many of us crystal clear many years afterwards. We will remember details. Perhaps we will remember where we were on that day when it occurred, who we were with, whether the event occurred during the day or at night, where it happened, how it happened, and the immediate aftermath. An impact event is not a trivial one; remembering what we ate for breakfast two days ago would constitute a trivial event we are likely to forget. An occurrence of the magnitude of 9/11 is hardly trivial. We maintain that the ministry and resurrection of Jesus would have been in many ways a similar impact event/s for the earliest followers and disciples. They would have remembered the things Jesus said and did. Certainly this only makes sense if there was actually a historical Jesus who did such things.

The Rise of Early Christianity.

If Jesus did not exist then it is extremely unlikely we would have Christianity at all. If there had not been a Jesus who had been crucified, buried, and then left an empty tomb behind him, we cannot explain why Paul, James, and the disciples led changed lives. All these people came to believe in a resurrected Jesus despite this being antithetical to their preceding Jewish norms. They also had a willingness to suffer and possibly be martyred for their faith in Jesus. When it comes to Jesus’ brother James, we are told in the gospels that Jesus’ family thought Jesus had gone mad (Mark 3:21) and that not even his brothers believed in him (John 7:5). Of course this only makes sense if we are talking about a historical figure, but when Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his skeptical brother James, James then ends adopting an important role in the Church for which, Josephus Flavius tells us, he is killed (Antiquities 20 v. 9). Does a mythical Jesus account for such a radical transformation in James and in the rest of the disciples?

The Apostle Paul’s Epistles.

We know of several documents that Paul authored, some of which predate the gospels by 20 or so years. Paul places Jesus in a historical context, for example in 1 Corinthians 15:4 we read “that he was buried and was raised”. Paul is placing Jesus in a tomb (buried), and that later the tomb was empty (as corroborated by the gospels). Jesus’ existence, crucifixion and resurrection is affirmed throughout all Paul’s genuine, undisputed epistles.

Paul Met Jesus’ Brother James, and Jesus’ Disciple Peter.

Paul tells his readers that: “After three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:18-20). Here Paul informs us that he met Jesus’ brother James and the disciple Peter. Paul doesn’t tell us much of what they spoke about, but as sure as anything they relayed the events of Jesus’ ministry and supernatural appearances to them after his crucifixion. If anyone was in the position to know that Jesus existed, it would have been Peter and James, two of the very closest people to him. Does this make any sense if Jesus had not existed historically?

Paul was Familiar with Jesus

On three occasions in Paul’s letters one finds a familiar with the sayings of Jesus (1 Corinthians 7:10; 9:14; 11:1, 2, 20-25). Paul also provides other historical details: he knew that the historical Jesus was meek and gentle (2 Cor. 10:1) and that either he came from a poor family or lived a poor life, or both (2 Cor. 8:9). Paul also affirms the Last Supper Jesus had with his disciples: “When He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:24). Paul is obviously aware of the Jesus tradition recorded in the gospels (Mark 14:22; Matt 26:26; Luke 22:19). Paul’s letters are also replete with references to Jesus’ historical crucifixion. As Australian New Testament scholar Paul Barnett states: “There can be no doubt that, both before he was a disciple but also afterwards, Paul knew a lot about the historical Jesus.” Are we really to doubt our earliest Christian writer on this very basic detail?

Josephus Refers to Jesus

The first century Jewish historian and writer Josephus Flavius affirms that James, the brother of Jesus, was martyred. In his work Antiquities (95 CE) Josephus writes:

“…and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.” (20 v.9)

Before we look at the second reference we should note that according to one of the leading Josephus scholars, Loius Feldman, the authenticity of this text is “almost universally acknowledged” and beyond dispute. Here we have a legitimate reference to the historical Jesus and his brother by a first century writer from outside the New Testament.

The other reference to Jesus in Josephus is called the Testimonium Flavium. Unfortunately, it seems to mention Jesus in a way that Josephus Flavius, who was particularly unsympathetic towards Jesus or early Christianity, would not have mentioned him. This has led scholars to question its authenticity and most today believe the Testimonium was touched up by Christian scribe who wanted to make Jesus appear in a more favourable light. Fortunately, it is also important to note that scholars drawing on the work of textual analysis and criticism now agree that Josephus Flavius did mention Jesus in this text before it was touched up by a Christian scribe. There are several strong reasons for believing that the Testimonium is partly genuine and that it can be reconstructed in its original form; Alice Whealey, in her work Josephus on Jesus, claims that the majority of modern scholars consider it partially authentic, despite some clear Christian interpolations in the text.

