Introduction: Ancient sources outside the New Testament that demonstrate the reliability of the four Gospels’ portrayal of Jesus Christ Note to reader: The reader is invited to look at today’s post on my other blogsite that deals with Jesus’ identity in the four Gospels, part 9 of an 11 part series at: http://pastormahlon.blogspot.com/2013/12/p911-discovering-identity-of-jesus.html
The aim of today’s post is to demonstrate to the reader the validity of the Four Gospels’ portrayal of Jesus Christ as both the Jesus of history, the Christ of faith and Lord of all eternity. Often doubts are raised by skeptics as to whether the so-called “Christ of faith” in the four canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John) is the same as the “Christ of history” found in the non-Christian sources of antiquity. Whenever the evidence is examined, we discover that what ancient non-Christian historians had to say about Jesus and early Christianity represents in faint outline form the full picture we see in the Gospel records. Essentially, looking at the evidence below is like looking at an old black and white photograph and comparing it to a full HD video portrayal like what we find in the Four Gospels. In short – there are enough similarities to conclude that contrary to skeptics, the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith are one in the same Person.
Christian Apologist Doug Powell writes regarding such resources: “In addition to archaeological finds, there are a number of writings from non-Christian sources that have survived and corroborate the New Testament.”1 Below are quotations from some of those sources that over the years this blogger has heard cited or read quoted by scholars.
1. Gaius Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars: (date of writing: 120 A.D) Suetonius was a Roman Historian who wrote his work roughly 90 years after the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus and 30 years after the death of the Apostle John. His account (which records the history of Rome from 50B.C-95 A.D) gives us a peak into the historical existence of Jesus Christ as viewed by those outside the immediate early Christian community. Consider that Seutonius writes below:
|“He expelled the Jews from Rome, on account of riots in which they were constantly indulging, at the instigation of Chrestus. [Claudius 25.4] ““Punishment was inflicted on the Christias, a body of people addicted to a novel and mischievous superstition. [Nero 16.2]”|
2. Cornelius Tacitus, Annals: (date of writing – 100-120 A.D) As you can see in the dating of this writing, the comments Tactius records occurred in the same time frame as that of Suetonius. Tactius was a Roman historian who would had written with no sympathy for Christianity. Nonetheless his remarks add weight to the historicity of Jesus Christ as being what we see in the pages of the Four Gospels of the New Testament. Jesus was certainly no fictional character, but a real live person who lived in history. Consider Tactius’ comments below that mentions figures such as Christ, and Pilate, as well as the region of Judea and other details we find mentioned in all four Gospel accounts:
|“But neither the aid of men, nor the emperor’s bounty, nor propitiatory offerings to the gods, could remove the grim suspicion that the fire had been started by Nero’s order. To put an end to this rumor, he shifted the charge on to others, and inflicted the most cruel tortures upon a group of people detested for their abominations, and popularly known as “Christians.” “Their name came from one Christus, who was put to death in the principate of Tiberius by the Procurator Pontius Pilate. Though checked for a time, the destructive superstition broke out again, not in Judaea only, where its mischief began, but even in Rome, where every abominable and shameful iniquity, from all the world, pours in and finds a welcome.” [Annals 15.44]|
3. Mara bar Serapion, Letter to His Son Serapion: (dating of this document ranges from the end of the first century to the end of the second century) This writer was a Roman philosopher, writer and teacher. Consider what he states about Jesus Christ (whom Serapion deems “The wise king”):
|“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 Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; 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.”|
4. Pliny the Younger, Letters: to Trajan: (date of writing: 100-112 A.D) Christian Apologist Doug Powell writes regarding this particular author: “Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor from 109-111, wrote to Emporer Trajan explaining, among other things, how he handled the Christians.”2 Let the reader note in the quote below Pliny’s letter and Emporer Trajan’s reply to Pliny:
