Over the years, I have had my share of discussions about what we can know about Jesus. I recently finished reading the book called The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach by New Testament historian Mike Licona. In the book Licona discusses what is called “The Historical Bedrock.” These three facts about the Historical Jesus are held by most critical scholars and historians.
1. Jesus’ death by crucifixion
2. Very Shortly after Jesus’ death, the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them.
3. Within a few years after Jesus death, Paul converted after a personal experience that he interpreted as a post resurrection appearance of Jesus to him.
Licona is more than aware that just because there is a list of agreed upon facts that is agreed upon by historians and Biblical scholars will not make it true. If so, that would be what is called a “consensus gentium fallacy” which is the fallacy of arguing that an idea is true because most people believe it. As Licona says, “Something doesn’t become a “fact” just because the majority of scholars believe it.” (The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, pg 279).
However, as Gary Habermas says, “Certainly one of the strongest methodological indications of historicity occurs when a case can be built on accepted data that are recognized as well established by a wide range of otherwise diverse historians.” (see Norman L. Geisler and Paul K. Hoffman, Why I Am A Christian: Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe (Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks, 2001), 152.
Historian Christopher Blake refers to this as the “very considerable part of history which is acceptable to the community of professional historians.” (See Christopher Blake, “Can History be Objective?” in Theories of History, Ed. Patrick Gardiner (New York: Macmillan, 1959), pp. 331-333; cited in Geisler and Hoffman, 152.
Well, there is a debate stirring up in the atheist community over the new Bart Ehrman book on The Historical Argument For The Existence of Jesus. It is good to see people like Bart Ehrman are further along than Jesus mythers.
Ehrman has a new article about this at Huffington Post. In it he says:
“Few of these mythicists 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.”
I wanted to go ahead and offer some other quotes about the existence of Jesus. Keep in mind that I have included some that are by non Christians as well as some others by those that are far from being an Orthodox or Evangelical Christian. Also, there are also some quotes that already assume Jesus existed because they mention the certainty of his crucifixion and in some cases, the resurrection appearances (although they don’t think the resurrection explains the appearances):
Jesus’ death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate is as sure as anything historical can ever be. For if no follower of Jesus had written anything for one hundred years after his crucifixion we would still know about him from two authors not among his supporters. Their names are Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus.” – John Dominic Crossan, Co-founder of The Jesus Seminar Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, pg 145
“Jesus death as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable.”- Atheist Gerd Ludemann-The Resurrection of Christ, Pg 50.
E.P. Sanders: The Historical Figure of Jesus. New York: Penguin Books, 1993, says:
“That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know” pgs 279-280. “I do not regard deliberate fraud as a worthwhile explanation. Many of the people in these lists were to spend the rest of their lives proclaiming that they had seen the risen Lord, and several of them would die for their cause. Moreover, a calculated deception should have produced great unanimity. Instead, there seem to have been competitors: ‘I saw him first!’ ‘No! I did.’ Paul’s tradition that 500 people saw Jesus at the same time has led some people to suggest that Jesus’ followers suffered mass hysteria. But mass hysteria does not explain the other traditions.” Pgs. 279-280. “Finally we know that after his death his followers experienced what they described as the ‘resurrection’: the appearance of a living but transformed person who had actually died. They believed this, they lived it, and they died for it.” Pg 280.
Marcus Borg (The Jesus Seminar)
“An examination of the claims for and against the historicity of Jesus thus reveals that the difficulties faced by those undertaking to prove that he is not historical, in the fields both of the history of religion and the history of doctrine, and not least in the interpretation of the earliest tradition are far more numerous and profound than those which face their opponents. Seen in their totality, they must be considered as having no possible solution. Added to this, all hypotheses which have so far been put forward to the effect that Jesus never lived are in the strangest opposition to each other, both in their method of working and their interpretation of the Gospel reports, and thus merely cancel each other out. Hence we must conclude that the supposition that Jesus did exist is exceedingly likely, whereas its converse is exceedingly unlikely. This does not mean that the latter will not be proposed again from time to time, just as the romantic view of the life of Jesus is also destined for immortality. It is even able to dress itself up with certain scholarly technique, and with a little skillful manipulation can have much influence on the mass of people. But as soon as it does more than engage in noisy polemics with ‘theology’ and hazards an attempt to produce real evidence, it immediately reveals itself to be an implausible hypothesis”–Marcus Borg and N. T. Wright “A Vision of the Christian Life”, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions, San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2007), 236
Robert J. Miller (The Jesus Seminar)
“We can be certain that Jesus really existed (despite a few highly motivated skeptics who refuse to be convinced), that he was a Jewish teacher in Galilee, and that he was crucified by the Roman government around 30 CE”–Robert J. Miller, The Jesus Seminar and Its Critics, Santa Rosa: Polebridge, 1999, p. 38
Michael Martin: Atheist
“Some skeptics have maintained that the best account of the biblical and historical evidence is the theory that Jesus never existed; that is, that Jesus’ existence is a myth (Well 1999). Such a view is controversial and not widely held even by anti-Christian thinkers.” –Michael Martin, “Skeptical Perspectives on Jesus’ Resurrection”, in Delbert Burkett’s The Blackwell Companion to Jesus, Oxford: Blackwell, 2011), 285
Bart Ehrman quote:
“It is a historical fact that some of Jesus’ followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead soon after his execution. We know some of these believers by name; one of them, the apostle Paul, claims quite plainly to have seen Jesus alive after his death. Thus, for the historian, Christianity begins after the death of Jesus, not with the resurrection itself, but with the belief in the resurrection” The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. Third Edition. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.276).