Cornelius Tacitus Refers to Jesus.

Tacitus was an important Roman historian who also mentions Jesus in his writing. Tacitus refers to Jesus, Pontius Pilate, Jesus’ execution and the existence of early Christians in Rome in his final work, Annals (written 116 CE). Tacitus refers to the “Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin…” Although there has been debate over Tacitus’ using the title “Christus,” consensus holds that this is a legitimate reference to the historical Jesus. Historians David Shotter, Craig Evans, and Marta Sordi argue that this an authentic reference. Tacitus also writes about Pilate, the prefect that judged Jesus according to the New Testament. Importantly, here Jesus is mentioned in a hostile source within 85 years of his life.

Suetonius Mentions Jesus

Suetonius is a third historian to mention the historical Jesus. In his workLives of the Twelve Caesars” (121 CE) we read that the Jews were expelled from Rome for “constantly making disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus.”

In his Jewish Life and Thought among Greeks and Romans, scholar Louis Feldman states that most scholars conclude that this is a reference to Jesus that the disturbances mentioned were the result of the spread of Christianity in Rome. Robert Van Voorst, Professor of New Testament studies, states that there is “near-unanimous” agreement among scholars that the use of Chrestus refers to Christ. There is debate as to whether Suetonius is providing us with independent attestation to Jesus or if he is merely relaying tradition that he inherited. Perhaps Suetonius’ value lies in the fact that his reference continues a chain of reference to a historical Jesus showing that no-one in ancient history doubted that Jesus existed.

Jesus is Mentioned by Serapion and Pliny

Serapion was a stoic philosopher from the Roman province of Syria who refers to Jesus in a letter written somewhere between 73 and 200 CE. According to Van Voorst most scholars date the letter shortly after 73 CE although others propose a later date. The letter reads as follows (emphasis added in bold):

“What advantage did the Athenians gain from murdering Socrates? Famine and plague came upon them as a punishment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea and the Jews, desolate and driven from their own kingdom, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates is not dead, because of Plato; neither is Pythagoras, because of the statue of Juno; nor is the wise king, because of the “new law” he laid down.”

Van Voorst has little doubt that the reference to the execution of the “king of the Jews” is about the death of Jesus. Bruce Chilton, scholar of early Christianity and Judaism, states that Serapion’s reference to the “king of Jews” may be related to the inscription on the cross of Jesus’ crucifixion, as recorded in the Gospel of Mark (15:26). Serapion also mentions the “new law” of which might refer to Jesus’ resurrection after his crucifixion.

We also have a letter written by the governor Pliny the Younger of Bithynia-Pontus (Turkey). Writing around 112 CE, Pliny writes to Emperor Trajan asking for advice on dealing with Christians. At this stage Christianity had spread within the Empire and it was becoming a challenge to the imperial cult to the emperor. Pliny writes (emphasis added in bold):

“They affirmed, however, that the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verse a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft, adultery, never to falsify their word, not to deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up.”

The genuineness of the passage is not in doubt. Van Voorst notes how the “style matches that of the other letters” in the same book and that the letters “were known already by the time of Tertullian (196-212 AD).” There is also the detail that by Pliny that Christians died for their faith,

“If they confessed it I repeated the question a second and a third time, adding the threat of capital punishment. If they still persevered, I ordered them to be led off to execution. For whatever the nature of their belief might be, I could at least feel no doubt that stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy deserved punishment”

According to Pliny, if the Christians he interrogated refused to reject Jesus and give their respect and devotion to the emperor they would be sent off for execution. This weighs in favour of the historical Jesus because it seems unlikely that the Christians would so willing die for a Jesus who had not existed. Neither Pliny nor Serapion doubted that a historical Jesus existed. In fact, they thought it to have been the case.

