Robert Van Voorst gives 7 reasons why historians are confident Jesus lived:
- The Apostle Paul did not say a lot about Jesus (an argument sometimes used by sceptics), but Paul did know about Jesus, but was unlikely to write a lot of historical detail in letters. This is an argument from silence and therefore invalid without real evidence.
- The gospels are too early for invention (too many people would have remembered the real facts), and their accurate references to Palestinian geography would not have been possible if the stories were invented later.
- The development of the early christians’ understanding of Jesus which can be seen in the gospels (another argument sometimes used) is not sufficient to justify the belief that they were inventions.
- No early opponents of Christianity, whether pagan or Jew, ever denied that Jesus truly lived, or even questioned it.
- Scholars are generally agreed that references to Jesus in the Roman historian Tacitus (early second century) and the Jewish historian Josephus (late first century) are both genuine, though some parts of Josephus appear to be later additions.
- Most arguments that Jesus wasn’t a historical figure have come from people opposed to Christianity and thus not unbiased, whereas scholars of all viewpoints from atheists to Christians accept the historicity of Jesus.
- Proponents of the mythical Jesus view have not been able to offer any credible hypothesis that explains the stories of Jesus and the birth of Christianity.1
The case for historicity in the Pauline letters narrows down to Galatians 1:19 and 1 Corinthians 9:5. Who were these brothers? Were they siblings of a living Christ? Were they his spiritual brothers? Something else entirely? Everything else Paul mentions concerning Jesus relies on revelation. 1 Corinthians 1 could be cited as a source for historicity, but that chapter is consistent with the beliefs of any Christian; he says nothing about knowing that the crucifixion actually happened.
Addressing 2 and 3:
“I believe that conservative/evangelical/apologetical approaches to the historicity of the gospels (or lack of it) are severely hampered, if not altogether thrown off course, by an unexamined presupposition, namely that if a gospel narrative, with the exception of Jesus’ parables, were to be judged fictional, that would make it a hoax and a scam. Indeed, I once had a student who did not make an exception of the parables. When I ventured as a commonplace observation that Jesus was making up stories to get his point across, this lady, eyes flashing, informed me that I was calling Jesus a liar and would face his ire on the Day of Judgment! I do not mean to caricature the mainstream conservative position, but my anecdote does seem to me to put a finger on the unsuspected arbitrariness of the conservative position. Why should one insist that any narrative, even one about Jesus if not told by Jesus, must be historical, or else it is a lie?
“I argue in an essay of some length (“New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash” in Jacob Neusner, ed., The Midrashim: An Encyclopedia of Biblical Interpretation in Judaism, Brill, 2004) that virtually every single gospel narrative can be shown with real plausibility to have been rewritten, with no factual basis, from (in most cases) the Septuagint and (in a few cases) from Homer. Acts adds Euripides’ Bacchae and Josephus. Though I will shortly consider Glenn Miller’s arguments that the early gospel tradents and evangelists could not or would not have created fictive Jesus material, let me first register my vote that it seems like they did. I am reminded of a favorite hadith about the great evangelistic preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Once an admirer asked Spurgeon, a Baptist, if he believed in infant baptism. His reply: “Believe in it? Why, man, I’ve seen it!”
“I see a number of features in the gospel texts implying that their writers were not trying to write factual histories. Most obvious is the simple fact of their creative redaction of each other’s previous texts. No one can compare Matthew or Luke, much less John, with Mark and come away thinking that the evangelists did not feel utter freedom in retelling the story, rewriting the supposedly sacrosanct teaching of Jesus, the events of the Passion, etc. They wrote, rewrote, and edited in such a way as to suggest that they understood themselves to be amending sacred texts, not “falsifying historical records.” They were doing what the liberal revisers of the New RSV or the Revised English Bible or the Inclusive Language New Testament did when they added “and sisters” to Pauline salutations, changed male singulars to inclusive plurals, etc. They did not mean to tell naïve readers that the ancient writers actually wrote this. They were instead approaching an instrument of liturgy and instruction and trying to sharpen or update it. So were the evangelists. This is why Luke changed Mark’s thatched roof (implicit in Mark 2:4) to a titled roof (Luke 5:19), for the ease of his readers. This is why scribes added “and fasting” onto Mark 9:29. Sad experience showed that deaf-mute epileptics did not necessarily respond to the treatment of simple prayer after all, so the text had to be updated. They were interested in the text of a sacred book, not the question of exactly what Jesus had said one day.
“And the same would be true in the New Testament rewriting of the Old Testament narratives. They were not trying to fake or fabricate a spurious history of Jesus in order to deceive people. No, they were trying to create a Christian version of the Jewish Scripture. It would have Christian versions of familiar Bible stories. We simply do not face the alternative of “hoax or history,” which is a blatant example of the Bifurcation fallacy.”2
What early opponents of Christianity? The earliest source we have are the authentic Pauline scriptures. However, the story of Paul’s conversion is highly questionable and in many ways akin to the embellished Gospel accounts. I know I’m not mistaken in saying this, but I’m pretty sure these opponents weren’t alive during the supposed time of Christ or near that time . They didn’t have the grounds to accept or deny his existence.
I agree, but scholars also realize that both Josephus and Tacitus relay what the NT says. Thus, they are corroborative, but are they independent? That’s where the problem lies.
Talk about genetic fallacy and ad hominem! Yes, there are atheist and agnostic Jesus scholars who accept the historicity of Jesus, but they don’t agree with Christian Jesus scholars who accept the historicity of Christ. In other words, non-Christian Jesus scholars are not proponents of the Messiah theory.
That’s just a plain lie! Thomas Thompson, Earl Doherty, Robert M. Price and Richard Carrier have offered credible hypotheses that explain the stories of Jesus and the birth of Christianity. Mythicism makes a plausible case and I still don’t understand why historicists (even Ehrman!) say otherwise.
- “Was Jesus a Real Person?”. www.is-there-a-god.info. Is There a God, 1 August 2012. Web. 16 August 2012.
- Price, Robert. “Review of “Were the Gospel Miracles Invented by the New Testament Authors?”“. RMP. 2009. Web. 16 August 2012.