by Matt Slick
The question of whether or not Jesus was a real historical person has been debated more and more in recent times. As critics of Christianity increase and as atheism gains more footing, attacks on the deity of, the work of, and the existence of Jesus are also increasing.
Proving that Jesus lived is impossible because "proof" is for mathematics and logic. Proof means that a position has been shown to be necessarily true. But, we cannot assemble our cameras and get in our time machine and go back to ancient Jerusalem and do a documentary on the life and times of Jesus. Instead, the existence of historical figures is established in a different way than the method scientists would determine the characteristics of something like lasers in the laboratory. We could present historical evidence that supports the existence of Jesus, but it still will be subjected to the personal preferences of critic - and that is the problem. What convinces one person might not convince another. This is why "proof" is impossible when dealing with historical figures.
What is the evidence for the existence of Jesus?
The New Testament accounts qualify as evidence for the existence of Jesus. Now, if a person is not convinced by the evidence then again, that is an issue of subjective preferences. All we can do is present that evidence and let the person decide for himself whether or not it is sufficient.
The New Testament gospel accounts are ancient documents that purport to be written shortly after the time of Christ. Some people say that it is hearsay, that they were written 100 to 200 years after Jesus died and therefore cannot be seriously considered as evidence. But that position is problematic. Here's why. The book of Acts was written after the book of Luke (Acts 1:1). Most scholars agree that the book of Luke, who also wrote Acts, was written after the book of Matthew and after the book of Mark. So if we can date the book of Acts, then we can safely say that the other gospel accounts were written before that date. So when was the book of Acts written? The exact year cannot be determined, but there is internal evidence within it that suggests it was written from between 62 and 70 A.D.
Reasons for an early date, before A.D. 70 and possibly no later than A.D. 62.1
- A.D. 70. No mention of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (Luke 21:20).
- The fall of Jerusalem in A.D 70 is hugely significant, and Acts leaves you with the impression that the temple is still standing.
- Luke did mention fulfilled prophecies, i.e., Acts 11:28, "And one of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius." So, why not mention the destruction of Jerusalem as was prophesied? Wouldn't it have added to the validity of the Christian message?
- A.D. 64. No mention of the horrendous persecution of Nero in A.D. 64.
- Nero lived from A.D. 37-68. He ruled from A.D. 54 to 68 and persecuted the Christians exceedingly around A.D. 64 when Rome suffered an immense fire. Therefore, the persecution had to occur during those years, yet there is no mention of this in Acts--a book that records the history of the early Christian church.
- Luke recorded Christian Martyrs: Stephen in Acts 7:55-60 and James in Acts 12:2. Why not write about the martyrs of the Nero persecution as well--if it happened before Acts was written?
- A.D. 62. No mention of the death of the apostle Paul.
- The death of the apostle Paul is dated from anywhere between 62 AD to 68.2 Acts 28:30-31 tells us that Paul was under arrest for two years but fails to mention his execution. Why, if it was written after his execution?
- "The time of the writing of this history may be gathered from the fact that the narrative extends down to the close of the second year of Paul’s first imprisonment at Rome. It could not therefore have been written earlier than A.D. 61 or 62, nor later than about the end of A.D. 63. Paul was probably put to death during his second imprisonment, about A.D. 64, or, as some think, 66."3
- A.D. 62. No mention of the death of the Apostle James
- James was a very important figure in the early church who was martyred around A.D. 62. Why no mention of his death if Acts was written after A.D. 70, and it was Luke's procedure to record the deaths of martyrs (Acts 7:55-60; 12:2)? The James spoken of here is not James the brother of John who was recorded as being executed in Acts 12:1-2. This is the James spoken of in Acts 15:13ff who is also mention in Gal. 1:19 as an apostle, the Lord's brother.
So, If we were to say that the book of acts was written as early as 62 A.D. and the death of Christ was and 33 A.D., then that is a 29-year difference which means that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written within that 29 year period. Is this is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the gospel accounts were written early enough to be reliable accounts of Christ's existence? It depends on your presuppositions.