Clement of Rome Writes About Jesus

Clement of Rome was martyred in 98 CE for his belief in Jesus and willingness to share his belief. As a first century writer, Clement is an early source. He also confirms the ministry of the disciples and some of the basics of early Christianity::

“The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was sent forth from God. So then Christ is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ. Both therefore came of the will of God in the appointed order. Having therefore received a charge, and being fully assured through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and confirmed in the word of God will full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth with the glad tidings that the kingdom of God should come. So preaching everywhere in country and town, they appointed their first fruits, when they had proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons unto them that should believe.” (Corinthians 42)

Clement clearly attests to the historical Jesus. It matters little here if we agree with Clement that Jesus is the Lord who was sent by God, as the Christians believed. Clement is also important because Tertullian (160-240 CE) and Jerome (347-420 CE) record that Clement was personally ordained by the disciple Peter. He was a disciple of Peter, who was a disciple of Jesus. Clement was also martyred for his belief in Jesus which makes it unlikely that he would have done so for an imaginary character.

Ignatius of Antioch About Jesus

Ignatius was a Bishop of Antioch reported to have been appointed to his position by Peter of whom he was a disciple. He is also believed to be a disciple of Paul and John, and was later arrested by the Romans and executed around 100 AD. Ignatius, like Clement of Rome, writes extensively on the historical Jesus in Trallians, Smyrneans 1, and Magnesians xi.

What is also significant is that Theodoret states that Ignatius was personally appointed to the Antioch by Peter (like Clement, this implies a personal relationship with 
an original Disciple, making 1st hand testimony available to him). We are also aware that John Chrysostom emphasizes the honor bestowed upon Ignatius as he personally received his dedication from the Apostles. Even though his testimony would ultimately lead to his death, Ignatius was adamant about the things he witnessed. He reinforces early Christian beliefs in the letters he wrote while in prison. Ignatius refused to recant his faith in the face of death. Hardly something someone would do for an imaginary character of history.

22. Hypothetical Q.

General consensus is that the gospels consulted other hypothetical non-existent (or no longer existing) sources. For example, Matthew and Luke both consult the Gospel of Mark, but via textual criticism we can see that Matthew and Luke also consulted another source alongside Mark, but of which does not exist anymore. This is what is known as hypothetical Q. It is believed to have consisted of sayings found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Q gets us closer to the initial events of Jesus’ life, and scholars even date this earlier than the Gospel of Mark. Some scholars seem to date the document in the 40’s whilst others date it in the 50’s, yet still others argue that it could be dated within the 30’s based off the Q containing six wisdom speeches. Luke (whom we believe consulted Q) writes that “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us.” (Luke 1:1–4) It is possible that Q source was one of these documents.

23. Luke’s Unique Material, L.

Scholars suggest that the author of the Gospel of Luke seemed to have consulted another additional source: L, generally known as Luke’s unique material. The reason for this is that a lot of stories are found only in Luke, and not any of the other gospels – for example, the stories of the prodigal son, and the good Samaritan are only found in Luke. It is also thought that the L source may have included oral traditions and/or written documents on Jesus. L is therefore material neither found in Mark or Q, both of which Luke used.

24. Matthew’s Unique Material, M.

Just it is the case with Luke, it is held that the author Matthew also consulted additional material known as M. The data that Matthew consults in M is neither found in Q or Mark, and although some are critical of this source, most scholars hold to it. Also like L, M is also thought to contain oral traditions, or written documents about Jesus, or a combination of oral and written traditions.

25. Pre-Markan Passion.

This is a tradition that our earliest gospel, Mark, had used in order to compose his story of the Passion Narrative. This source is widely accepted by scholars today, but what seems to be in dispute is exactly what its contents said. As the exegete and philosopher William Lane Craig articulates in an interview:

“Most scholars today agree with this (that Mark had a source he used). Any reconstruction of this source is controversial, and not widely accepted. That is to say, did verse 5 of chapter 15 belong to the pre-Markan passion source? Did verses 8 to 9 of chapter 14 belong to the passion source?”

So, although the contents of the pre-Markan passion source may be debated, the actual existence of this source is readily accepted. As Craig goes on to say, “That Mark was using and relied upon a pre-Markan passion story is one that is widely accepted by most scholars today, and because it goes back so early it is probably based upon eyewitness testimony.”

26. The Pre-John Source.

John, as mentioned earlier, is undoubtedly independent of all our three synoptic gospels in the the author’s description of events, Jesus’ words and so forth. It is also held that John also used additional sources in composing his account, as Bart Ehrman explains: “But scholars have long suspected that John had at his disposal an earlier written account of Jesus’ miracles (the so-called Signs Source), at least two accounts of Jesus’s long speeches (the Discourse Sources), and possibly another passion source as well.”



