Updated April 3, 2003 - Did Jesus exist? Yes. Non-Bible sources confirm it, written by authors reliable on other subjects. They say that Jesus lived, had a lot of followers, and was killed by Pilate or Herod.
Consider Joseph ben Matthias, better known as Josephus the "Roman" historian. His history - "Jewish Antiquities" - was written around 93 AD. It is considered very reliable.
After describing the death of the Roman procurator Festus, and the appointment of Albinus to take his place in AD 62, Josephus mentions Jesus. Albinus is on his way to Palestine to take over his new position. Meanwhile, the Jewish high priest Ananus the Younger called the Jewish leaders together without the Roman procurator's okay - a huge no-no in those days of Roman rule. Ananus then has certain people he doesn't like put to death before Albinus can get there to veto his action. The passage says (Ant. 20.9.1 #167;200)
Being therefore this kind of person [a heartless Sadducee], Ananus - thinking he had a favorable opportunity because Festus had died and Albinus was still on his way - called a meeting [a 'sanhedrin'] of judges and brought into it the brother of Jesus-who-is-called-Messiah, James by name, and some others. He made the accusation that they had transgressed the law, and he handed them over to be stoned.
Now, Josephus probably only mentioned this because Ananus got himself thrown out of office. It's clear who this Jesus is, though. He was called the Messiah and had a brother who survived him named James (see Acts 12:17, 15:13). Tacitus, another Roman historian, also mentions Jesus but the point is made. Jesus really did exist, was called the Messiah, and stirred up lots of trouble even after he died.
You can't find an "historical Jesus." There is enough mention of Jesus outside the Bible to know that he really lived and to know a few things about him. However, there is not enough reliable non-Bible material about him to make a single page in a single book. When you hear someone say they are searching for the historical Jesus, they are about to make up a lot of stuff to put forward their own views on Jesus' life. Serious scholars on Jesus' life and times (such as Joachim Jeremias) agree: there just isn't enough historical information to know much about Jesus - except for the Bible.
The Bible drives liberals, scholars, historians, and even theologians a bit nuts. It's understandable. The gospels are not history books; they are narratives, with a powerful theological slant. This drives scholars over the edge - they want everything nice and neat and like life, the Bible's books are not easily stereotyped.
Matthew, Mark and Luke are called the "Synoptic" gospels because they are very much alike. The 4 gospels deliver God's message, not a blow-by-blow account of Jesus' life. Because Jesus is the man God uses to spread His message, the gospels are talk mainly about his life. However, God's message is the reason the Bible exists, not to give history lessons. It is not the sequence of events that's important except maybe in the Passion narrative. It's the message that matters.
Because these books were not written as history books, scholars should be able to poke them full of holes, but the gospels hold together like Krazy glue. So some scholars invented new ways to analyze the Bible's books. That's because standard study methods didn't give them the results they wanted. Thus they changed the rules just for the Bible.
Many "criticisms" of the gospels have not held up well. Form-criticism and redaction-criticism have been stretched too far. Some "scholars" say that if any man ever stated an idea before Jesus' lived, then Jesus didn't really talk about that idea. These scholars claim the early church writers stole those ideas from earlier sayings and just assigned the words to Jesus in the gospels to give them authority. Apparently, today's scholars know what went on 2000 years ago better than those who lived at the time.
I hear this one a lot, "What about all those contradictions in the New Testament?" Nice try. Do they agree with each another in all respects? Nope. That's genuine eyewitness testimony for you. Ask any cop. Still, as that cop will tell you, if you can get enough eyewitnesses to talk to you, you can paint a pretty accurate overall picture of what really happened.
The order of some events is different from gospel to gospel. Some events are in one and not in another. Consider: Isn't that exactly how they should read if they are eyewitness accounts gathered by different authors at different times from different people who all saw the same events? Think about it.
Unfortunately for scholars eager to break them down, the gospels hold together so well it's hard to believe they're 2000 years old. They have differences only in degree or timing rather than substance. They complement each other. Taken together, the gospels paint a pretty good picture of Jesus' words and deeds for a few consecutive years - and how people of his day viewed his words and deeds.
I concentrate on the New Testament - especially the gospels - because they get discussed the most, being so obviously about the Christ of Christianity. Also, most people don't really know much about the Old Testament. It holds up just as well, though.
Remember when discussing the Bible that it is a library, not a book. It is a collection of individual books that together express a theology as well as a great deal of history. However, the library is not made up of history books.
How about all those non-Biblical "gospels?" The "secret gospel of Mark" is not even a contender. The "gospels" of Peter, Phillip and Thomas have been proven to be less authentic than the books in the standard King James Bible. In fact, they rely on the Bible gospels for some of their content and were written at least decades after the Bible gospels.
How did the Bible get passed down through the ages? By scribes. Scribes were men whose life's work was the accurate copying of books and other writings. Scribes took many precautions that aren't well understood today. They did not just copy. They numbered the verses, words and letters of every book. They calculated the middle word and middle letter of each. They enumerated verses that contained every letter of the alphabet. They made notes in the margins of their copies to pass on information about passages or words they considered possible wanderings from the original. These scribes took intense precautions to guarantee the accuracy of their work.
People have been trying for thousands of years to discredit the Bible and haven't managed it yet. The Qumran scrolls (Dead Sea Scrolls) include at least one copy of all the books in the Bible's Old Testament except Esther. A complete copy of the Book of Isaiah was found at Qumran dated a thousand years earlier than any previously discovered copy. This Qumran Isaiah is 95% identical to the standard King James Isaiah. The differences are in spelling rather than content and there is no difference in doctrine. That kind of accuracy over a 1000-year period is unmatched in the world of literature - period. It shows the influence of God's Holy Spirit guiding the passing down of the Bible through the centuries.
