Jesus historicity – Why is the bible not enough?

While discussing the issue of Jesus’ historicity with one atheist friend, who denies it, I soon became aware of the hypocrisy that atheists have to go through to deny that Jesus did exist, while on the other hand they recognise the historical existence of ancient people like Alexander, Julius Caesar and many others. This now famous belief that Jesus never existed is supposedly based on a premise that unless non-biblical contemporary historians mentioned Jesus then we can conclude that He never existed. Now I find this to be very hypocritical, but more about that later. Let me first list non-biblical historians who mentioned Jesus, either directly or indirectly (thanks to Wiki which had already listed them):

1. Pliny the Younger (61-112AD)

Pliny the Younger, the provincial governor of Pontus and Bithynia, wrote to Emperor Trajan 112AD concerning how to deal with Christians, who refused to worship the emperor, and instead worshiped “Christus”.

Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ — none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do — these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshiped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.

Source: Pliny to Trajan, Letters 10.96–97

 2. Tacitus (56-117 AD)

Tacitus, writing 116AD, included in his Annals a mention of Christianity and “Christus”, the Latinized Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah”. In describing Nero’s persecution of this group following the Great Fire of Rome c. 64, he wrote:

Nero fastened the guilt of starting the blaze and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians [Chrestians] 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, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.

Source: Tacitus, Annals 15.44

 3. Suetonius (69-140AD)

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus wrote the following in his Lives of the Twelve Caesars about riots which broke out in the Jewish community in Rome under the emperor Claudius:

“As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [Claudius] expelled them [the Jews] from Rome”.

Source: Iudaeos, impulsore Chresto, assidue tumultuantes Roma expulit;

The event was noted in Acts 18:2

 4. Josephus (37-100AD)

Flavius Josephus, a Jew and Roman citizen who worked under the patronage of the Flavians, wrote the Antiquities of the Jews in AD 93. In these works, Jesus is mentioned twice, though scholars debate their authenticity. The one directly concerning Jesus has come to be known as the Testimonium Flavianum.

In the first passage, called the Testimonium Flavianum, it is written:

About this time came Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it is appropriate to call him a man. For he was a performer of paradoxical feats, a teacher of people who accept the unusual with pleasure, and he won over many of the Jews and also many Greeks. He was the Christ. When Pilate, upon the accusation of the first men amongst us, condemned him to be crucified, those who had formerly loved him did not cease to follow him, for he appeared to them on the third day, living again, as the divine prophets foretold, along with a myriad of other marvellous things concerning him. And the tribe of the Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to this day.

Source: Josephus Antiquities 18.3.3

 5. Mara bar Sarapion

Mara was a Syrian Stoic. While imprisoned by the Romans, Mara wrote a letter to his son that includes the following text:

For what benefit did the Athenians obtain by putting Socrates to death, seeing that they received as retribution for it famine and pestilence? Or the people of Samos by the burning of Pythagoras, seeing that in one hour the whole of their country was covered with sand? Or the Jews by the murder of their Wise King, seeing that from that very time their kingdom was driven away from them? For with justice did God grant a recompense to the wisdom of all three of them. For the Athenians died by famine; and the people of Samos were covered by the sea without remedy; and the Jews, brought to desolation and expelled from their kingdom, are driven away into every land. Nay, Socrates did “not” die, because of Plato; nor yet Pythagoras, because of the statue of Hera; nor yet the Wise King, because of the new laws which he enacted.

Source: BL Add. 14658, British Library

 6. The Talmud

It is taught: On the eve of Passover they hung Yeshu and the crier went forth for forty days beforehand declaring that “[Yeshu] is going to be stoned for practicing witchcraft, for enticing and leading Israel astray. Anyone who knows something to clear him should come forth and exonerate him.” But no one had anything exonerating for him and they hung him on the eve of Passover. Ulla said: Would one think that we should look for exonerating evidence for him? He was an enticer and God said (Deuteronomy 13:9) “Show him no pity or compassion, and do not shield him.” Yeshu was different because he was close to the government.

Source: Sanhedrin 43a

 7. Lucian

Lucian, a second century Romano-Syrian satirist, who wrote in Greek, wrote:

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.

