You may be surprised to hear that some people think Jesus never existed. They believe Jesus is a mere myth with no historical evidence to back him up. Here’s the problem. First, the claim that we have no documentation for Jesus’ existence outside the Bible is just plain false. Authors like Tacitus, Josephus, Lucian, and others all make reference to Jesus—a historical person.
Second, even if we didn’t have any extra-biblical evidence, so what? We still have reliable historical documentation from early witnesses collected together in the book we now call the Bible. Only a blind-eyed bias against the Bible would dismiss this early evidence for Jesus.
Though popular on the internet, the idea that Jesus never existed completely ignores the facts. In the introduction of Bart Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist? he says, “I am not a Christian, and I have no interest in promoting a Christian cause or a Christian agenda. I am an agnostic with atheist leanings.... But as a historian I think evidence matters. And the past matters. And for anyone to whom both evidence and the past matter, a dispassionate consideration of the case makes it quite plain: Jesus did exist.”
If you close your eyes to the evidence, then you won’t be able to see it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Maybe you just need to open your eyes. This is Red Pen Logic with Mr. B where we help you assess bad thinking by using good thinking. Plus, we try to have some fun in the process.
In today’s tweet, Eater makes the incredible claim that there is “no documentation for Jesus’ existence except for the Bible...just sayin.” The implicit assumption is that if the Bible is the only historical documentation we have for Jesus existing, then we don’t have good reason to believe he actually existed. What color pen should we use today? Just kidding.
You may be surprised to hear that there are some people who think Jesus never existed. They believe Jesus is a mere myth with no historical evidence to back him up. This, my friends, is simply false. And it’s not only false, it’s foolish. At least that’s the word that world-class Bible scholar and agnostic skeptic Bart Ehrman uses to describe what he calls “Jesus mythicists.”
So why don’t you take it from here, Bart?
“I think that atheists have done themselves a disservice by jumping on the bandwagon of mythicism because, frankly, it makes you look foolish to the outside world. If that’s what you’re going to believe, you just look foolish.”
But Bart, is there any historical evidence for Jesus’ existence?
“I mean, okay yeah, I mean I have a whole book on it.”
So there’s a little bit of evidence.
“There is a lot of evidence. I mean, there is so much evidence.”
Like how much evidence?
“It is not—I mean, I know in the crowds you all run around with, it’s commonly thought that Jesus did not exist. Let me tell you, once you get outside of your conclave, there’s nobody who—I mean, this is not even an issue for scholars of antiquity.”
But surely, there must be some scholars of antiquity who doubt Jesus’ existence.
“There is no scholar in any college or university in the Western world who teaches classics, ancient history, New Testament, early Christianity, any related field, who doubts that Jesus existed.”
But Bart, what are the reasons that scholars give for Jesus’ existence?
“The reason for thinking Jesus exists is because he is abundantly attested in early sources. That’s why.”
So here’s the question: Why don’t these scholars doubt the existence of Jesus like so many skeptics do? Because of evidence like the records of second century Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus, who is one of the best historians of antiquity. In his last major work titled Annals, Tacitus records how Nero, concerned about rumors that he secretly burned Rome, shifted the blame to Christians: “Therefore, to put down the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits and punished in the most unusual ways those hated for their shameful acts...whom the crowd called Chrestians. The founder of its name, Christ, had been executed in the reign of Tiberius by one of the procurators Pontius Pilate.”
Or consider the evidence of first century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. He mentions Jesus twice in his Jewish Antiquities—once in book 18 and once in book 20, where he describes the killing of James, the leader of the Jerusalem church, whom Josephus calls the brother of Jesus who is the Messiah.
Then there’s the evidence from the second century Greek satirist Lucian of Samosata. Though he doesn’t specifically name Jesus, he clearly refers to Jesus with contempt as a crucified sophist whom the Christians worshiped as a god.
So, it’s simply not true that there’s no historical documentation of Jesus’ existence outside the Bible. There’s lots of it coming from nearly 20 secular sources.
But there’s another problem with this tweet. What about the historical evidence inside the Bible? Eater assumes that the biblical evidence doesn’t count as actual evidence. Since the biblical documentation for Jesus must be biased (the argument goes) it cannot be a reliable source of historical information. In other words, if we want real evidence, then we have to look elsewhere. Well, we did look elsewhere, and we came up with some pretty cool stuff.
But why not count the Bible as real evidence? Here’s why you should. The Bible isn’t just an individual book that can be dismissed, because it’s not just an individual book. It’s a bunch of books. It’s a library. What we call the Bible is actually a collection of individual historical documents that ancient historians do not just dismiss because they’re under one cover.
Sure, they may not believe everything they read in the Bible because of their own bias. I get it. But that doesn’t mean they write the whole thing off. The reality is, within the biblical text, we have reliable historical evidence for Jesus just like Bible scholar and agnostic Bart Ehrman said.
In fact, speaking of the apostle Paul, Bart says, “One author that we know about knew Jesus’ brother and knew Jesus’ closest disciple, Peter. He’s an eyewitness to both Jesus’ closest disciple and his brother.” There you have it.
So, what have we learned? First, the claim that we have no historical documentation for Jesus’ existence outside the Bible is just plain false. Authors like Tacitus, Josephus, and Lucian, and many others all make reference to a historical Jesus. Second, even if we didn’t have any extra-biblical evidence, so what? We still have reliable historical documentation from early witnesses collected together in a book that we now call the Bible. Only a blind-eyed bias against the Bible would dismiss this early evidence for Jesus. Though popular on the internet, the idea that Jesus never existed completely ignores the facts.
In the introduction to Bart Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist? he says, “I am not a Christian, and I have no interest in promoting a Christian cause with a Christian agenda. I am an agnostic with atheist leanings.... But as a historian I think evidence matters. And the past matters. And for anyone to whom both evidence and the past matter, a dispassionate consideration of the case makes it quite plain Jesus did exist.”
Those who care about evidence follow the facts rather than dismiss them. The evidence is right there before their eyes if they just open them up and look. Class dismissed.