Was Jesus a Real Person?

The question sometimes gets asked whether Jesus was a real historical person. The vast majority of Bible scholars, even the most liberal of scholars, will grant that there really was a person named Jesus of Nazareth who lived and taught in and around Galilee and Jerusalem in the 1st century A.D. and who was crucified by Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor. And the reason why the vast majority of scholars are convinced of this is that the evidence for it is very, strong.

• We have the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, all of which tell the story of Jesus. The Synoptics are interesting in that they have important relationship to each other.

• Paul talks about Jesus as a historical figure. So we have all of these divergent voices in the New Testament itself telling us about Jesus as a historical person.

• We even have extra-biblical sources that mention Jesus as a historical person. For example, the Roman historian Tacitus who speaks of Jesus as a person who lived in Galilee and was crucified by Pontius Pilate and who had a large following that believed he was raised from the dead.

• We have Josephus, the Jewish historian, who lived in the first century and would have been a late contemporary of Jesus and his apostles, maybe a young man during that time anyway. And Josephus talks about this person called Jesus of Nazareth who preached that he was the Messiah who had a following that believed he was the Messiah, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and who his disciples believed had risen from the dead.

• So we have all of these divergent voices testifying to the fact that Jesus was a real historical person. And even beyond that, we can say that it’s impossible to explain the origin of Christianity as a movement if there really never was any such person as Jesus.

The basis of any historical inquiry is evidence — in this case, ancient evidence. We have canonical evidence. We have extra-canonical evidence. We have evidence from Josephus. We have evidence from other early Christian sources that are not in the New Testament. We have evidence from the Roman historian Tacitus. We have evidence from Suetonius, and other roman historians, so we have both biblical and extra biblical evidence that Jesus existed. In addition to that, we have epigraphic evidence; we have archeological evidence. For example, the James ossuary, the burial box of Jesus’ brother, James, mentions Jesus. So there is both evidence direct and indirect, both literary and archeological.

Categories: Theology

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