Is There Secular Evidence for Jesus? Did Jesus Exist? Is He Truly God?

A quick introduction.

As a Christian, in the beginning, I remember wishing to know if there were sources of reference to Jesus outside that of the Bible. This, I sincerely believe, is an important facet of research, especially should the individual involved be a seeker, an agnostic, or a Christian theist. The search for ultimate truth is why I want to forward these findings online in order to paint a more detailed composition.
It also important for us to know whether or not the Bible itself is an accurate portrayal of Jesus, and accurate regarding biblical events in antiquity and in totality.

There will be 3 sections to this study. In first part we will look at the amount of written material pertaining to the Bible, through this we can deduce whether or not the Bible may be authentic, we can also test its historicity.
In the next section we will will look at other secular works referring to Jesus and the early Christians. We will look at other notable sacred books such as the Qua’ran, including the Bible to draw a picture of Jesus.
In the final section we will end the study with a concise conclusion of which the reader can make the decision whether or not Jesus did perform miraculous feats and was the Son of God.

What I wish to convey to you is evidence of Jesus from historical sources. It is safe to posit that there are in fact numerous accounts of His life, ministry and crucifixion recorded by various individuals of different professions.
What the reader makes of this evidence is up to them, I just sincerely hope that this can arouse and interest for future research and study.

A quick encapsulation to make this study clearer to us:

1. There are amazingly few manuscripts of ANY text written during Jesus’ time

2. Historians of this period wrote amazingly little about religious figures.

3. Jesus was active for an amazingly short period of time (just three years)

4. Jesus ministered in an amazingly remote corner of the Roman Empire

So as evident we rely heavily on writings of other individuals after the death of Jesus, and there are many of these writings that we can work with.
To put this into perspective, very few ancient works have found their way into the 21st century for numerous reasons from wear and tear to libricide (deliberate damage to books), for example we only have eight copies of Herodotus’s historical works, whose originals were written in 480-425 BC. Furthermore only 5 copies of Aristotle’s writings have found their way to the 20th century, while only 10 copies of the writings of Caesar, along with another 20 copies of the historian Tacitus, and 7 copies from the historian Pliny, who all originally wrote in the first century, are available today. These are indeed very few.

Section 1 – Is the Bible authentic?

Despite these inconveniences of antiquity there is a positive regarding the New Testament. Today in our possession we have 5,300 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, another 10,000 Latin Vulgates, and 9,300 other early versions (MSS), giving us more than 24,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today.
Although we do not have any originals, with such a wealth of documentation at our disposal with which to compare, we can come very close to what the originals did in fact say.
In furtherance a total of 230 manuscript portions are currently in existence which pre-date 600 AD! These can be broken down into 192 Greek New Testament manuscripts, 5 Greek lectionaries containing scripture, and 33 translations of the Greek New Testament.

Regarding the canonical Gospels, were they written hundreds of years after Jesus’ time, or soon afterwards?

Rather conveniently, the events recorded in the Bible were written soon after the events took place. In fact, outside of the book of Revelation and the three letters of John considered to have been written later, when we look at the rest of the New Testament books, there is no longer any solid basis for dating them later than 80 AD, or 50 years after the death of Jesus Christ. Most of the New Testament was likely written before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and perhaps before the fire of Rome (64 AD), and the subsequent persecution of Christians, since none of these events, which would have had an enormous impact on the Christian community, are mentioned in any of the New Testament writings.
Take for instance the martyrdoms of James in 62 AD, Paul in 64 AD, and Peter in 65 AD. All were leaders in the nascent church. Thus their deaths were momentous events for the early Christian community. Yet we find none of the deaths referred to in any of the 27 canonized books of the New Testament (and significantly not in Acts, the most comprehensive historical record we have of the early church). The only explanation can be that they were all written prior to these events, and thus likely before 62 AD, or a mere 30 years after the death of Jesus, of whose life they primarily refer.

Are the books in the Bible credible, authentic, and reliable sources?

