What Historical Evidence is there to Support the Existence of Jesus Christ?

by Jack Wellman on July 10, 2011 · Print Print · Email Email

 

Is there actual historical evidence to prove the existence of Jesus Christ?  Did ancient historians believe in the actual person of Jesus Christ?  Can historical evidence about Jesus Christ’s existence be believed?

Is There Actual Historical Evidence to Prove the Existence of Jesus Christ? 

Even though the Bible is a collection of historical facts that have been verified by archeology and paleontology, we will restrict our article on the written human records of Jesus Christ’s authenticity and historicity.  There are so many historians that have written about Jesus Christ that it would be impossible to include them all here.  The fact is there are so many that these historians testimonies would have to be expanded into a major, voluminous book.  For time’s sake, we will restrict historical evidence to those major historians that have the greatest authenticity.

Thallus is perhaps the earliest secular writer to mention Jesus in his writings….even though his writings are so ancient, that no copies exist but those of Julius Africanus, whose writings were around AD 221 quotes Thallus.  Thallus and Africanus both mention a strange darkness that occurred at the point of Jesus’ crucifixion.  And these stories of a “strange darkness” were written about far and wide on the earth.  They all coincided with around AD 32-33.  This written record of Thallus confirms that Jesus lived, and was crucified and that something highly unusual and unexplainable happened on that day. There were many reports of various earthquakes, destruction, and a strange darkness that occurred around AD 32-32.

Africanus also mentions a historian named Phlegon who wrote a chronological history around AD 140. In this history, Phlegon also mentions the darkness surrounding the crucifixion in an effort to explain it, but even more interestingly, he mentions Jesus’ ability to foresee the future in describing the life of our Savior.

Did Ancient Historians Believe in the Actual Person of Jesus Christ? 

Josephus (AD 37 – c. 100), born of a priestly and royal ancestry, survived and recorded the destruction ofJerusalemin AD 70.  He was a child prodigy.  At age 13, he was already a consultant for the Jewish rabbis, by 16 he became a Galilean military commander and a Roman Citizen.  And being under the rule of Roman emperor Vespasian, he was allowed to write a first-century history of the Jews.  Being a devout Jew and Roman Citizen, Josephus could hardly be described as a hostile witness.  He wrote more about Kings than Messiah’s, but Josephus makes references to the Sadducees, the names of Jewish High Priests of the time, the Pharisees and the Essenes, the Herodian Temple, Quirinius’ census and the Zealots.  Josephus also wrote of such figures as Pontius Pilate, Herod the Great, Agrippa I and Agrippa II, John the Baptist, James the brother of Jesus, and about Jesus.  All these names were those found in the New Testament.   He even describes the death of John the Baptist and mentions the execution of the apostle James, the brother of Jesus.  In Josephus’ final passage he writes that Jesus was a wise man and the Messiah, and there is even a highly accurate retelling of the resurrection story!

One of the most intriguing entries was recorded in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews (18.63-64; 3.3): “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”

The interesting thing is that the historian Origen states that Josephus was not a believer in Jesus as the Christ.  There is no evidence that he ever accepted Jesus as Christ as Lord and Savior, but Josephus’ declares this Jesus to be Christ (in the Testimonium).   The manuscript evidence in support of the iron-clad, “pre-accretions” reference to Jesus in Josephus is very strong and accepted by the great majority of professional historians.  From the readings of Josephus, there is no serious reason to doubt the historical evidence of the existence of the Jesus of Nazareth.

Can Historical Evidence About Jesus Christ’s Existence Be Believed?

Even the non-Jewish historical sources of the time mention Jesus and it is nearly universal.  There was a common knowledge of Jesus’ life and death among the people in the first few centuries.  The list of historians are enormous:  Tacitus (Annals, AD 115-120), Suetonius (Lives of the Caesars, AD 125), Lucian (mid-2nd century), Galen (AD 150; De pulsuum differentiis 2.4; 3.3) Celsus (True Discourse, AD 170), Mara Bar Serapion (pre AD-200?), and the Jewish Talmudic References (AD 300).

