Jesus is the corner stone of Christianity. But did he really exist? There are those who vigorously oppose the Christian faith and write off any suggestion that Jesus really walked on this earth. Others agree that he existed, but that he was just an ordinary man or at best a self-proclaimed prophet. So, was Jesus real? Did he really do and say all that is written about him? Those who try to proof just that often refer to historical evidence. This section looks at the earliest written accounts about Jesus and argues that ancient documented evidence is genuine and trustworthy.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is key to the gospel. If Christ had not been resurrected and seen by many people, Christianity would not exist today. The book of 1 Corinthians in the New Testament was written by the apostle Paul. The 15th chapter explains the significance of the resurrection of Jesus. It says that Jesus died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3). It also says that our faith would be meaningless if there had been no resurrection (1 Cor. 15:17).
Picture: Bible Facts
Paul is one of the people who saw Jesus after the resurrection, as he describes in 1 Corinthians: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born” (1 Cor. 15:3-7, NIV).
The Gospel According to Luke, also called the Gospel of Luke, or simply Luke, is the third of the four canonical Gospels. It tells of the origins, birth, ministry, atonement, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Luke was a highly educated physician and a careful researcher in the Greek academic tradition.
Luke: Highly educated physician and careful researcher
Luke understood the importance of accurate records. “I too decided to write an orderly account for you,” he wrote to Theophilus, “so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:3-4). Luke’s choice of words and grammar are eloquent and descriptive. We can be assured that what Luke writes is not based on vague recollections, guesswork or hearsay. What Luke wrote is deeply rooted in a well-documented eyewitness record of Jesus Christ.
There are several examples of recorded history of the period soon after Jesus lived, that is the 1st century AD. Titus Flavius Josephus (37 – c. 100) was a 1st century Romano-Jewish historian and hagiographer of priestly and royal ancestry who recorded Jewish history. His works provide insight into 1st century Judaism and the background of early Christianity. Josephus was a Jew who did not believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. In The Antiquities of the Jews, book 18, chapter 3, paragraph 3 he writes: “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… Pilate condemned him to the cross. He appeared alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold…”.
Another historian, Publius Cornelius Tacitus, was born in AD 56 and died around 120 AD. He was a Roman orator and public official, regarded as one of the greatest historians and one of the greatest prose stylists, writing in the Latin language. Neither Titus or Tacitus would have any benefit from not telling the truth. Both these men, as well as others, can be used to back up the historical accuracy of the Bible.
Historical discoveries regularly come to light that continue to support the accuracy of the Bible. Merrill Unger, who compiled a Bible dictionary, wrote “Old Testament archaeology has rediscovered whole nations, resurrected important peoples, and in a most astonishing manner filled in historical gaps, adding immeasurably to the knowledge of Biblical backgrounds.”
The four Gospels of the Bible are bibliographical accounts of the life of Jesus. Some of the earliest manuscript fragments of the New Testament were written between 50-100 AD.
Example of an Early Manuscript
All the text of 1 Peter and 2 Peter
The normal objective measure of the reliability of historical documents is: 1) The number of available copies of ancient manuscripts, and 2) The time span between the original version and the date of those copies still in existence today. When examined under this standard, the Bible provides a treasure trove of proof and evidence that Jesus really existed.
Jesus foresees what is about to happen to him. How can he possibly know that he is about to be captured, killed and then a few days later rise from the dead? And that a little later the Holy Spirit would descend on the apostles. How can Jesus possibly predict that and get it absolutely right, word for word. Jesus speaks with authority and predicts that what is foretold in the Old Testament is about to happen. Jesus can only be that confident and that right if he himself is intricately connected to God, the creator of all. There is no other plausible explanation. No amount of magic tricks can come up with something so powerful and so lasting, something so withstanding the test of time.
Jesus made twelve appearances after his resurrection
- His first appearance was to Mary Magdalene, on that early Sunday morning (Mark 16:9; John 20:10-18).
- Jesus appeared to the women returning from the tomb (Matthew 28:9-10).
- Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32; Mark 16:12-13).
- He appeared to Peter in Jerusalem (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5).
- He appeared to his disciples and other followers, and also a second time to the two men from Emmaus, in a locked room in Jerusalem. The apostle Thomas wasn’t there at that time (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-23).
- A week later, Jesus again appeared to his disciples behind locked doors, and this time Thomas was present (John 20:24-29).
- Jesus appeared to seven of his disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-24).
- Jesus was seen by 500 believers at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6).
- He appeared to James (1 Corinthians 15:7).
- He appeared to eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee (Matt. 28:18-20).
- He walked with his disciples along the road to Bethany, on the Mount of Olives, and then ascended into Heaven (Luke 24:50-53).
- He was seen by Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-6; 1 Corinthians 15:8).