Was Jesus Real?

Jesus is one of the most important figures in history. He has probably had a larger impact on Western civilisation than anyone else. Numerous miracles have been attributed to him and he is claimed to have been descended from God himself. Yet there is surprisingly little evidence to prove he even existed.

Pretty much everything we know about Jesus comes from the Bible. However there are many reasons to believe it is not the most reliable source. It is estimated that the Gospels were written anywhere between 50 and 150 years after the death of Jesus. Seeing as people in Roman times had a life expectancy of around 30, this means the books were written 2 to 7 generations after the incidents they described. Even still, none of these copies survive. In fact the oldest surviving Gospels date from 200-350 AD. It is clear that after such a long period memories would have faded and the stories become distorted.

Very little is known about who wrote the Gospels, or who in fact did write them. (for example most scholars believe the Gospel according to Mark wasn’t written by Mark but rather some unknown person, same story for the rest of them). There are many contradictions between the Gospels, for example Mark makes no mention of the virgin birth, the Sermon on the Mount or the Lord’s Prayer. It seems unusual that such major events in the life of Jesus could be ignored by someone who allegedly witnessed them. The Gospels contradict each other on Jesus’ ancestors and numerous other places (too many to mention here but a possible topic for a future post).

The original Gospels were written in Greek, which is unusual as none of the disciples are said to have able to speak Greek or even read (most of them were ordinary fishermen). There is another problem. It is presumed that Jesus spoke in Aramaic, the language spoken in Palestine at the time. This means his words were translated from Aramaic into Greek, into Latin and then into English. It is highly likely that words would have been lost in translation or other phrases given new meaning. If so, how can we possibly know for sure what was the original meaning of any Jesus’ words. In fact Christopher Hitchens claims that the whole story of the virgin birth is due to the Greek word for “young women” (“parthenos”) being mistranslated into “virgin” (“neanis”)

It is unclear when Jesus was born. Matthew says it was when Herod was King while Luke says it was when Cyrenius was Governor. The problem is that Herod died 10 years before Cyrenius became Governor. It was supposedly in Bethlehem were Mary and Joseph had to go as part of a census. There is no evidence that the census described took place. Roman censuses were concerned only with citizens (people born in Italy) and none required you to return to your ancestral home (a ridiculous notion that would have unnecessarily complicated the already complex task of running a census). Herod supposedly massacred all the infants when he heard about Jesus, surely that is the kind of thing that would get noticed and commented upon? But there is no recording of this alleged incident anywhere outside the Bible.

Jesus is described as coming from Nazareth, however it is disputed whether there was such a town during his time. There is confusion over whether or not he had a family. It is claimed he had brothers and sisters in Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55-6, but Catholic Church disagrees claiming Mary was a virgin for life.

There are several other problems with the supposed story of Jesus’ life. Almost nothing is mentioned of him after his birth but before he began teaching, other than the story of with the elders in the temple. The gospels only record the last year of his life. Why does a book about the life of Jesus mention hardly anything about his life? It is a poor biography that does not mention 95% of a person’s life.

One thing I could ever understand, if Jesus did all these great things, why did the people want him killed? Why would they hate someone who healed the sick and preached about love? Either the people hated good works or the miracles never happened but were only claimed after his death.

The main part of the New Testament apart from the Gospels is the Letters of Paul. Yet he never mentions the virgin birth or any of the miracles Jesus is supposed to have performed. Nor those he mention the main stories about Jesus or even quote him.  As he was a missionary trying to convince people he would surely have mentioned it if he knew about it. As he didn’t it possible that those stories were only added later.

Just like in a game of Chinese whispers where each time the story is told, details get changed, so the bible undoubtedly got changed over its 2,000 year history. His is especially likely as the only people who kept copies of books throughout most of this period were monks, who had a vested interest in portraying Jesus in the most favourable light.

Christians argue that there are independent sources supporting Jesus’ existence. However there are less than a handful, all of which only mention Christians and their claims about Jesus none contain actual accounts about Jesus. It is also accepted that these documents were tapered with as monks were the only people who kept copies of them.

I have to conclude that it is highly unlikely that the Jesus described in the Bible ever existed. He certainly wasn’t the Son Of God nor did he perform miracles. It is possible he was just an ordinary preacher the story of which was greatly exaggerated. Anyone who has been on a drunken night out knows that quite small incidents are transformed into wildly exaggerated events of epic proportions. Take the claim that Jesus brought a man back to life. What probably happened was the man was sick. So Jesus went to pray for him. The laws of probability say that if you pray for enough people one of them will eventually get better. So his supporters used this as an example of how great Jesus was. Naturally each time they changed it slightly to make Jesus sound better. So he went from being a sick man, to an extremely ill man, to one who was next to death. It would have been very easy for this to be mistranslated or miscopied  and ending up with the story that he rose from the dead.

Therefore there simply is not enough independent evidence to conclude that Jesus existed and performed the miracles attributed to him in the Bible.

An excellent source which  would highly recommend is



Filed under Religion

19 responses to “Was Jesus Real?