A further criticism concerns whether the copies we possess are credible. Since we do not possess the originals, people ask, how can we be sure they are identical to them? The initial answer is that we will never be completely certain, for there is no means at our disposal to reproduce the originals. This has always been a problem with all known ancient documents.
However this same question is rarely asked of other historical manuscripts which we refer to constantly. If they are held to be credible, let’s then see how the New Testament compares with them. Let’s compare below the time gaps for the New Testament documents with other credible secular documents.

Here is a look at ancient secular works vs. biblical works in brevity. Here I will compare the New Testament to other written pieces on various historical figures we think are accurate:

New Testament Manuscript:

-Keep in mind this information below on the NT while comparing to historical figures.

New Testament:
-Written between – 50-100 A.D
-Copies – 5600
-Accuracy – 99.5%
-Time since event (Jesus Crucifixion) – less than 100 years

(Total New Testament manuscripts = 5,300 Greek MSS, 10,000 Latin Vulgates, 9,300 others = 24,000 copies)
(Total MSS compiled prior to 600 AD = 230)

Secular Manuscripts:

-Herodotus (History):
-lived 480 – 425 BC
-Manuscripts written in 900 AD
-1,300 years after his death
-8 surviving manuscripts to study from today

-Thucydides (History):
-lived 460 – 400 BC
-Manuscripts written in 900 AD
-1,300 years after his death
-Unknown amount of surviving manuscripts to study from today

-Aristotle (History):
-lived 384 – 322 BC
-Manuscripts written in 1,100 AD
-1,400 years years after his death
-5 surviving manuscripts to study from today

-Pliny (History):
-lived 61 – 113 AD
-Manuscripts written in 850 AD
-AD 750 years years after his death
-7 surviving manuscripts to study from today

-Plato — Plato wrote his works from 427-347 BC. The earliest manuscript copy of Plato’s writing in existence today was written in 900 AD. That is 1,200 years after Plato’s death! And there are only 2 copies of these manuscripts in existence.

-Julius Caesar — Caesar lived from 100-44 BC and the earliest manuscript copy of his writings dates back to 900 AD, putting our best evidence of Caesar ever existing 1,000 years after his death. And there are 10 copies of ancient manuscripts of Caesar’s Gallic Wars. So if you question the Bible based on when it was written, being “translated so many times” (it was not – we still have the same Greek manuscripts today as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls and Church Father quotations) and still question whether Jesus existed, then you must also be really sure that Julius Caesar and Plato were completely fictional characters and never really existed.

-Homer — Homer, who historians are not even sure ever really existed even today, is credited with writing the Iliad in ca 900 BC. The earliest manuscript copy of the Iliad dates to 400 BC. Meaning the only proof of Homer or the Iliad being accurate is from 500 years after the death of Homer. Additionally there are 643 copies of ancient manuscripts of the Iliad written over the centuries that when compared against each other by experts have a 95.3 consistency and accuracy, making it one of the most reliable and proven documents of antiquity.

As you can see, there are thousands more New Testament Greek manuscripts than any other ancient writing. The internal consistency of the New Testament documents is about 99.5% textually pure. That is an amazing accuracy. In addition there are over 19,000 copies in the Syriac, Latin, Coptic, and Aramaic languages. The total supporting New Testament manuscript base is over 24,000.
If one rejects the New Testament account as false then one also rejects that Caesar, Aristotle, Socrates or any other well known character in history ever existed.

What one notices almost immediately from the comparsisons is that the New Testament manuscript copies which we possess today were compiled very early, a number of them hundreds of years before the earliest copy of a secular manuscript. This not only shows the importance the early Christians gave to preserving their scriptures, but the enormous wealth we have today for early Biblical documentation.

What is even more significant however, are the differences in time spans between the original manuscripts and the copies of both the biblical and secular manuscripts. It is well known in historical circles that the closer a document can be found to the event it describes the more credible it is. The time span for the biblical manuscript copies listed above are all within 350 years of the originals, some as early as 130-250 years and one even purporting to coexist with the original (i.e. the Magdalene Manuscript fragments of Matthew 26), while the time span for the secular manuscript copies are much greater, between 750-1,400 years! This indeed gives enormous authority to the biblical manuscript copies, as no other ancient piece of literature can make such close time comparisons.

