Some doubt that Jesus ever existed. But they’re in the minority. There’s just too much evidence to the contrary: The first century Roman historian Tacitus (born c. AD 55) mentions Jesus in his Annals (15:44). Tacitus’ Jewish contemporary, Josephus (born c. AD 37), references Jesus twice in his Antiquities of the Jews (18.3.3; 20.9.1). Pliny the Younger (born AD 61), the Roman magistrate, mentions Jesus in his letter to the Emperor Trajan (Letters, vol. 2, 10:96). And the second-century satirist, Lucian of Samosata (born AD 125), speaks of Jesus in his work The Death of Peregrine (11-13).
None of these authors were Christians, and all spoke of Jesus as a known historical figure.
So the question before every thinking person is not “Did Jesus exist?” but rather, “What’s the truth about him?” That is to say, was he really the Son of God as Christians believe, or was he something less? And how can I know?
The New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John claim to be historical records of Jesus’ life. And in their accounts, they write that Jesus did and said all the things that Christians claim for him: that he was the Son of God, that he performed miracles, that he rose from the dead, that he said he is the only way to God. Monumental claims. But not the sort of things one can be expected to believe without evidence.
Is there evidence to support the historical reliability of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? Yes. In two posts next week, we will plan to examine some of that evidence.