  1. even if he wasn’t the principles of life are so powerful and what can one loose form the bible that contains the words of some great and inspiring person” God”

    • I don’t quite understand what you are saying, but I think your point is that the message of the Bible is good anyway. I would have to disagree. As I discuss in other posts, the Bible is full of nasty things like sexism, genocide, homophobia and racism. For centuries people have used the Bible as justification for slaughtering people. So no, I think the Bible is untrue and its message is pretty bad

      • It’s nice to hear an objective view but history and colonialisation hasn’t helped the profile of this amazing book , even Jesus didn’t exist the massage has changed my life the scares are on my hands

      • Greg

        Slaughtering of deserved people god will not justify those who shed innocent blood no blood shed in the old was innocent no matter what your flawed views are a gay man is far from innocent

  2. Young man there is a lawyer by the name of Josh McDowell who has written a book call The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict which might help you prove some of what you have been writing for he had set out to prove the Bible is not true.

  3. This post is interesting. I have to say I admire you for struggling with these issues. It seems to me you are “thinking out loud,” so to speak, still trying to work through the issues in your own mind. I can respect that and will not criticize everything you said in this post that is inaccurate. However, I would like to point out a couple of things, in the hope that our dialogue will help you better work out your own thoughts, even if your conclusions are different than mine.

    First of all, Christopher Hitchens is not a biblical scholar. I would compare your use of Mr. Hitchens in this context to people without any real scientific knowledge trying to force their view of a 7-day creation on scientists. It just doesn’t work. Mr. Hitchens may well have been an intelligent, if not bitter, man, but he certainly is no biblical scholar. He seems to have no idea that one consistent theme of the entire Bible is God using people who are weak and powerless, and overlooked or despised by the world, to accomplish His purpose. The ironic thing is the Bible mocks people like Mr. Hitchens, who find themselves to be so cunning and powerful because of their supposed knowledge, and he did not even pick up on that point as he read the Bible and mocked it.

    Your question about why Jesus would be killed if He did such great things again shows your lack of understanding of the biblical context (as I pointed out in your post about “Terrible Parts of the Bible (Part 1).” If you knew the context of 1st century Jewish life in the Roman Empire, you would understand Jesus’ message threatened both the Jewish leadership, who wanted to take Jerusalem back from Roman occupation by force, and the Roman leadership, who presented its own “evangelion”/Gospel and taught that one must be reliant on an Emperor/king for protection. Ironically, you are criticizing Jesus/the New Testament despite the fact it taught people to be peaceful in the face of Roman occupation and was anti-kingly (and I am assuming you believe in peace and are not looking for a king to take over our country). If you understood what the New Testament/Jesus proposes, it would be clear why the leaders wanted Him crucified.

    By the way, on a related topic, do you question why, say, Martin Luther King, Jr. was persecuted if he really did such good things? If you apply your logic in this post to the more modern situation of MLK, then you would have to conclude that perhaps MLK was not really that great. Perhaps he either deserved persecution or really didn’t do so many great things as we have been led to believe. Hopefully with this more recent example you can see that sometimes (I would argue often) people fighting for righteousness are persecuted simply because they are fighting for righteousness. Surely Mr. Hitchens would agree, being familiar with Socrates’ argument of “the one versus the many,” with the many usually wrong and the one often correct (and persecuted for it).

    One final thing: you conclude that the biblical Jesus likely never really existed. Yet, you accept as literal, historical truth the idea of His disciples as fishermen. Isn’t it possible there is some metaphorical meaning associated with the disciples as fishermen? Perhaps it is related to the early Christian symbol of a fish, and the idea of them “catching disciples/fish”? Something to think about, anyway.

    Best wishes.

    • Of course Hitchens is in no way a scholar and its my fault if I gave that impression. I was using him in the context of just that sentence regarding the mistranslation of virgin. I have heard this stated elsewhere by scholars. On the bible, well of course the bible is going to bad mouth anyone who disagrees with it, that doesn’t prove anything.

      While Jesus may have posed at threat to the Jewish leadership at the time, why did crowds of ordinary people denounce him? Why did none of witnesses of his miracles support him? Surely it is at least theoretically possible that perhaps his stories were exaggerated after his death, which is why none defended him while he was alive?

      On Martin Luther King, yes he was attacked but he also had huge crowds supporting him. The authorities would never have been able to persectute him for fear of the backlash. Compare the reaction to the death of Jesus where none except the disciples seem to notice, to the death of MLK where almost every city erupted into riots.

      About fishermen, I was highlighting the contradiction, implying that inly one could be true. If they were fishermen, they would not be fluent in Greek. Personally I think it is more likely they were fisherman, it being a common occupation at the time.

  4. The answer to your question is very simple if you understand the context of 1st century Jewish life. The Jews had been living under the Roman occupation of Jerusalem for quite some time. There were many messianic figures who arose during that period for that reason. Jesus, as far as I know, was unique among those messianic figures because he promoted a message of peace. The Jews were looking for a political/military leader to be the messianic figure.

