Sources: New Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell, Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, Who Moved the Stone by Frank Morison
- Is there any proof outside of the Bible that Jesus actually existed and was worshiped?
- Although most skeptics today believe in the historicity of Jesus, there are still some who question whether he ever existed, and centuries ago, many held this position…so are there extra-biblical sources for Jesus’s existence?
- SECULAR AUTHORITIES ON JESUS’S HISTORICITY…
- Cornelius Tacitus (c. A.D. 55-120), who has been called the ‘greatest historian’ of ancient Rome, writes in his Annals: “Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abomination, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition [probably Christ’s resurrection], thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of evil, but even in Rome…Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty: then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.”
- Pliny the Younger, Roman governor of Bithynia, writes a letter to the Emperor Trajan around A.D. 111 saying, “I have asked them if they are Christians, and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and third time, with a warning of the punishment awaiting them. If they persist, I order them to be led away for execution; for, whatever the nature of their admission, I am convinced that their stubbornness and unshakable obstinacy ought not to go unpunished
“They also declared that the sum total of their guilt or error amounted to no more than this: they had met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately amongst themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god, and also to bind themselves by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery, and adultery…
“This made me decide it was all the more necessary to extract the truth by torture from two slave-women, whom they called deaconesses. I found nothing but a degenerate sort of cult carried to extravagant lengths.”
- Thallus’s history of the eastern Mediterranean world since the Trojan War, although the work has been lost, has been quoted by Julius Africanus about A.D. 221 and shows that the darkness occurring during Christ’s crucifixion as recorded in the gospels was seen by non-believers. Also, Paul Maier said about the darkness in a footnote: “This phenomenon, evidently, was visible in Rome, Athens, and other Mediterranean cities. According to Tertullian…it was a “cosmic” or “world event.” Phlegon, a Greek author from Caria writing a chronology soon after 137 A.D., reported that in the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad (i.e., 33 A.D.) there was ‘the greatest eclipse of the sun’ and that ‘it became night in the sixth hour of the day [i.e., noon] so that stars even appeared in the heavens. There was a great earthquake in Bithynia, and many things were overturned in Nicaea.’” (as quoted in Strobel, CC).
- Lucian of Samosata was a Greek satirist of the latter half of the second century, who said: “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day – the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account…You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property.”
- The Roman historian, Suetonius, stated in his Life of Claudius: “As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus [another spelling of Christus], he [Claudius] expelled them from Rome.” (Luke refers to this in Acts 18:2)…In another work, Suetonius writes: “Punishment by Nero [A.D. 64] was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.”
- Some time after A.D. 70, Mara Bar-Serapion, a Syrian and probably Stoic philosopher, wrote a letter from prison to his son, encouraging him to pursue wisdom. He writes: “What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the sea overwhelmed the Samians; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise King die for good; He lived on in the teaching which He had given.”
- JEWISH REFERENCES TO JESUS’S HISTORICITY…
- The Jewish historian of the first century, Josephus (born A.D. 37) writes in The Antiquities: “He convened a meeting of the Sanhedrin and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus, who was called the Christ, and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law and delivered them up to be stoned.”
- Also written by Josephus, in the Testimonium Flavianum we read: “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this day” (italics added). Most scholars agree that Christian additions – notably the phrases italicized above – have been made to the text that is clearly foreign to it.
- In the Babylonian Talmud we read: “It has been taught: On the eve of Passover they hanged [another word for crucifixion…see Luke 23:39 and Gal. 3:13] Yeshu [translates through Greek to English as “Jesus”]. And an announcer went out, in front of him, for forty days (saying): ‘He is going to be stoned, because he practiced sorcery and enticed and led Israel astray. Anyone who knows anything in his favor, let him come and plead in his behalf.’ But, not having found anything in his favor, they hanged him on the eve of Passover” (Sanhedrin 43a; cf. t. Sanh. 10:11; y. Sanh. 7:12; Tg. Esther 7:9)…Another version of this text says, “Yeshu the Nazarene”…Following this Jewish text appears a comment by the late third-century Ammora, ‘Ulla, which states: “Would you believe that any defense would have been so zealously sought for him? He was a deceiver, and the All merciful says: ‘You shall not spare him, neither shall you conceal him.’ It was different with Jesus, for he was near to the kingship.”
