Saturday, January 15, 2011

Did He Exist? What Scholars Say

Once in a while you see a website or book insisting that Jesus never existed. Strangely, they're never by professional historians. That's because Jesus' existence and the basic outlines of his life are among the more secure facts of ancient history.

Here is what some scholars say:

(If you have a favorite scholar quote on the historicity of Jesus, feel free to leave it in the comments. I collect them!)


Michael Grant, Late world-renowned Historian, (Expert on ancient classical civilization)
“If we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus’ existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned.”

"In recent years, no serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non historicity of Jesus' or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary." (Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels, pp. 199-200, Charles Scribner’s Son’s, 1977)


Geza Vermes, late Professor Emeritus of Jewish Studies and Emeritus Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford, U.K. (Noted scholar on the Dead Sea Scrolls and expert on the historical Jesus)
"Jesus of Nazareth (c. 6/5 BCE - 30 CE) was a Jewish charismatic prophet, healer, exorcist, and teacher whose message was centered on the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God..." (Note: Vermes' entry is based on the conclusion that Jesus existed and that we can know a considerable amount about his life using historical methodology). (Who's Who in the Age of Jesus, pg. 130, Penguin, 2005)

Bart Ehrman, James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (leading american New Testament scholar and an agnostic atheist).
"Few of these mythicists (i.e., people who say Jesus is a myth) are actually scholars trained in ancient history, religion, biblical studies or any cognate field, let alone in the ancient languages generally thought to matter for those who want to say something with any degree of authority about a Jewish teacher who (allegedly) lived in first-century Palestine. There are a couple of exceptions: of the hundreds — thousands? — of mythicists, two (to my knowledge) actually have Ph.D. credentials in relevant fields of study. But even taking these into account, there is not a single mythicist who teaches New Testament or Early Christianity or even Classics at any accredited institution of higher learning in the Western world. And it is no wonder why. These views are so extreme and so unconvincing to 99.99 percent of the real experts that anyone holding them is as likely to get a teaching job in an established department of religion as a six-day creationist is likely to land on in a bona fide department of biology...

"With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels (and the writings of Paul) — sources that originated in Jesus’ native tongue Aramaic and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life (before the religion moved to convert pagans in droves). Historical sources like that are is pretty astounding for an ancient figure of any kind. Moreover, we have relatively extensive writings from one first-century author, Paul, who acquired his information within a couple of years of Jesus’ life and who actually knew, first hand, Jesus’ closest disciple Peter and his own brother James. If Jesus did not exist, you would think his brother would know it...

"Whether we like it or not, Jesus certainly existed."  (Ehrman, Bart D. (2013-03-20), "Did Jesus Exist?" huffingtonpost.com).


Robert E. Van Voorst, Professor of New Testament at Western Theological Seminary, Holland, MI
“The theory of Jesus’ nonexistence is now effectively dead as a scholarly question.” (Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence, pg. 14, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000.)



“The nonhistoricity thesis has always been contoversial, and it has consistently failed to convince scholars of many disciplines and religious creeds. Moreover, it has also consistently failed to convince many who for reasons of religious skepticism might have been expected to entertain it… Biblical scholars and classical historians now regard it as effectively refuted.” (Ibid, pg. 16)


Otto Betz, Professor in Residence of New Testament, University of Tubingen, Germany (Respected Qumran scholar)
“No serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non-historicity of Jesus.” (What Do We Know About Jesus? pg. 9, Westminster, 1968)


Rudolph Bultmann, late professor of New Testament studies at the University of Marburg (Influential scholar, major proponent of Form Criticism and "demythologization" of the Gospels)
“The doubt as to whether Jesus really existed is unfounded and not worth refutation. No sane person can doubt that Jesus stands as founder behind the historical movement whose first distinct stage is represented by the oldest Palestinian community. But how far that community preserved an objectively true picture of him and his message is another question.” (Jesus and the Word, pg. 13, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1934, 1958)

“By no means are we at the mercy of those who doubt or deny that Jesus ever lived.” (“The Study of the Synoptic Gospels,” in Form Criticism, translated by Frederick C. Grant, pg. 60, Harper and Brothers,© 1962)


J. M. Roberts, Historian, Warden at Merton College, Oxford University
“Into this electric atmosphere Jesus was born in about 6 BC… The evidence for the facts of his life is contained in the records written down after his death in the Gospels, the assertions and traditions which the early Church based on the testimony of those who had actually known Jesus. The Gospels are not by themselves satisfactory evidence but their inadequacies can be exaggerated. They were no doubt written to demonstrate the supernatural authority of Jesus and the confirmation provided by the events of his life for the prophecies which had long announced the coming of Messiah. This interested and hagiographical origin does not demand scepticism about all the facts asserted; many have inherent plausibility in that they are what might be expected of a Jewish religious leader of the period. They need not be rejected; much more inadequate evidence about far more intractable subjects has often to be employed. There is no reason to be more austere or rigorous in our canons of acceptability for early Christian records than for, say, the evidence in Homer which illuminates Mycenae.” (History of the World, pp. 209-210, Oxford University Press New York, 1993)