Because of its importance to our discussion here a special note needs to be given to the Magdalene Manuscript mentioned above. Until two years ago, the oldest assumed manuscript which we possessed was the St. John papyrus (P52), housed in the John Rylands museum in Manchester, and dated at 120 AD. Thus, it was thought that the earliest New Testament manuscript could not be corroborated by eyewitnesses to the events. That assumption has now changed, for three even older manuscripts, one each from the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke have now been dated earlier than the Johannine account. It is two of these three findings which I believe will completely change the entire focus of the critical debate on the authenticity of the Bible.

The Lukan papyrus, situated in a library in Paris has been dated to the late 1st century or early 2nd century, so it predates the John papyrus by 20-30 years . But of more importance are the manuscript findings of Mark and Matthew! New research which has now been uncovered by Dr. Carsten Thiede, and is published in his newly released book on the subject, the Jesus Papyrus mentions a fragment from the book of Mark found among the Qumran scrolls (fragment 7Q5) showing that it was written sometime before 68 AD It is important to remember that Christ died in 33 AD, so this manuscript could have been written, at the latest, within 35 years of His death; possibly earlier, and thus during the time that the eyewitnesses to that event were still alive.

The most significant find, however, is a manuscript fragment from the book of Matthew (chapt.26) called the Magdalene Manuscript which has been analysed by Dr. Carsten Thiede, and also written up in his book The Jesus Papyrus. Using a sophisticated analysis of the handwriting of the fragment by employing a special state-of-the-art microscope, he differentiated between 20 separate micrometer layers of the papyrus, measuring the height and depth of the ink as well as the angle of the stylus used by the scribe. After this analysis Thiede was able to compare it with other papyri from that period; notably manuscripts found at Qumran (dated to 58 AD), another at Herculaneum (dated prior to 79 AD), a further one from the fortress of Masada (dated to between 73/74 AD), and finally a papyrus from the Egyptian town of Oxyrynchus. The Magdalene Manuscript fragments matches all four, and in fact is almost a twin to the papyrus found in Oxyrynchus, which bears the date of 65/66 AD Thiede concludes that these papyrus fragments of St. Matthew’s Gospel were written no later than this date and probably earlier. That suggests that we either have a portion of the original gospel of Matthew, or an immediate copy which was written while Matthew and the other disciples and eyewitnesses to the events were still alive. This would be the oldest manuscript portion of our Bible in existence today, one which co-exists with the original writers!

More versions and translations of the New Testament:

Besides the 24,000 manuscripts we have more than 15,000 existing copies of the various versions written in the Latin and Syriac (Christian Aramaic), some of which were written as early as 150 A.D., such as the Syriac Peshitta (150-250 A.D.)

Because Christianity was a missionary faith from its very inception (Matthew 28:19-20), the scriptures were immediately translated into the known languages of that period. For that reason other written translations appeared soon after, such as Coptic translations (early 3rd and 4th centuries), Armenian
(400 A.D.), Gothic (4th century), Georgian (5th century), Ethiopic (6th century), andNubian (6th century). The fact that we have so many translations of the New Testament points to its authenticity, as it would have been almost impossible, had the disciples or later followers wanted to corrupt or forge its contents, for them to have amassed all of the translations from the outlying areas and changed each one so that there would have been the uniformity which we find witnessed in these translations today.

Section 2 – Writings referencing Jesus.

Here we will look at other writings referencing Jesus. This, conveniently, allows us to compare various writings pertaining to Jesus to the gospel accounts. The title is indicative of the book/manuscript/letter that Jesus is mentioned within, then subsequently below will be the details and analysis of these pieces of writings.