  1. As Craig goes on to say, “That Mark was using and relied upon a pre-Markan passion story is one that is widely accepted by most scholars today, and because it goes back so early it is probably based upon eyewitness testimony.”

    That scholars in the field accept that this pre-Markan passion material was used by the Gospel author of Mark, and that it may even, as Craig notes, be based on “eyewitness testimony” speaks volumes on the existence of Jesus.

    Firstly this is hearsay unless you can provide a list?

    ”My dad , who is a Manchester United supporter, says most people in his street are United supporters.”

    Oh, well…. in that case it must be true, right?

    And as you have only quoted one source – Craig, and not even backed this claim your credibility just went down the crapper – again

  2. Arkenaten, I don’t want to insult you by assuming your comment is intended as serious. But for the sake of other readers who may not be familiar with William Lane Craig’s work or recognise an ad hominem attack…

    Bishop is quoting Craig as an authority. Craig holds a Masters degree in Church History and did post-doctoral research in the historical argument for the resurrection of Christ. He holds positions at two universities. He knows what he’s talking about. His credentials and ongoing research make him a legitimate authority to quote in a post like this.

    In any case, Bishop quotes scholars extensively throughout his post. Even if Craig was a nobody, Bishop’s credibility is quite safe.

    I’m sure your dad is a fine man, but your analogy is false, your ad hominem attack against Bishop is disingenuous and your reasoning is faulty.

    • Not even sure what Arkenaten is really saying. When the name William Lane Craig is mentioned, atheists get all upset. There is nothing wrong with this post. In fact, it is fully supported by facts from history. One would have to refute the historical documents to refute much of this post. The atheists though do not have a criteria by which they can judge the historical proofs so they just whisk them away without a moments thought as if that is what make it false. And yes, Arkenaten’s analogy does not apply to this post. He also said; “And as you have only quoted one source…” I am not sure what post he read, but it is full of sources. The problem is, folks like Arkenaten do not read this resources that can be found on the net.

  3. Could someone post the sources to these claims. It would really help out. Even if I had to buy full length books. At this point you are seriously just claiming things. (If they are already on here and I’m blind, I’m sorry would someone be willing to “point” them out for me?)

  4. A spelling error on the fourth word, in the very first sentence… tells you everything you need to know. *facepalm*

  5. Even if we accepted all 41 (which I dont), they only indicate the existence of a HISTORICAL Jesus – not a BIBLICAL Jesus.

    Even if a historical Jesus existed, so what ? Other people viewed as a prophet were :
    Heavensgate : Marshall Applewhite, Bonnie Nettles
    Jonestown : Jim Jones
    Solar Temple : Joseph De Mambro, Luc Jouret
    Aum Shinrikyo : Shoko Asahara
    Moonies : Sun Myung Moon
    Branch Davidian : David Koresh
    MRTC Uganda : Credonia Mwerinde, Joseph Kibweteere
    Manson Family : Charles Manson

    As I say – so what ?

    • Denis,

      What’s worse is that these 41 points asserted by Bishop have little or no merit, as Richard Carrier pointed out in his assessment of Bishop’s list. The major problem is that all of the supposed extra-biblical sources that support historicity are either demonstrably Christian forgeries, interpolations, or can’t be shown to be independent of the Gospels (i.e. that they didn’t use the Gospels as direct or indirect sources for their claims). As for the supposed Biblical sources claimed to support historicity (i.e. the Gospels) they have all been shown to be hyperbolized redactions of (and thus not independent of) The Gospel According to Mark, which was itself a demonstrable work of allegorical myth and fiction. The irony is that Christians could still maintain a belief in the celestial Jesus (archangel) that was likely believed and mentioned by Paul in his epistles, but they’re hell bent on believing in a historical Jesus instead, despite the greater likelihood that the religion itself began with beliefs in a celestial (non-historical) Jesus. Christians would do far better if they just accepted the evidence that Jesus wasn’t likely historical and went back to the (likely) original Christian belief in the celestial Jesus. Unfortunately, because they’ve likely been tricked by the historical erasure of those original beliefs, they’re stuck trying to defend the position of those that likely erased said beliefs. Not only to defend the likely euhemerized myth (unbeknownst to them), but to also reject or deny the likely original belief. As a former Christian, I can’t help but marvel over the irony of what’s likely happened here over the last two thousand years, given the artificial selection of preserved texts by the Christian sect that won the battle over the others (including, likely the “original”/Pauline sect), and thus destroyed almost all the texts of the other sects. Had there been just a few more texts destroyed by those “proto-orthodox” Christians, the truth would have been entirely lost in the past. Based on what survived, it isn’t likely that Jesus existed historically, and I can only hope that more scholars begin to take this debate more seriously and actually address the evidence and arguments, rather than merely reassert the fallaciously-based consensus, etc. I know that many scholars and professors risk losing a lot of funding (or their careers), if it becomes widely accepted that Jesus’ historicity is unlikely, which is one reason why there is so much intellectual dishonesty within this debate (even by secular scholars that aren’t employing faith-based apologetic rationalizations).

