Did Jesus Really Exist?
Few scholars hold the view that Jesus never lived. However, this idea is persistent and appears from time to time. For such scholars, the books of the New Testament are late with the exception of Paul’s epistles. Since Paul didn’t meet Jesus physically, it is possible that Jesus never existed at all and Christianity started without any contact with a historical Jesus who supposedly died about 30 AD because only in later documents is His sojourn on earth assigned to a specific time and place.
However, there are five main problems with this view.
First, Paul mentions a historical Jesus and exhibits sufficient interest in the life of the historical Jesus. This includes the preservation of eyewitness testimony to these facts. In 1 Corininthians, Paul incorporates a very early Christian creed that is much older than the book in which it appears. He states :
“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” (1 Corinthians 15:3-7).
Such early traditions appear frequently in the New Testament and consist of oral teachings and proclamations that were repeated until recorded in the book itself. These creeds, then, predate the New Testament writings in which they occur. This particular tradition records the death, burial, resurrection, and appearances of Jesus.
In addition, Paul not only met some of these witnesses personally, but he explains that his message concerning these facts is identical with their eyewitness testimony. He said that “after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him for fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.” (Galatians 1:18-19). He also stated that the entire faith is based on this witness of the resurrection of Jesus “And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise.” (1 Corinthians 15:14-15). It was crucially important for Paul that this information is very close to the actual events, and therefore cannot be dismissed as late material or as hearsay evidence.
Second, Paul demonstrates evidence that Jesus lived in the first century AD. He refers to Jesus’ contemporaries Cephas and the twelve (1 Corinthians 15:5); the apostles, the brothers of Christ, and Cephas (1 Corinthians 9:5); James the brother of the Lord (Galatians 1:18-19); the apostles Peter, James and John (Galatians 2:8-9); and Peter alone (Galatians 2:11). Further, Paul points out that most of the 500 people who saw the resurrected Jesus at one time were still alive when he wrote the book of 1 Corinthians, about AD 55-57.
Many explanations of skeptics, therefore, can be categorized as “pettifogging”, where they raise a smoke screen instead of dealing directly with the material that goes against their hypothesis.
The third main problem is that skeptics rely on ancient mystery religions to explain the existence of Christianity without a historical Jesus. Such a reliance on the development of legends was a popular thesis in the late 19th century, but has been dismissed later by the majority of researchers, and for good reason. Read more on Jesus and ancient myths in this article
Also read more on why alternative theories to the resurrection are false in this article (https://www.facebook.com/101891955556995/posts/144801514599372/)
Fourth, the hypothesis that Jesus never existed relies on late dating of the Gospels to 90 AD at the earliest, with no links of Jesus’ death to Pilate before that date. Such dates for the Gospels may have been popular in the nineteenth century, but are abandoned today by the vast majority of scholars, and for good reason. Most critical scholars date Mark about AD 65-70 and Matthew and Luke about AD 80-90. Some scholars even accept dates earlier than these.
For historical evidence outside of the New Testament on the crucifixion of Jesus at the time of Pilate, please read this article (https://www.facebook.com/101891955556995/posts/152251733854350)
The fifth main problem is the lack of application of normal historical methodology to the Gospel material. If we apply to the New Testament the same sort of criteria as we should apply to ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject the existence of Jesus than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned.
In conclusion, few scholars have asserted that Jesus never existed or have attempted to cast almost total doubt on his life and ministry. When such efforts have occurred, they have been met by rare outcries from the scholarly community.