-Evidence from the Bible:

I have detailed and placed the Bible as a first proof of evidence for Jesus, we will then proceed to the other evidences outside the Bible. Here we can see if there were any eyewitnesses of Jesus in the Biblical account.
The Bible is an astoundingly awe inspiring book. It was written by over 40 authors, over 1500 years within a 5000 year period, in 3 languages and on 3 continents, and contains 66 books (27 New Testament books and 39 Old Testament books), it has also been translated into 2660 languages! Amazingly the biblical narrative comes together in a cohesive whole, the Old Testament shows Gods loyalty to Israel even though they continuously sinned and turned their backs on Him, Genesis (the first book of the Bible) details creation, and then the New Testament is evidence of Jesus’ ministry and crucifixion for our salvation under the new law.

Names of the authors who wrote Canonical Gospels and when they wrote them (In brackets). Bear in mind that Jesus was crucified in 30 AD.
-Matthew (70-110 AD)
-Mark (70 AD)
-Luke (60-65 AD)
-John (90–100 AD)

-The Pauline Epistles: (51 AD – 58 AD)
-The General Epistles: (Before 62 AD)

Luke, an apostle of Jesus, indicates a profound scenario here.
Luke set out to investigate Jesus thoroughly so that he could tell a friend named Theophilus the truth about what he had discovered. Luke was a man of research, a man of evidence and truth, so he wouldn’t believe any old tale and need to find out things for himself.
Here Luke portrays his character:

Luke 1:1-4
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

This exert in the book of Luke and written by look states that he has researched and investigated the claims of Christ and His followers, Luke is happy with what he has found. Here he writes these findings in a letter to his friend.

There were clearly many people who saw Jesus other than the twelve apostles. Mostly the apostles seem to get all the attention, however there were hundreds of other eyewitnesses that could tell us about Jesus.
In this case scenario Jesus has already ascended to heaven and the apostles are trying to decide how to replace Judas. Judas was the disciple who betrayed Jesus and later killed himself due to immense guilt:

Acts 1:15-22
“In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus- he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.” (With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) “For,” said Peter, “it is written in the book of Psalms, “‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’ and, “‘May another take his place of leadership.’ Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

This scenario clearly references that many people, 120, had been eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life, miracles, death and resurrection.
One of these witnesses (Matthias) was ultimately selected to testify about all that he had seen and heard.

Here Paul tells us that there “were hundreds” of eyewitnesses to the resurrection. This is what he tells the people of the city of Corinth:

1 Corinthians 15:3-7
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.

This claim by Paul is a profound one testifying that many people in deed did see Jesus resurrected after He was crucified.

What is even more profound is the fact that Jesus fulfilled many prophecies. In “A Concise Guide to Bible Prophecy” it posits that there are around 2500 prophecies in the Bible of which 2000 of them have already been fulfilled. The last 500 are evidence in the final book of the Bible, Revelations. Revelations describes the end times (eschatology), the new heaven and new earth, the defeat of Satan and so forth.
There are over 400 prophecies in the Old Testament which point to the coming Messiah and to His life and death. Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled every single one of them. The odds of someone doing that who was not the Messiah are too great to even figure. It is impossible.

A few biblical verses foretelling events over a thousand years before Christ was even born:

Isaiah 7:14 says:

“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel.” Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary.

Micah 5:2:

“But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of there shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old; from everlasting.” Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

Also prophesied were events like John the Baptist preparing the way, Jesus teaching in Capernaum and Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a colt (donkey).

Psalm 41:9 even foretells Judas’ betrayal:

“Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.” And Zechariah 11:12 perfectly predicts the payment Judas would receive, “And I said unto them, if ye think good, give me my price thirty pieces of silver.”

The variables of a single man, Jesus Christ, fulfilling these prophecies are just too overwhelmingly against Him, yet He still fulfilled them.

This articles sums this up quite brilliantly:
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-Evidence from the Qur’an:

Jesus is referred to in ninety verses scattered in 15 surahs in the Qur’an.
As evidenced in the Qur’an we can see that it treats Jesus as a very important figure, for instance the Qur’an gives Jesus honourable titles.
The Islamic holy book calls him a ‘sign’, a ‘mercy’, a ‘witness’, an ‘example’ one who is upright, one who is eminent, and ‘one brought nigh unto God’.
Furthermore the Qur’an gives him the titles Messiah, Son of Mary, Messenger, Prophet, Servant, Word of God, and a Spirit from God.
However, despite all this respect ushered to Jesus the Qur’an denies his identity as the Saviour and Lord of mankind, instead we see that Jesus is referred to as a prophet.

