Jesus Christ is not a philosophy, an ideal or a myth. Those who lived with him are adamant that he walked with them by their side, so much so that they were willing to die for this truth. Jesus Christ seismically shifted the history of our planet. He continues to do so.
But what is the historical evidence for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth?
The lives of most people who lived even a hundred years ago are totally lost to us, even with photography, a few certificates, and some dates and names in a census, we don’t know much about people's lives.
With Jesus, who lived over 2,000 year ago, we don’t even have these. What we do have are the stories written in the decades after his death by the communities that formed around the men and women who were his friends and companions during his life.
Therefore, the best evidence for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth is the New Testament itself. The four Gospels are an account of the life and ministry of Jesus. The Acts of the Apostles outlines the historical progress of the early Christians. The Letters of St Paul, who knew the apostles themselves, are the earliest of all writing about Jesus as Christ. The New Testament is the place to start your journey to Christ.
The Historical Figure of Jesus of Nazareth
Almost every historian agrees that Jesus existed as a real historical person. There is evidence not only the New Testament itself, but also in sources outside the Bible. The most compelling aspect of this evidence is that the authors of these texts were writing about other matters when they mention Jesus. It is clear form these texts that a real historical person who was executed by the romans in 1st century Palestine.
For example, Josephus, a Jewish historian, was criticising the actions of a high priest who had “the brother of Jesus, who is called Messiah, James by name and some others,” put to death. He was actually pointing out the cruelty of the priest, rather than the presence of the Messiah.
The Roman historian Tacitus was writing about Nero and the early Christians when he wrote: “Their name comes from Christ, who during the reign of Tiberius had been executed by the procurator Pontius Pilate.” The fact that he uses the word Christ is significant, as it means ‘anointed one’, as does Messiah. The Christians he speaks of were being tortured and used as scapegoats by Nero. Still they wouldn’t deny their faith in order to avoid persecution.
A letter written by Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia and Pontus, describes how he made Christians “curse Christ, which a genuine Christian cannot be induced to do.” He was asking for advice as to how to deal with these Christians.
The Synoptic Gospels
Matthew, Mark and Luke, the Synoptic Gospels, were written only 30 to 50 years after the Crucifixion. Each book was written separately using eyewitness testimonies and a hypothetical source that scholars call ‘Q’.
They were written by different people, but each present remarkably similar accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. Mark was penned first, and there is much to persuade scholars that Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source, as well as 'Q' and their own sources. Notwithstanding the differing agendas of the authors, and their intended audiences, the central message of Jesus is the same in each book. Taht is, the coming of the Kingdom of God and the way to Salvation.
Compared to other ancient texts, the Synoptic Gospels were written remarkably soon after the events they describe. Thanks to Biblical science and textual scholarship, there is plenty of evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ as an historical figure within the pages, not only in the actions of Jesus Christ and those around him, but also in his words, that have influenced billions of people in the 2,000 years since he walked amongst us.
For more information, please listen to the outstanding podcasts about the Mystery and Historicity of Jesus Christ below.