Was the Jesus of the Bible a real person or was he simply a mythological, larger than life, person who was made up for one reason or another? The biblical writers claim that Jesus was a real person who was born as a baby, grew up like a normal human being, and was sentenced to death by the Roman government. Can we find supporting evidences both inside and outside of the Bible to affirm that Jesus was, in fact, a real person? Let’s take a look.
Jesus in a Roman Historical Account
In AD 115, Tacitus, a Roman historian, referred to Jesus as a person who had lived in Palestine and had been sentenced to death during the reign of Emperor Tiberius at the hands of Pontius Pilate. As far as scholars can tell, Tacitus was not a Christian, but rather, thought Christianity was a “most mischievous superstition.” Therefore, he wouldn’t have had a religious agenda behind making a statement about Jesus in his writing. Rather, he would’ve written it merely to accurately document history. Tacitus’s brief account of Jesus’s death aligns perfectly with the biblical account of his death from the four gospels in the Bible.
Jesus in Jewish Historical Accounts
Josephus is probably the most well-known Jewish historian in the first century AD. In his historical book The Antiquities, which was written in about AD 93, Josephus referred to James, who was killed by the Jewish authorities, as the brother of Jesus, implying that Jesus was a real human being. The most compelling evidence, however, of Jesus’s physical existence is found within book 18 of Josephus’s Antiquities where he wrote:
At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who have become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.
Similar to Tacitus, Josephus was not a follower of Jesus. Instead, he was a Jew. Christianity spawned out of Judaism, but Judaism and Christianity are not the same religion. Throughout the first century AD, Jews despised Christians. Many of the Jewish leaders believed Jesus was a heretic and believed people who were following him were straying from Judaism. Therefore, when Josephus wrote this account of Jesus, he wasn’t writing as someone who followed Jesus, but as someone who probably didn’t like Jesus.
Is Josephus a credible source? According to Dr. Edwin Yamauchi, his accounts of the Jewish War align with the archaeological excavations at Masada and the historical writings of Tacitus, making him a reliable historian.
Jesus in the Bible
Luke, a well-written doctor and historian, wrote an account of Jesus around AD 62, a mere twenty-nine years after he was killed (AD 33). In his writing, he claimed that Jesus was born to a virgin named Mary in the town of Bethlehem during the reign of Emperor Augustus (Luke 1-2). This would’ve put his birth around 5 BC. Based on information provided by Luke in his gospel (Luke 3:1-2, 23), Jesus probably began his public ministry in mid to late AD 29. His public ministry probably lasted about three and a half years, during which time he gathered twelve men around him whom he discipled. His earthly ministry was ended when he was turned over to the Jewish leaders by one of his disciples, Judas, and was crucified (hung on a cross) by Pontius Pilate at the request of the Jewish leaders (Luke 22:47-23:56).
As I claimed in my last post, Luke is regarded as a credible source of historical information since precise details in his writings have been confirmed through archaeological discoveries and other sources written during the same time period.
The evidence overwhelmingly shows that Jesus was an actual person who lived in Palestine between 5 BC and AD 33. Based on the evidence, I would conclude that it would be much more difficult to deny Jesus’s physical existence than to affirm it.
Within both biblical and extrabiblical accounts of Jesus, it is documented that he claimed to be the Son of God. This was an audacious claim which has serious weight: Either Jesus was the Son of God or he was a raging lunatic. In my next post I’ll be taking a look at whether there is sufficient evidence to affirm Jesus’s claim that he was the Son of God.
 Cornelius Tacitus, Annals 15.44 in Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 87.
 Flavius Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews 20.9.1, trans. William Winston, Project Gutenberg, 2013, accessed March 28, 2017, 11:8:5, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2848/2848-h/2848-h.htm#link112HCH0008.
 Shlomo Pines, An Arabic Version of the Testimonium Flavianum and Its Implications (Jerusalem: Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1971), 16 in Andreas Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2009), location 3334-39, Kindle. This passage is under considerable scrutiny by scholars because the earliest manuscripts of Josephus’s Antiquities are written differently than the passage I quoted above. The wording in the earliest manuscripts appear to have been modified by Christian scribes rather than reflecting the actual wording written by Josephus. The wording I quoted is from an Arabic translation of The Antiquities which scholars believe to be more accurate than the other manuscripts.
 Strobel, The Case for Christ, 86.
 Andreas Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2009), location 4014-98, Kindle.
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (London: Collins, 1952), 54–56.