More quotes about the existence of Jesus:
“What about those writers like Acharya S (The Christ Conspiracy) and Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy (The Jesus Mysteries), who say that Jesus never existed, and that Christianity was an invented religion, the Jewish equivalent of the Greek mystery religions? This is an old argument, even though it shows up every 10 years or so. This current craze that Christianity was a mystery religion like these other mystery religions-the people who are saying this are almost always people who know nothing about the mystery religions; they’ve read a few popular books, but they’re not scholars of mystery religions. The reality is, we know very little about mystery religions-the whole point of mystery religions is that they’re secret! So I think it’s crazy to build on ignorance in order to make a claim like this. I think the evidence is just so overwhelming that Jesus existed, that it’s silly to talk about him not existing. I don’t know anyone who is a responsible historian, who is actually trained in the historical method, or anybody who is a biblical scholar who does this for a living, who gives any credence at all to any of this.” Bart Ehrman, interview with David V. Barrett, “The Gospel According to Bart”, Fortean Times (221), 2007
Robert E. Van Voorst, Professor of New Testament Studies at Western Theological Seminary, in his discussion on the historical evidence of Jesus outside of the New Testament states:
“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.
Mark Allan Powell, a professor of NT and chairman for Historical Jesus at the Society of Biblical Literature puts it harsh stating: “Anyone who says that today [i.e. that Jesus didn’t exist]–in the academic world at least–gets grouped with the skinheads who say there was no Holocaust and the scientific holdouts who want to believe the world is flat.” -Mark A Powell, Jesus As a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee. 168.
The late F.F. Bruce in his popular The New Testament Documents: Are they reliable? said:
“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.” -Bruce, The New Testament Documents. 123.
“No one. No one in scholarly circles dealing with ancient Judaism and early Christianity, of any religious or non-religious persuasion holds the view that Jesus never existed. You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own truth.”—Larry Hurtado, specialist in New Testament and Christian origins, former Professor of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology (University of Edinburgh).
“Of course the doubt as to whether Jesus really existed us 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.”- Rudolph Bultmann, Jesus And The Word, pg 13, 1958.
“To doubt the historical existence of Jesus at all… was reserved for an unrestrained, tendentious criticism of modern times into which it is not worthwhile to enter in here.” –G. Bornkamm, Jesus of Nazareth, 1960
“I am of the opinion (and it is an opinion shared by every serious historian) that the theory [‘that Jesus never lived, that he was a purely mythical figure”] is historically untenable.” W. Marxsen, The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, pg 119.
‘To sum up, modern critical methods fail to support the Christ-myth theory. It has ‘again and again been answered and annihilated by first rank scholars,’ 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 abundant, evidence on the contrary.” –Historian Michael Grant, Jesus, An Historians Review of the Gospels, pg 200
John Crossan (The Jesus Seminar)
“If I understand what Earl Doherty (a Jesus myther) is arguing, Neil, it is that Jesus of Nazareth never existed as an historical person, or, at least that historians, like myself, presume that he did and act on that fatally flawed presumption. I am not sure, as I said earlier, that one can persuade people that Jesus did exist as long as they are ready to explain the entire phenomenon of historical Jesus and earliest Christianity either as an evil trick or a holy parable. I had a friend in Ireland who did not believe that Americans had landed on the moon but that they had created the entire thing to bolster their cold-war image against the communists. I got nowhere with him. So I am not at all certain that I can prove that the historical Jesus existed against such an hypothesis and probably, to be honest, I am not even interested in trying”—John Dominic Crosson, “Historical Jesus: Materials and Methodology”, XTalk, 2000
“There are those who argue that Jesus was a figment of the Church’s imagination, that there was never a Jesus at all. I have to say that I do not know any respectable critical scholar who says that any more.” Richard Burridge and Graham Gould, Jesus, Now and Then, 2004, pg 34.
“Let me state it plainly that I accept that Jesus was a real historical person, In my opinion, the difficulties arising from the denial of his existence still vociferously maintained in small circles of rationalist ‘dogmatists’ far exceed those deriving its acceptance”- Geza Vermes, The Resurrection, 2008, (ix)
“No serious historian if any religious or nonreligious stripe doubts that Jesus of Nazareth really lived in the first century and was executed under the authority of Pontius Pilate the governor of Judea and Samaria.” Craig Evans in Evans and Wright, Jesus, The Final Days, 2009, pg 3.