Oddly enough Jesus’ name in the Qur’an is ‘Isa. It is unresolved how he came to be referred to by this name and many theories have been put forward, three of the more important being it is either a corruption of the Syriac “Yeshu”, a corruption of “Esau” which was a derogatory name the Jews used for Jesus, or it was used to make a rhyme with Moses (Musa) in certain verses of the Qur’an. For our purposes, it is enough to say that your Muslim friend will automatically know who you are talking about when you use the name Jesus Christ. He will expect it from you since you are a Christian and it will not be offensive to him.

Important verses pertaining to Jesus Christ in the Qur’an:

Jesus as a baby:

The first instance of Jesus speaking for himself in the Qur’an is when he was a baby. In Surah 19, after his miraculous conception and birth, Mary comes to present the baby Jesus to her relatives. They accuse her of immorality and in her defense Jesus speaks up from the cradle and says:

He spake: Lo! I am the slave of Allah. He hath given me the Scripture and hath appointed me a Prophet, and hath made me blessed wheresoever I may be, and He hath enjoined upon me prayer and alms-giving so long as I remain alive, and (hath made me) dutiful toward her who bore me and hath not made me arrogant, unblest. Peace on me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised alive!

What does this verse say about Jesus?

– Jesus identifies himself as the slave of Allah.

– The word here is ‘abd, which means he is just a human in the ordinary human relationship with God.

– The use of this word is a direct denial of deity in Jesus’ nature.

– The statement of being given a scripture and being appointed a prophet.
Jesus is saying here he was to receive a scripture like Moses, David, and

– Jesus was called to be a good Muslim.

-Regarding his death and resurrection is taken by Muslims to not occur in that order but rather reversing the order, him being taken to heaven first and then coming again to finish out his normal lifespan.

Jesus and miracles

Surah 5:110 gives a convenient list of the miracles attributed to Jesus in the Qur’an:

O Jesus, son of Mary! Remember My favour unto thee and unto thy mother; how I strengthened thee with the holy Spirit, so that thou spakest unto mankind in the cradle as in maturity; and how I taught thee the Scripture and Wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel; and how thou didst shape of clay as it were the likeness of a bird by My permission, and didst blow upon it and it was a bird by My permission, and thou didst heal him who was born blind and the leper by My permission; and how thou didst raise the dead, by My permission;…

What does this verse say about Jesus?

-Bear in mind the words: “by My permission”. Muslims assert from this that Jesus’ miracles were all done by God’s power and that in himself he had no power to do them. In other words he was just a man.

-His speech from the cradle and making the bird from clay are stories that are both found in apocryphal Christian books written prior to the time of Muhammad. They are two of many Qur’an stories that demonstrate borrowing from other religions.

The Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit/Ghost) in the Qua’ran.

There are many places in the Qur’an where any kind of a trinitarian idea of God’s nature is rejected. The main conception of the Trinity in the Qur’an seems to be one of God the Father, Mary the Mother, and Jesus the Son. Most Muslims you will meet realize that Christians today do not mean this when they talk about the Holy Trinity. But they will be quick to assert that any notion of three-ness is wrong and use the Qur’an to defend their idea. Jesus in the Qur’an speaks very forcefully against the Trinity:

And when Allah saith: O Jesus, son of Mary! Didst thou say unto mankind: Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah? He saith: Be glorified! It was not mine to utter that to which I had no right. If I used to say it, then Thou knewest it. Thou knowest what is in my mind, and I know not what is in Thy mind. Lo! Thou, only Thou art the Knower of Things Hidden. I spake unto them only that which Thou commandest me, (saying): Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord….

