What's the deal with Jesus? Did he really exist?
Did Jesus really exist? Is there any historical evidence of Jesus Christ?
A 2015 survey conducted by the Church of England found that 22% of respondents did not believe that Jesus was a real, historical figure. That’s 1/5th of adults in England. What do you think? Was Jesus a real man who walked this earth?
There is no actual archeological evidence that Jesus existed. That is, there is no physical evidence that can be tied directly to Jesus; no clothing, no writings by his hand, none of his personal possessions. And despite the many claims of “fragment(s) of the true cross” none can be physically tied to Jesus, if such claims are accepted as true.
But then again, 99.9% of people living at the time of Jesus didn’t leave any physical, archeological evidence of their existence either. So if we don’t have physical evidence of Jesus then how can we know that He existed, that he isn’t some fictional character invented by the writers of the New Testament?
Despite the lack of archeological evidence, most historians of the ancient world do believe that Jesus was a real person. Like Jesus, Socrates and Plato – famous Greek philosophers – didn’t leave any direct physical evidence of their existence in the archeological record either. Yet few people question whether they lived or not. The evidence that they did live is the same sort of evidence that we have for Jesus’s existence. It’s documentary evidence. That is, people who knew these men mentioned them in writings.
So Jesus is extensively referred to in the Gospels by those who were eyewitnesses to his live and who learned from His teaching. And outside of the New Testament Jesus is mentioned in the writings of several Roman authors.
For example, Tacitus, a Roman historian, verifies the execution of Jesus by the authority of Pontius Pilate. He writes, “"Christus, the founder of the [Christian] name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius. But the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time, broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, by through the city of Rome also." Annals XV, 44
Suetonius, another Roman historian, recorded the expulsion of Christian Jews from the city of Rome under the Emperor Claudius: “"As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, [Claudius] expelled them from Rome." Life of Claudius 25.4
Pliny the Younger wrote to the Emperor Trajan describing how he interrogated Christians who refused to offer sacrifices to the Emperor (Emperors were, by this time in Roman history, worshiped as gods): "I asked them directly if they were Christians...those who persisted, I ordered away... Those who denied they were or ever had been Christians...worshiped both your image and the images of the gods and cursed Christ. They used to gather on a stated day before dawn and sing to Christ as if he were a god... All the more I believed it necessary to find out what was the truth from two servant maids, which were called deaconesses, by means of torture. Nothing more did I find than a disgusting, fanatical superstition. Therefore I stopped the examination, and hastened to consult you...on account of the number of people endangered. For many of all ages, all classes, and both sexes already are brought into danger..." Pliny's letter to Emperor Trajan
And perhaps most famously, the historian Josephus wrote in his book, The Jewish Antiquities about Jesus: At this time there was a wise man called Jesus, and his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. Many people among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive. Accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have reported wonders. And the tribe of the Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to this day.
This is not an exhaustive list of extra-biblical references to Jesus in ancient manuscripts, and while much could be said about each of the above citations, they all have at least this in common – none of them questions the factual existence of Jesus. They all accept as given that Jesus had been a real person that lived in the area of Judea during the governorship of Pontius Pilate.
In fact, in the ancient world the existence of Jesus as a real man was never questioned. His claim to be God was questioned, but never his existence. Questioning his existence is a rather modern and recent phenomenon.
We can rest assured, though, that Jesus was a real man, not a made-up, fictional character.
After all, Christianity is a religion based on real human history.