Archeological findings, especially in the 20th century, prove the Bible's accuracy. Not a single archeological find contradicts any part of the Bible that I have heard. Come on, show me one. In and around Jerusalem alone, dozens of buildings, walls, wells, pools, roads, tunnels, courts and more have been unearthed and positively identified in exactly the places the Bible said they would be, exactly as the Bible described them. King Hezekiah's Tunnel and his broad wall are now tourist attractions. Jericho is now recognized by mainstream archeologists as the oldest discovered city on earth.
For those who cry, "Translation error!" remember that the New Testament was written in Greek and a great many people read Greek today. We would have heard about it if there were translation errors from Greek into English. Oh boy, would we have heard about it! The Interpreter's Bible and others like it allow you to see all possibilities for every translated word.
The New Testament is the most copied and discussed manuscript ever. Check one early saint's letter against another, one historian's letter against another, one ruler's letter against another, one manuscript against another, one commentary against another, and you will find no conflict about the New Testament. You will find disagreements about theology, but little argument about the content of the scriptures themselves. It is only in the current day that theologians think they can re-translate the New Testament to make it "better."
Here come the literary critics, who are sure they can look at a 2000 year old book and know more about it than the original authors! Let's look at some other ancient manuscripts:
Scholars accept these books as accurate copies of the authors' original work. Why then, is the New Testament's accuracy questioned? It was written more recently than the books listed above, so it is probably a more accurate copy of the original work.
When were the New Testament books written? If judged by the standards against which all other ancient books are judged, this wouldn't even be questioned. However, this is the Bible, so here we go again: The Book of Acts was authored before AD 70, and is usually now dated around AD 62. The author did not mention the destruction of the Jewish temple - the center of all Jewish life, worship, politics, courts, police, and culture. If written any later, he also would have mentioned the crushing of the huge AD 70 Jewish rebellion against Roman rule. AD 62 is only 30 years after Jesus was crucified. Some of Jesus' peers would still have been alive to give eyewitness testimony about him.
Critics used to claim the gospels were written hundreds of years after Jesus' death. Modern scholars have reluctantly admitted this is not true. However, many laypeople still believe it. Until 1994, a part of the Gospel of John was the oldest known New Testament manuscript. Bible critics dated it at AD 125. According to Peter van Minnen, a Duke University papyrus expert:
"For about 60 years now a tiny papyrus fragment of the Gospel of John has been the oldest manuscript of the New Testament. This manuscript (P52) has generally been dated to AD 125. This fact alone proved that the original Gospel of John was written earlier, in the first century AD as had always been upheld by conservative scholars."
In 1994, three papyrus fragments of Matthew's gospel were dated at about AD 60 by Dr. Carsten Peter Thiede. This shook the theological world. No kidding - see Time Magazine of January 23, 1995 or "Eyewitness to Jesus" by Carsten Peter Theide and Matthew D'Ancona. The Magdelene fragments blew away the theory that the Gospel of Matthew was written hundreds of years after Jesus' death. These manuscript fragments are real - they sit in Magdelene College, part of Oxford University in England - as I write this.
The AD 60 date means that the gospel of Matthew was not only written, but was also widely distributed by that date. The text matches the King James version of Matthew 26, showing that at least part of Matthew has been passed down accurately for 2000 years.
Discovering papyrus writings rather than writing on stone or ceramic is important because, in Peter van Minnen's words, "Papyri were not written for us but for the use of the ancients themselves." Matthew's book was not written for posterity or for scholars, but as a guide to daily living. That is precisely how we should view the New Testament today, as a guide to daily living in tune with God.
Jesus died around AD 33. Some of the people who knew Him personally would have been alive when Matthew's book was distributed. If they had seen lies or exaggerations in this book, they would have shouted it to the world. People love to show up other people as fools and liars; these eyewitnesses would have done so if the book were not true.
Yet no contradictory text from this period has been found. If Jesus is a "myth," how can this be? To me, this alone is a huge factor in favor of the gospels being true and accurate.
One immense fact stands out: Christianity, started by a single man named Jesus 2000 years ago in Israel, flourishes today. Details of theology are hotly argued, wars are fought over doctrine, and persecution of Christians is going strong this very day.
Starting from a single man, a religion swept the entire world, took over the Roman empire and continues to spread all over the world today. Thousands of men, women and children die for their love of Jesus' name today. No other religion has spread so far; no other religion has seen so much good and so much harm done in its name over thousands of years.
Most of the freedoms we enjoy in America today are based on Biblical principles preached by Jesus thousands of years ago. Jesus was the first Middle Easterner to treat women equally to men. America was founded on Christian principles - the Declaration of Independence says so straight out - thousands of years after Jesus was killed. Does a lie reach that far that long - across cultures and races of every flavor?
Those who teach that Jesus is a myth try to deny you fellowship with God. Jesus was described as "The Way" by early disciples because He is the only way to God. "Liberal" theologians brand the apostle John a liar, for John says he was an eyewitness to the events of Jesus' earthly life, as does Peter. They were there! The theologians were not.
James and Jude were Jesus' biological brothers, sons of Jesus' mother, Mary. Didn't they know their half-brother better than today's intellectuals? After all, they knew Jesus all His life, not just in the few years of ministry described in the gospels. Do theologians living 2000 years after the fact know what happened better than John, Peter, James and Jude, who were actually there? Paul states clearly,
I wrote this page as a letter to a local church which was using "Jesus as myth" for a topic at Sunday school. After writing the letter, I sat down at our dining room table to read the Bible, just starting where I left off earlier. The second epistle of John promptly slapped me in the face.
When a man is politically correct and says every man should view Christ however he pleases, I answer with John's words. John was speaking directly to people he knew and loved - to his friends - a local church.