I promised myself I would no longer post on this topic. But I just couldn’t resist. Every once in a while I get someone who is just insistent about the non-existence of Jesus. The general gist of the argument goes like this:
#1: There are no contemporary sources outside the New Testament that speak about Jesus!
Most people that make this assertion either assume the New Testament is biased (which means the authors are lying and making up the story), because it was written by the ‘insiders.’ Hence, we have to punt to what we have outside the NT. And hopefully if we do have anything written about Jesus outside the NT, they are written by non-Christians which equates to pure objectivity and no propaganda. In this case, let’s take a little quiz:
#1. What is the earliest record for the death and resurrection of Jesus? If you answer that it is somewhere in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, you guessed wrong.
#2. Louis Reichenthal Gottschalk says the following:
“Written and oral sources are divided into two kinds: primary and secondary. A primary source is the testimony of an eyewitness….A secondary source is the testimony source is the testimony of anyone who is not an eyewitness-that is, of one who was not present at the events of which he tells. A primary source must thus have been produced by a contemporary of the events it narrates. It does not, however, need to be original in the legal sense of the word original-that is, the very document (usually in a written draft) [autographa] whose contents are the subject of discussion-for quite often a later copy or a printed edition will do just as well; and in the case of the Greek and Roman classic seldom are any but later copies available.” (Understanding History, 53-54).
So having read this, what are the primary and secondary sources for the life of Jesus?
#3.What Genre are the Gospels? Yes, that does matter.
#4. What would the word ‘eyewitness’ mean to the NT authors and how would it be used in the NT?
#5: If the New Testament authors are lying, please point out the motivation for lying and where they are lying. And does this mean this is some sort of deliberate falsehood? Or, are they just deceived?
#2: You can’t trust anything Josephus and Tacitus says about Jesus!
Response: First, this another assertion and not based on solid research. See our resource page here:
Also, even though Josephus does mention many things in the NT, we are not dependent on his work and Tacitus to establish the reliability of the NT.
#3: The abuse of Arguments from Silence: By the way, this one gets really old! One of the most common tactics about Internet mythers is the abuse of arguments from silence. In another words, if a source does not say anything about Jesus or something in the NT, the case is closed. It probably didn’t happen!
Response: First, see When an Argument from Silence Becomes Utterly Meaningless by Craig Blomberg.
Second, did you know there are no contemporary sources outside Josephus that says He (Josephus) existed? So is it possible Josephus didn’t exist? Also, Josephus who was a Pharisee doesn’t mention Paul (who was a Pharisee) at all. So maybe Paul didn’t exist? The Teacher of Righteousness that has come to us in the Qumran writings is not mentioned by Josephus or Philo. Maybe he didn’t exist? He was invented? Rabbi Hillel, the founder of the school of Hillelites is never mentioned by Josephus. But Josephus is a devout Pharisee. Maybe Hillel did not exist? Bar Kochba, the messianic leader who led the Jewish revolt against the Romans is not mentioned by Dio Cassius in his account on the revolt. I could go on and on. The point is that appealing to arguments from silence is a tricky thing. Be careful!
#4: Religious Plagiarism:
Once upon a time there was what was called The History of Religions school. In this school of thought, scholars in comparative religion attempted to collect parallels to Christian beliefs in other religious movements, and some thought to explain those beliefs (including belief in Jesus’ resurrection) as the result of the influence of such myths. Sadly, the internet is full of allegations that the historical records of the life of Jesus are examples of religious plagiarism. The same old dying and rising god theme myth just gets rehashed over and over. What is even more problematic is the people who hold to this view automatically assume the New Testament witness to Jesus is false. Then they punt to the myths/mystery religions to explain the problems in the New Testament. So this method is something has plagued the internet and continues to do so.
Once again, see our resource page here: or see our post A Challenge for the Jesus Mythers and the Religious Plagarism Charge
In the end, as long as the internet exists I suppose these four tactics swill carry on. I am also aware that Richard Carrier has his following.
Life is short! Study hard!