Historical Confirmation of Jesus

 The Bible - a Collection of Historical Documents?

Bible Study
The New Testament was written by eight different authors who recorded the events and their perceptions of Jesus from their own unique viewpoints. Because these documents were combined into a single collection which became the Bible, they are rejected by most secular historians. It is a mystery to me why that just because an account is contained in the Bible it is almost automatically rejected. If these accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus had remained separate and independent of one another they likely would have been considered on their own merit, not by the title of the book they were contained within. 

While this post will concentrate mostly on non-biblical sources regarding Jesus, I will touch briefly on the accuracy of the Gospels contained in the Bible. Just one example of many available involves Sir William Ramsey, a scholar who was educated and raised to doubt the accuracy of the New Testament. He set out to prove this fact, but through his extensive studies of archaeology and historical data Ramsey had a major change of heart. Ramsey closely and meticulously investigated the Gospel of Luke, intending to expose its many errors. When he concluded his investigation, Ramsey had the following statement regarding Luke.

 "Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy. ...[He] should be placed along with the very greatest of historians."

E.M. Blaiklock, a professor at Auckland University also had comments concerning Saint Luke and his abilities as a historian.

"For accuracy of detail, and for evocation of atmosphere, Luke stands, in fact, with Thucydides. The Acts of the Apostles is not shoddy product of pious imagining, but a trustworthy record. ...It was the spadework of archaeology which first revealed the truth."

[Thucydides - is considered one of the greatest ancient historians. He lived from 460 B.C. until 400 B.C. and it is said his works set a new standard for concision, scope and accuracy.] 

I mention these statements regarding the Gospel of Luke because Luke was not an eye witness to the events he was writing about. He did extensive research and interviewed eye witnesses in order to prepare his text. We are told Luke was a physician by trade, so we can rightly assume Luke was an educated man who would not be easily fooled or deceived. In fact, Luke had no reason to make false claims. In the opening to his gospel Luke explains he is attempting to write an account of the things he himself has carefully investigated.

"Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,  just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.  With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,  so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught." - Luke 1:1-4

[Theophilus, was a lost man who Luke was attempting to lead to salvation. It is widely believed that both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles were originally written for this purpose. Side note; it is believed by many that these two works were originally a single document. Some speculate that Luke intended to write additional material after the close of Acts of the Apostles. Others believe Luke intended there to be an additional volume, but one which would be written by the Holy Spirit, not by Luke.]

While the Bible provides us with multiple eye witness and historical accounts of Jesus, many people believe the Bible to be bias in its coverage of the events. Many want, even require and demand, proof or evidence from non-biblical sources to confirm what the Bible tells us about Jesus being a real person. While these should not be necessary, such historical writings do in fact exist.  

Non-Biblical Records of Jesus

Even with all of the independent accounts of Jesus recorded in the Bible there are still many who would question if He ever truly existed. Was he just an idea? Just a myth made up by the early Christians to exploit an idea? The Bible tells us Jesus was in fact a real living breathing person, who also happened to be God.  For some these accounts are not enough, they are thought to be one sided. For some, to believe in Jesus requires proof from outside the Bible. They need to have an independent historical account or record of Jesus. Some argue no such historical record exist. They are wrong. The person of Jesus is mentioned outside of the Bible and we will list the three most significant instances here. These range from a Jewish historian who was also a roman sympathizer, to a roman governor and finally a great roman historian.  

Josephus - Jewish Historian

Titus Flavius Josephus was born in 37 A.D. He was tasked with helping with the defense of Jerusalem during the Roman-Jewish war. When their position was about to be overrun, Josephus and his companions made a pact to commit suicide rather than be captured. Josephus was the last man left alive and rather than kill himself, he defected to the roman side. He found favor with the roman authorities and served the new Roman Emperor Vespasian. While considered a traitor to his country, people and culture, Josephus is the primary source for ancient history, outside of the Bible, concerning Palestine.

Josephus was a very prolific writer. Two of his major works were "The Jewish Wars" and "Antiquities of the Jews". While it is not believed Josephus had any interest in promoting Christianity, his writings do provide a historical record for several biblical figures. These include Pontius Pilate, Herod the Great, John the Baptist, James the Just (brother of Jesus) and to Jesus.

In his writings there is a direct reference to Jesus. This reference is known as the 'Testimonium Flavianum'. It makes a reference to Jesus, His being the Messiah, the fact He rose on the 3rd day and that he founded a tribe known as Christians. Almost to good to be true. In fact, many claim it is far to good to be true. Many scholars believe that only a portion of the statement was written by Josephus. They claim the passage was somehow altered by Christians after Josephus' death. The problem with their claims is that they do not know who made the changes, when the changes were made, or even what was changed. Even with this lack of evidence it is difficult not to give their charges some credibility.

Josephus was a traitor to Israel so he would have had not allegiance to the religious leaders. However he was a Jew and there is no evidence to support a belief Josephus was ever converted to Christianity. With that in mind, it seems very odd Josephus would state Jesus was the Messiah. If it was written that His followers believed Him to be the Messiah, that would not have drawn so much attention. As it stands, the statement, as it is written here, is in question.

"About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah, the Christ. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restore to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared."

Critics of the 'Testimonium Flavianum' offer a slightly different version of the passage which they believe is far more accurate and reflects the true writings of Josephus. This second version, listed below, removes many of the statements experts believe did not come from Josephus. As you can see, there remains a direct refence to Jesus, the fact He was a teacher, and led many Jews away to a new faith. Regardless of which version of the text you accept as accurate, it remains a non-biblical account of Jesus as a living person.

