Existence of Jesus

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There is little agreement as to what Jesus looked like.

The existence of Jesus as a real, historical figure has been debated for centuries. Apologists who believe Jesus did actually exist try to use this purported fact to support other claims, such as that he was divine or that his teachings should be followed.


Historical and mythical theories

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The biggest problem with talking about a "historical Jesus" is that there are two "historical" Jesus Christs forming the ends of a huge spectrum of hypothesis. Touched on by Remsberg in 1909[1], by Rudolf Bultmann in 1941 (and used by Richard Carrier in 2014), and reiterated by Biblical scholar I. Howard Marshall in 2004,[2] these two ends (the italicized clarifiers are from Marshall) are:

  • Reductive theory (Remsburg's Jesus of Nazareth): "Jesus was an ordinary but obscure individual who inspired a religious movement and copious legends about him" rather than being a totally fictitious creation like King Lear or Doctor Who
  • Triumphalist theory (Remsburg's Jesus of Bethlehem): "The Gospels are totally or almost totally true" rather than being works of imagination like those of King Arthur.

Various authors have tried to subdivide this Historical Jesus spectrum regarding Jesus including John Remburg (1909) [3], Dan Barker (2006)[4] and Eddy-Boyd (2007)[5] However, as Eddy-Boyd points out these the categories are "admittedly over simplistic", "ideal-typical", and a "useful heuristic" they should not be taken as absolute definitions.

Moderate Historical (mainstream)

Main Article: Jesus was deified by later Christians

Jesus historically existed and was a minor preacher who possibly claimed to be a Messiah and the Gospels give a reasonable view of his life. This gained the attention of a few fanatical followers, such as Paul the Apostle, who founded Christianity and deified Jesus. This is the mainstream view of scholars but some historians are critical of the methods and evidence used to support it.

  • "Jesus of Nazareth is a historical character and that these narratives, eliminating the supernatural elements, which they regard as myths, give a fairly authentic account of his life."[3]
  • Jesus did exist, and that some parts of the New Testament are accurate, although the miracles and the claim to deity are due to later editing of the original story."[4]
  • A historical Jesus did exist but was very different from the gospel Jesus.[5]

Proponents of this theory include:

Triumphalist theory/Extreme historical/Biblical literalism (Fringe)

Main Article: Biblical literalism

This view considers that Jesus existed exactly as described in the New Testament.

  • "Christ is a historical character, supernatural and divine; and that the New Testament narratives, which purport to give a record of his life and teachings, contain nothing but infallible truth."[3]
  • "The New Testament is basically true in all of its accounts except that there are natural explanations for the miracle stories."[4]

Proponents of this theory include:

No credible historian argues that the evidence supports Jesus actually being God or even Jesus making that claim (because being son of God or Messiah are separate claims). If there is any scholarship, it is overshadowed by the literalist view. Contrary to the assumption of many believers, the Bible is not a reliable historical source and Gospels are not eyewitness accounts. The Bible also contains many contradictions. These facts lead virtually every historian to conclude that some or all of the stories about Jesus are myths.

Christ myth theory (historical)/ahistorical/Reductive theory (Fringe)

This takes the view that Jesus existed as a human being but the Gospels tells us little to nothing of that man. Some even put Jesus outside the c 6 BCE - C 36 CE timeframe suggested by the New Testament.

  • "Many radical Freethinkers believe that Christ is a myth, of which Jesus of Nazareth is the basis, but that these narratives are so legendary and contradictory as to be almost if not wholly, unworthy of credit."[3]
  • "Other skeptics deny that the Jesus character portrayed in the New Testament existed, but that there could have been a first century personality after whom the exaggerated myth was pattered."[4]
  • There is just enough to show there was a first century teacher called Jesus and little else.[5]

The idea that Christianity is based on pagan religion but a confused memories of an obscure historical figure were integrated into an already existing mythology (essentially Constantin-François Volney's position[6]) roughly falls here. This inverts the mainstream idea that Christianity came first and was influenced by various pagan ideas.

