As a Christian, my beliefs are grounded in history. I believe in the Jesus who was born in Bethlehem, performed miracles in Galilee and Judea, and died and rose again in Jerusalem.
Which is why an article entitled 5 Reasons to Suspect that Jesus Never Existed naturally caught my attention. To be faithful witnesses, Christians must listen to their critics, consider their arguments, and respond to them with intellectual honesty. In regards to this article, I’ve attempted to do just that in this 2-part series.
1. No first century secular evidence whatsoever exists to support the actuality of Yeshua ben Yosef (the Aramaic name for Jesus the Nazarene).
I see two problems with this argument. First of all, this statement implies that historical claims made by 1st Christians cannot be taken seriously. Only those made by writers outside the Christian community can serve as solid historical evidence.
Secondly, Christianity was originally a small Jewish sect, so it doesn’t surprise me that Jesus doesn’t appear in 1st century histories outside of the Christian tradition. That being said, there are extra-biblical mentions (however brief) of Jesus Christ in ancient writings, such as Josephus, Tacitus and Pliny the Younger to name a few.
2. The earliest New Testament writers seem ignorant of the details of Jesus’ life, which become more crystalized in later texts.
Aside from Paul’s account of the Last Supper, the earlier New Testament books provide few historical details of Jesus’ earthly life (the Gospels were among the last to be written). Paul admits that he is not an eyewitness like the Apostles. He credits his conversion to an encounter with the risen Christ while traveling to Damascus, an account that skeptics will quickly dismiss as fanaticism or fable.
Does an absence of historical details mean ignorance?
Paul is writing as a theologian and a pastor, not an historian. He is concerned with answering questions of theology, rebuking bad behavior, and encouraging the churches he had planted. It doesn’t surprise me that he doesn’t provide many historical details about Jesus.
If our salvation depends on the Jesus of history, these are important criticisms to answer.
(Part 2: Eyewitnesses, contradictions, and modern New Testament scholars)