"Now there arose about this time a source of further trouble in one Jesus, a wise man who performed surprising works, a teacher of men who gladly welcome strange things. He led away many Jews, and also many of the Gentiles. He was the so-called Christ. When Pilate, acting on information supplied by the chief men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had attached themselves to him at first did not cease to cause trouble, and the tribe of Christians, which has taken this name from him is not extinct even today."

Scholars differ on their opinion of the 'Testimonium Flavianum', but they almost unanimously agree the reference made to James, the brother of Jesus, was in fact written by Josephus and has survived unaltered from its original writing. This statement again mentions Jesus, who was called the Christ. The statement is about James, the brother of Jesus who was a leader of the early church and the Bishop of Jerusalem. It seems clear this is a reference to Jesus as a real person, not a myth.  

"so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned:"

Pliny the Younger - Roman Imperial Governor

Born as Gaius Caecilius, Pliny the Younger was a lawyer, author and Roman Magistrate. In 110 A.D. he would be named the Imperial Governor of the Bithynia et Pontus Province. Pliny the Younger wrote a great many letters. Of the literally hundreds of letters he is known to have authored, 247 still exist. These have proven extremely valuable as a historical tool for many scholars. It was one of these surviving letters which touches on our topic.

 In 112 A.D. a number of Christians were brought into the court of Pliny the Younger. While he does not discuss the original charges for which they were presented in court, Pliny the Younger said he found these Christians to be basically harmless. Despite this, he gave the accused three opportunities to denounce their faith in Jesus. If they refuse, he had them executed.  

The letter in question was written to the Emperor to ask for guidance in such dealings. Pliny the Younger was inquiring if it was legal for him to have these people put to death when their only crime was their faith. The Emperor responded that Pliny the Younger had acted properly and was within his rights to execute the Christians. In the letter to Emperor Trajan, Pliny the Younger mentions Christ several times. Here is one example.

"That they were wont, on a stated day, to meet together before it was light, and to sing a hymn to Christ, as to a god,"

In the letter Pliny the Younger does not make any attempt to explain what a Christian is, or who Christ was. It is very apparent the person of Christ was well known as were the troublesome Christians. This is one of a number of references to Jesus found outside the Bible. The fact it is by a Roman Governor who is prosecuting Christians makes it clear he is not trying to falsely build up the reputation or legend of Jesus, rather his interest seems to be in the exact opposite. This is very clearly a reference to Jesus, not as a myth, but as an actual historical person. 

Tacitus - Roman Historian

Publius Cornelius Tacitus was a Roman politician and historian. He was born in the year 56 A.D. and died in 120 A.D. Tacitus is widely regarded by scholars as one of the greatest roman historians of all time. Tacitus wrote two major works, the 'Annals' and the 'Histories'. These two works cover the time from the death of Augustus in 14 A.D. through the Roman-Jewish war that concluded in 70 A.D. 

Another roman historian, Aufidius Bassus had recorded events from the rise of Augustus to the reign of Claudius. Pliny the Elder then picked up the historical record and continued on until the time of Vespasian. Tacitus continued as the historian of his time, in the line of succession, in recording the history of Rome. Known as one of the greatest historians of ancient time, his mention of Jesus can be seen as a clear indication Jesus was a real person, a trouble maker to the romans to be certain, but certainly no myth.

"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 Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea,... but even in Rome." Tacitus - 115 A.D.

In Tacutus' mention of Jesus we also see the name Pontius Pilate, which confirms another element of the biblical text. Also mentioned is the fact this Christus, Jesus, suffered the extreme penalty, which is a direct reference to His crucifixion. For his part, Tacitus would probably have liked to make everyone believe Jesus was just a myth and put a halt to these troublesome Christians. Instead, he records the facts, just a good historian should, and he makes it very clear, Jesus was a real person, was a leader of a group in Judea, and He was crucified. 


In their book "Evidence for the Historical Jesus", Bill Wilson and Josh McDowell make the following statement regarding non-biblical evidence regarding Jesus, His crucifixion and the early spread of Christianity.

"The evidence... indicates that the message of Jesus' actual life, death and resurrection must have begin to spread across the Roman Empire immediately after Jesus' crucifixion, for non-Christian writers were reporting its effects within nineteen to thirty years of its commission." 

Other  Non-Biblical Writings About Jesus

There are many other writers and historians who wrote about Jesus and His lifetime. Many of these were Christian writers or converts to Christianity, but to reject these writing on that account alone would require an extreme bias and would in fact be a very non-scientific approach. A person's religious affiliation, or lack thereof, should not be any more of a determining factor in their abilities than their race, gender or nationality.

Among the many ancient writers who wrote about Jesus and the early church are Phlegon, Hadrain, Lucian of Samosata,  Clement of Rome, Papias, Quadratus,  Justin Martyr,  Origen, Eusebius, Suetonius, Ignatius, Polycarp, Quadratus, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Thallus, Cornelius Tacitus and Mara Bar Serapion.

The esteemed Doctor Clark H. Pinnock summed up his opinion of the Biblical texts and evidence of their authenticity and accuracy this way.

"There exists no document from the ancient world witnesses by so excellent a set of textual and historical testimonies and offering so superb an array of historical data on which an intelligent decision may be made. An honest [person] cannot dismiss a source of this kind. Skepticism regarding the historical credentials of Christianity is based upon an irrational [i.e., anti-supernatural] bias."

For a relatively short period of time the thought, or theory of Jesus being nothing more than a myth, was accepted by many. This concept made its way into popular culture, but its lifespan was limited by the shear volume of historical data. Today the scholarly community almost universally admit that Jesus was in fact a living breathing man. He was the leader of a group who became known as Christian, named after Him, and He was very much not a simple myth. 

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