Jesus historicity and story became known from the Mediterranean to Africa; from Asia-Minor and into most of the known world at the time.  One example was around AD 70, when a Syrian philosopher named Mara Bar-Serapion, writing to encourage his son, compares the life and persecution of Jesus with that of other philosophers who were persecuted for their ideas. He used Him as an example of being persecuted for his beliefs.  The fact that Jesus is known to be a real person with this kind of influence is important. It should not surprise us that Mara Bar-Serapion refers to Jesus as the “Wise King” and Jesus was held in high esteem in most of the known-world religions, save Judaism.

Additionally, there were historians like Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, and Eusebius of Caesarea, that latter of which was a third century theologian who used the library in Caesarea for much of his research.  Tertullian wrote about Christian worship and persecution that is consistent with New Testament accounts. Justin Martyr, a Gentile who lived in Palestine and later became a Christian, records the many doctrines of the church, like the Sacraments, Salvation, and many others.  Philo, who wrote “Resources for Philo of Alexandria” was a Jewish philosopher and historian that lived in the first century.

As we have seen and read, Jesus’ existence is historically indisputable.  There are no other humans who have ever lived on earth that more has been written about that establishes these facts: that He did exist, that He did many wonders, that He did die from crucifixion, that He did rise again and was seen by hundreds, that He was known as the Messiah, and as The Christ. This man and His story….is History, incontrovertibly and indisputably.

Was this Article Helpful?

If this article was helpful to you, please consider linking this article to your own blog or sharing this through the social buttons to the left. You might also find some of these other good Christian Answer articles helpful:

What Are The Biblical Signs Of The Second Coming of Jesus?

What Does The Bible Say Heaven Is Like?

What Does The Bible Say About Church Membership?

Sources

The Holy Bible, New International Version

THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.



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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

telson July 12, 2011 at 6:18 am

When we begin to examine the gospels and the letters of the New Testament, we find that Jesus appears as the central figure in them. The four gospels tell us about His life here on earth while the epistles describe the meaning of His death and resurrection according to Christian belief. We can actually say, that if He hadn’t lived on earth, none of these would have been written.
As we examine the historicity of Jesus, we can find proof of His life on earth. This proof has been preserved by His successors, such as the early church fathers, and also His opponents. Both sources refer to various parts of His life.

http://www.jariiivanainen.net/historicityofJesus.html

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Jack Wellman July 15, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Telson, welll said. For without Christ there is no gospel or no gospels in the New Testament. We are left with only men’s thoughts. You have added much to this article. Thank you. Nicely stated.

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Rev. James Allen Kelly August 30, 2011 at 10:18 am

Dear Reverend Jack;

I would like permission to use this article for a class project in homiletics. I am trying to prove the existence of Jesus Christ by putting Jesus Christ on trial and using the Bible and other sources to prove that Jesus was an actual person just as any other well know person of history like Abraham Lincoln. I will give you full credit on the information I use for this sermon.

It is a little different because the congregation will be the jury; those who do not believe and I get many emails everyday on people who do not believe that Jesus is real. I am using pretty much the whole chapter of 24 in the book of Luke but wanted out side sources as well. Any help you could give me would be appreciated. However, I only have a week to finish this. Thanks for your encouragement.

Reverend James Allen Kelly
Associate Pastor of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines

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Jack August 30, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Reverend Kelly, thank you for your very kind comment. You are free to use this sir and in fact permission is certainly granted. I can also recommend another article that is overwhelming about Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus history is great to prove He existed but the gospel and our own salvation and resurrection some day means nothing without proof that Jesus WAS resurrected to which I would recommend this article: http://www.everydaychristian.com/blogs/post/evidence_for_the_resurrection/

Feel free to use this or the one on the resurrection. The Resurrection is the crucial part of the gospel for without it, we are all still dead in our sins and have no hope after death. The evidence for His resurrection is amazingly complete and would hold up in a modern day court as legal and admissible evidence even by the strictest courts.

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Mark November 1, 2012 at 12:52 am

I am struggling with this a bit, I read in the bible that Jesus is real, but I read that historically there is no evidence that he exists. Then I read this. other sites say that Jesus was made up by Constantine. others say that the writing about Jesus were from a few individuals that made him up as a hoax. How do I know what you have written is true? I began believing when i was around 12 but now at 31 my belief is teetering on a cliff…
I honestly don’t know if you will ever see this or even reply. I hope you do.

