The Historical Jesus

Who was the historical Jesus? Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, there are some people who would deny that there even was a historical Jesus. But one need only to ask what year it is to be faced with the fact that our calendar is based on the life of this extraordinary Individual. To deny that an actual man named Jesus ever walked this earth is pure nonsense. But even the person who refuses to stoop to this level of ignorance may still choose to be skeptical of the traditional representation of Jesus. Ever since the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century scholars have questioned the validity of the miracles, the prophecies, and the extraordinary claims of Christ in the Gospels. The purpose of this essay is to show that the historical Jesus and the Jesus of the Gospels are One and the same.

The main obstacle to accepting the reliability of the Gospels is the false premise of naturalism, which denies even the possibility of the supernatural (i.e., miracles, prophecies, God, etc.). The Gospels tell stories of angels, miracles, and envisage a God who controls events, to whom man is accountable, with a future prospect of heaven or hell, and Jesus as the one who determines a man's destiny. Our secular society finds it difficult to believe that such things could be true, but the philosophy of naturalism is based on circular reasoning and leads to some erroneous conclusions.


If we begin with naturalistic presumptions, then we must conclude that none of the Gospels were written before A.D. 70. This is because Matthew, Mark, and Luke each contain Jesus' prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem. Since prophecy is not possible, they could not have been written before the event prophesied had taken place. However, the evidence seems to show that Matthew, Mark, and Luke were all written before A.D. 70 (John was written in the 90s), regardless of whether or not prophecy is possible. For example, we know that Luke (or the author of Luke) wrote both Luke and Acts, and that Acts is a continuation of Luke. We also know that Paul was executed at the hands of Nero in A.D. 68. At the close of Acts, Paul was still alive, which means that Acts (and, therefore, Luke) must have been written sometime before A.D. 68. Tradition tells us that Peter was Mark's source for his Gospel, yet Peter was executed about the same time as Paul. Most scholars believe that the book of Mark predates Luke, so Mark must have been written by at least the early 60s, perhaps the late 50s. Tradition places Matthew's Gospel in the same time frame as Mark and Luke, and there is no reason to question this belief. The facts simply do not fit with naturalistic presumptions.

Often, modern scholars also insist that the authors of the Gospels were not Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as tradition holds. This is a suggestion that should have to be proven before it is assumed. The external evidence strongly attests to the soundness of the traditional ascriptions. It is very doubtful that the early church would have ascribed two of the gospels to men that were not among the original twelve disciples and another to an infamous publican. They must have had very little reason to question the authorship of the books, or we can be sure that different authors would have been named.1


In the realm of naturalism, there is no room for miracles. Miracles are, by definition, unexplainable by naturalistic standards, because miracles cannot be repeated and observed. This in no way means that they never happen. To say that miracles are impossible is begging the question. One way to determine whether or not a miracle has happened is to establish the reliability of the person making the claim. Rather than going into a lengthy discussion of the reliability of the New Testament authors, I would like to point the reader to the following on-line article, "How a 20th Century eye operation shows the Bethsaida miracle actually happened", by Keith Mano. This article presents some very convincing circumstantial evidence that the healing of a blind man by Jesus actually did happen.

The Jesus Seminar concluded in their book, The Five Gospels, that Jesus did not speak the words ascribed to Him in the Gospels after His death. Their reason being that "the words ascribed to Jesus after his death are not subject to historical verification." However, with overwhelming testimony from scores of credible eyewitnesses, historical verification cannot be cited as the reason for the previous conclusion. The fact is that for one who has concluded a priori that miracles cannot happen, no amount of evidence will be sufficient. This position is to be questioned, because many people today, scholars included, believe in miracles. To determine that the Gospels are unhistorical merely because they incorporate stories of supernatural events is to be dogmatically prejudiced. There is no room for this in historic inquiry.


Many people are ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but they are not ready to believe that He was and is the only begotten Son of God. Therefore, His claims to deity are a problem. A man who claims to be God cannot possibly be a great moral teacher, because that man would be either a deceiver or a lunatic. Yet Jesus was neither of those. The best way to avoid this dilemma is to say that He did not speak those words, but that the Christian Church added them later.

