Reasons for the Bible: Jesus is an Historical Fact

by Kyle
published December 5, 2015


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Jesus of Nazareth was a real person who really lived at the beginning of the first century A.D.

History accepts this as a fact. The best-selling book of all time confirms his existence. So do semi-contemporary historians and writers like Josephus, Tacitus, Seutonius and Justin Martyr. Pliny the Younger confirmed that early Christians thought the same thing about Jesus as what many Christians (myself included) still believe about Jesus. Thallus, a historian who wrote within the first 20 years after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, even included corroborating details of the passion narrative before most of the gospels were finished. The Mishnah and the Quran acknowledge some of the basic details of Jesus’ life and what the earliest Christians believed about him.

Even outside the Bible, some of the most well-preserved and accurate ancient documents in all of human history confirm much or what the New Testament claims about Jesus.

Jesus’ existence in Palestine and subsequent death on a cross during the first third of the first century is irrefutable. Hannibal crossing the Alps, the Mayflower crossing the Atlantic or Washington crossing the Delaware all equal Jesus dying on a cross in historical legitimacy.

Volumes have been written about the legitimacy of the historical fact of Jesus. Among the books I’ve found most helpful on the subject are Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament by F.F. Bruce, Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell and The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.

The task set before the thinking person, then, is not a question of whether Jesus is real, but what the fact of Jesus’ reality means.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis offers three possibilities. Jesus was either exactly who he claimed to be (the messianic Son of God), crazy or lying. If he was crazy or lying, we have no moral obligation to believe his claims or follow his teaching. Not only do we not need to, but we shouldn’t. If he were crazy or lying, we cannot even call him a good teacher with a few good ideas, but even a crazy person could not offer the same kind of ethical brilliance Jesus did. The Sermon on the Mount alone offers ethical brilliance far out of the reach of anyone suffering from a mental disorder. If he were lying, he would be the greatest villain of all time and his followers are, as Paul put it, “of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).

Paul offers evidence that should inform our analysis of the facts. Jesus rose from the dead exactly as he claimed he would before his death. 1 Corinthians was written within the first 15 years after Jesus’ death, and Paul claims that more than 500 people saw Jesus alive in the flesh before he ascended to heaven. He added that at the time he wrote 1 Corinthians, most of those 500 people were still alive. Yet, there is no record in history of any eyewitness contradicting what Paul or any of the apostles claimed about Jesus. To this day, secular historians are utterly unable to provide any evidence to contradict the resurrection of Jesus other than, “I’ve never seen someone rise from the dead. It must not be possible.” The body of the most famous figure in history is missing and has been, even by pagan and Jewish accounts, since the third day after his burial. More than 500 people saw the same person walking, talking, eating and teaching them. They even touched him with their own hands.

If someone who lived like Jesus lived and taught like Jesus taught died and then rose again exactly how he claimed he would years before it happened, I would believe him. If a document as well-preserved and internally consistent as the New Testament offered details about his life, many of which were corroborated by outside sources, I would believe it. If those details fulfilled more than 300 prophecies recorded in another document — like the Old Testament — I would believe what that document had to say, too. Especially if the person who died and rose again also believed that document the same way Jesus believed the Old Testament.

The historical fact of Jesus and his death and long-missing body require that we either regard him as the God and Messiah he claimed to be or that we regard him as one of the worst people who ever lived. It seems there is no middle ground. Given the goodness of what he taught and the evidence for his resurrection, I accept the former.

What do you think?

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