In 1952, C. S. Lewis famously formulated his Jesus trilemma in the classic Mere Christianity. In this book, Lewis lays out the three available options when it comes to how one can view Jesus: liar, lunatic, or Lord. However, with the historically persistent and now rising view of Jesus mythicism in the background of discussions surrounding Christianity, it is now past time to add a fourth option to Lewis’s list: legend. This position dismisses Jesus’ existence on the grounds that his life and ministry “are not historically true.” While many Christians might be tempted to quickly dismiss the belief, we need to pay attention to the legend position due to its (albeit minor) persistence.  Thus, it is important that Christians know how to respond to this challenge.
Theology vs. History
First and foremost, Christians must recognize that the theological nature of the Gospels does not undermine their historical validity which is often asserted by Jesus mythicists. It is crucial to recognize that history and theology are necessarily linked together. The only reason I affirm the Apostles’ Creed (or any other orthodox statement of faith for that matter) is because I think the Gospel stories about Jesus actually happened. We should embrace New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham’s sentiment that “theology and history may meet in the historical Jesus instead of parting company there.”
Are the Canonical Gospels Historical Books?
Rather, we can trust the historical validity of the Gospels for two reasons. First, the four canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are clearly books that focus on the life of Jesus in ways that identify themselves as biographies, leading New Testament scholar Craig Keener to note that “it therefore comes as no surprise that most Gospels scholars today have embraced the view that the Gospels are ancient biographies.” The very nature of the genre of ancient biographies corresponds to at least an attempt to record historical events of some sort.
Second, we have good reason to think that the Gospels were composed within living memory of Jesus and his followers, meaning that most readers of the Gospel accounts in the late first century and early second century would have generally been familiar with the subject matter in question. This is especially important, as writing within living memory of the events being described prevents the possibility of the Gospel authors going rogue and making up whatever they wanted about Jesus. Readers would have served as a check and balance against such a practice.