Was Jesus Invented by the Biblical Authors?

Some atheists try to argue Jesus never existed and was simply a fictional character.  Their primary tactic is to late date the four Gospels and say the writers wrote their books based on religious wishful thinking or bias reporting.  The question to ask an atheist who makes this claim, “What evidence do you have to convince me Jesus never existed?”  Many times this claim is an assertion without substance.

The vast majority of scholars both conservative and critical believe Jesus was a real person.  Only a few extremely skeptical scholars deny the existence of Jesus.  Here are a few lines of evidence:

1. Many scholars believe all 4 Gospels were written within the lifetime of the writers (40 – 70 AD).  Two were written by eyewitnesses (John & Matthew) and two were written by men (Luke and Mark) who received their information from key apostles (Peter and Paul).  These four Gospels cannot be discounted out-of-hand by skeptics as biased writings without proof or evidence of dishonesty.  Currently, none has ever been produced, only asserted.  In these accounts we find four independent attestations to the existence of Jesus.

2. Acts and the rest of the New Testament were written by eyewitnesses, apostles or writers receiving information from an apostle.  Again, an atheist cannot discount these writers just because they are included in the Bible.  In the early church the New Testament letters were being circulated throughout home churches.  Each letter must be dealt with on an individual basis and not thrown out as a group.  A person must have evidence to discount each book that today is accepted in the New Testament canon.

3. We have multiple independent attestations of Jesus outside the Bible.  For example:

  • Tacitus (AD 55-120): An early writer that has been called the greatest Roman historian.  Tacitus records at least one reference to Jesus and two references to early Christianity (no Christianity without Christ).
  • Suetonius:  Another Roman historian who wrote at the same time as Tacitus.  Made one reference to Jesus and one to Christians.
  • Josephus (AD 37- 97): A Roman court historian who wrote for Emperor Vespasian.  He makes two references concerning Jesus.
  • Pliny the Younger:  A Roman author and administrator who served as the governor of Bithynia.  In AD 112 he writes about Christianity in Bithynia and gives facts about Jesus[1].

To make the claim Jesus never existed, the atheist has to explain the multiple independent attestations from religious and non-religious writers.  This has been a futile endeavor, which is why so few scholars deny Jesus ever existed.

[1] Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus, College Press, 1996

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{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Tom Wright August 6, 2010, 9:02 pm

    Hi, Steve;
    There are numerous historical references to Jesus as an historical figure and I have no reason to believe he never existed.

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