- In a later Talmudic passage on Jesus’ crucifixion comes a passage that asserts, “Yeshu had five disciples – Mattai, Nakkai, Netzer, Buni, and Todah.” (b. Sanh. 107b). The claim that Jesus had 5 disciples could be due to the fact that other teachers in the Talmud are described as having five disciples or students.
- Many Jewish references to Jesus’ birth from Mary
All of the above testimonies to the historicity of Jesus and events of his life were written by non-Christians, thus making these incredible sources for affirming Jesus’ historicity (why would someone invent Jesus if they did not believe in him?)!!!
Also, Luke 24:34; Romans 1:3,4; Romans 4:24,25; Romans 10:9,10; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 1 Corinthians 15:3-5; Philippians 2:6-11; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 Timothy 6:13; 2 Timothy 2:8; 1 Peter 3:18; and 1 John 4:2 affirm Christian creedal confessions that “preserve some of the earliest reports concerning Jesus from about 30-50 A.D. Therefore, in a real sense, the creeds preserve pre-New Testament material, and are our earliest sources for the life of Jesus.” (Habermas, VHCELJ)
In addition to this testimony, the Christian writings shortly after the New Testament writings such as excerpts from Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Quadratus, the epistle of Barnabas, Aristides’s writings, Justin Martyr, and Hegesippus affirm Jesus as a historical figure.
Finally, additional sources affirming Jesus’ historicity include: Trajan, Macrobius, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Juvenal, Seneca, and Hierocles.
EVEN THOUGH THE ABOVE NON-GOSPEL SOURCES AFFIRM JESUS’S HISTORICITY, DO THE GOSPELS GIVE AN ACCURATE PICTURE?…
- “Uniform testimony of the early church was that Matthew, also known as Levi, the tax collector and one of the twelve disciples, was the author of the first gospel in the New Testament; that John Mark, a companion of Peter, was the author of the gospel we call Mark; and that Luke, known as Paul’s ‘beloved physician,’ wrote both the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles…
‘Remember, these were unlikely characters. Mark and Luke weren’t even among the twelve disciples. Matthew was, but as a former hated tax collector, he would have been the most infamous character next to Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus!…there would not have been any reason to attribute authorship to these three less respected people if it weren’t true.” (Blomberg as quoted by Strobel, CC)
- The author of the gospel of John is unanimously believed by the early testimony to be written by John the apostle (with the exception of the testimony of a Christian writer named Papias, dated about A.D. 125, referring to John the apostle and John the elder, and it’s not clear from the context whether he’s talking about one person from two perspectives or two different people).
- Papias, in about A.D. 125 also affirms that Mark had carefully and accurately recorded Peter’s eyewitness observations. In fact, he said Mark ‘made no mistake’ and did not include ‘any false statement.’ Papias also said that Matthew had preserved the teachings of Jesus as well.
- Irenaeus [disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of John the Apostle], writing about A.D. 180 says: “Matthew published his own Gospel among the Hebrews in their own tongue, when Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel in Rome and founding the church there. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself handed down to us in writing the substance of Peter’s preaching. Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the Gospel preached by his teacher. Then John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned on his breast, himself produced his Gospel while he was living at Ephesus in Asia.”
- “Standard scholarly dating, even in very liberal circles, is Mark in the 70s, Matthew and Luke in the 80s, John in the 90s. But listen: that’s still within the lifetimes of various eyewitnesses of the life of Jesus, including hostile eyewitnesses who would have served as a corrective if false teachings about Jesus were going around…
“The two earliest biographies of Alexander the Great were written by Arrian and Plutarch more than four hundred years after Alexander’s death in 323 B.C., yet historians consider them trustworthy.” (Blomberg as quoted by Strobel, CC).
- BUT…The book of Acts finishes with Paul still under house arrest in Rome, since we know that this happened to Paul in 62 A.D., Acts must have been written no later than 62 A.D. Acts also doesn’t mention Nero’s persecutions (which began about A.D. 64) or the temple of Jerusalem’s destruction (70 A.D.), leaving more proof that this book was written in 62 A.D. Since Acts is the second book Luke wrote (the gospel of Luke being the first), we know that the Gospel of Luke must have been written before 62 A.D. Also, since Luke was written after the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, these must be dated even earlier. “If you allow maybe a year for each of those, you end up with the first gospel (either Mark or Matthew) to be written no later than about A.D. 60, maybe even the late 50s. If Jesus was put to death in A.D. 30 or 33, we’re talking about a maximum gap of thirty years or so.” (Blomberg as quoted by Strobel, CC). This is such an incredible piece of information because it affirms that there could be no time for Jesus to be mythologized and also, since the gospels were written while eyewitnesses were still living, angry Jews would be all to ready to attack any errors, and Christians, who were focused on morality and honesty, would also make sure that there were no errors between what the Gospels say and what really happened. Such evidence is powerfully in favor of the fact that the Gospels give us an accurate picture of Jesus!
