Book review: Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

by Bart D. Ehrman


Not too long ago, I was asked in a religious forum whether I believe Jesus really existed. I said yes, I’m 99% sure. I meant precisely that: I’m a numbers guy, and I estimate the odds that Jesus never existed to be somewhere around one chance in a hundred. After presenting a parallel (a Bible historian who is forced to make sense of his research in light of a nonexistent Jesus would be a bit like a research biologist who shows up to work one day and is told that evolution is a lie) I gave an example of the type of argument that I find most convincing. If Jesus were a made-up figure, wouldn’t the made-up stories be a bit more self-serving? Instead, for example, the Gospels tell about Jesus submitting to baptism for his sins by a competitor, a man we know from historical reports DID exist: John the Baptist. How did this whole embarrassing episode get written into the story, if it weren’t literally true?

The truth is, I didn’t know what to say in the forum. I would have to write a book to detail all the reasons Bible scholars believe Jesus existed.

Thankfully, the book has been written, and by precisely the right person: Bart Ehrman, the controversial Bible-belt professor who has no qualms about speaking his mind regarding the myths which DO exist in the Bible.

It’s not that Ehrman has no vested interest in the topic. He does. He’s been teaching about the Historical Jesus for a couple decades, and he’d have to eat some serious crow if it turns out no such person existed. It’s that Ehrman doesn’t find it necessary to play by the rules of an apologist, defending conservative Christianity. He can play dirty. For example, in arguing that the Jesus story is more than a myth similar to other legends of a dying and rising god, Ehrman is free to point out the obvious: The guys who first wrote about Jesus never in their wildest dreams thought Jesus was God. That theology came later.

I do feel Ehrman overstates his case a bit. Well, he under appreciates the opposing case, I should say, and cops a bit of an attitude as he does. When the mythicists point out that something smells fishy with all the midrash in the New Testament, I found Ehrman’s that-don’t-prove-nuthin stance a little lame. But when he gets around to presenting the arguments for Jesus’ existence, the book is superb. 

Four stars for an important counter-balance in a debate that has become more heated than I would have thought. And I’m still right where I was before: 99% sure.


  1. Ehrman’s research was so good he didn’t even get the name of Earl Doherty’s book correct.

  2. :) I didn’t notice

  3. Anonymous

    If you believe that Jesus is only 99% true, then you don’t fully believe in Him. As a numbers man, you will know that 99% and 100% are not the same. In other words, there is a marked difference between “pretty sure” and “absolutely sure”. No matter how near perfect, believing in Jesus Christ only partially (whether .01% or 99.99%) will not get you into Heaven.

    God says, “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.'” – Revelation 3:15-16

    With the Lord, it is either all or nothing. You either believe in Him (including His existence) completely, or you do not believe in Him at all.

    I pray that you will consider these words and put your faith in Jesus Christ, the true and living God, 100%.

  4. 100% sure? I have a hard time imagining that anyone totally incapable of doubt would be capable of teaching me anything. How could such a person reason? It is hard for me to consider blind belief to be a virtue.

    Thanks for your prayers, though, Anonymous, I can tell you are sincere.

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