Your One Best Answer to People Who Say Jesus Never Existed (And Other Skeptical Claims)

By Tom Gilson Published on March 24, 2018

It’s that time of the year again, when magazines, newspapers, websites and cable channels will try to tell us again that Jesus never existed, or He was married to Mary Magdalene, or that He blessed a gay marriage.

Are you ready for the challenge? You can be. I’ve got one answer that will work for a whole bunch of them. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of study at all. Enjoy that while it lasts: Usually I’m big on encouraging everyone to bone up.

So here’s the one quick answer for a host of challenges: What’s your evidence for that?

Let me show you a few examples of how it works; then I’ll explain a couple of general principles at the end.

”Jesus never existed.”

I’ll be interacting on this topic live by video next week on The Stream’s Facebook page —  Tuesday, March 27, at 8:00 pm Eastern time. It’s set to be episode four of “Contentious Questions (Because some questions are just that way).”

Bring your questions, your comments, and your friends. Share this around social media. I’ll look forward to being with you there then.

My daughter got that one from a biology prof in college. Really? Sorry, prof, but you’re in the wrong discipline for that; it’s not a biology question, it’s a history question. And serious, credible scholars in the field, both Christian and non-Christian, all agree that Jesus really lived. Most of them even agree that he was a teacher who did extraordinary works. Of course not all go all the way to believing he was the Son of God who lived, died, and rose again. But they believe a lot more than the “Jesus mythicists” would have you think.

Yes, the mythicists are out there. In their private conversations at least, however, true academic historians of the Ancient Near East call the mythicists cranks. I won’t name names, but one of them gets a good talking-to here. The famous skeptic Bart Ehrman — who in fact recently declared himself an atheist — devoted a book to debunking this fringe belief. There’s a lot in Christianity Ehrman disagrees with, but not this much of it.

So when you ask, then, “Where’s your evidence for this?” watch out for who they rely on for authorities. Chances are pretty much 100 percent that they’re calling on a verifiable crank to support their theory.

The Story of Jesus Was Borrowed from Mithras, or Horus, or Isis, or Apollonius of Tyana, or …

This one gained favor with a book by Fraser called The Golden Bough. It’s a lovely theory, hampered only by all the facts lined up against it on every side. But go ahead. Ask, “Where’s your evidence?” Consider the Mithras claim, which is the one I run into most often. The story itself runs into a problem. All that we know about this Mithra character comes from after the time of Christ. It’s hard to see how the story of Jesus could have been borrowed from one that came long afterward!

The supposed parallels with Horus, Isis, and so on all fail when examined closely. I’ll link you to one example (which also helps show how Ehrman errs on many things). Others are easy enough to find, too.

“Jesus Was Married to Mary Magdalene”

This one’s even easier. “Where’s your evidence?” The best I can find for it is that Dan Brown made a ton of money by imagining it in The Da Vinci Code a few years back. As for primary evidence found anywhere near the time of the events, there isn’t even a hint of a suggestion of a clue of a fragment of a possibility.

“The Emperor Constantine Decided What the Church Should Believe”

See the previous answer. The only difference is that this story is older than The Da Vinci Code. Otherwise it stacks up about the same. “Where’s your evidence?” There isn’t any.

As for primary evidence found anywhere near the time of the events, there isn’t even a hint of a suggestion of a clue of a fragment of a possibility.

“The Church Suppressed the Real Gospels”

“Where’s your evidence?” There are lots and lots of supposed gospels, and people will trot them all out as if they signified something important. Which they do: They show that Jesus was popular enough in the second through the fourth centuries for a lot of people to make up stories about Him. But it’s very, very certain that none of these “lost gospels” has any claim to being authentic accounts of Jesus. J. Warner Wallace covers all the easily falsifiable claims here.

Where’s Your Evidence?

There are times when this question is useful and times when it isn’t. Generally speaking, it’s a good one to ask when someone claims something to be true. It doesn’t matter what it the claim is, usually; if they say it’s true, you have the right to ask why they think so.

All of the above examples are like that: The challenger is saying he or she knows something to be true about the life of Jesus or early Christianity.

Watch out for the common counter-move: “Well, where’s your evidence that it isn’t true?” If you’ve started out by asking them for their evidence, you really don’t have to provide your own. Why not? Because you haven’t made a claim! Why should you have to provide evidence for something you never even said?

