Did Jesus of Nazareth really exist as a human being? Was He created by believers in an attempt to support their cause and then added to history books based on thousands of years of hearsay? Is there any record of His life in other writings, not just the Bible? How can I know for sure that He is not myth or legend like King Arthur, Zeus, or the Titans?
The written evidence for the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth is extremely strong. There are over twenty-five thousand New Testament documents that authenticate the reality of Jesus Christ. There is more evidence supporting Jesus’ life than Shakespeare, Homer, or almost any other person who has ever lived.
Non-Christian, extrabiblical sources also support the authenticity of the life of Jesus. Prominent historians include Pliny, a Roman governor and historian; Tacitus, a Roman historian living during Jesus’ time; and Josephus, a Jewish historian who lived shortly after the time of Jesus. Expert historians, Christian or not, agree that Jesus was a man who lived and died in first-century Palestine. Almost all would agree that He was born near the time of Herod the Great’s death, spent His childhood in Nazareth, was baptized by John the Baptist, gathered a group of disciples, taught in the villages and towns, preached the “kingdom of God,” caused disturbances in the temple with His teaching, and was arrested, questioned, and executed by the order of Pontius Pilate.
Archaeological evidence exists supporting the context of Jesus’ life. In 1961, a limestone block was discovered that supported the existence of Pontius Pilate. Coins have been found that were designed and minted by Pontius Pilate in 29 to 31 AD while he was the governor of Judea. In 1990, the family tomb of Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest who was involved in Jesus’ trials and execution, was found. In 2012, archaeologists in Jerusalem discovered a bulla, a clay seal, that referenced the city of Bethlehem. Archaeologists are continually uncovering more artifacts, and I believe their findings will continue to support the historicity of Jesus. Volumes have been written with amazing examples of the archaeological support of New Testament people, places, and events. For further study in the area, I recommend The Popular Handbook of Archaeology and the Bible by Holden and Geisler.
Reason #2: The Character of Jesus Is Unquestioned
The second reason I believe in the resurrection of the Jesus in the New Testament is that the character of Jesus is unquestioned. At first blush, you may wonder why Jesus’ character is a part of my rationale for believing in the resurrection. On my personal journey I studied the lives and movements of other religious leaders. Many of them were filled with myth and legend and divine revelations that were given to “unusual men” because of their purity and spiritual enlightenment. Yet upon further scrutiny I found historical documentation of their personal lives and history that called into question their claims of being prophets or receiving a revelation from God. Sexual immorality, greed, execution of opponents, and the like caused me to pause deeply at any of their truth claims.
So while Jesus’ character does not prove His resurrection, I want you to see the significant connection of His one-of-a-kind life and the one-of-a-kind event—the resurrection. I personally find it far easier to believe that a man who claimed to be perfect (and was never challenged on the statement) rose from the dead than someone whose truth claims and stories of spiritual reality are at odds with his or her life practice.
While people challenged Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God, they did not doubt His nature. All over the world and throughout time, both friend and foe alike view Jesus as a great man and moral teacher. Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism all view Jesus positively. They do not recognize Him as the Son of God, but they see Him as a person of supreme moral character, love, and integrity. Even the New Age faith encourages a state of “Christ consciousness” and finding the “Christ within.” The ideals of being a person who is good, kind, and connected to God are something to strive for. Jesus’ pure actions and loving attitude toward people made it clear that He was different than anyone else.
During His lifetime, Jesus made a huge, outrageous claim—that He never sinned. Jesus says in John 8:46, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me?” Can you imagine going home or to work and calling everyone together to announce that you are sinless? “Hey, everybody, just want you to know that I am sinless—I have never sinned.” Now, if I announced that, my kids would have volumes to say along the lines of, “Dad, you are crazy. Remember when . . .” My coworkers would probably have similar things to say. But Jesus makes this claim and He is never challenged on it. All the crowds had to do was catch Him in sin one time and the entire integrity of His message and His person would be gone. The people did not call Him out as a sinner because there was nothing to accuse Him of.
Jesus’ supreme moral character, love, and integrity have been affirmed by the impact they have made on world history. He has influenced history, thinking, books, law, culture, values, and even time. We mark time with BC and AD, based on the birth and death of the one person who changed the world and said, “[I’ve] come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10 NASB). We know He was an actual, historical person who lived, and we know that He was good, kind, loving, and holy.
Reason #3: The Works of Jesus Went Unchallenged
Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding in Cana, healed the blind, the lepers, and the sick. He raised people from the dead, fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish, and performed many more miracles. The witnesses to His miracles and the religious establishment who felt threatened by Him never said, “You faked that miracle—you didn’t really do it.” The validity of the miracles was evident to all. While skeptics questioned the source of His power to perform miracles, it was undisputed that He did perform miracle after miracle.
In Matthew 12, Jesus heals a demon-possessed, blind, and deaf man. It was clear to everyone there that the man was healed. He was transformed—he could see and speak and was free of the demon. All the people who witnessed this miracle were astonished and asked each other if Jesus was the Messiah. “But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, ‘It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons’” (Matt. 12:24).
Over a three-year time period, Jesus performed miracles in small towns and in the populated areas of Jerusalem and Judea. The crowds swelled as word got around that Jesus healed people. The consistently growing crowds verified the authenticity of the miracles. In that day, you could meet the lady in Nain with her son, who once was dead but was brought back to life. You could go talk to the guy who was once paralyzed and see him walking around town. Or you could go talk to the leper who was once a social outcast because of his disease, now healed and part of the community.
With all of today’s amazing digital editing capabilities, we are used to seeing manipulated magazine covers and computer-generated special effects in movies. We have come to expect reality to be blurred or enhanced. The agonizing decision for many people is which filter to choose before posting their pictures on their social media account. My point is that, as a culture, we are used to seeing altered images. Jesus did not use filters, computer-generated images, or special effects. Jesus’ miracles were verifiable and the fact that the crowds kept growing supports the validity of His miracles.
Ingram, Chip. 2017. Why I Believe: Straight Answers to Honest Questions about God, the Bible, and Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.
We have just completed a 6-Week Bible Study Lesson Series on Chip Ingram’s book, Why I Believe. It is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription plan. The idea is to invite each participant to purchase their own book and discuss it each week.
Why I Believe, Lesson #1
Chapters 1, 2
Why I Believe in the Resurrection
Did Jesus Really Die?
Why I Believe, Lesson #2
Chapters 3, 4
Why I Believe the Bible
Don’t Take My Word for It
Why I Believe, Lesson #3
Why I Believe in Life After Death
Why I Believe, Lesson #4
Chapters 6, 7
Why I Believe in Life Creation
Science or God?
Why I Believe, Lesson #5
Why I Believe in the God of the Bible
Why I Believe, Lesson #6
How is that Working for You?