Sunday, June 21, 2020

Sunday Thought: Evidence for Jesus Outside the Bible

I like evidence. Especially when it comes to my faith. You see, you can have faith and evidence of that faith at the same time. I recently reread the below and just wanted to share with anyone interested.

The below writing is direct from Delve Christian Ministries.  I can't recall when I got this, but it was online somewhere on their site. But credit goes to them for creating this material.

Evidence for Jesus Outside the Bible
Before we look at the evidence for Jesus outside of the Bible, it's important to pause for a moment
and examine how the books of the New Testament were chosen to be included. For the most part,
the books selected for inclusion into the Bible were those which were already widely circulated and
widely respected. There was very little debate at that time about most of the books, and there was
almost none about the Gospels. The four Gospels had already been in use for hundreds of years
by Christians everywhere. The process of selecting the New Testament was much less about
selecting which books to include, as it was about formally recognizing which books were already
widely accepted.
There were many other accounts of Jesus life which were never seriously considered for inclusion,
for by that time, it had already been recognized by most Christians everywhere that these books
lacked the authority and divine inspiration of scripture.

Other Gospel Accounts
This is important to note, for it is very frequently asked by non-Christians how it could be that only
four books were written about the life of such an important man. In fact, we know of dozens of
other books which have survived, and it's very likely that thousands of books were written about
Jesus in the first three centuries. The reason that almost everything we know comes from only four
books attests to the fact that the early Christians felt that these four books alone contained the
most vital information. All the other books did not survive simply because they were not as
important. In a very real sense, it was an example of 'survival of the fittest'. Those books which
had merit survived; those that did not were lost.
So, to begin, the first place we can look outside the Bible for corroborating evidence of Jesus' life
is to these extra-biblical gospels. There are dozens of these, mostly written between the second
and fourth century. Despite having titles such as 'The Gospel of Thomas', 'The Gospel Of Judas'
and the 'Gospel Of Phillip', these gospels were not written by any of Jesus' disciples, rather, they
are told from the perspective of that disciple, or are told by a descendant of that disciple.
From an historical, objective point of view, these books suffer from the same problem as the Bible
itself, which is whey were written by followers of Christ. What most people are looking for is
something objective, written by someone who was not a follower of Christ. For that we, look to
some early Jewish and Roman writings.

Josephus was a 1st century Jewish historian born in AD 37 who wrote a comprehensive history of
the Jewish people near the end of 1st century. In this book, he recounts the stoning of James,
calling him 'the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ.' This passage is considered by most
historians and scholars to be authentic and is not generally in dispute. This an important piece of
evidence which tells us that someone name Jesus actually lived in the first century and that some
considered Him to be the Christ.
Josephus wrote another passage which is more controversial. He wrote:
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
There is still much debate over the authenticity of this passage. The current consensus is that
Josephus did write something about Jesus here, but that later edits were made by a follower of
Christ. The parts in bold italics are those parts which are commonly believed to be later edits, for
there is evidence that Josephus was not a follower of Christ and would not have characterized
Him in this way. The description of Jesus as a 'wise man' and and 'teacher' are more consistent
with Josephus' style and vocabulary found elsewhere in his work, and are probably the actual
descriptions he used.

The Roman Historian Tacitus wrote of Jesus (whom he refers to as 'Christus') and the spread of
Christianity throughout Rome in his work Annals, approximately AD 116. He wrote:
Consequently, to get rid of the report, 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, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and
become popular. 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. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the
flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired
There is a great deal of important information in this passage. First, it confirms the life and death of
Jesus in Judea but even more importantly, confirms that his death was by crucifixion. According to
Christian scholar Edwin Yamauchi, this is an important piece of evidence because death by
crucifixion was the 'most ignominious death' and reserved for the lowest and most worthless
criminals. By Tacitus' own admission, people continued to followed Jesus despite his ignominious
death and were prepared to follow him even to the penalty of their own death. This account of the
faithfulness of early Christians by an unsympathetic witness is powerful testimony of the life of

Pliny The Younger
We also get an account of the spread of Christianity from a Roman provincial governor named
Pliny the Younger in A.D. 112. Though he does not speak of Jesus directly, he does recount that
Christians in his province cause trouble because they worship Christ and not the Emperor.
They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were
accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a
god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery,
not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over,
it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food-but ordinary and innocent
food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with
your instructions, I had forbidden political associations.

Perhaps most controversial of all historical references is a possible reference to Jesus in the
Jewish Talmud. The passage speaks of someone who was 'hanged' because he 'practiced
sorcery' and 'enticed Israel to apostacy'. If this passage refers to Jesus, then it is an interesting
piece of evidence because it confirm Jesus' influence and that Jesus did perform miracles and
healing, though the Talmud attributes His power to sorcery rather than coming from God.

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