Source: Lucian, The Death of Peregrine, 11–13 in The Works of Lucian of Samosata, translated by H. W. Fowler (Oxford: Clarendon, 1949) vol. 4

 8. Thallus

Julius Africanus, writing 221AD, while writing about the crucifixion of Jesus, mentioned Thallus:

On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in his third book of History, calls (as appears to me without reason) an eclipse of the sun.

Source: Julius Africanus, Extant Writings XVIII in Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973) vol. VI, p. 130

 9. Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Papias, and Quadratus are also non-biblical historians who wrote about Jesus.

Sources: Clement, Corinthians 42, Ignatius, Letter to the Trallians 9, Letter to the Smyrneans 1, 3, Justin First Apology 30, 32, 34–35, 47–48, 50; Dialogue with Trypho 12, 77, 97, 107–108, &c, Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 4.3.2

As we have seen, there are non-biblical references to Jesus by contemporary historians. But you should understand that atheists will still hold on to their argument that Jesus never existed even though they posed a challenge to prove His existence from non-biblical historians. They will tell you that either the references are faked or they don’t say enough to conclude that Jesus did actually exist. This is the first hypocrisy we find with atheists.

Hypocrisy #1

If you were to ask atheists to give you proof for the historical existence of Julius Caesar, they would refer you to Suetonius in his work Lives of the Twelve Caesars. They would tell you with a straight face that Suetonius’ writings prove that Julius Ceasar existed, yet the same people are not willing to accept Suetonius’ testimony of Jesus.

Hypocrisy #2

They would also tell you that we have a coin with Julius Caesar’s face on it, and that proves beyond doubt that Julius Caesar existed. But the same people who are willing to recognise a coin with Caesar’s face on it as proof for his historical existence, are unwilling to accept Jesus’ historical existence based on the same coin. Why is Caesar’s coin proof for Jesus’ historical existence? Because the bible tells us that Jesus held the same coin with Caesar’s face on it and said “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21)! Had this coin never existed then we would have known beyond doubt that the biblical account of Jesus was false. Yet this coin proves that Jesus did exist, and he existed within the first century as that was the time when the coin could have been in circulation.

Hypocrisy #3

Atheists claim that we can’t trust the New Testament account of Jesus, because it wasn’t written in His lifetime. If this premise is correct, then we can safely conclude that Alexander the Great never existed. Did Alexander the Great exist? Not if you are an atheist, and you deny the existence of Jesus because the New Testament wasn’t written in His lifetime. But unlike atheists, we know that Alexander the Great existed, and I don’t think any atheist would question his historical existence, so they are just playing a hypocrite. The earliest written account of Alexander we know is the one in Plutarch’s Life of Alexander written 400 years after the death of Alexander. Did you understand that? We know about Alexander because of what a book written 400 years after his death tells us of him, and no atheist denies his historical existence or military conquests. As for Jesus, we have a man called Paul who wrote about Him within a decade of His death, and no atheist believes his account of Jesus. How could an atheist believe Plutarch’s Life of Alexander yet not believe Paul’s letter to the Corinthians written a mere decade after Jesus’ death, unless there’s hypocrisy?

Hypocrisy #4

Atheists are willing to accept any contemporary written evidence, regardless of its reliability and perhaps authenticity, as long as it’s not the bible. The reliability of a historical document is determined by:

  • The number of manuscripts copies still around
  • The time from when it was written and the date of the oldest copy

“Parts of the New Testament have been preserved in more manuscripts than any other “ancient” work, having over 5,800 complete or fragmented Greek manuscripts, 10,000 Latin manuscripts and 9,300 manuscripts in various other ancient languages including Syriac, Slavic, Gothic, Ethiopic, Coptic and Armenian. The dates of these manuscripts range from 125AD (the John Ryland’s manuscript, P52; oldest copy of John fragments) to the introduction of printing in Germany in the 15th century. The vast majority of these manuscripts date after the 10th century. Because there are more New Testament manuscripts than any other ancient writing (e.g., we only have 10 copies of Julius Caesar’s ‘The Gallic Wars’), Christian apologists such as Josh Mcdowell and Norman Geisler assert that by literary standards, the New Testament is a reliable witness to the original text.” (1).