This is an impossible conclusion. Ten of Jesus' original twelve disciples were killed because of preaching about Him and His words. It is highly unlikely that these disciples, men of notorious cowardice, would have been willing to die for a lie. Nils Dahl put it this way, "whoever thinks that the disciples completely misunderstood their Master or even consciously falsified his picture may give fantasy free reign." Robert Funk, the founder of the Jesus Seminar, wrote in his introduction to The Five Gospels, "Is it realistic to think that his disciples remembered so little of what he said, or that they remembered his words so inaccurately?"2 After pointing out that no reasonable answer to this question is given in the following pages of the book, I would answer that no, it is not realistic to make this claim.

Skeptics like the Jesus Seminar claim that the "humble sage of Nazareth" was transformed into the miracle-performing Son of God in the late first and early second century. The epistles, however, chronicle these beliefs about Jesus within 10 to 20 years of the crucifixion. That simply is not enough time for myths and legends to be born, especially when so many witnesses were still alive to challenge the alleged inaccuracies. The idea that the gospel materials would have been radically modified and expanded during the period of time between Jesus' life and the writing of the Gospels presumes that early Christianity was indifferent to the historicity of its traditions. It supposes that when a story or saying was presented in a considerably distorted form, this would either have gone unnoticed, or would have been whole-heartedly accepted and approved.

J.P. Moreland sums up what the Jesus Seminar and others are asking people to believe:

It requires the assumption that someone, about a generation removed from the events in question, radically transformed the authentic information about Jesus that was circulating at that time, superimposed a body of material four times as large, fabricated almost entirely out of whole cloth, while the church suffered sufficient collective amnesia to accept the transformation as legitimate.

Such a belief may fit well with the modern existentialist view that faith must be independent of history, but it is not consistent with the interests of early Christianity. Christianity arose in the Jewish world and in the continuing values of Middle Eastern peasant culture, where getting facts straight is a crucial part of good teaching and storytelling.

Grant Jeffrey came up with the following analogy:
...imagine that some modern writer wanted to create a false story in the 1990s about President Kennedy performing miracles and being raised from the dead for a period of forty days following his tragic assassination in November 1963. To succeed with his plan the writer would have to accomplish two virtually impossible tasks: (1) He would have to simultaneously acquire every one of the thousands of books and newspaper reports about the president and secretly insert his counterfeit passage in this material without being detected by a single reader, and (2) He would have to simultaneously convince millions of people around the world to accept this forgery as true, despite the fact that people who were alive when Kennedy lived and died would have independent recollections that contradict this invented story.3
In conclusion, I would suggest that the historical Jesus and the Jesus recorded in the Gospels are One and the same. Jesus made all the claims that the Gospels say He did, and history attests to this fact. I leave the reader with the following quote from Rev. Gary W. Jensen:

The Jesus Seminar absurdly ends up with a Jew who is stripped of his Jewishness, and with the founder of a Church whose followers rarely bothered to actually quote him. And their Jesus fails to account for the strong reactions of his contemporaries. The few words they judge authentic reduce Jesus to an insipid eccentric who would have been powerless to create the strong reactions either against him that resulted in his death, or for him in the movement that turned the world upside-down.4

To find out how Jesus Christ can become your personal Savior, please read The Five Facts of Life by Bob Burch.

For a much more detailed discussion of the Jesus Seminar and the reliability of the Gospels, please see the following articles:
"Who Does the Jesus Seminar Really Speak For?"
"The Jesus Seminar Under Fire"
"The Gospels As Historical Sources For Jesus, The Founder of Christianity"
"The Corrected Jesus"
"The Jesus Seminar"


1. France, R.T. "The Gospels As Historical Sources For Jesus, The Founder of Christianity",
2. Robert Funk, Roy Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels (New York:Macmillan, 1993, 5.
3. Jeffrey, Grant, Jesus: The Great Debate, Toronto: Frontier Research Publications, 1999, 52.
4. Moreland and Wilkins, Jesus Under Fire, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995, 22.