Do Historical Scholars Think Jesus Existed? #2 Post of 2012

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Every once in a while, you may hear from hyper-skeptics that Jesus probably never existed, or that if he did exist, we cannot know anything about him because the historical evidence is so poor.  Mike Licona, in his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, provides a sampling of quotes from scholars who have studied the historical Jesus, and who regard the idea that Jesus never existed as simply false.  These quotes span from 1958 to present day.

Truth is not determined by a vote, but when it comes to historical studies, it certainly is important to see where the scholarly consensus lies.  After all, these people have supposedly studied the evidence far more than the average person.  So, below I have copied Licona’s collection of quotes just to give you an idea of the consensus opinion on the existence of Jesus.

Bultmann (1958): “Of course the doubt as to whether Jesus really existed is unfounded and not worth refutation. No sane person can doubt that Jesus stands as founder behind the historical movement whose first distinct stage is represented by the oldest Palestinian community.”

Bornkamm (I960): “To doubt the historical existence of Jesus at all . . . was reserved for an unrestrained, tendentious criticism of modern times into which it is not worth while to enter here.”

Marxsen (1970): “I am of the opinion (and it is an opinion shared by every serious historian) that the theory [‘that Jesus never lived, that he was a purely mythical figure’] is historically untenable.”

Grant (1977): “To sum up, modern critical methods fail to support the Christ-myth theory. It has ‘again and again been answered and annihilated by first-rank scholars.’  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.”

M. Martin (1991): “Well’s thesis [that Jesus never existed] is controversial and not widely accepted.”

Van Voorst (2000): “Contemporary New Testament scholars have typically viewed their [i.e., Jesus mythers] arguments as so weak or bizarre that they relegate them to footnotes, or often ignore them completely.”

Burridge and Could (2004):  “There are those who argue that Jesus is a figment of the Church’s imagination, that there never was a Jesus at all. I have to say that I do not know any respectable critical scholar who says that any more.”

Allison (“Explaining,” 2005): “No responsible scholar can find any truth in it.”

Maier (2005): “the total evidence is so overpowering, so absolute that only the shallowest of intellects would dare to deny Jesus’ existence.”

R. J. Miller in Scott, ed. (Finding, 2008): “We can be certain that Jesus really existed (despite a few hyper-historical skeptics who refuse to be convinced).”

Vermes (2008): “Let me state plainly that I accept that Jesus was a real historical person.  In my opinion, the difficulties arising from the denial of his existence, still vociferously maintained in small circles of rationalist ‘dogmatists,’ far exceed those deriving from its acceptance.”

C. A. Evans in Evans and Wright (2009): “No serious historian of any religious or nonreligious stripe doubts that Jesus of Nazareth really lived in the first century and was executed under the authority of Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea and Samaria.”

26 thoughts on “Do Historical Scholars Think Jesus Existed? #2 Post of 2012”

  1. Michael R. Licona (born July 17, 1961)[1] is an American New Testament scholar and Evangelical Christian apologist. He has a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies (University of Pretoria) which he completed “with distinction” and the highest mark and an M.A. in Religious Studies from Liberty University. Licona was the Apologetics Coordinator at the North American Mission Board (Southern Baptist Convention) and Research Professor of New Testament at Southern Evangelical Seminary until 2011.

  2. Bill Pratt said: “Truth is not determined by a vote, but when it comes to historical studies, it certainly is important to see where the scholarly consensus lies.”

    I agree.

    I wonder if we will agree on this one:

    Do Historical Scholars Think Jesus Performed Supernatural Magic?

  3. Do scientists think that the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is true? Do they think that something can come from nothing?

  4. “Can something come from nothing “of it’s own accord”??”

    Why, does the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics say “This law can be broken if it’s not ‘of its own accord’?

    You either believe something CAN come from nothing or you don’t. What did your God make the universe out of, if not nothing?

    BTW, have you watched Lawrence Krauss’s “A Universe from Nothing” lecture yet? You’ve been pointed towards it before. It’s easy to find on Youtube.

  5. I don’t think this issue of an historical Jesus is fairly represented by a ‘Either-he-did-or-didn’t’ approach. Much of the scholarship I have read involves what is called ‘mythicism’ in the sense that the Jesus so many worship today may quite possibly be a compilation of myth plus historical figure(s).

    I also think there is very serious scholarship behind mythicism… people like Crossan and Carrier among many arguing and providing pretty compelling evidence – especially from scripture – that one historical man named Jesus is certainly and justifiably debatable.

  6. So then you agree with me that the universe came from nothing… So if an infinitely powerful God didn’t speak it into existence, what did? Nothing? That’s logical…

  7. I don’t know where the universe came from. But positing a God answers nothing. We’ve either got a God who always existed or a universe that always existed. At least I already know that the universe exists, so the latter seems more likely to me, though I’ve nothing against people who put it down to God.

