It has become a Christmas tradition among some media outlets to publish articles during the holiday season claiming that Jesus never existed. The Washington Post ran such a column in December 2014 and shared it again across their social media channels in 2016 and 2017. The Post is not alone though.
Several years ago, Big Think published "A Growing Number of Scholars are Questioning the Existence of Jesus," and the website has continued promoting it on its Facebook page ever since. The author of the article makes a bold claim: "More and more, historians and bloggers alike are questioning whether the actual man called Jesus existed." Such a statement would be a significant development if it were true—except it's totally bogus.
To support the contention that Jesus never existed, Big Think cited as evidence the writings of several writers: Richard Carrier, Joseph Atwill, David Fitzgerald, Bart Ehrman and Reza Aslan. The problem is that of these five authors, only three are professional scholars, just one (Carrier) among them holds this view, and his assertions have been widely criticized by New Testament scholars.
Two of these authors are not even biblical experts. Fitzgerald is a self-published writer and atheist activist; he is neither a historian nor a scholar. Meanwhile, Atwill, who holds an undergraduate degree in computer science, has been derided as "a crank" by none other than Dr. Carrier, who has gone out of his way in his blog to discredit Atwill's work.
Drs. Aslan and Ehrman are historians, but neither one of them claims that Jesus did not exist—on the contrary. Rather than doubting that Jesus existed, in "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth," Aslan wrote that "Jesus of Nazareth—Jesus the man—is every bit as compelling, charismatic, and praiseworthy as Jesus the Christ. He is, in short, someone worth believing in."
Big Think also omitted from its story the fact that Aslan has repeatedly argued in public lectures that historians can affirm three facts about the historical Jesus: (1) He was a Jew who (2) led a messianic movement in the first century AD, and (3) for this, he was crucified by the Romans—quite a bit for someone who supposedly never existed.
Perhaps most troubling is the degree to which Big Think has distorted Ehrman's views on this topic. Not only did he quite literally write an entire book where he says he "vigorously defends the historicity of Jesus...who did exist, whether we like it or not," Ehrman has publicly declared that the existence of Jesus "is not even an issue for scholars of antiquity."
"There is no scholar who teaches at any college or university in the western world who teaches classics, ancient history...who doubts that Jesus existed," he added while noting that deniers of Jesus' existence look "foolish to the outside world."
Indeed, it is a silly argument that Christians should ignore. The evidence for Jesus' existence is overwhelming. On Christmas, let's celebrate that he came into the world and walked among us—the best gift we could ever ask for