  6. Jesus existence is one of the most attested facts in ancient history.

    The ridiculous thing is the double standard of a minority. People who don’t doubt about the existence of Alexander the Great (the first texts about him are 400 years after his death) and then deny the existence of Jesus (whose earliest traditions are about a decade after his death and the first texts about 20 years after his death).

    If they applied their extreme skepticism to history, we would have to do away with most of ancient history. But it is selective skepticism, which shows an extreme bias and subjectivity. Their delusion is strong.

    That’s why they are and they will remain a minority. Most atheist scholars, like most Christian scholars, accept the historical existence of Jesus, whatever their view about his divinity.

    About Richard Carrier, I remember him making a fool of himself in a debate with William Lane Craig. As a Christian, I prefer Internet McAtheists to follow this clown with his pipe-dream theories instead of other atheists that are more sound and, hence, more difficult to fight.

    • The Jesus Story is actually an allegory for what would naturally be the oldest and most important story humans would notice and write down, that of the annual passage of the seasons of the year. The position of the Sun against the celestial sphere changes during the year.

      • Hey Boris, sounds a bit like a perfect explanation for the magical morphing theory known as evolution. Darwin’s story makes for some interesting cartoons. I was actually hoping to see Looney Tunes put out there version of Darwin’s theory but that wouldn’t be politically correct because the angry atheists would be offended by the truth. “The Jesus Story,” as one said, the delusion is great.

        • Why don’t you take that complaint to any Christian college or university of your choice. Then ask the people at the science department why they teach evolution and why they don’t teach Intelligent Design magic or Creation Magic. Evolutionary Theory is best established and longest standing scientific theory there is. Whining about is all you can do. Hilarious.

        • I predict I won’t see another word out of you Mr. Big Mouth. You have nothing to say and no way to respond because you know I’ll just bring the hammer down on you again. Chicken.. buk buk buk buk Hahahah

        • Richard J. Woerner has a very big mouth but when push comes to shove he folds. Are you real a little girl?

      • That’s ridiculous. Craig ignores the objections to his claims and then repeats them over and over and over and over again as if no objections had ever been raised. His bad debating ethics reflect on his personal ethics and morals. That is especially true when he tries to make excuses for the atrocities the Bible says his imaginary God committed. That is truly sickening to anyone who doesn;t get their morals from backward, superstitious, animal sacrificing primitives. Carrier just proved that Christians have no evidence that Jesus ever existed. Muhammad never existed either. Neither did Moses or Buddha. So don’t feel so bad. All religions are hoaxes with imaginary founders.

      • Sean Carroll gave William Craig the most thorough ass kicking any person has ever received in a debate. Marble mouth Craig looked like the liar and fool he really is.

    • Attested to by who exactly? Don’t try to hurrumph your way out of this. GOTCHA. Tell me everything you can about Jesus and the disciples using only sources independent of the Bible and witten within one or two decades of his supposed death. Oh no such sources exist? That would be one GIGANTIC FAIL for you my friend. Why do you people even bother to say things we all know very well you cannot back up? Why? Is it really worth it to say things that are not true to protect your superstition? Just be honest admit you don’t have any evidence for any of the things OTHER PEOPLE frightened you into believing.