  8. ” though I’ve nothing against people who put it down to God”

    Are you kidding me? Your entire life seems hell bent on berating Christians for their belief in God. At least that’s my experience on this blog.

    BTW, I did watch the lecture because I enjoy the science of Physics. However, many flaws in the speech are evident. I have asked Billy to review the video and present a post rebutting. Hopefully he will. Besides, i’m not aware of any Law that states that quantum particles can come from nothing. We still need to explain their existance..

  9. Can you quote me a single example of me berating a Christian for their beliefs? I do not do that. This blog is mainly concerned with attacking atheism and defending creationism. I post to defend my own beliefs and to engage with what I see as bad arguments against atheism or against mainstream science. I’ve no problem with people being Christian. My mother is a Christian – I certainly have no problem with her religion, and she has no issue with my lack of belief. I don’t think I say anything here that she’d disagree with. I’ve never said there’s no God. I’ve just argued that there’s nothing unreasonable about my position.

  10. You must have misread what I wrote. The question I asked was: “Do Historical Scholars Think Jesus Performed Supernatural Magic?”

  11. If you scrape away the supernatural tales that arose around Alexander the Great after his death, you would still have a significant footprint in the historical record. If you scrape away the supernatural tales that arose around Jesus of Nazareth after his death, you would scrape away the only reason he is remembered at all. Had it not been for belief in the resurrection, it is entirely possible that Jesus of Nazareth would have come and gone without leaving a trace in the historical record that would be discernible to anyone today. The stories about the life of the earthly man were only preserved and transmitted in order to propagate belief in supernatural events that were thought to have occurred after he died.

    To the best of my knowledge, with a single exception, our knowledge of the existence of people in the ancient world is invariably the result of something that they did during their lives that had some impact on the prominent or literate people of their day. Jesus of Nazareth is the only person whose existence is known because of his postmortem supernatural accomplishments. It seems to me that demonstrating the existence of such a person would pose some unique challenges.

  12. The people quoted by Licona are highly respected historical scholars. Calling them “Christian apologists” doesn’t do anything to counteract their academic credentials.

    And ironically, you are an apologist for your anti-Christian worldview (whatever it is), so should I ignore everything you say?

  13. No, I am not an “apologist for anti-Christian worldview”. The people making supernatural claims and defending such nonsense are the apologists, and the burden of proof lies with them. It doesn’t matter how highly-respected the authors Licona quotes are, because frankly the appeal to authority argument isn’t sufficient to dismiss the historical facts and reality that Christianity is just another astrotheological myth, based largely on the Egyptian religious myths as well as Judaism. The parallels are real and significant, and it becomes glaringly apparent when you read about the complex and varying Egyptian mythologies. Death and resurrection of the sun god is a common theme, including death by water and crucifixion. For anyone interested in knowing exactly where the claims come from and that they in fact have not been “debunked” any more than the theory of evolution or the idea that the earth is more than 6-10K years old, read this book. It’s only about 122 pages but very informative. Over 2400 citations, including many primary sources.

  14. So you have a few people, I can list and quote a bunch of respected PhD flat earthers and Creationists if you want. I want a consensus, not a few quotes by select individuals of your choosing, respected or not. A consensus makes up the majority of scholars. Not just the ones you accept.

    So please, I repeat for the millionth time. Give us real evidence for a scholarly consensus.

  15. You do seem to be an apologist for the idea that Christianity is a copycat religion. So you do have a claim here that has met it’s burden of proof exactly as much as Bill’s has. Can we get a scholarly consensus from you that Christianity is based on Egyptian mythology, and not just Zeitgeist movie thinking? Moreover, I’m not sure why you also bring up the similarity to Judaism. Of course it’s similar, they have the same God. Christianity is Judaism 2.0. These ‘parallels’ though have nothing to do with disproving Christianity. That’s a key part of the narrative, not evidence that it’s wrong.

  16. The whole point of the list of scholarly quotes is that these are scholars from all over the ideological spectrum. So, yes, by sampling from a wide range of scholarship, we can see that there is a consensus.

    Your problem seems to be that you simply don’t believe me or Mike Licona. You think that we are falsely representing scholarship on this question. In that case, I don’t know what to tell you. Find some credentialed experts on the historical Jesus who you trust and ask them about the consensus.

  17. Well, I was looking for a real consensus, not a small list of around 10 or less historians dating all the way back to 1958. That is not a consensus, that is a small sampling of people you pick and chose.

    As I have said before. I want a real consensus. Give me a consensus. This is in no way a consensus.

  18. For example, 95% of scientists believe in evolution, according to a recent Gallup poll. You have no poll to prove anything, all you have are some sources to scientists who agree with you that have credentials. Ken Ham did that in his debate a few days ago and that is also not evidence that his claim was right either.

  19. I like your statement, “Truth is not determined by a vote, but when it comes to historical studies, it certainly is important to see where the scholarly consensus lies.” We are having Mike Licona as a plenary speaker this year at our Xenos Summer Institute. Looking forward to hearing from him.

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