The Qur’an reinforces Jesus’ words with statements like the following:

O People of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter aught concerning Allah save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah, and His word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers, and say not “Three”– Cease! (It is) better for you!–Allah is only One God. Far is it removed from his transcendent majesty that he should have a son…

The Qur’an never seriously interacts with the biblical and orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. The Trinity describes what God has revealed about His unity. It does not multiply gods as the Qur’an states.

Jesus predicts Muhammad

One verse in the Qur’an has turned Muslims loose looking in the Bible for any possible prediction of Muhammad.

And when Jesus son of Mary said: O Children of Israel! Lo! I am the messenger of Allah unto you, confirming that which was (revealed) before me in the Torah, and bringing good tidings of a messenger who cometh after me, whose name is the Praised One (Ahmed)….

Surah 61:6, Pickthall’s translation

Most will go to the passages in John 14-16 concerning the Paraclete to try to prove that this really refers to Muhammad, not the Holy Spirit. The important thing for us to note is that Muslims believe that a major part of Jesus’ ministry was to predict the coming of Muhammed.

Jesus’ return to the earth

The Qur’an does not explicitly state that Jesus will return again to the earth. It is a doctrine that is developed in the traditions of Islam (the Hadith). Here are the two Qur’an verses used to support the doctrine of his return:

There is not one of the People of the Scripture but will believe in him before his death, and on the Day of Resurrection he will be a witness against them.
Surah 4:159

And (Jesus) shall be a Sign (for the coming of) the Hour (of Judgment): Therefore have no doubt about the (Hour), but Follow ye Me: this is the straight way.
Surah 43:61, Yusuf Ali’s translation

What does this say about Jesus?

-From these verses and with other traditions the Islamic version of the return of Jesus will look like this. After being taken to heaven to escape crucifixion, Jesus will appear at the end of time as a sign that it is the Last hour.

-He will descend by resting his hands on the wings of two angels. He will descend onto a white minaret set in the eastern part of Damascus.

-He will invite the whole world to become Muslim including Christians and Jews, He will kill the anti-Christ, He will break the cross, kill all the swine, end all wars, and will become a judge.

-He will marry, have children, perform the pilgrimage to Mecca, die after 40 years and be buried beside Muhammad in Medina. His time on the earth will mark a period of abundance on the earth and all religions will end except Islam.

With the above in mind, how to Muslims truly see Jesus?”

From the above description you can sense how Muslims do have a great degree of admiration and devotion to Jesus. Some even seek him for intercession because he is such a powerful figure in Islam. Unfortunately, the Qur’an directs their respect away from regarding Him as being the only Saviour from sin and the Lord of Lords. It even has Him denying His identity as God come in human flesh, and denying that His ministry was the climax of God’s program on the earth.
As with the Qur’an, Muslims do not tend to recognise the importance of the actual historical evidence that exists concerning Jesus. They take the Qur’an’s word for His identity and ministry without examining the basis for their belief.
Also, as Muslims are passionate about the Qur’an being a superior revelation to the Bible, so with Jesus, they believe that we Christians are committing blasphemy in what we assert about Jesus. They think it is Christians who have made Jesus out to be God. The zeal and passion Muslims show in arguing these things comes from sincere belief that we are wrong and committing blasphemies. They do not realise their error and misunderstandings. They do not realise that we are taking Jesus at His word and also taking the word of Jesus’ disciples as found in the New Testament.

-Evidence from the Babylonian Talmud: (70 – 500 AD)

The Talmud is a significant collection of Jewish rabbinical writings, the Talmud refers to “Jesus the Nazarene” several times.
It says:

“On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald . . . cried, “He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy.”

What does this indicate to us today?

-The word “Yeshu” (or “Yeshua”) is how Jesus’ name is pronounced in Hebrew.
This is referencing Jesus.

-Why does this passage indicate the intention to stone Jesus? One possible explanation is that the Jewish leadership’s call for his stoning preceded his eventual arrest by at least those forty days. This would be consistent with Scripture’s accounts of his numerous near-stonings.

-Why does the text say “hanged” – was Jesus not crucified? In actual fact hanged is
a synonym for “crucified.” For instance, Galatians 3:13 declares that Christ was
“hanged”, and Luke 23:39 applies this term to the criminals who were crucified
with Jesus. Therefore “hanged” and “crucified” mean the same thing.

