Proving the Existence of Jesus
Did Jesus really exist? Is there any real evidence he existed outside of the Bible? Can we believe what the authors of the Bible wrote about Jesus were true? Is there any proof that his miracles were real? Is there any proof that his death and resurrection were real? Many people believe in God, but do not believe in the existence of Jesus. For this article, I will be using a lot of information from Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, which is an excellent book on this subject.
First let’s start with evidence outside of the Bible. Josephus (A.D. 37 – A.D. 100) was a Jewish historian, a priest, and a Pharisee of royal ancestry. His works include The Jewish War, Flavius Jesphus Against Apion, and The Life of Flavius Jesephus (autobiography). His most ambitious work was called The Antiquities, which he completed in about A.D. 93. Here are two passages from The Antiquities; remember that this is outside the Bible:
“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.” - The Antiquities, Book 20
“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 feasts 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 Christ. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among 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 restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.” - The Antiquities, Book 18
So according to Josephus, a non-biased historian, Jesus was a wise teacher who prophesied many great things, and had many followers. People called him Christ. He was crucified under Pilate, but after three days he came back to life. We can confirm the credibility of Josephus through his writings about the Jewish War. His accounts of the Jewish war have been confirmed through archaeological excavations in Masada.
Another important source outside the Bible is Tacitus. Tacitus (A.D. 56 – A.D. 117) was a senator and a historian for the Roman Empire. His two major works were the Annals and the Histories, which include the reigns of the Roman Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero, and those who reigned in the year of the four emperors. Here is a passage from Annals:
“Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from who the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, a most mischievous superstitution, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the 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.” – Annals, 15.44
Tacitus also confirms the fact that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate. But not only that, he says that a huge riot broke out upon hearing that Jesus was convicted. So not only did Jesus have followers, but his followers were willing to die for their belief that Jesus was in fact God.
Pliny the Younger
A third source outside of the Bible is Pliney the Younger. Pliney the Younger (A.D. 61 – A.D. 112) was a lawyer, author, and magistrate of Ancient Rome. He was the nephew of Pliny the Elder, who helped raise and educate him. He was also a friend of historian Tacitus. Although he himself was not a historian, he wrote books of letters about current events. Here is one exert:
“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 obstinancy 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." – Pliny the Younger, Letters, 10.96
Pliny the Younger says that Christians had high ethical standards to abstain from theft, robbery, and adultery. They included every class of people including slaves as well as Roman citizens, since citizens are sent to Rome for trial. They also were willing to be put to death for their belief that Jesus was God.
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