|“It is my rule, Sire, to refer to you in matters where I am uncertain. For who can better direct my hesitation or instruct my ignorance? I was never present at any trial of Christians; therefore I do not know what are the customary penalties or investigations, and what limits are observed. I have hesitated a great deal on the question whether there should be any distinction of ages; whether the weak should have the same treatment as the most robust; whether those who recant should be pardoned, or whether a man who has ever been a Christian should gain nothing by ceasing to be such; whether the name itself, even if innocent of crime, should be punished, or only the crimes attaching to that name.”“Meanwhile, this is the course that I have adopted in the case of those brought before me as Christians. I ask them if they are Christians. If they admit it I repeat the question a second and a third time, threatening capital punishment; if they persist I sentence them to death… All who denied that they were or had been Christians I considered should be discharged, because they called upon the gods at my dictation and did reverence, with incense and wine, to your image… and especially because they cursed Christ, a thing which, it is said, genuine Christians cannot be induced to do.”“Others named by the informer first said they were Christians and then denied it, declaring that they had been but were no longer, some having recanted three years or more before and one or two as long ago as twenty years. They all worshiped your image and the statues of the gods and cursed Christ. But they declared that the sum of their guilt or error had amounted only to this, that on an appointed day they had been accustomed to meet before daybreak, and to recite a hymn antiphonally to Christ, as to a god, and to bind themselves by an oath, not for the commission of any crime but to abstain from theft, robbery, adultery and breach of faith and not to deny a deposit when it was claimed.”“After the conclusion of this ceremony it was their custom to depart and meet again to take food; but it was ordinary and harmless food, and they had ceased this practice after my edict in which, in accordance with your orders, I had forbidden secret societies. I thought it the more necessary, therefore, to find out what truth there was in this by applying torture to two maidservants, who were called deaconesses. But I found nothing but a depraved and extravagant superstition, and I therefore postponed my examination and had recourse to you for consultation.” [Letters 10.96]|
Ibid.: Trajan’s Reply:
|“The method you have pursued, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those denounced to you as Christians is extremely proper. It is not possible to lay down any general rule which can be applied as the fixed standard in all cases of this nature. No search should be made for these people; when they are denounced and found guilty they must be punished; with the restriction, however, that when the party denies himself to be a Christian, and shall give proof that he is not, that is by adoring our gods, he shall be pardoned on the ground of repentance, even though he may have formerly incurred suspicion. Information without the accuser’s name subscribed must not be admitted in evidence against anyone, as it is introducing a very dangerous precedent, and by no means agreeable to the spirit of the age.” [Letters 10.97]
5. Lucian, “The Passing of Peregrinus” (date of writing: 2nd century) This particular quote below features the Greek writer Lucian who was certainly no friend of Christianity. His writing is valuable, like others above, due to the historical corroboration it gives to the historicity of Jesus’ crucifixion.“(Christians) still worship the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world….”.
6. Flavius Josephus, Antiquities: (date of writing: 95 A.D) Josephus was a Jewish historian who lived in the days of the Apostles and was a first hand eye-witness of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. His works are consider standards for understanding the first century context in which Jesus, the Apostles and the early church lived and ministered. Below is a quotation that remarkably affirms many of the details we find in the canonical four Gospels:
7. Babylonian Talmud: The official website of the Jewish Encyclopedia ( http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14213-talmud ) describes the Talmud:“Name of two works which have been preserved to posterity as the product of the Palestinian and Babylonian schools during the amoraic period, which extended from the third to the fifth century C.E.” The article continues: “it frequently serves as a generic designation for an entire body of literature, since the Talmud marks the culmination of the writings of Jewish tradition, of which it is, from a historical point of view, the most important production.” Consider a quote from this vast collection of Jewish writings below on the death of Jesus as a historical event:
We have surveyed various secular and Jewish sources from antiquity that affirm the lifetimes and events of Jesus Christ, the Apostles and the early church. The aim of today’s post was to demonstrate to the reader the validity of the Four Gospels’ portrayal of Jesus Christ as both the Jesus of history, the Christ of faith and Lord of all eternity. May the above citations and evidence prove useful to the wider Christian community in the proclamation of the historical, Biblical and eternal implications of the life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.
1. Doug Powell. Christian Apologetics – A Clear and Complete Overview. Holman Reference. 2006. Page 163
2. Doug Powell. Christian Apologetics – A Clear and Complete Overview. Holman Reference. 2006. Page 163
3. The term “Hanged” here would have been the way the Jews used to describe the act of Roman crucifixion.