Even though the bible is more authentic and reliable than any other contemporary work that has ever written, atheists still insist that it is better not to rely on the biblical accounts of Jesus, but rather to rely on contemporary work that can’t even be authenticated. That right there is hypocrisy!  

Conclusion

I concluded that I don’t have to prove that Jesus is a historical Person, and the bible is all the evidence I need. Anybody who tells me that the bible can’t be presented as proof has to himself present a better historical source that is better than the bible and disproves Jesus’ historical account. That source has to have more manuscript copies and it should be dated closer to its original date than the bible is. Otherwise we as Christians find ourselves providing a hypocritical stage for an atheist to dance in, and dance they can.

References:

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_manuscript
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity_of_Jesus
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9 Comments »

  1. TheTruth said

    I’ll just leave this here…
    http://rationalrevolution.net/articles/jesus_myth_history.htm

  2. crl said

    But not all atheists deny Jesus’ historical existence…

  3. I hear you crl, but we unfortunately have more and more radical atheists who question the existence of Jesus. It’s unfortunate that we have to write articles like this to prove that Jesus existed. Does it mean in the future we’ll have to prove that George Washington existed? Unfortunately so!

    • TheTruth said

      Your ‘article’ proves no such thing.

      There are substantial arguments to be made against Jesus’ existence, but even if one discounts these and accepts his likely past existence you have a long way to go from “some guy traipsing across the old world” to “son of God”. You basically have 5 contentions:
      1. Jesus existed
      2. Jesus said all the things attributed to him in scripture.
      3. Jesus performed miraculous acts.
      4. Jesus rose from the dead.
      5. Jesus is/was the son of God.

      As you go down the list these contentions become ever less likely and ever more difficult to prove. You have an old book and faith, nothing more. For most of us that isn’t enough… and it shouldn’t be. If it were, we’d still be stuck on a flat Earth chasing after goats for our livelihood.

  4. crl said

    Which is hypocritical if they are denying facts. I haven’t looked into arguments either for or against Jesus’ existence, however I don’t understand one of your arguments: that having a large number of manuscripts still around proves the authenticity of a source. Surely, one carbon dated manuscript is as good as many copies of the same thing? More valuable in proving Jesus’ (or George Washington’s) would be multiple, independent sources, written during his lifetime; instead, we have the New Testament, the first Gospel of which was written many years after Jesus’ death, by someone who had not known him/Him the remaining three based off of it. While this might might be enough to prove Jesus’ existence likely (if not quite certain), it would not be enough to prove him to be a miracle worker.

  5. The purpose of the article was not to prove Jesus’ Deity, but to address the hypocrisy of those who insist that Jesus didn’t exist. You need to understand that Jesus’ Deity stands alone, and is not dependent on the bible. Meaning, Jesus was still God even before the New Testament was written, so the New Testament also testifies to His Deity but doesn’t determine it.

    • TheTruth said

      Regardless, you haven’t proven anything. I’d hazard each and every one of the sources you cite as evidence is addressed in the paper I posted earlier.

      Read it. Yes, it’s a long read but it’s all quite interesting.

      Even if you don’t accept the arguments raised – I don’t, not all of them – to contend that there simply aren’t grounds on which to question the historicity of Jesus is laughable. There are. Many.

  6. telson said

    When we begin to examine the gospels and the letters of the New Testament, we find that Jesus appears as the central figure in them. The four gospels tell us about His life here on earth while the epistles describe the meaning of His death and resurrection according to Christian belief. We can actually say, that if He hadn’t lived on earth, none of these would have been written.
    As we examine the historicity of Jesus, we can find proof of His life on earth. This proof has been preserved by His successors, such as the early church fathers, and also His opponents. Both sources refer to various parts of His life.

    http://www.jariiivanainen.net/historicityofJesus.html

  7. emeth said

    The biggest evidence we have to prove Jesus did really exist is that no one in the past (read the 1st century) among those thousands of opposers did contest his existance.

    If Jesus would be a fairytale that would have been exposed right away by al those historians and other kinds of ‘wise’ men. But no one did.

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