Proponents of this theory include:

Christ myth theory (philosophical myth) (Fringe)

Main Article: Christ docetisc myth theory

This view considers that Jesus was a spiritual (docetisc) being who some experienced in visions, or people pretended to have visions of Jesus. The gospels were an allegory of the spiritual person on Earth (i.e. Jesus was euhemerized). These myths were then taught as if they were true. This effectively was Charles François Dupuis position.[8] The claim that is While Christianity has clear pagan influences, saying it was primarily based on pagan myths is a fringe view.

Proponents of this theory include:

Both the Christ Mythism and pro-historical Jesus sides have their own armchair brigade and there is a lot of nonsense out there on both sides.[9]

Even those who say that Jesus is ahistorical (the evidence does not support the existence of a Jesus) are labeled as "Christ Myth"[10]


There are various sources that are cited that supposedly support the existence of Jesus. However, these only demonstrate that Christians existed (rather than Jesus) or they are forgeries. These include:

It must be said that Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, and Tacitus were good friends and regularly corresponded with one another and so could have easily gotten what little they knew about Christianity from each other and so can't be considered independent sources.

All other sources (Christian and non-Christian) come from even less reliable sources, some of which include: Ignatius (50 - 98? C.E.), Polycarp (69 - 155 C.E.), Clement of Rome (? - circa 160 C.E.), Justin Martyr (100 - 165 C.E.), Tertullian (197 C.E.), Clement of Alexandria (? - 215 C.E.), Origen (185 - 232 C.E.), Hippolytus (? - 236 C.E.), and Cyprian (? - 254 C.E.). All of these are merely hearsay.

See also

Recommended reading

Pro historical Jesus:

  • Van Voorst, Robert E. (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ASIN B003VPWXH4.
  • Theissen, Gerd; Annette, Merz (1998). Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide. Fortress Press. ISBN 978-0800631222.

Pro Jesus myth in the "Jesus didn't exist at all as a human being" vein:

  • Doherty, Earl (1999) The Jesus Puzzle - the work that showed Richard Carrier that the Jesus didn't exist at all as a human being part of the Christ Myth theory wasn't off in tin foil hat land.
  • Carrier, Richard (2014). On the Historicity of Jesus. Sheffield Phoenix Press. ISBN 978-1-909697-49-2. - only peer reviewed published by a recognized academic publisher work that is known to exist


  1. "Jesus of Nazareth, the Jesus of humanity, the pathetic story of whose humble life and tragic death has awakened the sympathies of millions, is a possible character and may have existed; but the Jesus of Bethlehem, the Christ of Christianity, is an impossible character and does not exist." Remsburg then clarifies this position by stating "That a man named Jesus, an obscure religious teacher, the basis of this fabulous Christ, lived in Palestine about nineteen hundred years ago, may be true. But of this man we know nothing. His biography has not been written."
  2. Marshall, Ian Howard. I Believe in the Historical Jesus. Regent College Publishing, 2004, p. 27-29.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 The Christ
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Barker, Dan (2006). Losing Faith in Faith page 372
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Eddy, Paul R.; Boyd, Gregory A. (2007). The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition. Baker Academic. pages 24-25
  6. Wells, G. A. "Stages of New Testament Criticism," Journal of the History of Ideas, volume 30, issue 2, 1969.
  7. G. R. S. The Talmum 100 Years B.C. Story of Jesus", "Did Jesus Live 100 B.C.?", 1903.
  8. Wells, G. A. "Stages of New Testament Criticism," Journal of the History of Ideas, volume 30, issue 2, 1969.
  9. Carrier, Richard C. (2014). On the Historicity of Jesus. Sheffield Phoenix Press. ISBN 978-1-909697-49-2. page 4-7
  10. Eddy, Paul R.; Boyd, Gregory A. (2007). The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition. Baker Academic. pg 24.
  11. [1]

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