But there are times when we Christians do make claims. Then we should be expect that question to come right back toward us. And we should be prepared for it (see 1 Peter 3:15). When we say Jesus rose from the grave, for example, we really ought to be ready to give reasons for believing it.

You might wonder, then, ”Where’s our evidence? There’s plenty of it out there, I assure you. I’ll be glad to suggest three sites for you to search through for it. Or you could read a good book. My favorite is J. Warner Wallace’s Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. It’s highly informative and incredibly readable.

This is a season for crank claims. Don’t swallow them. Use your head. Ask questions. Ask for the evidence.

 

Tom Gilson is a senior editor with The Stream and the author of Critical Conversations: A Christian Parents’ Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens (Kregel Publications, 2016). Follow him on Twitter: @TomGilsonAuthor.

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  • John Doe

    I enjoy very much to read of evidence that supports my Christian stand. Apologetic’s is a compelling subject, but I must admit that I have not seen anyone when faced with arguments that they can’t overcome turn to Christ. For example, I’ve debated with the door to door religious salesmen(people) repeated times. None of them made any indication that the info I put to them would cause them to rethink their religious position. Usually they just get more adamant, sometimes even irritated. Some have just walked away. Not all bad though, they usually don’t come back for a third round.
    I like what you say in the article. It feels good to shut up a skeptic, but argument will not open the door to the heart.

    • JP

      You never know how God will use a good argument. Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean you were not effective.

      • Chip Crawford

        Yes, a seed was planted. That’s why keeping it in the spirit of love matters — more likely to consider it later … when the Holy Spirit brings it to their remembrance. I did hear of a fellow who drew a couple of Jehova Witnesses in and shared his Amway presentation with them, but … that’s usually not the ones that will hear good arguments (not sure how it went with the Amway).

      • wsteinbr

        Sometimes it is not the person that you are in debate with that is who God is affecting. There are an unknown number watching.

    • Apologetics was very instrumental in my own decision to follow Christ. It wasn’t the only thing; in fact I’m quite sure it’s never the only thing, even from the perspective of just earthly influences. But it was something, and actually quite significant.

      Greg Koukl talks about putting a stone in people’s shoe with it. What he means is that apologetics can cause people to reflect, to reconsider their skepticism, even sometimes to be bothered over a period of time with doubts about their doubts. God can use it as part of a process. I know He did with me.

      • wsteinbr

        I like Greg Koukl –
        “What do you mean by that?”
        “How did you come to that conclusion?”
        “Let us take that to its logical conclusion.”
        These and the examples for these are in his book – “Tactics”

    • Kathy

      Have you ever brought up the fact that these “door to door religious salesmen” have all added their own doctrine to the original Scriptures and ask them which could be the correct one if they are all different? I did that twice, the people were speechless at first, and then said “Interesting point”, never to return even though they claimed they would.

      • wsteinbr

        Someone at my church asked one question of a Jehovah’s Witness. What was Jesus’ proper response when Thomas said “My Lord and My God!”? The Jehovah’s Witness tried to say “Well it was just an expression” To which the guy I know said “Oh, so you say he took God’s name in vain” The Jehovah’s Witness eventually became a Christian.

  • jkarov

    On the questions related to “Where’s Your Evidence”, you’re missing something very important
    to people born in the 20th century

    That is “Where’s the SCIENTIFIC evidence”

    Many of us are scientists.

    Even if we’re not, more and more humans know the that faith is intangible and unprovable.

    Religions, scriptures, and faith are not relevant on the basis of the scientific methold

    • Kat

      Exactly. There is no secular evidence of a Jesus Christ or Mohammed or Buddha. That’s why it’s called, “faith”.

      • Wow. Three unsupported, false, assertions all in a row. Maybe four, if you count the mis-definition of “faith.”

      • GLT

        What is secular evidence and how does it differ from evidence in general?

      • There are books written about Mohammed, contemporary evidence, he took over places at times and in places that demonstratively show to have been conquered at the time. He had children and wives and interacted with people who reported those interactions even when unfavorable.

        • Kat

          Sorry mate. There is no secular evidence of a Prophet Mohammed.

    • LgVt

      This is a curious post.

      It does not seem to mesh well with the original article. The scientific method has practically nothing to do with questions of history–with whether this event or that happened, or whether this person or that actually existed.

