“You cannot prove that Jesus existed!”
Christians hear that often from atheists and agnostics. Should we ignore the comments or respond? If we respond, what should we say?
During the week leading up to a Resurrection Sunday many years ago, I published a series of articles about ‘The Holy Week.’ An atheist shared a comment with me that the resurrection of Jesus was ‘not a fact.’ As a Christian I believe that the existence of Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection are “facts” and central to both our worldview and our relationship with God. Since we are called to the ‘defense of the Gospel’ it is incumbent upon every Christian to respond to these kinds of challenges.
As you read my response to the atheist, think about what you might say in a similar situation. We are all unique in our knowledge, understanding and experience, so our responses will also be unique.
[Podcast version available at the end of this post.]
This isn’t a fact.
Hi. How do you know?
Because you are unable to even prove Jesus existed.
I’m assuming you have researched historical information about the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, so please define what you mean by ‘prove.’ You may want to read agnostic scholar Bart Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. You might find this article by Ehrman in the Huffington Post of interest – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bart-d-ehrman/did-jesus-exist_b_1349544.html
“I don’t think there’s any serious historian who doubts the existence of Jesus …. We have more evidence for Jesus than we have for almost anybody from his time period.” Prof Bart Ehrman, University of North Carolina
Those are books by apologists like yourself, full of circular arguments and not actually providing any evidence. On the contrary, lots of historians question the existence of Jesus of Nazareth. For starters, Nazareth likely didnt exist then, secondly – there is no mention of him in the historical record AT ALL.
No census, no legal documents, no scholar, scribe, rabbi — nobody mentions him, at all.
Philo for example, lived in judea at the time jesus was supposed to be alive. He wrote a great deal about life in judea and theology.
He never mentioned the guy who supposedly woke the dead, thrashed market traders, and fed 5000 people with bread and fishes.
Thats a lot of people to stay silent.
Like I said, you are unable to prove his existence, because there is no evidence for his existence.
I recommended only one book and it was written by an agnostic scholar. Bart Ehrman is not a Christian, so he is not a Christian apologist. You are correct that some historians question the existence of Jesus of Nazareth. There are also many historians and scholars who believe Jesus existed. Both of us could list the names and publications of the historians, but I’ve already shared what one agnostic historian scholar believes about the historicity of Jesus.
Atheist historian Michael Grant wrote that – ‘In recent years, ‘no serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non historicity of Jesus’ or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary.’
Atheist Jeffrey Jay Lowder (The Secular Web) wrote this: “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.”
You say ‘Nazareth likely didn’t exist.’ The ancient town is believed to lie under the modern city of Nazareth, so archaeological work has been limited. However, excavations begun in the late 20th century on the grounds of Nazareth Hospital have found some potsherds dating from the early to late Roman period. Excavations at Kfar HaHoresh (about 2 miles from modern Nazareth) uncovered a funerary and cult center dating back thousands of years before the time of Jesus. Excavations in the mid-20th century in the Nazareth basin found pottery dating more than a thousand years before the time of Jesus. Archaeological excavations continue, so we’ll see what else will be discovered.
You say that ‘there is no mention of him in the historical record AT ALL.’ It would seem by that statement that you are ignoring the Gospels and other writings in the New Testament as historical record. Is that correct? If so, what criteria are you using to dismiss the ancient records written by people who attested to knowing Jesus personally?
Jesus is mentioned in many extra-biblical records: including Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, Lucia, Babylonian Talmud, and Mara Bar-Serapion. Then there are also the James Ossuary Inscription, Megiddo Mosaic Floor Inscription, and Alexamenos Graffito.
“Philo for example, lived in judea at the time jesus was supposed to be alive. He wrote a great deal about life in judea and theology. He never mentioned the guy who supposedly woke the dead, thrashed market traders, and fed 5000 people with bread and fishes. Thats a lot of people to stay silent.”
