The scholarly claim for a non-historical, “mythicist” Jesus is enjoying a resurgence. Some of its promoters are Robert M. Price, Earl Doherty, G.A. Wells and others. The argument claims that Jesus was a mythological figure, a cosmic Christ-Savior who only gradually came to be viewed as a historical person. This view inverts the mainstream picture of a historical Jesus who was gradually transformed into a mythic figure. Mythicists generally argue that the New Testament’s earliest material is mythical, its later material (falsely) historical; that is, the Epistles with their exalted heavenly Christ expressed the earliest (mythical) view of Jesus, while the (so-called) biographical Gospels expressed a later, historicising perspective on Jesus. Therefore, mythicists support their claims by citing extra-Gospel New Testament texts that seem to describe the supra-mundane, celestial adventures of a mythical Christ figure. However, even among these texts, there are references to, recollections of, and assumptions about, a real Jesus who lived in actual history. The following randomly selected examples are offered as potential counter-weights to a purely mythicist view of Jesus.
Romans 1:3 – attests that Jesus was a human being, a Jew born and “made of the seed of David according to the flesh”
Romans 15:8 – Paul states that he knows that Jesus’ mission was only to Israel
1 Corinthians 7:10-11 – Paul shows an awareness that Jesus had been concerned with matters of divorce, and Paul is bold enough to modify that teaching
1 Corinthians 9:5 – Paul is aware that Jesus had brothers, some married in Paul’s time (this is also a possible confirmation of the Gospel image of a celibate Jesus: had Jesus himself been married, Paul would likely have cited Jesus’ example rather than the example of “the other apostles, and the Lord’s brothers, and Kepha”)
1 Corinthians 9:14 – Paul recalls and refers to Jesus’ injunction that preachers should be supported by their followers rather than by mundane work
1 Corinthians 11:23 – Paul recalls an actual Jesus who was historically “handed over” to “the authorities”
1 Corinthians 15:5 – Paul is aware that Jesus had twelve special disciples
2 Corinthians 10:1 – Paul cites “the meekness” and “gentleness” of Christ, as a human example Christians should follow
2 Corinthians 11:3 – Paul cites “the simplicity that is in Christ”, a possible reference to living by Jesus’ example
Galatians 1:19 – Paul explicitly identifies James (Yakov) as Jesus’ brother
* The following are some non-Pauline New Testament references to a historical Jesus. Although written pseudo-epigraphically – in Paul’s or other apostles’ names and as represetative of their authority – these texts fall outside of the generally accepted corpus of “the seven authentic Pauline letters”. However, this does not affect this essay’s listing of historical Jesus references outside of the Gospels. The cited texts are all canonical, even if “deutero-Pauline”, and directly affect the mythicist claim that references to a historical Jesus are not to be found in the New Testament’s extra-Gospel documents.
1 Timothy 6:13 – refers to Jesus’ trial, wherein he “gave good testimony” “before Pilate” – a claim that duplicates the Gospel’s historical claims about Jesus’ execution as a real event
Hebrews 4:15 – claims that, like human beings, Jesus was tempted “as we are”
Hebrews 7:14 – refers to a historical Jewish Jesus, the “Lord who sprang out of Judah”
1 Peter 2:19-24 – testifies to the suffering of the human Jesus, who left an example “that you should follow in his steps.” Explicitly verses 22 through 24 state:
“[Christ Jesus] who did no sin, nor was there any guile in his speech: who, when he was reviled, did not revile in turn; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but committed himself to the righteous Judge; who himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live for that righteousness by whose stripes you were healed.”
Clearly, this text references a real, human Jesus who (though he was implicitly tempted), did not sin, did not return threats and violence, silently trusted God’s righteous judgment, and was crucified “on the tree”.
Of course, mythicists can offer the explanation that such examples must be interpolations of historicising “Gospel” materials anachronistically inserted into pristine mythicist texts . But since the texts as written do contain references to a non-mythicist, historical Jesus, the burden of proof rests on mythicists’ shoulders.