    • No. Actually it is the least attested to fact outside of church “history”. You will not find a single piece of evidence in any contemporary, historical sources outside of the religion. Zero. Christianity doesn’t appear on anyone’s radar until the 2nd century in any credible sources. And no, Josephus and Tacitus are not considered authentic sources.

  7. The Christian religion is a parody on the worship of the Sun,
    in which they put a man whom they call Christ, in the place of the Sun,
    and pay him the same adoration which was originally paid to the Sun.
    -Thomas Paine

  8. […] “These views are so extreme (that Jesus did not exist) and so unconvincing to 99.99 percent of the real experts that anyone holding them is as likely to get a teaching job in an established department of religion as a six-day creationist is likely to land on in a bona fide department of biology,” he wrote, in response to Historical Jesus Research. […]

  9. Also, Mara Serapion wrote in the seventh century…600 years after Christs death…So, its not exactly a witness, is he? I am so tired of being told that the reason that Jesus’ existence is a fact is because everyone says it is a fact…and three unreliable things written hundreds of years after Jesus’ death…oh, and the Gospels..which are also written after His death. Give me a break.

  10. I’d gladly debate you on the ‘facts’ you present here. There is absolutely no proof of Jesus’ existence, nor do all Biblical scholars think he was real, nor do many atheists.

  11. I thought this would be an interesting article , but I fell at the very 1st paragraph ” yet they affirmed Jesus’ existence by trying to accuse the disciples of stealing Jesus’ body from the tomb (Matthew 28:13, ) ”

    Matthew 28:13 is part of the Christian Gospels – it is what Christians say what the Jews said , not what the Jews actually Said 😦

    When we look what the Jews say about Jesus all references come via Christianity – that is to say the Jews were told about Jesus from Christians. The Jews themselves appear to be unaware of the existence of Jesus. I can’t find any Jewish historian, scholar, Rabbi or High Priest mentioning Jesus until AFTER they were told about him from Christians.

  12. // Cornelius Tacitus, writing in the early 2nd century, in his work Annals also refers to Jesus’ crucifixion. Eddy and Boyd state that it is now “firmly established” that Tacitus provides a non-Christian confirmation of the crucifixion of Jesus. //

    Tacitus tells us that Christianity is ” a most mischievous superstition ” – Tacitus tells us that it is a myth , a bunch of lies .

    • How come this passage in Tactitus never showed up until the 15th Century and in the hands of the fabrication factory known as the Christian Church. The Church forged the entire New Testament and we’re supposed to believe they didn’t forge this in Tacitus as well. I should not have to point out that Crestus is a title many held but the name Jesus is never mentioned in the Tactus forgery. The desperation of your position is really obvious there liar.

      • Bingo. There is so much easily debunked nonsense in this blog post that it’s mind numbing. The rise of early Christianity? It was not even noticed until the very late 1st century. The gospels don’t show until the 2nd century in recognizable form.
        Josephus? Lol. Another Christian forgery that was never mentioned until the 4th century.

        • In college I had a course called, “The Emergent Church in Antiquity.” The early Church fathers are literary inventions as are the apostles and Jesus. You have to remember that Christians were competing with other death cults for paying members and young boys to molest.

  13. After reading the article and examining all the facts presented by the non-believers as well as believers. I have to say that I see a lot of duplicity coming from one group of individuals. For, Example This article is to support the fact that Jesus did exist and it does just that. However, after reading and studying” without bias” i find that the information that is given is correct. I notice that whenever there is some truth that supports Christianity “non-belivers “will quickly try to debunk the”truth” with old unreliable information that has been debunked. For instance,in the comment section some one stated that and I quote”

    Comment: “There is absolutely no proof of Jesus’ existence, nor do all Biblical scholars think he was real, nor do many atheists.”
    * Mister Bart Ehrman is the best textual critic and he is agnostic and he does not fight the historical Jesus battles because it is a lost cause and I would love to debate with you on that because the information is at an all time high. Also , the author of this article never said all scholars believe historical Jesus existed he said most of the knowledgeable, respectable expertise in the field do and that is a factual statement.

    Comment: Actually it is the least attested to fact outside of church “history”. You will not find a single piece of evidence in any contemporary, historical sources outside of the religion. Zero. Christianity doesn’t appear on anyone’s radar until the 2nd century in any credible sources. And no, Josephus and Tacitus are not considered authentic sources.
    * however this article has given you pleny evidence and in that case the religion was started in the 1st century and even in in that century you had roman historians accounting for it.FACT!

