If you’ve trawled the internet for very long, you’ve probably come across unbelievers who say Jesus never existed, the stories are simply myths. How to answer them (if we choose to)?
If we quote christian scholars, we will likely be accused of being selective in our evidence, so I think it is best to reference secular scholars. These scholars are not always christians, and the best ones will base their conclusions on objective historical evidence, not on a christian view of the Bible. But this is valuable in this case – the conclusions of the best secular scholars form a lowest common denominator which believer and unbeliever alike can hold in common.
When we do this, we find that the scholars, almost unanimously, conclude that Jesus did indeed live, that the stories are not all myths (see The Jesus myth theory). They tell us if we reject the evidence for Jesus, we might well reject the evidence for Hannibal, Socrates or Alexander the Great. Of course this doesn’t mean that they endorse everything in the gospels, but there is much that they do endorse, as I’ll discuss in another post.
Unfortunately, this evidence will not be enough to convince many. They criticise christians for basing our views on faith, and yet, perversely, on this matter it is they who are using “faith” and non-reason rather than the christians. Sometimes, ironically, when non-believers who value historical truth above a dogmatic view, argue against the Jesus myth theory, they can even be accused of being closet christian apologists – for an example see this review of a Jesus-myth book by a history buff who is an atheist, and the comments on this blog.
I have found that the arguments can go on interminably and without value, so I tend to think it best to quote the scholars (as referenced in The Jesus myth theory) and leave it at that. Sometimes I say “Why should I believe you rather than the scholars?”, which can be effective, but can simply provoke anger and further argument.