Is there actual historical evidence to prove the existence of Jesus Christ? Did ancient historians believe in the actual person of Jesus Christ? Can historical evidence about Jesus Christ’s existence be believed?
Is There Actual Historical Evidence to Prove the Existence of Jesus Christ?
Even though the Bible is a collection of historical facts that have been verified by archeology and paleontology, we will restrict our article on the written human records of Jesus Christ’s authenticity and historicity. There are so many historians that have written about Jesus Christ that it would be impossible to include them all here. The fact is there are so many that these historians testimonies would have to be expanded into a major, voluminous book. For time’s sake, we will restrict historical evidence to those major historians that have the greatest authenticity.
Thallus is perhaps the earliest secular writer to mention Jesus in his writings….even though his writings are so ancient, that no copies exist but those of Julius Africanus, whose writings were around AD 221 quotes Thallus. Thallus and Africanus both mention a strange darkness that occurred at the point of Jesus’ crucifixion. And these stories of a “strange darkness” were written about far and wide on the earth. They all coincided with around AD 32-33. This written record of Thallus confirms that Jesus lived, and was crucified and that something highly unusual and unexplainable happened on that day. There were many reports of various earthquakes, destruction, and a strange darkness that occurred around AD 32-32.
Africanus also mentions a historian named Phlegon who wrote a chronological history around AD 140. In this history, Phlegon also mentions the darkness surrounding the crucifixion in an effort to explain it, but even more interestingly, he mentions Jesus’ ability to foresee the future in describing the life of our Savior.
Did Ancient Historians Believe in the Actual Person of Jesus Christ?
Josephus (AD 37 – c. 100), born of a priestly and royal ancestry, survived and recorded the destruction ofJerusalemin AD 70. He was a child prodigy. At age 13, he was already a consultant for the Jewish rabbis, by 16 he became a Galilean military commander and a Roman Citizen. And being under the rule of Roman emperor Vespasian, he was allowed to write a first-century history of the Jews. Being a devout Jew and Roman Citizen, Josephus could hardly be described as a hostile witness. He wrote more about Kings than Messiah’s, but Josephus makes references to the Sadducees, the names of Jewish High Priests of the time, the Pharisees and the Essenes, the Herodian Temple, Quirinius’ census and the Zealots. Josephus also wrote of such figures as Pontius Pilate, Herod the Great, Agrippa I and Agrippa II, John the Baptist, James the brother of Jesus, and about Jesus. All these names were those found in the New Testament. He even describes the death of John the Baptist and mentions the execution of the apostle James, the brother of Jesus. In Josephus’ final passage he writes that Jesus was a wise man and the Messiah, and there is even a highly accurate retelling of the resurrection story!
One of the most intriguing entries was recorded in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews (18.63-64; 3.3): “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”
The interesting thing is that the historian Origen states that Josephus was not a believer in Jesus as the Christ. There is no evidence that he ever accepted Jesus as Christ as Lord and Savior, but Josephus’ declares this Jesus to be Christ (in the Testimonium). The manuscript evidence in support of the iron-clad, “pre-accretions” reference to Jesus in Josephus is very strong and accepted by the great majority of professional historians. From the readings of Josephus, there is no serious reason to doubt the historical evidence of the existence of the Jesus of Nazareth.
Can Historical Evidence About Jesus Christ’s Existence Be Believed?
Even the non-Jewish historical sources of the time mention Jesus and it is nearly universal. There was a common knowledge of Jesus’ life and death among the people in the first few centuries. The list of historians are enormous: Tacitus (Annals, AD 115-120), Suetonius (Lives of the Caesars, AD 125), Lucian (mid-2nd century), Galen (AD 150; De pulsuum differentiis 2.4; 3.3) Celsus (True Discourse, AD 170), Mara Bar Serapion (pre AD-200?), and the Jewish Talmudic References (AD 300).
Jesus historicity and story became known from the Mediterranean to Africa; from Asia-Minor and into most of the known world at the time. One example was around AD 70, when a Syrian philosopher named Mara Bar-Serapion, writing to encourage his son, compares the life and persecution of Jesus with that of other philosophers who were persecuted for their ideas. He used Him as an example of being persecuted for his beliefs. The fact that Jesus is known to be a real person with this kind of influence is important. It should not surprise us that Mara Bar-Serapion refers to Jesus as the “Wise King” and Jesus was held in high esteem in most of the known-world religions, save Judaism.
Additionally, there were historians like Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, and Eusebius of Caesarea, that latter of which was a third century theologian who used the library in Caesarea for much of his research. Tertullian wrote about Christian worship and persecution that is consistent with New Testament accounts. Justin Martyr, a Gentile who lived in Palestine and later became a Christian, records the many doctrines of the church, like the Sacraments, Salvation, and many others. Philo, who wrote “Resources for Philo of Alexandria” was a Jewish philosopher and historian that lived in the first century.
As we have seen and read, Jesus’ existence is historically indisputable. There are no other humans who have ever lived on earth that more has been written about that establishes these facts: that He did exist, that He did many wonders, that He did die from crucifixion, that He did rise again and was seen by hundreds, that He was known as the Messiah, and as The Christ. This man and His story….is History, incontrovertibly and indisputably.
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