Ian Wilson, British Journalist. Degree in Modern History from Magdalen College, Oxford, 1963
“On the most rational grounds, therefore, we may be confidant that Professor Wells [a modern Jesus skeptic] is wrong, and that Jesus did indeed exist.” (Jesus: The Evidence, pg. 65, Harper & Row, 1984)


N. T. Wright, Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey, leading historian on Jesus.
“We know for certain that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified. That is one of the most secure facts in the history of the world.” (The Original Jesus: The Life and Vision of a Revolutionary, pg.18, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996)

“If Christianity is not rooted in things that actually happened in first-century Palestine, we might as well be Buddhists, Marxists or almost anything else. And if Jesus never existed, or if he was quite different from what the Gospels and the church’s worship affirms him to have been, then we are indeed living in cloud-cuckoo-land.” (The Challenge of Jesus, pg. 18, InterVarsity Press, 1999)

Richard A. Burridge, Historian and Dean of King's College, London.
"There are those who argue that Jesus is a figment of the Church’s imagination, that there never was a Jesus at all. I have to say that I do not know any respectable critical scholar who says that any more." (Jesus Now and Then,  pg. 34, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004


I. Howard Marshall,  Professor Emeritus of New Testament Exegesis and honorary research professor at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland
"To explain the rise of this tradition [of Jesus' life] without the hypothesis of Jesus is impossible. It is significant that the vast majority of modern writers who are interested in disputing the truth of the Christian religion are content to argue for an unorthodox picture of Jesus rather than to argue that he never existed." (I Believe in the Historical Jesus, pg. 16, Eerdmans, 1977).


F.F. Bruce, Late Rylands professor of biblical criticism and exegesis, University of Manchester, U.K.
“Some writers may toy with the fancy of a ‘Christ-myth,’ but they do not do so on the ground of historical evidence. The historicity of Christ is as axiomatic for an unbiased historian as the historicity of Julius Caesar. It is not historians who propagate the ‘Christ-myth’ theories.” (The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, pg. 119, InterVarsity Press, 1972)


Werner G. Kummel
“The denial of the existence of Jesus… [is] arbitrary and ill-founded.” (The New Testament: The History of the Investigation of Its Problems, pg. 447, note 367, Abingdon, 1972)


Kenneth S. Latourette, Late Sterling Professor of Missions and Oriental History and Fellow of Berkeley College in Yale University
“Although our accounts of Jesus are brief, they enable us to know him and his teachings as well as we can know any figure of like antiquity. He made so profound an impression upon those who were his intimates that their memories of him, some of them put into written form within a very few years after the events they record, enable us to have a vivid picture of him and his characteristics. His sayings, given as they were in pithy sentences or in stories of extraordinary beauty and imagery, could not fail to fasten themselves in the memories of the more thoughtful who heard them. They lent themselves to the kind of repetition which did not blur or distort them and were early collected in written form. Even if we did not have the four brief accounts which we call the Gospels we could gain a fairly adequate impression of him and of the salient points of his life, teachings, death, and resurrection from references in letters of his followers written within a generation of his death.” (A History of Christianity, Volume I: Beginnings to 1500, pp. 34-35, Harper San Francisco, 1975)

“It may seem to be a banality to say that Christianity cannot be understood apart from [Jesus]. Yet repeatedly through the centuries and in our own day there have been those who have regarded Jesus as unimportant in the origin and initial growth of Christianity. In contrast to this view, the author is convinced that without Jesus Christianity is not only unintelligible: it would never have been. The fashion in which Jesus Christ has shaped the faith which bears his name and the degree to which his professed followers have embodied him or departed from him never ceases to be both fascinating and significant.” (Ibid, pg. xxi).



Gary R. Habermas, Professor and Department Chairman of Philosophy and Apologetics at Liberty University
“Comparatively few recent scholars postulate that Jesus never lived. Such positions are usually viewed as blatant misuses of the available historical data.” (The Verdict of History: Conclusive Evidence for the Life of Jesus, pg. 31, Thomas Nelson, 1988)

“Virtually no writers have asserted that Jesus did not exist or have attempted to cast virtually total doubt and obscurity on his life and ministry. But, such efforts are refuted by the early and eyewitness testimony presented by Paul and others, by the early date of the Gospels, by the corresponding historicity and trusworthiness of the Gospels, and by the failure of the mystery religions to explain the Christian faith.” (Ibid, pg. 36)


Peter Jennings, late Journalist, ABC-TV Network Anchorman (Not a scholar but still an interesting perspective)
“Though in the special (Peter Jennings Reporting: The Search for Jesus, broadcast 6/19/00) we don’t deal at length with the Resurrection, I’m struck by the intenseness of the debate and the intensity of belief: something happened after Jesus was executed that created this momentum that led to Christianity becoming the official religion of the empire.” (“Jennings on Jesus,” Christianity Today, June 12, 2000, pg. 72)



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