Evidence for Jesus’ Existence
This is part one of a longer article showing the evidence for Jesus’ existence. I am posting it in parts for two reasons:
a) It presents to the non-believer or poser of the question about Jesus’ existence with a first response.
b) It opens the article up to constructive criticism and critique
Let’s define two key terms first:
Evidence: ground for belief or disbelief; data on which to base proof or to establish truth or falsehood Jesus: the character who is the subject of the NT and other extra-biblical documents, commonly referred to as Jesus of Nazareth
On those definitions we can state the subject line thus:
The ground for belief or data on which to base proof or to establish the truth of the existence of the character who is the subject of the NT and other extra-biblical documents and who is commonly referred to as Jesus of Nazareth.
To avoid any confusion we need further make a further clarification and will do so in the words of atheist and co-founder of http://www.infidels.org Jeffrey Jay Lowder:
“First, one should not define ‘historicity of Jesus,’ as many have done, to mean ‘whether the Christ of the New Testament existed — whether Jesus was born of a virgin, performed miracles, etc.’ This is both misleading and ahistorical. In light of Fischer’s principles of question-framing, it is clear that historical questions should not be framed in such a way as to beg other, equally legitimate historical questions. If one were to equate ‘historicity of Jesus’ with ‘whether the Christ of the New Testament existed’, that would make the question, ‘Did Jesus exist?’, equivalent to the question, ‘Was there a Jesus Christ who is the Son of God?’ But this fails to break the issue into its “constituent parts, so they can be dealt with one at a time.” I therefore suggest that we think of the ‘historicity of Jesus’ as meaning ‘whether the Jesus of the New Testament is based upon a person who actually lived’ and not ‘whether this person did the deeds the New Testament claims he did.'” [Independent confirmation and the History of Jesus (1997)
This rightly separates the Jesus who is the subject of the NT and the Jesus Christ of the NT and it is to the former we are speaking in this article.
On that being clear then, what evidence is there for this Jesus of Nazareth?
Well, if one reads the whole of that article by Jeffrey Jay Lowder then one would not need to go any further than the NT itself because, “independent confirmation is not necessary to establish the mere existence of the Jesus of the New Testament. There simply is nothing epistemically improbable about the mere existence of a man named Jesus. (Just because Jesus existed does not mean that he was born of a virgin, that he rose from the dead, etc.) Although a discussion of the New Testament evidence is beyond the scope of this paper, I think that the New Testament does provide prima facie evidence for the historicity of Jesus. It is clear, then, that if we are going to apply to the New Testament “the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material,” we should not require independent confirmation of the New Testament’s claim that Jesus existed.” [Independent confirmation and the History of Jesus (1997)
Since it is perfectly reasonable that we apply the same criteria we should apply to other ancient material containing historical material as we do to the NT (to not so do would involve special pleading) then from the NT alone we have prima facie evidence for Jesus’ Existence.