Was Jesus an actual person or just a legendary character? Philosopher Bertrand Russell spoke for radical skeptics everywhere when he said, “Historically it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if he did we do not know anything about him” (Why I Am Not a Christian). Is Russell correct? Is it doubtful that Jesus lived?
In reality we have very good proof that Jesus existed. First, we have writings from early non-Christians. Flavius Josephus, the prolific Jewish historian of the first century, reported about major historical events of the era, including the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70. Josephus was not a follower of Christ. Nevertheless, he said the following about Jesus:
At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good and he was known to be virtuous. Many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And 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 recounted wonders.
—Josephus quoted by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek in I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist
In an essay about evidence for Jesus outside the New Testament, Dr. Edwin Yamauchi concludes that even if we did not have any Christian writings like those of the apostles, we would have the following facts from Roman sources such as Pliny the Younger, a philosopher, and Tacitus, a historian, as well as Jewish sources like Josephus and the Talmud:
• Jesus was a Jewish teacher.
• Many observers believed that He performed healings and exorcisms.
• He was rejected by the Jewish leaders.
• He was crucified under Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius.
• His followers believed that He came back to life, and spread this news beyond Palestine so that there were multitudes of Christians in Rome by a.d. 64.
• All kinds of people (rich and poor; urban and rural) worshiped Jesus as God by the time the second century began (see “Jesus Outside the New Testament: What is the Evidence?” in Jesus Under Fire by M.J. Wilkins).
Second, we have reliable evidence about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection from eyewitnesses. Some of the New Testament authors followed Jesus personally. Others, like Luke, wrote within a generation of Jesus’ life and were familiar with eyewitness accounts (Lk 1:1-4). These authors were well aware of popular myths and false teachings about Jesus. They wanted to set the record straight in their own writings. The apostle Paul said over 500 people saw the resurrected Christ. (1Co 15:6). The apostle Peter said, “We did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; instead, we were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2Pt 1:16). In conclusion, we have excellent, reliable, and abundant accounts that help us know who the real Jesus is.
Want more? Check out the Apologetics Study Bible on page 1614 or visit ApologeticsBible.com.