- Regarding the variations in the Gospels (not contradictions, as we will see in upcoming Bible studies), Lee Strobel [still a non-believer at the time] says, “Ironically, if the gospels had been identical to each other, word for word, this would have raised charges that the authors had conspired among themselves to coordinate their stories in advance, and that would have cast doubt on them.” (Strobel, CC)…Also, Simon Greenleaf of Harvard Law School says about the gospels, “There is enough of a discrepancy to show that there could have been no previous concert among them; and at the same time such substantial agreement as to show that they all were independent narrators of the same great transaction.” (Greenleaf as quoted in Strobel, CC).
- The copies of the New Testament can be trusted because we have such a great quantity of copies written in so many different places, yet they all agree on the majority of the New Testament content. (see also week 1 of Messianic Prophecies Bible study)
- An incredible discovery was that of a fragment of a copy of the gospel of John dated between A.D. 100 to 150 (the probable date is around 117 A.D). “Here we have, at a very early date, a fragment of a copy of John all the way over in a community along the Nile River in Egypt, far from Ephesus in Asia Minor, where the gospel was probably originally composed.” (Bruce as quoted in Strobel, CC). Since John was the latest gospel written, and a copy of his gospel was found so far away at such an early date, this find adds more support for the early dating of the gospels given above!
- Along with this evidence, the New Testament as a whole is hailed as the most historically accurate document of antiquity as we studied in week 1 of the Messianic Prophecies Bible Study. Therefore, the gospels do give a very accurate picture of Jesus.
DID JESUS THINK HE WAS GOD?
Some skeptics of Christianity today believe that Jesus never thought he was God, but it was only his followers after the fact that mythologized him…however, the Gospels would emphatically disagree with this position…
- F. J. Meldau says: “His teachings were ultimate, final – above those of Moses and the prophets. He never added any afterthoughts or revisions; He never retracted or changed; He never guessed, ‘supposed,’ or spoke with any uncertainty. This is all so contrary to human teachers and teachings”.
- Mark 14:61-64…The Trial. It was to Jesus’ reply that the high priest tore his garments. Leviticus 10:6 and 21:10 show that the law forbade the High Priest to rend his garment in private troubles, but when acting as a judge, he was required by custom to express in this way his horror of any blasphemy uttered in his presence. “Jesus of Nazareth was condemned to death, not upon the statements of His accusers, but upon an admission extorted from Him under oath.” (Morrison, WMS). Even though Jesus’ answer to the judges take a different form in the different gospels, the formulae ‘Thou has said’ or ‘ye say that I am,’ was the traditional form in which a cultivated Jew replied to a question of grave or sad import. Courtesy forbade a direct ‘yes’ or ‘no’. (Morrison, WMS). In verse 62, when Jesus says “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” he is alluding to Daniel 7:13,14 and Psalm 110:1, claiming to be God (blasphemy in the Jewish high court).
- John 10:25-33…Equality with the Father. The Greek word for ‘one’ (hen) means one essence or nature, not one person. The Jews listening understood Jesus’ claim because Lev. 24:16 shows that blasphemy was punished by stoning.
John 5:17,18 shows again that Jesus claims equality with God. “Jesus distinctly says, ‘My Father’ (ho pater mou). Not ‘our Father,’ a claim to a peculiar relation to the Father. Worketh even until now (hoes arti ergazetai)…Jesus put himself on a par with God’s activity and thus justifies his healing on the Sabbath.” (Robertson, WPNT). Also, the Jews did not refer to God as “My Father” without qualifying the statement with “in heaven.” However, this Jesus did not do.
- John 8:58,59…I AM. Exodus 3:14, Deuteronomy 32:39, and Isaiah 43:10 make it clear that Jesus is saying He is God. Again, the Jews understood his claims as they wanted to stone him for blasphemy.
