One of the difficulties of studying the Bible is the gap between us now and the distant past. As such there are sometimes disagreements about which parts of the Bible are historically true and accurate and which parts are fiction, poetry or possibly out and out lies. This is never so true as when considering the person of Jesus Christ.
The following are 12 widely agreed on facts, held to be true through the study of ancient texts and historical records, that are agreed on by most scholars, both religious and agnostic / atheistic. They are what is known as the facts of the Historical Jesus.
This material is taken from an interview with Dr. Gary R. Habermas – Evidence for the Historical Jesus. It can be found here: https://biblehub.com/library/habermas/Evidence_for_the_Historical_Jesus/4_Believing_that_Jesus_Rose_from_the_Dead.htm
Foot notes for the historic facts of Jesus and references used can be found here: Habermas, The Historical Jesus, Chap. 7, pp. 143-170
So we have to address the question, which are the best-evidenced historical facts here? Most scholars will grant a list of at least twelve items surrounding the overall events towards the end of Jesus’ life, including his death, burial, and the nature of the disciples’ claim that they saw him alive again after his death. Actually, I have long said that there are more than just twelve of these admitted historical facts, but that’s the number that I’m going to list here. The majority of critical scholars will admit virtually every one of these:
1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
2. He was buried. There’s nothing strange about this fact. People die and people are buried. (We’re not even designating a particular place or kind of burial.)
3. Jesus’ death caused his disciples to despair and lose hope, believing his life had ended. This is psychologically natural and understandable, for sure: how would you feel if your best friend, on whose account you had left everything in order to follow, died very suddenly and horribly?
4. Now I admit, as I likewise repeat all the time, that this next fact is not quite as widely held, but the majority of scholars still think that the tomb in which Jesus was buried was discovered to be empty just a few days later.
5. Arguably the most crucial fact here beyond Jesus’ death is that his disciples had experiences that they thought were literal appearances of the risen Jesus. In other words, they thought that Jesus appeared to them. I’m wording this very carefully, and it is held extraordinarily widely by scholars.
6. Because of these experiences, the disciples were transformed from doubters who were afraid to identify themselves with Jesus, into bold proclaimers of his death and resurrection appearances. They were even willing to die for their faith in these gospel events.
7. This message was the center of early church preaching. Remember Paul’s testimony: The events of Jesus Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and appearances were “of first importance.”
8. This message was especially proclaimed in the environs of Jerusalem, the city where Jesus had died and was buried just shortly before.
9. As a result of this preaching, the church was born and grew.
10. Sunday became the primary day of worship, which is a significant fact especially for the initial Jewish believers.
11. James, who had been a skeptical unbeliever, was converted to the faith most likely when he also believed that he had seen the resurrected Jesus.
12. A few years later, Saul (Paul) was also converted by an experience which he, likewise, thought to be an appearance of the risen Jesus.
The above facts are accepted as historical facts by most scholars. None of them speak to his deity, resurrection or the supernatural aspect of his miracles. They are only proof a Jewish man, we call Jesus, was born, lived and died around 4bc to 30AD. That he was crucified by the Romans is agreed and that his body disappeared is mostly agreed.
To believe in him as God on earth, resurrected and alive requires an act of faith.
So why do we care about the facts? Because if the Bible is agreed to be historically accurate on the facts of his life, then we can have trust the rest may also be true. If it lied, or was inaccurate, then there is no foundation for faith to trust the rest of what is written regarding his life, death and resurrection.
The Bible agrees with these widely held scholarly ‘facts’ regarding Jesus life.
- Historical Jesus is the reconstruction of the life and teachings of Jesus by critical historical methods.
- Historicity of Jesus asks the question, was Jesus truly a person in history or a myth?