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Jack Wellman November 1, 2012 at 11:55 am

I trust not “other sites” but I do trust 2,000 years of church history, over 380 secular historians who do not dispute that Jesus is an actual figure of real history who lived in a time and place. We believe that Aristotle lived, that Nero was a Roman emperor, that Ghenghis Khan existed and ruled much of the world, and that Alexander the Great no doubt conquered much of the world in his day, so why not believe the actual historical writings and evidence (archeological, historical, paleontological, etc.) writings of the Jesus Christ, Who has been the most written about and spoken about than any other single person who has ever lived on earth!?

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SAM JACOB PHILIPS March 23, 2013 at 12:35 pm

It is good to remember that the calender of modern times is based on BC and AD. BC refers to `before Christ`, and during my school days, AD was After Death of Jesus Christ. These days, a non believing world likes to interpose `common era` to the actual fact of Jesus` birth and death. I`m not surprised, as this period of doubt and confusion was foretold in the very pages of the Holy Bible,centuries ago. History itself is all about HIS-Story!! Do not be confused. May the Lord help us to believe.

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Jack Wellman March 23, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Well said Mr. Philips. I agree that history is HIS-Story. Indeed. I believe their trying to remove the BC and AD is like what Paul wrote in Romans 1:18 “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” The word used for “suppress” in the Greek is like holding down on a spring to keep it from uncoiling. That is, it is a conscience effort to suppress (hold on with pressure on) the obvious fact of God’s existence or as Paul concludes that (Rom 1:19-21) “since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Without excuse. Exactly.

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Wesley Parker April 18, 2013 at 11:40 am

This is great! Amen! God bless you :)
-wes

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Jared June 21, 2013 at 7:04 pm

I just wanted to say that I needed to read this. We all have doubted at one point in time, and well quite alot lately as an adult I’ve tried to wrap my brain around death, eternity and whether or not Jesus really is what people have written about him. Being a student, in both the academic sense of the word and in life, I do look for “proof” before setting faith in anything. I know I shouldn’t doubt things my parents brought me up on, but when I have questions, I need answers. This article is a huge help for me and I’m sure for others as well. Thanks for this.

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Jack Wellman June 21, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Jared, I am thrilled this could be of some help to you. Thank you for your encouragement. By the way, we all, each and every one of us, have doubts so don’t feel bad. We have dozens of articles like this like Does Archeology Support the Bible? (yes, by the way) and Evidence for the Resurrection, etc. so please come back anytime you feel you want to know more on the solidity and veracity of God as Creator and Redeemer.

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Lucenti June 28, 2013 at 11:49 pm

Thank you for this wonderful article. I have also been beat down by atheists who claimed that there were no historical articles regarding Christ Jesus. This is wonderful information to us Christians and even to those who are not; I thank you.

Just a request: can you send me the links, titles, or just whatever you used as a reference to write this article to my email? It is not that I disbelieve you; I wish to study them and wish to use it as a reference to persuade my fellow friends and those who are lost.

Thank you very much

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Jack Wellman June 29, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Hello Lucenti. I just sent more quantifiable, verifiable, and historical evidence about the existence of Jesus to you at your email. Thank you.

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Jack Wellman June 29, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Lucenti….I sent the email to you and then removed your email from the comments to protect your email address from spammers and from those who would persecute you or try to persuade you otherwise and to protect your email with privacy. Your email will not be shared with anyone. May God richly bless you in your evangelism to prove that Jesus did exist and died for the lost.

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Lucenti June 29, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Thank you for your kindness. May God bless you too

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Matt July 1, 2013 at 10:21 am

Mr. Wellman,

Can you please send me the links and stuff to the information that you used to write this article too? I am in desperate need of some convincing about Christianity right now. Lately I’ve been doubting that the Bible is God’s word because of the many contradictions and errors that are being claimed by agnostics and skeptics. Please help, I need reassurance.

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Brittany July 4, 2013 at 2:29 pm

Hey Matt,
Don’t let skeptics and non-believers get to you, because the evidence that they crave and say they need so badly is out there, they just aren’t willing to accept Jesus for who he truly was on Earth and is. If you let skeptics influence your faith you’ll always be confused or be in doubt. Skeptics are skeptics because they have accepted in their minds that Jesus isn’t something they need, no matter how much evidence you give them they’ll still have something to say unless they’re willing to believe. Don’t let them get to you, I’ve been dealing with this same problem for the past couple of days. People choose to ignore what they’re not willing to accept. Keep your faith, because people will always discourage you and your beliefs.