- John 5:23,24…Jesus is due same honor as God.
- John 8:19…To Know Me. Jesus claimed that to know and see Him was equivalent to knowing and seeing the Father.
- John 14:1…Believe in Me.
- John 14:8,9…”He Who Has Seen Me…”.
- Matthew 5:20, 22, 26, 28, 32, 34, 44…”I Say to You…”. In these scriptures, Jesus teaches and speaks in his own name. By doing so, He elevated the authority of His words directly to heaven. Instead of repeating the prophets by saying, “Thus saith the Lord,” Jesus repeated, “but I say to you.”
- WORSHIPED AS GOD.
John 4:20-22 and Acts 8:27 show that worship is for God.
John 4:24 shows that people must worship God in Spirit and in Truth.
Matthew 4:10 and Luke 4:8 show worship is for God only.
Matthew 8:2; John 9:35-39; Matthew 14:33 show that Jesus received worship as God and accepted it.
Acts 10:25,26 and Revelation 19:10 show that others would not accept worship.
Because he accepted worship, “If He is a deceiver, or is self-deceived, and, in either case, if He is not God He is not good.” (Thiessen)
- Others say He is God…
Romans 9:5; Philippians 2:6-11; Colossians 1:15-17; Colossians 2:9; Titus 2:13 all show that Paul thought Christ was God.
Luke 3:22 shows John the Baptist believing Jesus to be God.
Matthew 16:15-17 shows that Peter thought Jesus was God.
John 20:28 shows that Thomas thought He was God.
Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 1:8 show that the writer of Hebrews thought He was God.
John 1:1, 14 show that John the Apostle thought He was God.
- Mark 2:5-7…He Forgave Sins. To the Jewish mind, trained in the Law of God, a man could not forgive sins against God. Forgiveness is a prerogative of God alone. Mark 2:9-12 affirms that Jesus had the divine authority to forgive sins.
- John 14:6…I am the Life. He declared Himself to be the final key to all mysteries.
- Gen. 18:25; Psalm 50:4-6; 96:13 show that God is the judge over all of creation. Yet, John 5:27-30 show that Jesus claimed the judgment that only God has.
- Michael Green writes that Christ: “asserted that he had a relationship with God which no one had ever claimed before. It comes out in the Aramaic word Abba which He was so fond of using, especially in prayer. Nobody before Him in all the history of Israel had addressed God by this word…To be sure, Jews were accustomed to praying to God as Father: but the word they used was Abhinu, a form of address which was essentially an appeal to God for mercy and forgiveness. There is no appeal to God for mercy in Jesus’ mode of address, Abba. It is the familiar word of closest intimacy. That is why He differentiated between His own relationship with God as Father and that of other people. (Green, RW). Even David did not speak to God as Father, but said “like as a father…” (Psalm 103:13). John 5:17,18 show that the Pharisees understood Jesus’ claim to equality with the Father in his prayer.
With all of this evidence (and some not even addressed here), it is obvious that Jesus said HE WAS GOD!
If Jesus said He was God…there are only 2 options. Either He was God or He was not God. If He was not God, there are only 2 options from here: either he knew He was not God, or he thought He was God.
- “If Jesus knew He was not God then He was a liar. If He was a liar, then He was also a hypocrite, because He told others to be honest, whatever the cost, while He, at the same time, was teaching and living a colossal lie. More than that, He was a demon, because He deliberately told others to trust Him for their eternal destiny. If He could not back up His claims and knew they were false, then He was unspeakably evil. Last, He would also be a fool, because it was His claims to deity that led to His crucifixion.
“If Jesus was a liar, a con man, and therefore an evil, foolish man, then how can we explain the fact that He left us with the most profound moral instruction and powerful moral example that anyone ever has left? Could a deceiver – an imposter of monstrous proportions – teach such unselfish ethical truths and live such a morally exemplary life as Jesus did? The very notion is incredulous.” (McDowell, NETDV)
- The hypothesis of imposture is so revolting to moral as well as common sense, that its mere statement is its condemnation…No scholar of any decency and self-respect would now dare to profess it openly. How, in the name of logic, common sense, and experience, could an impostor – that is a deceitful, selfish, depraved man – have invented, and consistently maintained from the beginning to end, the purest and noblest character known in history with the most perfect air of truth and reality? How could he have conceived and successfully carried out a plan of unparalleled beneficence, moral magnitude, and sublimity, and sacrificed his own life for it, in the face of the strongest prejudices of his people and ages? (Schaff, TPOC)
- The answer, of course, is that Jesus could not have! Someone who lived as Jesus lived, taught as Jesus taught, and died as Jesus died could not have been a liar.
