Christianity is the number one most verifiable (or falsifiable) religion in the world. Why? Because Christianity makes truth claims that can be investigated historically and proven to be either true or false. Over the next four months, I want to present to you the four proofs supporting the resurrection of Jesus Christ, from both secular and biblical writings, agreed upon by a wide spectrum of New Testament scholars, both Christian and critical. In my study “Resurrection: Fact or Fiction,” I call them my 4 Easter E’s :
Exist – did Jesus Exist?
Executed – was Jesus Executed?
Empty Tomb – was Jesus’ tomb Empty?
Eyewitness Accounts – were there Eyewitness accounts?
Theologian and apologist, William Lane Craig puts it this way: “Amazing as it may seem, most New Testament critical scholars who teach at secular universities and non-evangelical seminaries have come to regard as historical the basic facts which support the resurrection of Jesus.”
EXIST – did Jesus Exist
What is the historical evidence that Jesus Christ ever existed as a real historical figure? Those critical of Christianity who say Jesus was nothing more than a figment of the imagination, support what is known as the “Jesus Myth”– Jesus was not a real man, but rather, a mythological figure. In Why I am Not A Christian, Bertrand Russell writes, “Historically it is quite doubtful that Jesus existed at all, and if he did, we do not know anything about him.”
Remember, if Jesus never existed, Christians have been duped into believing perhaps the most horrible hoax in the history of the world. Far worse, I might add, than believing in Big Foot, Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Abominable Snowman.
Those advancing the Christ-myth theory cite the lack of historical documentation “outside of the Bible” regarding Jesus as a historical figure. Yet, upon closer inspection, there is a lack of documentation for just about every historical figure from the time of Christ. Reasons for the lack of recorded ancient history are two-fold:
- Deterioration of the documents – fragile materials used
- Destruction of the documents – consequence of war, weather, fire
According to Christian apologist and chair of classics at the University of Auckland – 1947 – 1968, E. M. Blaiklock, who has catalogued most of the non-Christian writings of the Roman Empire, “practically nothing exists from the time of Christ,” even for great secular leaders such as Julius Caesar. I have yet to find anyone who is willing to question the existence of Julius Caesar (quoted from Evidence for the Historical Jesus – Josh McDowell and Bill Wilson).
Here is something to keep in view: from our perspective in looking back over the past 2,000 years, we see the global impact of the person and work of Jesus Christ. However, in the first century, what historians saw in the man Jesus was little more than a religious teacher with a handful of followers (mostly outcasts of society) and condemned to death as a blasphemer.
To be sure, hindsight is always 20/20! There simply was not much there to chronicle, especially in light of the fact that historians were primarily concerned with documenting the life and accomplishments of important military and political figures. In his book, Three Crucial Questions About Jesus, Murray Harris writes: “Roman writers could hardly be expected to have foreseen the subsequent influence of Christianity in the Roman Empire and therefore to have carefully documented the beginnings of this new religion in the appearance of a Nazarene prophet.”
Let’s take a look at a few of the ancient and secular “non-Christian” writers who wrote of a small-town Jewish teacher named Yeshua ben Yosef “Jesus son of Joseph.”
Flavius Josephus (37-101 A.D.)
Josephus was a Jewish general and member of the priestly aristocracy who defected to the Roman Empire during the great Jewish revolt of 66-70 A.D, serving under three emperors, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian.
Antiquities of the Jews – Book 18, chapter 3, paragraph 3
“At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.”
It’s important to note this passage is controversial and some of the words are in dispute among scholars. Would a Jewish historian even hint at Jesus being the Messiah? Perhaps not, and diving into all of the issues would take us far beyond the scope of our work here. What we are attempting to glean from Josephus is simply whether or not Jesus existed. Clearly, Jesus did exist as far as Josephus was concerned and had many followers.
Antiquities of the Jews – Book 20, chapter 9, paragraph 1
“After the death of the procurator Festus, when Albinus was about to succeed him, the high-priest Ananius considered it a favorable opportunity to assemble the Sanhedrin. He therefore caused James the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, and several others, to appear before this hastily assembled council, and pronounced upon them the sentence of death by stoning.”
In identifying James as the “brother of Jesus,” Josephus is obviously confirming for us the existence of Jesus. He also confirms His crucifixion under the reign of Pilate (which we will look at next month), and that His followers, both Jewish and secular, remained steadfast.
In his book, An Arabic Version of the Testamonimum Flavianum and its Implications, Israeli scholar Shlomo Pines says, “As far as probabilities go, no believing Christian could have produced such a neutral text: for him the only significant point about it could have been its attesting the historical evidence of Jesus. But the fact is that until modern times this particular hare (i.e. claiming Jesus is a hoax) was never started. Even the most bitter opponents of Christianity never expressed any doubt as to Jesus having really lived.”
Thallos (Histories, Third Volume, AD 55)
This pagan historian writes of a darkness coinciding with the crucifixion of Jesus, as a natural eclipse of the sun.
Mara bar Serapion (AD 70)
This stoic writer refers to Jesus as a teacher, king, and martyr, and he compares him to Socrates and Pythagoras.
Cornelius Tacitus (Annals, Book 15, AD 56-120)
This Roman historian, well-known for handling ancient historical documents, scathingly refers to Jesus’ execution under Pilate, calling the movement Jesus led as a “deadly superstition.”
Pliny the Younger (Letter 96 – Book 10, AD 61-113)
This Roman Administrator mentions the early Christian movement where Jesus was worshipped “as a god” by Christians who met on a certain day to sing hymns to Christ.
Lucian of Samosata (AD 115-200)
This Greek satirist ridicules Jesus as a “crucified sophist” who taught people to “deny the gods.”
As we have seen, the Christ-myth theory collapses under its own weight. Science-fiction writer H. G. Wells, The Time Machine and War of the Worlds, confirms that Jesus is no figment of the imagination, “I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.”
Jesus existed and we have a mountain of evidence to prove it. Now may this truth set us free to advance in building our case for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, as we investigate if Jesus was actually executed next month.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race!
Tommy Boland is senior pastor of Cross Community Church in Deerfield Beach. He blogs regularly at tommyboland.com.