I read your response in the questions and answers archive (in the Church
History section) where someone asked how we can be sure that the apostles
were martyred, according to non-Christian sources. You said there’s only
one non-Christian source (Antiquities of the Jews) which describes the
death of an apostle. This is Josephus’ account of the execution of the
apostle James, as in Acts 12:1-2. I looked this up and I’m not sure that
it’s the same James in both accounts. (Correct me if I’m wrong). One was
stoned according the the non-Christian source, and the other was killed by
the sword according to Acts 12.;My question is this: what other stong
reasons are there to trust the apostles’ testimonies of Jesus’ life, death
and resurrection? (apart from the fact that numerous eye-witnesses
wouldn’t die for a known lie; it’s against human nature!);Thankyou for
your time.


I did quite a bit of checking on this and found that I am almost certainly
mistaken. I am sorry if my error sent you in a frustrating direction. My
error probably came from conbining in my mind two genuine Josephus
passages. First, Josephus mentions the martyrdom of James, the Brother of
Jesus. This is found in Antiquities of the Jews 20.9.1 The section is
translated as follows: “Since Ananus was that kind of person, and because
he perceived an opportunity with Festus having died and Albinus not yet
arrived, he called a meeting of the Sanhedrin and brought James, the
brother of Jesus (who is called ‘Messiah’) along with some others. He
accused them of transgressing the law, and handed them over for
stoning.” The second genuine Josephus reference I had in my mind is the
one about the death of Herod Agrippa in Antiquities of the
Jews. According to Acts 12:21-25 Agrippas death is described as
follows: “On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his
throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, “This
is the voice of a god, not a man.” Immediately, because Herod did not
give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten
by worms and died.” Josephus confirms the account of Luke. From his
chronology, we know that this event happened in AD 44. Josephus’ account
differs somewhat from that of Luke. The quote from Antiquities of the
Jews, chapter 8 of book 19 “Now when Agrippa had reigned three years over
all Judea, he came to the city Cesarea, which was formerly called Strato’s
Tower; and there he exhibited shows in honor of Caesar, upon his being
informed that there was a certain festival celebrated to make vows for his
safety. At which festival a great multitude was gotten together of the
principal persons, and such as were of dignity through his province. On
the second day of which shows he put on a garment made wholly of silver,
and of a contexture truly wonderful, and came into the theater early in
the morning; at which time the silver of his garment being illuminated by
the fresh reflection of the sun’s rays upon it, shone out after a
surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a horror over those
that looked intently upon him; and presently his flatterers cried out, one
from one place, and another from another, (though not for his good,) that
he was a god; and they added, “Be thou merciful to us; for although we
have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own
thee as superior to mortal nature.” Upon this the king did neither rebuke
them, nor reject their impious flattery. But as he presently afterward
looked up, he saw an owl sitting on a certain rope over his head, and
immediately understood that this bird was the messenger of ill tidings, as
it had once been the messenger of good tidings to him; and fell into the
deepest sorrow. A severe pain also arose in his belly, and began in a most
violent manner. He therefore looked upon his friends, and said, “I, whom
you call a god, am commanded presently to depart this life; while
Providence thus reproves the lying words you just now said to me; and I,
who was by you called immortal, am immediately to be hurried away by
death. But I am bound to accept of what Providence allots, as it pleases
God; for we have by no means lived ill, but in a splendid and happy
manner.” When he said this, his pain was become violent. Accordingly he
was carried into the palace, and the rumor went abroad every where, that
he would certainly die in a little time. But the multitude presently sat
in sackcloth, with their wives and children, after the law of their
country, and besought God for the king’s recovery. All places were also
full of mourning and lamentation. Now the king rested in a high chamber,
and as he saw them below lying prostrate on the ground, he could not
himself forbear weeping. And when he had been quite worn out by the pain
in his belly for five days, he departed this life, being in the
fifty-fourth year of his age, and in the seventh year of his reign.”

The accounts in Acts and Antiquities are quite similar. Both include a
very ostentatious outfit and a crowd calling Agrippa a “god.” Josephus
does not mention the worms, while Luke does not mention that it took five
days for Agrippa to die.

This is the same Agrippa who put Peter in Prison and who killed the
apostle James the elder, the son of Zebedee (Acts 12:1-4). However, as I
looked, I could not find a reference in Josephus to the martyrdom of James
under Agrippa. So you can see that I conflated Josephus’ account of the
martyrdom of James, the brother of Jesus and of the death of Herod
Agrippa, the one responsible for the execution of James, the son of
Zebedee. Again, I am sorry for my mistake.

Anyway, although Luke gives fewer details, his account is confirmed by
Josephus. Note that Josephus includes the supposed omen of the owl
sitting on a rope. This sort of superstition is common to Josephus, but
not, of course, to Luke. Luke has every sign of being an extremely
careful and accurate historian. Luke is more reliable as a historian than
Josephus. There are many reasons to believe that the writers of Matthew,
Mark, Luke, Acts and John are faithful chroniclers of actual events. As
you mention, the lives of these men speak for themselves. All of them
were willing to die rather than renounce the truth of what they said.
Historians such as Josephus, Tacitus, Seutonius, Pliny, and references to
Jesus in the Babylonian Talmud and others confirm that Jesus lived, that
he was crucified under Pilate in Jerusalem, that his followers claimed him
to be God, that he was publicly proclaimed to have been resurrected, and
that he was a worker of public miracles. See my chapter on the
resurrection in Reasons for Belief: A Handbook of Christian Evidence ( for more details and references to the primary
literature. It would be fair to say that if it can be shown beyond a
reasonable doubt (and I believe that it can) that Jesus raised from the
dead, that fact alone will provide all the support to the accuracy of the
biblical accounts we need. The overall evidence for the miracles of Jesus
and for his resurrection prove the central claim of Jesus, which is that
he was the Messiah, the Savior of Israel. This alone is sufficient to
undergird who Jesus was. The same God who raised Jesus from the dead
could certainly see to the inspiration of the gospel accounts. The fact
is that to the extent external historians can be compared to the gospel
writers, the logical conclusion that the gospel accounts are accurate is

John Oakes, PhD

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