Question:

Are the 4 Gospels writen by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John historical documents? Can you send historical or any proof of Jesus from the first century when your N.T. claims the miracle worker, crucified and resurrected Jesus was here on earth?

Answer:

What do we know about Jesus from extra-Biblical sources? Let me list some Extra-Biblical references to Jesus:

1. Tacitus, Roman historian (AD 56-118)(about AD 115 concerning Nero in AD 64); Not all the relief that could come from the man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of bbeing believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Therefore, to squelch the rumor, Nero created scapegoats and subjected to the most refined tortures those whom the common people called ‘Christians,’ [a group] hated for their abominable crimes. Their name comes from Christ, who, during the reign of Tiberius, had been executed by the procurator Pontius Pilate. Suppressed for the moment, the deadly superstition broke out again, not only in Judea, the land which originated this evil, but also in the city of Rome, where all sorts of horrendous and shameful practices, from every part of the world converge and are fervently cultivated. We know that Tacitus used written sources for his histories, so we can assume that he was most likely working from written sources here. In any case, there were hundreds of believers in Rome at the time (AD 115) who had met eye-witnesses (or at least who claimed publicly to be eye-witnesses) to the resurrection when they were younger. Annals 15.44

2. Flavius Josephus (AD 38-100) Writing about AD 94 under Domitian. Concerning events he had indirect knowledge of. Josephus was a Pharisee. Jewish historian who was a turncoat, switching from the Jewish rebel side to Rome to serve under Nero and Vespasian. Josephus is a relatively reliable historian. The “Testimonium Flavium” (Antiquities 18:3.3) About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, [if indeed one ought to call him a man]. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. [He was the Messiah.] When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. [On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for] the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared. Agapius, an Arab Christian in 9th century probably quotes the original–the one which did not have a Christian-inspired interpolation, leaving out the parts in parenthesis. Note the passage reads grammatically well without the parts in parenthesis. We can assume that most likely the parts not in parenthesis were in the original of Josephus. Scholars generally agree that there was a Christian interpolation, but that the section is genuine. Note: Josephus also reports the martyrdom of “James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ” (Antiquities 20:20). As far as I know, this reference is not considered to be controversial.

3. Babylonian Talmud (late first or second century AD) Babylonian Sanhedrin43a-b On the eve of the Passover they hanged Yeshu and the herald went before him for forty days saying [Yeshu] is going forth to be stoned in that he hate practiced sorcery and beguiled and led astray Israel 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 G-d 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

4. Seutonius about AD 120 Very reliable historian wrote concerning the times of Claudius about AD 50 "As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he Claudius expelled them from Rome”

5. Lucian of Samosata Social commentator and critic of Christianity I am not giving a full quote from Seutonius or even giving the quote from Lucian for the sake of space and because, although they did mention Jesus and the followers of Jesus, they do not add a lot to what was already said.

6. Pliny the Younger AD 112 Writing to Emperor Trajan. 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

7. Celsus

8. Mara bar Sarapion As with Lucian and Celsus, I am not giving quotes from these guys as, although they mention Jesus and his followers, they do not add a lot to the others already quoted. I will note that Celsus, the chief critic of Christianity in the second century, did not deny the existence of Jesus, or his death under Pilate.

9. Thallus We know of Thallus only from a third century historian named Julius Africanus who wrote a three-volume treatise of world history in the 50s AD. In discussion the darkness at the time of the resurrection of Jesus, Julius Africanus mentions that in the 3rd book of Thallus’ history, he mentions the darkness and calls it an eclipse of the sun. Africanus believes that Thallus is wrong. Whether or not this source proves the darkness at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion is dubious, but it does seem to support the idea that even non-Christians were aware of the resurrection as early as the 50s AD—at about the time the first book of the NT was written. It also supports the claim, not necessarily of the darkness having occurred, but of the darkness having been claimed and believed by the Christians.

The number of Pagan sources for Jesus Christ among contemporaries or within 100 years: 9

The number of Pagan sources for Tiberius among contemporaries or within 100 years: 9 (or 10 if you count Luke)

So, the number of sources we have for Tiberius and Jesus is approximately the same. And that does not count the large number of Christian witnesses from the first century to Jesus which have come down to us, which for unexplained reasons skeptics assume are a whole-cloth fabrication. Of course, no one doubts that Tiberius lived, but there are what seems to me to be irrational skeptics who choose to deny that Jesus lived.

Let me mention the reliablility of the witnesses.

Martyrdoms

1. James, brother of Jesus confirmed by Josephus Antiquities xx.9.1

2. Apostle James (Acts 12:1-2)

3. Peter and Paul sufficiently well attested at a sufficiently early date to be almost certain.

4. Traditionally, all the apostles but John, but this is not sufficiently well attested to be called a fact of history.

Dozens were killed for their belief and as eye-witnesses to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, yet there is plenty of evidence that all remained faithful to their witness and there is no evidence that any later recanted their eye-witness testimony. This is powerful evidence that these were not cleverly invented stories, as threats of death generally will reveal such inventions.

500+ eye-witnesses to the resurrection. Paul (AD 55 1 Cor 15:6 almost seems to be saying, “I dare you. Ask them.”

The embarrassment factor. Peter denies Jesus, James and John vie to be on the right and left hand of Jesus. All three want to call down fire on Capernaeum. All deny Jesus. Thomas refuses to believe the resurrection. Unnecessary details.

Details such as the 30 pieces of silver naming the owner of the tomb and so forth were written and circulated in Jerusalem while thousands of witnesses, including non-believers were still alive.

Luke as an historian. (important to some extent because Luke is not an eye-witness, as are the other gospel writers).

Sir William Ramsay, the great archaeologist began as a skeptic of Luke in particular and of the New Testament in general.

"I found myself brought into contact with the Book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities, and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth. In fact, beginning with a fixed idea that the work was essentially a second century composition, and never relying on its evidence as trustworthy for first century conditions, I gradually came to find it a useful ally in some obscure and difficult investigations."

"Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy; he is possessed of the true historic sense; he fixes his mind on the idea and plan that rules in the evolution of history, and proportions the scale of his treatment to the importance of each incident. He seizes the important and critical events and shows their true nature at greater length, while he touches lightly or omits entirely much that was valueless for his purpose. In short, this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians."

It is interesting that skeptics choose to ignore the witness of early Christian writers. Polycarp and Ignatius report the resurrection of Jesus and many of the sayings of Jesus and also tell us that they knew John personally, that he lived in Ephesus and other details. These men are writing within a generation of the death of John. Why are they automatically ignored as liars and unreliable, while non-Christians authors are accepted as reliable, when we know that the character of Christians in general was of the highest level, as reported even by the enemies of Christianity. It is irrational to simply reject as witnesses those most likely to know what happened and those who actually knew some of the eye-witnesses and who wrote about what they saw and hears. My conclusion is that although the gospels are not principally intended to be historical documents (they are biographical and theological, principally), they have every evidence of being reliable sources on the life, ministry and death of the man Jesus Christ.

John Oakes




What do you think?