Did Jesus ever exist?

There are a number of radical skeptics today who claim that Jesus did not exist, or they seriously doubt his existence.  However, there are a number of critical problems with doubting Jesus’ existence due to the early and abundant evidence that we have of Jesus’ life and deeds.  In fact, there is almost unanimous consent among critical scholars today that Jesus existed.

Historical Textual Evidence for Jesus’ Existence

There are over 42 sources within 150 years after Jesus’ death which mention his existence and record many events of his life.1

  1. 9 Traditional New Testament Authors
    1. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Author of Hebrews, James, Peter, and Jude.
  2. 20 Early Christian Writers Outside the New Testament
    1. Clement of Rome, 2 Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Martyrdom of Polycarp, Didache, Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, Fragments of Papias, Justin Martyr, Aristides, Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, Quadratus, Aristo of Pella, Melito of Sardis, Diognetus, Gospel of Peter, Apocalypse of Peter, and Epistula Apostolorum.
  3. 4 Heretical Writings
    1. Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Truth, Apocryphon of John, and Treatise on Resurrection.
  4. 9 Secular Sources
    1. Josephus (Jewish historian), Tacitus (Roman historian), Pliny the Younger (Roman politician), Phlegon (freed slave who wrote histories), Lucian (Greek satirist), Celsus (Roman philosopher), Mara Bar Serapion (prisoner awaiting execution), Suetonius, and Thallus.

Historical Textual Evidence for Tiberius Caesar’s Existence

Tiberius Caesar, the Roman emperor who reigned during Jesus’ ministry, has 10 authors who mention his existence within 150 years of his life.  These include: Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Seneca, Paterculus, Plutarch, Pliny the Elder, Strabo, Valerius Maximum, and Luke.2  If one removes Luke, since he is a New Testament source, there are 9 secular non-Christian sources.  This means that there are just as many non-Christian sources for Jesus’ existence as there are for Tiberius Caesar’s!  And, to compare, the total number of sources between Jesus and Tiberius Caesar are 42:10. Therefore, there are over four times as many sources for Jesus’ life and deeds than for Tiberius Caesar’s.

If one is going to doubt the existence of Jesus, one must also reject the existence of Tiberius Caesar.

Why is there not even more evidence for Jesus’ existence?

The fact is that few records survive for thousands of years.  There are a number of ancient writings that have been lost, including 50% of the Roman historian Tacitus’ works, all of the writings of Thallus and Asclepiades of Mendes.  In fact, Herod the Great’s secretary named Nicolas of Damascus wrote a Universal History of Roman history which comprised nearly 144 books and none of them have survived.3  So there is no reason to doubt the existence of Jesus of Nazareth.

  • 1. Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004, p. 233.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Ibid., p. 232.