      It is like jkarov simply skimmed the article, noticed the phrase “Where’s your evidence?”, and used that as a launch point for another generic claim of science vs. religion (to which the classic response is that God, under carefully monitored laboratory conditions, will do whatever He darn well pleases).

      (For a more detailed look at where science and religion collide in the present day, take a trip to Lourdes.)

    • Chip Crawford

      You can’t see the wind, but you can see the evidence of its presence. Your own testimony of the change in your life and others you know, those to whom you have shared, is evidence. Anyone with a soul will relate to weights coming off, relationships healed, peace coming in, hope. When hearts get touched and lives are good and sound, caring evidenced, it’s interesting how science kind of slips out of mind.

      • DW3

        Ignite a fire and the wind is seen in smoke.
        Raise a flag and the wind is obvious as well.
        Religion is nonsense.
        History does NOT square with the events disseminated via “the bible”.

        Nothing in your (very non-persuasive) argument substantiates any empirical evidence of either the existence or the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth.

    • First: Category error. Science studies the natural world, Christianity is about what is beyond the natural world.

      However:

      Christianity is also about God working in the world, and there is considerable scientific evidence for God in nature.

      But:

      This post wasn’t about that, so I’m not going to get sidetracked on it. This post wasn’t about Christians making claims about Jesus, it was about skeptics making claims. Sure, there are many times when Christians make claims, and as I said, we should be prepared to support them when we do. But I didn’t write about that this time,

      Therefore:

      While your question has answers we could give at another time, I’m not interested in changing the subject here. I really always prefer to keep the conversation connected to the original post. Otherwise it wanders everywhere, and nothing really gets discussed in depth. You want to talk about the original post? I’ll be glad to.

      • jkarov

        Quote: “Christianity is about what is beyond the natural world”

        For which there is zero scientific proof

        • GLT

          Are you saying only the natural world exists?

        • I thought I answered this a few minutes ago, and it’s disappeared. I was going to post a variation on that answer anyway.

          jkarov, saying there’s no scientific proof for this only shows that you don’t understand what scepience is for, and what it isn’t for. There’s no scientific proof that Gutenberg invented the printing press, or that Marco Polo went to China and back. There’s no scientific proof that any individual’s life has purpose. There’s no scientific proof that the sunrise yesterday morning was beautiful.

          There are ways to know all these things are true, and they are good ways, but they’re not scientific ways. Science isn’t our only source of knowledge.

          So if there’s no scientific proof that anything exists beyond the natural world, we’ll, that’s fine. In fact I would expect it, because if science could prove it, then it wouldn’t be beyond the natural world, it would be part of it. Science can’t see it because science doesn’t have the capability of looking there. There are other disciplines that do. That’s where we need to focus our questions

          Now, I’m cooperating with a digression here, which I don’t normally like to do. Usually I prefer to stick to the main subject of the original article. But this is important — important enough that I’m going to try to plan to write an article on it in the next couple of weeks, maybe even this week.

          So if you’ve got further doubts or questions about this, I suggest you save them for then, and try to get back to the topic at hand here for now. As a reminder, the topic was, how should Christians respond when skeptics make some claim about Jesus and the Bible — and specifically the sort of claim for which they ought to have evidence.

          • jkarov

            I’ve been a computer scientist for many years. Your pathetic response on just denying the scientific method is painfully naive and uninformed

          • But I didn’t deny the scientific method.

          • Andrew Mason

            Have you? You haven’t actually supplied any evidence whatsoever to validate that claim – you’re simply asking us to take it on faith. You’re also engaging in rather hostile conversation and insults suggesting you’re either not confident in your position, you’ve encountered something you have a phobia to, or you’re simply trolling.

          • Right. I think I included that in a “however” clause, and you’re 100% correct about that.

          • GPS Daddy

            >>I’ve been a computer scientist for many years

            So have I. Not once have I needed the scientific method of investigation to perform my job. Exactly how has Tom denied the scientific method?

          • Dan

            Tom, I was shocked when I heard the argument of whether or not Jesus existed. Seriously I hadn’t’ heard that before and I’d thought I was up to date on most anything to do with Christianity.
            You said because many credible scholars believe Jesus existed but didn’t give their reasons.
            There are many things that we accept with the only proof of it being an account of it in a book.
            If Jesus never existed then all the disciples must have been crazy because who would suffer as they did for a lie? Plus if I remember correctly Josephus, mentioned Jesus in one of his books.
            In the end Tom just be glad you are one of his and the faith you have is a blessing from God and that is for you and you alone brother.