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Jordan J December 14, 2013 at 3:40 am

Good article and work you put into it. I am still lenient about anything the article says, however, because of bias. If you say there is no bias, you are surely mistaken. One that believes that Jesus is the Christ, etc. etc. One that has a motive to prove a point. So I can only take this with a grain of salt. Thanks for the read though.

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Lillie March 24, 2014 at 10:40 pm

Hello,
Thanks for the article. My son is no longer a believer and wants “proof” that God exists. Jared asked you for additional readings and I would love if you would forward links to me as well. Anything I can devour and forward to him would be much appreciated.

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Jack Wellman March 25, 2014 at 5:48 am

Thank you Lillie for your visiting us. Let me say that the Holy Spirit is the Revealer of Who Jesus Christ is and I will pray that God points your son to His need for a Savior. Here is an article of ours that gives concrete evidence of Jesus Christ’s resurrection as a verifiable historical fact at: http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/historical-evidence-of-jesus-christs-resurrection/ In the meantime, ask God to send the Holy Spirit to penetrate his heart to soften it up to allow the Word of God, the Seed, to enter and grow and take root and I will also on this Lillie.

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Anthony May 6, 2014 at 11:13 pm

I always get Mad When People on The Internet Say that Jesus is Fictional and i Want to Proof Them Wrong But I Don’t Got Evidences to Proof Them and The Bible isn’t a Good Sources To Start Because If they Don’t Believe in The Bible in the First Place Then How can we Convince Them that Why i want outside Evidence About Jesus Christ i Don’t Know where to Start I want to Buy a Book That have Evidences About Jesus That Explain His Exist en and have accurate Proof About Him But that The Bible when people Say HE Doesn’t Exist I Start To Doubt His Exist-en Then I get mad at My Self Because i want to Believe So bad i Believe God Want us To Believe In Him Without Evidence That Why Jesus Say To Bless Those Who Believe Yet Have not Seen Him

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anthony May 8, 2014 at 1:04 pm

I’m So Tired OF This Stuff it Get me Mad that People are Refuting Jesus Christ Existence When they start Doing this it Get me To Disbelieve About Jesus I Try To Find Evidence About Jesus But I Having Hard Time Believing Because i Can’t Find Evidence When i do Find it They Use Big Words That i Cant Understand I Keep Praying for Evidence But Cant Find None I Want to Believe So badly I Feel Like Killing People Because They keep Denying Jesus Christ I Know Jesus Want me To Love People BUT it Hard Because i Cant Believe i Want to Believe Is There Hard Evidence Out There About Jesus

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Jack Wellman May 8, 2014 at 3:41 pm

I know Anthony…but let me say that they are blind and none so blind that refuse to see. It would be like going up to a blind man and slapping him for not seeing what you are showing him. The god of this world, the Scriptures say, has blind them so tha they cannot see the glorious light of the gospel so we must have mercy on them since they cannot know what God has not revealed to them by His Holy Spirit. Make sense Anthony? Thank you for your comment my friend. Everyone someday WILL believe, but by then, for most, it will be too late (Rev 20:11-15) and we wouldn’t wish that on our worst enemies, right?

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Anthony May 8, 2014 at 4:58 pm

Thank You For Replying I Want Some Hard Evidence about Jesus Christ Existence Because i Don’t Have None I Pray To God To Give Me Evidence Because When Someone Says Jesus Is a Myth I Get Mad Because I’m Struggling With My Beliefs That why i want Evidence to Hold My Ground on My Belief and to Stop Doubting Because I Want to Believe so Badly and To Love God With all My Heart i Believe he Been Resurrection on The 3rd Day But i want Some Hard Evidence For That so i Could Show a Unbeliever This Please can you Recomind some website that surpport Jesus Christ Existence

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Jack Wellman May 9, 2014 at 8:56 am

Anthony, thank you sir for your comment but again let me say that it is God Who saved and no one can be convinced into heaven based upon evidence, no one can be debated in the heaven nor can anyone be persuaded by historical, scientific, archeological or manuscript evidence into heaven. This “evidence” you seek is what is called Apologetics and it is for the “defense” of the faith and not as an “offensive” weapon to prove Jesus exists. God is the One Who saves. I highly recommend you read this sir at: http://blogs.christianpost.com/better-than-i-deserve/god-the-evangelist-17273/ and see why I am saying this.

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