    Jesus minimized the importance of the Jewish “holy city” Jerusalem. Moreover, he taught that the Jewish temple was not important. His kingdom was based on a heavenly city above with God Himself as the temple. There was no need to be attached to the earthly Jerusalem nor its temple. This offended the masses of Jewish people, including many times, Jesus’ own disciples. It is not hard to imagine. See how outspoken Jewish critics of modern-day Israel are treated today, in a generally more ‘civilized’ society. I would reference Norman Finkelstein as one example.

    Nothing against MLK, who I respect, but that Jesus’ disciples did not rise up in riot is a testimony to him and to them, and his peaceful message. In fact, the split between Judaism and Christianity as two distinct religions became very clear during the Roman-Jewish war, when the Christians refused to take up arms and kill to protect Jerusalem from Roman occupation.

  5. You have a lot of incorrect information in this post, but for the sake of clarity, let me just focus on one issue for now: If you don’t understand why people wanted Jesus killed, I have to seriously doubt that you have even read the gospels, because it is quite obvious that He challenged the status quo of the religious leaders in His day. I reference you to my blog, “Why Jesus Is Dangerous” at http://bobrogers.me/2012/01/17/why-jesus-is-dangerous/

    • Actually this is quite a minor point which I included more as a side note than anything. Yes he was different, not as revolutionary as you portray him, but its missing the point. The point is there is no independent evidence that Jesus existed, performed miracles or was the Son of God.

      • I’m glad that you admit my point, and I find it very interesting that you admit, “yes he was different,” yet you don’t admit that He existed.
        Now regarding evidence that Jesus existed, if you disallow religious references, then how do we know that Muhammad ever existed or that Buddha ever existed? Perhaps there are other references to these individuals in their own time period, but I’m not aware of them, yet I don’t dispute their actual existence. After all, if these people, including Jesus, never existed, where in the world do we think their followers came from? Thin air? What’s more, we do have independence testimonies to Jesus’ existence, as Josephus the Jewish historian and Tacitus the Roman historian mention Jesus’ execution under Pontius Pilate. Also the Roman historian Suetonius mentions Jews being expelled from Rome in a dispute over “Chrestus,” probably a Latinized version of Christ.

  6. I never said either Muhammad or Buddha existed. Its quite possibly they didn’t. I don’t know enough about them to say, but seeing as the stories about them are hundreds of years old, it is highly likely they got distorted along the way.

    Throughout history people have believed in and died for things. That does not make them true. Think of all the cults and ideologies. People were willing to die for Mormonism or Nazism or Communism. That’s because they believed it was true, not necessarily that it was true. (There’s a subtle but important difference).

    I don’t think Christianity came out of “thin air”. Most likely small stories grew larger and had new details added with each new telling. Then there was the numerous copies and languages the Bible passed through with parts being deleted and added to suit each writers own view. It was a like a giant game of Chinese whispers (see the example I give for Lazarus in the post)

    Regarding Josephus, I mentioned it in the post that his work was severely tampered with as monks were the only people who kept records during the middle ages. Even still none of these historians (and you must admit there are incredibly few) have first hand accounts of Jesus. All they say is that there are people called Christians and this is what they believed.

  7. Wow! You aren’t even sure if Muhammad and Buddha existed? Interesting.
    I’ve heard the claim that Josephus’ reference was edited, and that is debatable, but you didn’t deal with the two Roman historians I mentioned. What’s more, none of the ancient opponents of Christianity, like Celsus, denied Jesus’ existence. They opposed his followers,but they never said His followers were following a mythological legend. Oh, and regarding the development of legend, there was not sufficent time between the time of Christ and the time of the New Testament writings for legend to develop, since the gospels were written within one generation of the events (about A.D. 65-90; not A.D. 200 as you incorrectly state.)

    • Since when is there a time limit on when legends must develop? Legends can develop while someone is still alive. As I mentioned in the blog the life span was about 30 back then so your admitting it was at least one or two generations later it was written down. As I also mentioned earlier the first time anyone mentioned the 4 Gospels was in 190 AD. The time you estimate is the most optimistic of guesses.

      Regarding other writers we can presume they denied Christ’s existence otherwise they would have been Christians. As I said none of them have evidence regarding Christ’s life, they just repeated what the Christians claimed

      • That’s illogical to assume that “they denied Christ’s existence otherwise they would have been Christians.” You are a social Democrat, so I assume you are not a Republican, but you don’t deny the existence of the Republican party, do you?

        • Thats different, a Christian is by definition is someone who accepts Jesus performed miracles, rose from the dead etc. Therefore someone saying they believe Jesus rose from the dead is a de facto Christian. So we should be suspicious if otherwise non Christian writers suddenly declare their belief in the main tenet of Christianity. It could be a sign their writing was tampered with.

  8. ojb42

    Excellent post. You mention all the points I use when debating this subject. Having talked to theologians about this the consensus seems to be that the stories are probably based on a real person but are grossly distorted so that they are barely recognisable. I don’t think anyone who is being realistic about the subject would even begin to suggest that the traditional story is anything like totally true. Of course most Christians will say it is but they sort of have to don’t they, no matter what the facts are. That’s why they call it faith, I guess.

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