    I became a Christian because i realized that most people will deny the truth because the truth isn’t in them. Lets be honest, their is more evidence for a historical Jesus then there is for a historical Aristotle, Mohammed, and are even alexander the great.

    • That is just a lot of hot air. If there’s evidence that Jesus Christ or any of the apostles ever existed present it right here so we can debunk it and laugh at you. How come none of the apostles are mentioned by any historians either? Where’s evidence of Peter bringing new doctrine to Rome or Paul preaching from Mars Hill in the Athens Chronicles? The disciples were told to go and make themselves known to the world. If these people actually existed then that is the biggest fail in all of history. But alas they didn’t exist and so the biggest fail ion history is the attempt to cram your mythical Jesus into history. It hasn’t worked, it isn;t working and it’s NEVER going to work. You became a Christian because someone scared you into it with threats of eternal damnation. That is the ONLY reason anyone EVER becomes a Christian. You are no different.

      • I think most of the hot air is coming from from you ..

        If these people actually existed then that is the biggest fail in history ???

        MY RESPONSE :
        This comment makes no sense whatsoever


        But alas they don’t exist

        MY RESPONSE :
        retreating into your first premise is circlular , and doesn’t constitute an argument


        That is the ONLY reason anyone EVER becomes a Christian.

        MY RESPONSE :
        This is just gibberish .. As if this is the only reason anyone became christian .
        It wasn’t mine
        These nonsensical soundbites have no meaning . they are merely rants without substance

  14. Ask a conservative Christian apologist why we should believe that Jesus was a real historical figure and not the figment of someone’s imagination, a legend, and here is the likely response you will get: The majority of scholars (experts) believe that Jesus was a real historical person therefore everyone should accept the experts’ position.

    However, ask the same conservative Christian apologist if he (or she) accepts the majority opinion of modern New Testament scholars—that neither eyewitnesses nor the associates of eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels*—and the likely response you will receive is this: The majority of New Testament scholars are biased.

    Come on conservative Christians, let’s be consistent!

    *Even very conservative, evangelical, New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham in his book, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, admits that this is the current majority position among New Testament scholars.

  15. […] There is numerous historical evidence for Jesus and Christianity that are readily available on the Internet, should one wish to actively seek them, but in this particular post I shall be providing links from Bishop’s Encyclopedia of Religion, Society and Philosophy, who is known for his thoroughness. While James Bishop indicates that, generally speaking, he is agnostic about many things that others take for granted, his agnostic perspective does not stop him from denying historical evidence. While I have not read, nor necessarily recommend, all of Bishop’s posts, the following posts from James Bishop website are recommended:https://jamesbishopblog.com/2015/01/08/36-reasons-why-scholars-know-jesus-really-existed/https://jamesbishopblog.com/2015/06/29/jesus-really-did-appear-to-the-disciples-and-skeptics-after-his-death-40-quotes-by-scholars/https://jamesbishopblog.com/2015/01/19/23-reasons-why-scholars-know-jesus-is-not-a-copy-of-pagan-religions/https://jamesbishopblog.com/2019/04/29/obvious-bias-against-jesus-in-historical-biblical-criticism/https://jamesbishopblog.com/2018/01/22/leading-scholar-skeptic-bart-ehrman-concedes-that-the-synoptic-gospels-present-a-divine-jesus/https://jamesbishopblog.com/2019/04/16/jesus-fact-3-8-reasons-for-the-empty-tomb/https://jamesbishopblog.com/2015/11/29/jesus-fact-6-resurrection-appearances-to-james-peter-paul-disciples/https://jamesbishopblog.com/2015/11/25/jesus-fact-5-jesus-burial-by-joseph-of-arimathea/https://jamesbishopblog.com/2015/11/24/jesus-fact-4-crucifixion-full-historical-investigation/https://jamesbishopblog.com/2020/03/28/gnosticism-the-gnostic-texts-gospels-and-the-historical-jesus-what-do-we-know/https://jamesbishopblog.com/2019/04/26/introduction-to-our-independent-sources-for-jesus-life-and-why-they-are-important/https://jamesbishopblog.com/2021/05/25/the-historical-jesus-in-paul-what-does-paul-tell-us/Worthy is the Lamb! Blessings! […]

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