          • There’s actually no evidence the for the disciples most of that stuff was made up much later into the middle ages.

            The earliest records we have for Christians existing is that of Pliny who records in a letter to the emperor, that he found some Christians in the start of the 2nd century and had no idea what they were babbling about, he killed one for being rather stubborn and they all quickly recanted their beliefs, cursed their Jesus figure and hailed the emperor as they should. The earliest records we have show them to promptly recant when they feel their lives are on the line.

            There are two purported references to Jesus in Josephus however, neither of them are genuine. One is from the 4th century and the other is a margin note that got added in a passage about Jesus Bin Damneus.

          • Dan

            There’s new testament writings from the middle of the 1st century AD.
            No, I get it most of our writings are 300 yrs or more and having to
            come together hundreds of years later to make the divinity of Jesus, a noted truth also doesn’t help.
            Granted, I agree the the new testament has it’s problems when it comes to a reasoned argument.
            No, I just hadn’t heard the argument before of Jesus being a made up figure of history. For me however, it has the opposite affect.
            Blessed are those who do not see yet still believe.

            This statement really resonates with me because as child and in learning about the gospel and it’s assurances of salvation by faith alone. I thought believing was too easy so I dared our creator to test me on this.

            Well, that was laughingly 47 yrs ago and boy oh boy have I been tested.
            I’m glad to say I still have faith and plan on never losing it.

          • Joe Dove

            “Science isn’t our only source of knowledge.”

            Tom – so what exactly are you saying here? Because Science is not the only way we know things we should rely on what exactly? Things we think? Things that ‘make sense’? Things that we want to believe?

            No Tom, we should rely on evidence. Review these three rules for your life:
            1. If there is a reasonable amount of evidence for something – then it is reasonable to think it is true.
            2. If there is a reasonable amount of evidence against something – then it is reasonable to think it is NOT true
            3. If there is not a reasonable amount of evidence for or against something then you cannot reasonably determine if it is true or not

            If you take Christianity and apply those rules, you very much arrive at the conclusion that it is not true.

            The evidence for it is not seasonably convincing and the evidence against it is overwhelming.

      • Joe Dove

        “First: Category error. Science studies the natural world, Christianity is about what is beyond the natural world.”

        Not really – Christianity makes a huge number of claims about the ‘natural world’ that should be testable – Christianity claims that God made the world in seven days; that you can communicate with God; that he has a direct influence on events and people; and that he is influencing the course of history – all of those things are scientifically testable, for example you and a 1000 of your friends pray to your God and me and 1000 of my friends will pray to this empty water bottle, I guarantee you the results will be the same, some of the prayers will be answered and some wont and there would be no statistical difference between our results ( Indeed the effectiveness of prayer has been studied numerous times, just google it )

        “Christianity is also about God working in the world, and there is considerable scientific evidence for God in nature.”

        What ??? Dude you are going to have to quote some studies on that, and if you can I’ll eat my hat. ( and I’ll send you pictures of me doing it)

        And too your “but” point

        Yeah sure there are a lot of dubious theories that have been put forth to explain the origin of the story of Jesus, namely the gospels – BUT Christians claim that the gospels are the true story of how God took on the form of a man and traveled to earth so he could sacrifice himself to himself so he could save us from him, that is by far and away the most outrageous explanation for the origin of the gospels that could possibly be imagined !

        Even you have to admit that the probability of the gospels being a true story is extremely remote – what are the odds that Jesus could walk on water? Lets see, there are 7 billion people on the planet and exactly 0 of them can walk on water – ergo the odds of Jesus being able to do it are it least 1 in 7 billion.

        more comments below

      • Science can study anything that exists within reality. If you check again and the same stuff happens then you can certainly apply science to that subject. The problem is that science has provided the answer to every mystery we’ve ever solved and god and Christianity has never actually been the correct answer. It’s one thing to say that they are non-overlapping magisteria but we can check the success rates and science has built computers, atomic bombs, cured diseases, let us understand the universe and there’s no similar accomplishments for religion. In fact, every phenomenon we’ve ever found mysterious has often by cited as something God did only to later determine it was an unknown natural phenomena.