- If Jesus thought He was God and was not God, he was a lunatic.
- “The charge of an extravagant, self-deluding enthusiasm is the last to be fastened on Jesus. Where can we find the traces of it in His history? Do we detect them in the calm authority of His precepts? In the mild, practical and beneficent spirit of His religion; in the unlabored simplicity of the language with which He unfolds His high powers and the sublime truths of religion; or in the good sense, the knowledge of human nature, which He always discovers in His estimate and treatment of the different classes of men with whom He acted? Do we discover this enthusiasm in the singular fact, that whilst He claimed power in the future world, and always turned men’s minds to heaven, He never indulged His own imagination, or stimulated that of His disciples, by giving vivid pictures or any minute description of that unseen state? The truth is, that, remarkable as was the character of Jesus, it was distinguished by nothing more than by calmness and self-possession.” (Schaff, TPOC)
- No lunatic could be the source of such perceptive and effective psychological insight.
- If Jesus of Nazareth is not a liar or a lunatic, then He must be Lord. As hard as this is to accept, there are absolutely no other possibilities…There’s no way one can say Jesus was a great man…that option is not left open!
DID JESUS REALLY THINK HE COULD BEAT DEATH AND RESURRECT?
I have spoken to more than one person who has made the absurd statement, “I’m a Christian, but I don’t believe Jesus resurrected.” This statement contradicts itself (see 1 John 2:21, 22 and 1 Corinthians 15:14, 17), and not only will future Bible studies show that there is an overwhelming amount of evidence in favor of Jesus’ resurrection (as hard as it is for non-believers to swallow), but also, Jesus himself predicted that he would resurrect in many cases. If Jesus never resurrected, we are once again left with two options…either he was insane or a liar. There is no way you can believe in Jesus and what he stood for without believing he resurrected!
- Jesus’ Predictions of His Resurrection:
Matthew 12:38-40; 16:21; 17:9; 17:22,23; 20:18, 19; 26:32; 27:63
Mark 8:31-9:1; 9:10; 9:31; 10:32-34; 14:28,58
John 2:18-22; 12:34; chapters 14-16
- Matthew 20:18, 19: “’Behold, we are going up to JERUSALEM, and the SON OF MAN will be BETRAYED to the CHIEF PRIESTS and to the SCRIBES; and they will CONDEMN HIM to DEATH, and DELIVER HIM to the GENTILES to MOCK and to SCOURGE and to CRUCIFY. And the THIRD DAY HE WILL RISE AGAIN.’”
- Mark 10:32-34: “Now they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going before them; and they were amazed. And as they followed they were afraid. Then He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them the things that would happen to Him: ‘Behold, we are going up to JERUSALEM, and the SON OF MAN will be BETRAYED to the CHIEF PRIESTS and to the SCRIBES; and they will CONDEMN HIM to DEATH and deliver HIM to the GENTILES; and they will MOCK HIM, and SCOURGE HIM, and SPIT ON HIM, and KILL HIM. And the THIRD DAY HE WILL RISE AGAIN.’”
- Luke 9:22: “saying, ‘The SON OF MAN must SUFFER many things, and be REJECTED by the ELDERS and CHIEF PRIESTS and SCRIBES, and be KILLED, and be RAISED THE THIRD DAY.’”
- John 2:19-22: “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘DESTROY this TEMPLE, and in THREE DAYS I WILL RAISE IT UP.’…He was speaking of the TEMPLE OF HIS BODY. Therefore, when HE HAD RISEN FROM THE DEAD, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.”…In this case (and others) John is very honest in admitting that the disciples did not even understand Jesus’ words at first. No human would invent such a bad picture of himself and his friends unless it was really the truth!
- “But when He said that He himself would rise again from the dead, the third day after He was crucified, He said something that only a fool would dare say, if he expected longer the devotion of any disciples – unless He was sure He was going to rise. No founder of any world religion known to men ever dared say a thing like that!” (Smith, GCWC)
- CONCLUSION: In all four gospels it is clear that Jesus thought He would rise from the dead!