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Jesus Christ – Non-Christian evidence

Portrait of Jesus Christ historical figureSome people doubt whether we can accept what the Bible has to say about Jesus Christ, whether He has been recorded in any other historical documents, (ie non-Christian).

Jeremy Bowen (BBC′s former Middle East correspondent), presenter on the ‘Son Of God’ programme on BBC One, said:- …

“I thought you couldn′t corroborate anything that was in the Gospels .. To start with I didn′t know there was a historical character called Jesus – I thought that you had to believe in Jesus the same way as you have to believe in God.
I discovered that in fact there is a lot of historical corroboration for the existence of this man – for example there′s a Romanised Jewish historian who writes about a man called Jesus, a Jew who attained a following of people in his area, who was known as a worker of deeds and who was put to death by the authorities..”

So let′s look at some of these historical, non-Christian, writings:

Lucian of Samosata

Here is some non-Christian evidence from a second century Greek satirist, Lucian of Samosata:-

“The Christians . . . worship a man to this day –the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account. . . . [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.” [4]

Lucian is jesting about the early Christians, and although he does not mention Jesus by name he is clearly referring to Him.

Tacitus

Probably the most important is found in the report by the Roman historian Tacitus, writing about the decision of Emperor Nero to blame the Christians for the fire that had destroyed Rome in A.D. 64:

“Consequently, to get rid of the report, [that he was responsible for the fire that razed Rome] Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, 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, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome,” [1]

This information is interesting because it is saying that the name ‘Christians’ came from the founder called ‘Christus’ which is the Latin spelling of the Greek ‘Christ’.

But that is not all, Tacitus, also tells us that Christ ‘suffered the extreme penalty’ that is the penalty of crucifixion.

Also he mentions two rulers at that time, who are recorded in the Bible:-

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea” [2]

Pliny

Another important source of evidence about Jesus from non-Christians can be found in the letters of Pliny the Younger to Emperor Trajan. Pliny was the Roman governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor.

For example he asks Trajan′s advice about how to carry out legal proceedings against those accused of being Christians, and he relays this information he has learned about them:

“They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food – but food of an ordinary and innocent kind” [3]

Notice that Christ is mentioned, and also that the Christians saw Him as being Divine.
So not only was He human, (He was a real human-being living at that time in history) but also God.

It also shows some early practices of the Christians:-
They met on a set day for worship.
They held onto His teachings, and they celebrated a meal, which is known now as; ‘Communion’, the sharing of bread and wine.

References:

[1] Tacitus, Annals 15.44, cited in Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ,(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), 82
[2] Luke 3:1
[3] Pliny, Letters, transl. by William Melmoth, rev. by W.M.L. Hutchinson (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1935), vol. II, X:96, cited in Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus, (Joplin, Missouri: College Press Publishing Company, 1996),199
[4] Lucian, The Death of Peregrine, 11-13, in The Works of Lucian of Samosata, transl. by H.W. Fowler and F.G. Fowler, 4 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1949), vol. 4., cited in Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus, Joplin, Missouri: College Press Publishing Company, 1996), 206
Robert Powell image thanks to the Jesus of Nazareth Video by Carlton

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