Why should people believe in Jesus?

The christian faith depends on the reality of Jesus. Why should non-believers think the stories about him are true and that he is truly the son of God? Some people will just believe, but others will want to question why they should believe. How should we answer them?

Different Approaches

There are several different approaches we may take:

  • We may just “know in our hearts”, by the Spirit, that the Gospel accounts are true.
  • We may have had an experience we have had of Jesus that cannot be denied, or pray that they will have a similar experience.
  • We may believe in faith that the writers can be trusted and Jesus is the son of God.
  • We may accept that the church from the beginning has always taught that the Gospels tell the truth, and there is an unbroken chain of witnesses to that truth.
  • We may trust a christian scholar who tells us that the New Testament is true.
  • We may base our conclusions on the historical evidence as assessed by secular scholars.

I think there is truth in each statement, and each person has to decide for themselves what approach is meaningful to them. But I feel I must start with the historical evidence, and many non-believers will want to start there too. So let’s see how it works.

Starting with the evidence

Historians try to determine what people at the time saw, reported and understood, as a guide to determining what actually happened. In the case of the life of Jesus, they try to separate out what Jesus actually said from what his followers said about him and how they understood him.

But if we are deciding whether to believe in Jesus or not, we will be interested in the truth about him, which may include both what he actually said and what his followers said about him. So we will be interested in more than what the historians try to uncover. But what they say is an important start.

But even with this somewhat limited scope, the conclusions of secular historians (summed up in Jesus and the historians) are significant. The gospels tell us about a real person, and even if many of the stories are from the perspective of a believer, they provide factual evidence which believers and sceptics alike should be able to accept. (And many unbelievers, both historians and non-historians alike, do accept this much, although many of the more extreme non-believers do not.)

What now?

But historical evidence can only take us so far (secular historical research cannot demonstrate that Jesus was the son of God – that remains a personal assessment). We will need to trust the Spirit, our own faith, the church or christian scholars for the rest, but faith must be based on facts.

The important question then becomes: does the historical evidence justify trusting the Spirit, our own faith, or the church? I think it does. The reasoning goes like this ….

  1. Secular scholars treat the New Testament the same as any other documents of the time. On this basis, they find the Gospels are good historical sources – see The Gospels as history
  2. They are almost unanimous that Jesus was a real person who lived a life more or less as described in the Gospels – see The Jesus myth theory
  3. Scholars who do not treat the Bible as a holy book nevertheless generally conclude that we can know a significant amount about Jesus from the Gospels, more or less a ‘lowest common denominator’ – see Jesus and the historians
  4. Christian scholars can make a persuasive case that much more than this lowest common denominator has a sound historical basis, whereas the sceptical view has many questions but few believable hypotheses.
  5. Many people find the character of Jesus very compelling – the gospels show him to be someone who is compassionate, honest, sticks up for the down-trodden, believable and worthy of being followed, and many people who read the gospels agree.
  6. On the basis of this information, it seems reasonable to believe Jesus was indeed sent by God and therefore to be trusted. In fact a good argument can be made, using only the conclusions of the majority of scholars, that Jesus was indeed the Son of God (see Jesus – son of God?). Therefore we can put our faith in him.
  7. We therefore trust the New Testament to be reliable, though not without it’s difficulties, in faith that the God who sent Jesus would not lead us astray about him. We can therefore reasonably believe those things which the historians are unable to determine – e.g. the miraculous, Jesus’ claims about himself and his followers claims that he was divine.
  8. Thus our belief about Jesus starts from historical evidence and ends in faith.

This seems to me to be a sound and rational basis for our choice to follow Jesus. And therefore a sound basis for recommending the faith to non-believers. It is well-based on the conclusions of the mainstream of secular historians and on trust in Jesus. If we have experienced God’s healing, or a revelation of Jesus or the Spirit, they ‘fit’ well within these reasonable and evidential conclusions.

9 thoughts on “Why should people believe in Jesus?

  1. Larry Platner says:

    History is definitely the foundation on which we form our beliefs but it is our own personal history that shapes our beliefs. If my personal history is that of an atheistic community, I will become an atheist not through objective reasoning but subjectively because my personal experience of reality, is a community that embodied atheism. If Mozart was transported back to Jesus’ time and went about explaining the wonders of symphonic music, no one would understand what he was talking about as they would refer to their own musical experience to give meaning to what he was saying. This is why Jesus didn’t just preach the kingdom but lived it out before others and in particular his disciples. His actions provided a history they could refer to and in turn led to questions, some that challenged what he was doing, others who were trying to understand what he was doing. Jesus teachings were explainations about what he was doing, he was answering their questions. An atheist first needs an experience of the kingdom before he will consider it a plausible reality. This comes through the lives of Christians who befriend him and involve him in a community of Christians. They are writing a new history for him, one that eventually will lead to questions, an explaination of this new reality that he has experienced. At that point the atheist would be more open to the history of Jesus, as he has a personal history, that gives meaning to it and validates it.

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  2. unkleE says:

    Hi Larry, thanks for that really thoughtful comment. I pretty much agree with you. Faith in Jesus is best communicated via community and friendship. But people still need to have reasons to believe or their faith is just subjective. So that was my thinking in writing this. Thanks again.

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  3. Bob says:

    This is a thoughtfully done site. Thank you for doing it. I’d like to add that, for me, the very best demonstration of Jesus’ divinity is the darkness that occurred during His crucifixion. If one googles something like “darkness at the crucifixion”, the widely documented nature of the event by contemporary historians is right in front of him! Even the unbelieving Jews agreed that it got dark, though they said it was just an eclipse of the sun. Of course it was full moon (because it was passover) and you can’t have a solar eclipse during full moon! It was written about by Caesar and Pilate, among others.

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  4. Vamsi Krishna says:

    The Article didn’t answer exactly(or logically) why I should trust Jesus Christ. Why should I have faith non him. Why should I even believe gospels.They ay be cooked up stuff. who knows!

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  5. unkleE says:

    Hi, thanks for reading and offering your opinion. This post wasn’t aimed at showing why I think anyone should believe in detail, but just summarising some ideas. But there are links in the post to more comprehensive discussions of the evidence. Did you check any of them out? A short summary on this website is at Why Believe?.

    I suppose anything written may be cooked up, but if we want to know the facts, we should go to the experts. And I have summarised what the experts say about the historical value of the gospels at Jesus and the historians and Are the gospels historical?. You may find them helpful. If you check them out, please feel free to let me know what you think. Thanks.

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