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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Existence of Jesus Christ

Don Stewart :: How Do We Know That a Person Named Jesus of Nazareth Truly Existed?

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How Do We Know That a Person Named Jesus of Nazareth Truly Existed? Could He Be a Myth?

The Existence of Jesus Christ – Question 2

Did a person named Jesus of Nazareth exist? Could Jesus actually have been a mythical person? Perhaps the stories about Him were all made-up. What is the historical evidence that Jesus Christ truly existed?

Before we can answer questions about His identity, we must first establish the fact of His existence. This is not difficult to do, for both friend and foe alike testify that the man, Jesus, did indeed exist. The evidence is as follows.

We Have a Firsthand Source to His Existence: The New Testament

The only firsthand source that we have of the life and ministry of Jesus is found in the New Testament. The New Testament consists of twenty-seven separate documents that were written by people living in the first century who had personal contact with Jesus.

All of these writings testify to the existence of Jesus Christ. These New Testament witnesses can be divided as follows: the Four Gospels, the Book of Acts, the Letters of Paul, and the writings of other disciples.

1. The Testimony of the Four Gospels

The four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, each give an account of the life of Jesus. Matthew and John were two of Jesus’ twelve disciples. They wrote with firsthand knowledge of what Jesus said and did. Mark wrote about the life of Jesus from the viewpoint of Simon Peter, also one of the twelve.

In fact, Marks’ gospel maybe be a word-for-word taking down of what Peter said. Luke’s account was based upon the testimony of eyewitnesses.

The four gospels chronicle the ministry of Jesus in a historical setting. Luke, for example, provides the names of the rulers living at the time when John the Baptist, Jesus’ forerunner, appeared. He wrote,

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. (Luke 3:1, 2 NIV)

Note the fact that there are seven specific historical reference points in these two verses. Among other things, Luke tells us who the reigning Caesar was at the time of Jesus, who governed Judea, as well as the names of the current High Priest’s in Israel.

The detailed historical nature of his account is clear. The same holds true for the other gospels.

Therefore, we have four independent writings, each of them recording specific eyewitness testimony to the fact that Jesus did exist. This puts the existence of Jesus Christ beyond all reasonable doubt.

2. The Testimony of the Book of Acts

There is more evidence. The Book of Acts, written by Luke, records the birth and rise of the New Testament church. After Jesus came back from the dead, He gave His disciples instructions on how to proclaim His message to the world. The Book of Acts records the struggles of His disciples to do this task. Their experiences and preaching give further testimony to Jesus’ existence.

3. The Writings of the Apostle Paul

The letters of Paul make up a large part of the New Testament. Paul, formerly named Saul, was a devout Jew who hated Christians to the point that he put them in jail and consented to their execution.

Yet one day when he was on the road to Damascus to persecute Christians, the risen Jesus appeared to him. This resulted in Saul’s conversion to the Apostle Paul. The remainder of his life was spent spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul’s letters give convincing testimony to Jesus’ existence.

Paul is an important witness to Jesus since he corroborates what is taught in the four gospels. From Paul, we learn that Jesus was Jewish, a descendant of King David, and was the promised Messiah. The Apostle Paul also taught that Jesus’ horrible death of crucifixion was for the purpose of taking upon Himself the penalty for the sins of the world.

Paul, like the gospel writers, tells us that Jesus rose from the dead the third day. Paul relates that Jesus was seen alive by many people after His death including James, His own brother who previously had not believed in Jesus.

Paul also tells us that Jesus was worshipped as God by the first Christians. This is very important to note. The idea of the deity of Christ was not something that the later church invented as stories about Him began to circulate. From the very beginning, it was recognized that Jesus was a human being but that He was also more than a human being.

4. The Writings of Other Disciples

The remainder of the New Testament consists of letters by certain disciples of Jesus. We have two from Simon Peter (1 and 2 Peter), one from James, one from Jude, four from John (1, 2, 3 John and the Book of Revelation) and the anonymous letter to the Hebrews.

These writings contain instruction and encouragement to the believers in Jesus Christ. They give firsthand testimony to the fact of Jesus’ life and ministry and confirm the account of Jesus as found in the four gospels.

The Book of James is of particular interest because he is identified as the brother of Jesus. According to John’s gospel, James, as well as Jesus’ other brothers, did not believe in Him during His earthly ministry. James became a believer in Jesus sometime after Jesus’ crucifixion. Thus, his testimony is like that of Paul. It is that of an unbeliever who became a believer after Jesus’ resurrection.

Very Few Scholars Doubt Jesus’ Existence

While at one time it was fashionable to doubt the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, the situation has changed today. Few, if any, scholars would attempt to deny Jesus’ existence. There is too much reliable evidence from the New Testament, as well as from other sources, that show He was a genuine historical character.

Most unbelieving scholars will attempt to say that while Jesus existed we cannot really know that much about Him. However, as we will see, this is simply not true.

As we look into the evidence for Jesus’ existence, and the reliability of the records about Him, we find every reason to believe that we have accurate first-hand information about His life and ministry. This account is found in the New Testament.

Summary – Question 2
How Do We Know That a Person Named Jesus of Nazareth Truly Existed?

There is really no doubt that a man named Jesus of Nazareth existed. Both friend and foe testify to that fact. Indeed, we have twenty-seven different New Testament documents unanimously testify to Jesus existence.

First, we have the four gospels. They record the highlights of the life and ministry of Jesus. Two of the writers, Matthew and John, were eyewitnesses. Mark took down the words of another eyewitness, Simon Peter.

Luke’s gospel consisted of interviewing those who knew Jesus intimately. Given the fact of the numerous historical reference points we find in the gospels as well as specific details of Jesus’ ministry, the fact of His existence should not be an issue.

However, there is more. The Book of Acts chronicles the history of the early church as it started from Jerusalem and moved on to Rome. Acts begins with Jesus giving instruction to His followers. The sermons recorded in Acts continually testify to Jesus’ existence as well as His miraculous deeds.

A third source comes from the Apostle Paul. He was an unbeliever during Jesus’ earthly ministry. As a persecutor of believers Saul of Tarsus became a believer in Jesus as he met the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. He gives further corroboration that Jesus of Nazareth existed.

Finally, there are other New Testament writers, James, John, Peter, Jude and the anonymous writer to the Hebrews. Each of these independent sources provides additional testimony that Jesus truly lived.

Thus, it is difficult, if not impossible, in our day to attempt to deny His existence. We will discover that the evidence shows that not only did Jesus exist, the records that we have about Him in the four gospels presents a reliable testimony to His life and ministry.

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What Do Early Jewish Writings Say about Jesus? Next Section →
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