-The text tells us the reason for Jesus being crucified. It claims He practiced
sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy.

-Is just a sorcerer? No. These charges come from hostile sources. For instance, the
charge of sorcery is similar to the Pharisees’ accusation that Jesus cast out
demons “by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.” This indicates that Jesus did in
fact perform miraculous feats.

-What about the apostasy charge? This complement biblical authenticity. For
example, the charge of enticing Israel to apostasy parallels Luke’s account of the.
Jewish leaders who accused Jesus of misleading the nation with his teaching

-Antiquities of the Jews (Josephus Flavius – 93–94 AD)

Romano-Jewish historian Josephus Flavius includes references to Jesus and the origins of Christianity. He also describes the condemnation of one “James” by the Jewish Sanhedrin. This James, says Josephus, was “the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ.”
Josephus writes:

“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.”

Did Josephus really write this? Most scholars think the core of the passage originated with Josephus, but that it was later altered by a Christian editor, possibly between the third and fourth century A.D. But why do they think it was altered? Josephus was not a Christian, and it is difficult to believe that anyone but a Christian would have made some of these statements.

For instance, the claim that Jesus was a wise man seems authentic, but the qualifying phrase, “if indeed one ought to call him a man,” is suspect. It implies that Jesus was more than human, and it is quite unlikely that Josephus would have said that! It is also difficult to believe he would have flatly asserted that Jesus was the Christ, especially when he later refers to Jesus as “the so-called” Christ. Finally, the claim that on the third day Jesus appeared to His disciples restored to life, inasmuch as it affirms Jesus’ resurrection, is quite unlikely to come from a non-Christian.

But even if we disregard the questionable parts of this passage, we are still left with a good deal of corroborating information about the biblical Jesus. We read that he was a wise man who performed surprising feats. And although He was crucified under Pilate, His followers continued their discipleship and became known as Christians. When we combine these statements with Josephus’ later reference to Jesus as “the so-called Christ,” a rather detailed picture emerges which harmonizes quite well with the biblical record. It increasingly appears that the “biblical Jesus” and the “historical Jesus” are one and the same.

A page from a 1466 copy of Antiquities of the Jews

A page from a 1466 copy of Antiquities of the Jews

-Evidence from the Annals (Cornelius Tacitus – 116 AD):

The Roman historian and senator Tacitus referred to Christ, his execution by Pontius Pilate and the existence of early Christians in Rome in his final work, Annals (written ca. AD 116), book 15, chapter 44.
Tacitus wrote:

“Nero fastened the guilt . . . on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of . . . Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome.”

What does this indicate to us today?

-Nero accused the Christians for starting a fire that destroyed many parts of the city, there is speculation that Nero himself started this fire in order to persecute the early Christians.

-Christians are seen as “superstitious” and “abominations” by the Roman populace and authorities.

-This text indicates that the early Christians rejected the Roman pagan gods, and focused their worship on Jesus.

-Despite persecution the Christians refused to deny Christ as God, and the saviour of mankind.

Evidence from Celsus

According to the Christian father Origen, was a 2nd-century Greek philosopher and opponent of Early Christianity. He is known for his literary work “The True Word”, which survives exclusively in Origen’s quotations from it in Contra Celsum. This work is the earliest known comprehensive attack on Christianity.
This work was lost, but we have Origen’s account of it in his writings.
As an anti-Christian Greek philosopher, Celsus mounted an attack on Christianity. Celsus wrote that Jesus’ father was a Roman soldier named Pantera. The views of Celsus drew responses from Origen who considered it a fabricated story.
Rather conveniently, Celsus addressed the miracles of Jesus, holding that “Jesus performed His miracles by sorcery.”
Here he writes:

O light and truth! he distinctly declares, with his own voice, as ye yourselves have recorded, that there will come to you even others, employing miracles of a similar kind, who are wicked men, and sorcerers; and Satan. So that Jesus himself does not deny that these works at least are not at all divine, but are the acts of wicked men; and being compelled by the force of truth, he at the same time not only laid open the doings of others, but convicted himself of the same acts. Is it not, then, a miserable inference, to conclude from the same works that the one is God and the other sorcerers? Why ought the others, because of these acts, to be accounted wicked rather than this man, seeing they have him as their witness against himself? For he has himself acknowledged that these are not the works of a divine nature, but the inventions of certain deceivers, and of thoroughly wicked men.