Concerning Philo the philosopher from Alexandria, are you attempting to argue from silence on his part concerning Jesus? That is generally viewed as a logical fallacy, so I want to make sure of what you are saying. Philo may not have heard about Jesus, or if he had, may have chosen not to write about Jesus.
What do you mean by ‘Thats a lot of people to stay silent.’? The only person in your context who may have been silent about Jesus was Philo. If you allow for the historicity of the Gospel accounts, the man Jesus raised from the dead did speak, as did some of the 5000 telling family, friends and neighbors about Jesus.
“Like i said, you are unable to prove his existence, because there is no evidence for his existence.”
I’m not sure why you don’t acknowledge the wealth of evidence for the existence of Jesus, but I know that my struggle as an atheist was ‘confirmation bias.’ I believed so strongly that God did not exist and that Jesus was a myth or legend that I interpreted any biblical information from my own preconceptions. It wasn’t until I disciplined myself to look at evidence from as objective viewpoint as possible that I began to see the possibilities of the existence of God and Jesus. Following the path of evidence through the process of disciplined investigation led me to become a theist and Christian.
Its a lot of people to stay silent so that not only philo, but others did not mention him. The 5000 and the people they would have spoken to would have ALL had to stay silent.
It’s not a logical fallacy, i gave one example, not as the only example.
You are again trying to argue that the bible is the proof, and i know why you are trying to do that and shift it to that – because let’s be honest here, thats the only proof*.
So, is the flood real? the story of genesis? how about exodus? Talking donkeys? Talking snakes? talking bushes? Unicorns? and lets not forget the jewish Ziz (a sphynx / griffin type creature).
Is the bible proof of those things too? Because they too are ridiculous. Not only would using the bible, to prove the bible true be circular logic, but it isnt even credible.
“its a lot of people to stay silent so that not only philo, but others did not mention him. The 5000 and the people they would have spoken to would have ALL had to stay silent.”
On the contrary, people who saw Jesus told their family, friends and neighbors about him. The crowds of people grew in number as Jesus traveled and taught. People were talking about Him in many of the cities of Judea. Even people in Samaria were telling others about Jesus, which led new people to come to Jesus to find out what He had to say. They were not silent.
“You are again trying to argue that the bible is the proof, and i know why you are trying to do that and shift it to that – because lets be honest here, thats the only proof*.”
The Bible contains ‘evidence’ that anyone interested in knowing truth should investigate. If they don’t and the truth claims in the Bible are in fact true, how will they know the truth?
The Bible contains ‘primary’ documents for investigation, but there are also other extra-biblical documents that are important for investigation. Those include the writings of Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, Lucia, Babylonian Talmud, and Mara Bar-Serapion. Then there are also the James Ossuary Inscription, Megiddo Mosaic Floor Inscription, and Alexamenos Graffito.
“So, is the flood real? the story of genesis? how about exodus? Talking donkeys? Talking snakes? talking bushes? Unicorns? and lets not forget the jewish Ziz (a sphynx / griffin type creature).”
There is evidence for a worldwide cataclysmic flood. There is also evidence for the historical information found in Genesis and Exodus. A snake and donkey given the ability to communicate with humans through a speech mechanism is a small thing to the God who created the universe. That’s true as well of God speaking to Moses from a burning bush. As for the unicorn, that is an English translation found in the King James Version of the Old Testament 9 times. Other English translations of the Hebrew word re’em use the word ‘ox’ or ‘wild ox.’ Another possibility is that the animal was from the family Rhinocerotidae. The Jewish Ziz is not in the Bible. It comes from Jewish mythology
“Is the bible proof of those things too? Because they too are ridiculous. Not only would using the bible, to prove the bible true be circular logic, but it isnt even credible.”
Investigating information contained in the Bible is not using the Bible to prove the Bible. It’s part of an honest investigation to look at all of the evidence for and against. As with any investigation, keep what is found to be credible and remove that which is found not to be credible.
I hope my answers have helped you in some way. Thanks!
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