Is it possible that the most famous man in history never actually existed? That is precisely the claim made by some academics today, including Richard Carrier, Robert Price, and Raphael Lataster. There is a lot at stake in this debate. If Jesus never actually existed, then the main claims of Christianity cannot be true. These authors build their case by dismissing the historical accuracy of the Gospels and minimizing the significance of collaborating evidence.
However, many people who reject Christianity remain convinced that Jesus did exist. In fact, some former atheists like Dr. Michael Bird cite the evidence for the historical Jesus as a key reason for their conversion to Christianity. Here are three solid historical arguments for the existence of Jesus.
First, the Christian community viewed the literal life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus as central to their belief from a very early date. For example, Paul seems to quote an early Christian creed in 1 Corinthians 15. This passage was written by the mid-50s AD. In fact, nearly all of the New Testament was written and being circulated within a generation of the events that it records. There simply is not enough time for a mythological or mystical Jesus be invented by the early Christians.
Secondly, the Jewish historian Josephus (AD 37-97) wrote about Jesus at least twice. Once he calls James the “brother of Jesus, who was called Christ.” A longer passage, found in Antiquities 18:3, has several variants and is sometimes disputed. However, even the passages considered most likely to not contain later Christian interpolations reads, “At this time there was a wise man named Jesus. His conduct was good and was known to be virtuous. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who became his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion…”
Finally, the Roman historian Tacitus (AD 55-117) wrote of the burning of Rome under Nero. He is definitely a hostile witness, and did not have a good opinion of believers in general. In the Annals he records, “Nero fabricated scapegoats and punished with every refinement the notoriously depraved Christians… Their originator, Christ, had been executed in Tiberius’ reign by the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilatus. But in spite of this temporary setback the deadly superstition had broken out afresh…”
Other evidence could be cited as well. Pliney the Younger wrote to Emperor Trajan around 112 and described Christians as meeting on Sundays and singing worship to Christ “as to a god.” There are multiple references to Jesus in governmental correspondence, literature, and the writings of early Christians that date to first century or early second century. With this in mind, no one should claim that we must deny the existence of Jesus because of a lack of historical evidence.