The argument against Jesus’ existence, known as the Christ-myth theory, began seventeen centuries after Jesus is said to have walked the rocky hills of Judea.
An important distinction between a myth and a real person is how the figure impacts history. For example, the Olympic Games originated on Mount Olympus in Greece, home of the temple of the Greek god Zeus. But Zeus has not changed governments, laws, or ethics.
The historian Thomas Carlyle said, “No great man lives in vain. The history of the world is but the biography of great men.”¹ As Carlyle notes, it is real people, not myths, who impact history.
As a real person, Alexander the Great impacted history by his military conquests, altering nations, governments, and laws. But what of Jesus Christ and his impact on our world?
The first-century governments of Israel and Rome were largely untouched by Jesus’ life. The average Roman didn’t know he existed until many years after his death; Roman culture remained largely aloof from his teaching for decades. It would be several centuries before killing Christians in the coliseum became a national pastime. The rest of the world had little, if any, knowledge of him. Jesus marshaled no army. He didn’t write a book or change any laws. The Jewish leaders hoped to wipe out any memory of him, and it appeared they would succeed.
Today, however, ancient Rome lies in ruins. Caesar’s mighty legions and the pomp of Roman imperial power have faded into oblivion. Yet how is Jesus remembered today? What is his enduring influence?
• More books have been written about Jesus than about any other person in history.
• Nations have used his words as the bedrock of their governments. According to secular historian Will Durant, “The triumph of Christ was the beginning of democracy.”²
• His Sermon on the Mount established a new paradigm in ethics and morals.
• Schools, hospitals, and humanitarian works have been founded in his name. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Oxford are but a few universities that have Christians to thank for their beginning.
• The elevated role of women in Western culture traces its roots back to Jesus. (Women in Jesus’ day were considered inferior and virtual nonpersons until his teaching was followed.)
• Slavery was abolished in Britain and America due to Jesus’ teaching that each human life is valuable.
• Former drug and alcohol dependents, prostitutes, and others seeking purpose in life claim him as the explanation for their changed lives.
• Two billion people call themselves Christians. While some are Christian in name only, others continue to impact our culture by teaching Jesus’ principles that all life is valuable and we are to love one another.
“Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost twenty centuries….”
– Jaroslav Pelikan, Yale historian
Remarkably, Jesus made all of this impact as a result of just a three-year period of public ministry. If Jesus didn’t exist, one must wonder how a myth could so alter history. When world historian H. G. Wells was asked who has left the greatest legacy on history, he replied, “By this test Jesus stands first.”³
¹Quoted in Christopher Lee, This Sceptred Isle, 55 B.C.-1901 (London: Penguin, 1997), 1.
²Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy (New York: Pocket, 1961), 428.
³Quoted in Bernard Ramm, Protestant Christian Evidences (Chicago: Moody Press, 1957), 163.
The above post was excerpted from the Y-Jesus article “Was Jesus A Real Person?”