The Historicity of Jesus
Introduction: By "historicity" I mean historical authenticity. There is a yet small, but growing movement that seeks to present Jesus Christ as a mythical figure, the product of wishful thinking that is totally devoid of any historic documentation that a man named Jesus who founded Christianity ever existed. To my knowledge, there was no indication of any serious doubting on any scale that Jesus was a real historical man until about the eighteenth Century. However, some are becoming bolder today in their claims that Jesus is simply mythical, on the par of Santa Clause, etc.
I. Biblical evidence regarding Jesus Christ.
A. The Bible is replete with allusion to Jesus as a real person. We prophetically read of Jesus' birth, life, and his betrayal, trials, and crucifixion (Micah 5: 2, Isa. 7: 14; Isa. 40: 3, 53: 3, 42: 1; Matt. 27). Matthew chapter twenty-seven is a running commentary, as it were, containing about sixteen prophetic fulfillments that took place in about a twenty-four hour period, regarding Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrection. Altogether, there are about 332 prophecies regarding the Christ, all clearly fulfilled in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
B. The author of Acts wrote thus in presenting Jesus as an actual person who lived, and more, was victoriously resurrected:
"1: The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, 2: Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: 3: To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God" (Acts 1).
II. While biblical proof of Jesus being real is easily established, how about non-biblical proof? Does secular history document that the Jesus mentioned in the scriptures actually lived about 2, 000 years ago?
A. Historical evidence concerning Jesus. There are a number of ancient historians, writers, and educators whom we could introduce regarding the historic reality of a man named Jesus, the founder of the movement that bears his name, Christianity. These individuals are highly recognized as being reputable and reliable in their various writings and are extensively quoted even by agnostic and even atheistic learned people today.
1. Flavius Josephus. Josephus was born in either 37 or 38 A. D. When he was 26 years old, he took upon himself the mission of seeking to improve the relations between the Jews and the Romans. He was a historian who was highly respected by the Roman world. He was held in such high regard that he was allowed to accompany Titus when Titus led the Romans Army against Jerusalem (70 A. D.). Josephus wrote several books that have come down to us today, History of the Jewish War (seven different books) and Jewish Antiquities, to name some. Josephus was not a Christian himself.
A. Josephus wrote:
"At that time lived Jesus, a wise man, if he may be called a man; for he performed many wonderful works. He was a teacher of such men as received the truth with pleasure .And when Pilate, at the instigation of the chief men among us, had condemned him to the cross, they who before had conceived an affection for him did not cease to adhere to him. For on the third day he appeared to them alive again, the divine prophets having foretold these and many other wonderful things concerning him. And the sect of the Christians, so called from him, subsists at this time" (Antiquities, Book 18, Chapter 3, Section 1).
B. In all fairness, many among scholars today are claiming that the above just quoted was not originally written by Josephus but is an interpolation. However, the passage is present in every copy of which we have knowledge, just as quoted. The above passage was twice quoted by Eusebius as early as 315 A. D. Another passage in which Josephus mentions the historic Jesus is found in Antiquities, Book 20, Chapter 9, and Section 1. This second reference has received comparatively little rejection.
a. After exhaustive research, it could very well be that very early on, a copyist dressed up Josephus' first statement in an attempt to make it more favorable to Jesus. The passage is found in the context of references to sedition, before and after the passage. The above quotation does make reference to, "the sect of the Christians, so called from him, subsists at this time." This is probably, no doubt, part of the pure text, if the text were doctored. However, even if we allow for the early changing of the text, most would have to agree that Josephus does historically allude to Jesus.
2. Carius Cornelius Tacitus (many of his writings were about 100 A. D.). Tacitus was a Roman historian who reportedly hated Christians.
A. In writing about the life of Nero and the accusation that he burned the city of Rome and blamed it on the Christians, Tacitus says:
" Nero procured others to be accused, and inflicted exquisite punishment upon those people, who were in abhorrence for their crimes, and were commonly known by the name of Christians. They had their denomination from Christus (Christ, dm.), who in the reign of Tibertius was put to death as a criminal by the procurator Pontius Pilate .At first they were only apprehended who confessed themselves of that sect; afterwards a vast multitude discovered by them, all of which were condemned, not so much for the crime of burning the city, as for their enmity to mankind. Their executions were so contrived as to expose them to derision and contempt. Some were covered with the skins of wild beasts, and torn to pieces by dogs; some were crucified; others having been daubed over with combustible materials, were set up as lights in the night time, and thus burned to death " (Tacitus, Annals, 15, 44).
B. Notice that while Tacitus had no regard for the Christians of whom he wrote, he does mention Christ as being the founder of their belief.
3. Suetonius (Roman historian, born about 88 A. D.). While Suetonius does not mention Christ by name, he does refer to Christianity. This reference and many more that could be supplied proves the early origin of Christianity and details that are congruous with the biblical account.
A. Hear his brief statement in also writing about the life of Nero whose reign began in 54 and ended in 68 A. D.:
"Punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief" (Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, pg. 197).
4. Pliny the younger, born in 61 A. D. Pliny was sent by the Emperor Trajan to Bithynia in 112 as propraetor. Having found a large number of Christians there, he wrote back to Trajan to get information on how to deal with them.
A. Pliny says to Trajan:
"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 ."
B. Under specific item number five of his letter, Pliny wrote:
" 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 which I had ordered to be brought forward for this purpose, together with the statutes of the deities; and especially because they cursed Christ, a thing which, it is said, genuine Christians cannot be induced to do ."
C. Under item number six, he continued:
" Others named by the informer first said that they were Christians and then denied it; declaring that they had been but were so no longer, some having recanted three years or more before and one or two as long as twenty years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods and cursed Christ ."
D. Concerned reader, as seen in the foregoing, there is no doubt that Christianity had its beginning in the First Century and that Jesus Christ is its founder. In addition to the secular writings quoted above, why should the twenty-six books of the New Testament be discounted as establishing the historicity of Jesus? "Jesus" or "Christ" is mentioned specifically in twenty-six of the books. Third John, "Jesus" and "Christ" absent) does imply Jesus (vs. 7). These books cover a critical time period of about 56 through 96 A. D. and involve ten different authors. The matter most valuable about these twenty-six books is that they have been subjected to more tests to determine authenticity than any other books (canonicity).
Conclusion: A man named Jesus Christ really and actually lived. This is established from secular history. He is presented as the founder of the movement that bears his name, Christianity. The Bible does more, however, than simply present the historicity of a man named Jesus. I shall conclude this study by inserting the conversation between Jesus, his disciples, and especially the statements of the apostle Peter:
"13: When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? 14: And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. 15: He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? 16: And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. 17: And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. 18: And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19: And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 16).