    • Patmos

      “faith is intangible”

      The power of God is tangible. I’ve felt it. It feels like a low, gentle current of electricity. Actually it can be stronger than that, enough to kill a person on the spot, and it can also work without any sensation at all.

      It’s hilarious when people conclude that just because they haven’t experienced something it doesn’t exist, in spite of all the people testifying to it’s existence. It’d be like me saying France doesn’t exist just because I’ve never been there. Absurd.

      • swordfish

        “The power of God is tangible. I’ve felt it. It feels like a low, gentle current of electricity.”

        Are you sure you haven’t got an earth leakage fault?

      • People have equally felt that in clear contexts that are not those of Gods. Cults, alien abduction places, large group awareness training etc, all of those equally describe that sort of feeling. The problem is the goosebumps you feel in church is often the same you feel listening to really really fantastic music. If one can show the numinous is not necessarily divine, and that internal phenomena do not necessarily justify external divine presence then while such things might be very moving it could also be pointless.

    • GLT

      It would seem you put a lot of faith in the scientific method.

  • Chip Crawford

    There’s still no compelling witness like the presence and drawing of the Holy Spirit. We prepare well, but rely upon his work.

  • DW3

    Religion is nonsense.
    History does NOT square with the events disseminated via “the bible”.

    Nothing in your (very non-persuasive) argument substantiates any empirical evidence of either the existence or the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth.

    • Sigh.

      It never ceases to amaze me how people will jump on a writer for writing something but not writing everything.

      I wasn’t arguing for religion here, DW3. I was explaining a good way to begin to answer arguments against it.

      Complaining that I didn’t argue well for Christianity here would be like complaining that you didn’t argue well for your favorite economic theory. That wasn’t what either of us was trying to do.

    • I’m a mythicist and agree that religion is nonsense and clearly history does not square with the Bible.

      However, you’re totally wrong here. This is bar none one of the best articles I’ve seen written on the subject. “What is your evidence?” is the absolutely right question to ask in this and very many other questions. It is the case that there are very few mythicists among historians. And that the current consensus on the subject among experts is for historicity. It is *always* an acceptable position to say that you are taking the consensus of the experts on this topic.

      There is no actual burden for laymen to explain why the experts have that position, if you wish to refute that, you should do so with regard to the reasons the experts give. But, laypeople are always permitted to take the overwhelming position of experts.

  • Patmos

    There appears to be a new set of trolls invading this site. Well, set ’em up and we’ll knock ’em down.

  • Ben Willard

    If it is just a myth, why are they so voraciously against it. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom. The supporters of this system claimed that it embodied the meaning – the Christian meaning, they insisted – of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and justifying ourselves in our erotic revolt: we would deny that the world had any meaning whatever. Aldous Huxley.

    • Kelly B

      Exactly – how can someone so vehemently HATE someone who doesn’t exist? Answer: They can’t. As you quoted, people don’t want to get off the throne of their lives because they don’t want to be held accountable for their dark deeds.

  • Philmonomer

    ”Jesus never existed.”

    My daughter got that one from a biology prof in college. Really? Sorry, prof, but you’re in the wrong discipline for that; it’s not a biology question, it’s a history question.

    In what possible context could a biology prof be talking about the historicity of Jesus? That makes no sense.

    • On he first day of class for the semester she was trying to get to know the students. She asked them each to name the one historical figure they would most like to meet. One student said Jesus. The prof down the student’s answer big-time. She didn’t exactly say Jesus never existed, but just as bad: “No one knows if he ever really existed, and if he did, who knows, he might have been a druggie.” That’s a pretty much direct quote.

  • Trilemma

    Unlike all the other claims listed, the person making the claim that, “Jesus never existed” does not have to provide any evidence. It’s the Christian who claims Jesus existed that has to provide evidence. Your daughter did that handily, so, kudos to your daughter.

    • I’m a mythicist and I must say , generally no. You can clearly say that that basic view of experts in the field is this and that position, as far as laymen are concerned, has met its burden. Usually claiming people exist is so commonplace you could accept it on the basis of the claim alone. For mythicists to meet their burden, they need to provide a better explanation for all the evidence than currently exists within the scholarship such that that evidence does not require a historical Jesus. The mere existence of Christianity is enough evidence to met the most basic burden.

  • Common Ground

    …Thomas Paine (Age of Reason) claimed that Jesus Christ NEVER existed!…this idea goes back 250 years, and centuries before this supposed Jesus guy came on the scene!

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