What does this indicate to us today?

-The accusation of Jesus performing miracles attributed to sorcery and that of Satan further indicates that Jesus did in fact perform the many miraculous feats mentioned in the canonical Gospels.

Evidence from the Rabbinic Literature: Mishnah

After the fall of Jerusalem, the Jews produced the Mishnah, a massive work of scholarship, purported to present the oral half of Moses’ Code from Sinai. A reference to Jesus is made:

It was taught: On the day before the Passover they hanged Jesus. A herald went before him for forty days [proclaiming], “He will be stoned, because he practiced magic and enticed Israel to go astray. Let anyone who knows anything in his favor come forward and plead for him.” But nothing was found in his favor, and they hanged him on the day before the Passover.

-This evidences the crucifixion, “hanged”, of Jesus Christ by the Romans.

-Evidence from Mara bar Sarapion – Letter (73 – 200 AD):

Mara (son of Sarapion) was a Stoic philosopher from the Roman province of Syria. Mara wrote a letter to his son (also called Sarapion) which may contain an early non-Christian reference to the crucifixion of Jesus.
The beginning of the letter makes it clear that it is written to the author’s son: “Mara, son of Serapion, to my son Serapion, greetings.”
It reads as follows:

“What else can we say, when the wise are forcibly dragged off by tyrants, their wisdom is captured by insults, and their minds are oppressed and without defense? What advantage did the Athenians gain from murdering Socrates? Famine and plague came upon them as a punishment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea and the Jews, desolate and driven from their own kingdom, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates is not dead, because of Plato; neither is Pythagoras, because of the statue of Juno; nor is the wise king, because of the “new law” he laid down”

What does this indicate to us today?

-In this passage the author explains that when the wise are oppressed, not only does their wisdom triumph in the end, but God also punishes their oppressors.

-The context of the letter is that the Romans had destroyed Mara’s city in a war, taking him prisoner along with others.

-The letter was written from prison to encourage the author’s son to pursue wisdom. It takes the form of a set of rhetorical questions which ask about the benefits of persecuting wise men.

-This passage makes a clear reference to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Evidence from Thallus

Thallus, was an early historian who wrote in Koine Greek. Some scholars believe that his work can be interpreted as the earliest reference to the historical Jesus, and argue that it was written about 20 years after the Crucifixion (50 – 55 AD).
He wrote a three-volume history of the Mediterranean world from before the Trojan War to the 167th Olympiad. Most of his work, like the vast majority of ancient literature, perished, but not before parts of his writings were repeated by Julius Africanus in his History of the World.
Some people believe that Thallus refers to the darkness, reported in the Synoptic gospels as falling over the world at the time of Jesus’ death, explaining it as an eclipse. (Matthew 27:45).

-Evidence from Gaius Suetonius Tranquilass – (Claudius 25 and Nero 16 – 64 AD)  

-The Roman historian Suetonius made references to early Christians and their leader in his work Lives of the Twelve Caesars.
The earlier passage in Claudius, may include a reference to Jesus, but is subject to debate among scholars. In Claudius 25 Suetonius refers to the expulsion of Jews by Claudius and states:[
“Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.”
-Chrestus means Christ (Up to scholarly debate)

A 1540 copy of Lives of  the Twelve Caesars by  Suetonius

A 1540 copy of Lives of
the Twelve Caesars by

Evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls:

A Bedouin Arab found a cave in Qumran near the Dead Sea which ultimately yielded over a thousand priceless manuscripts dating back before A.D. 68
The Dead Sea scrolls are first century or older writings that show the language and customs of some Jews of Jesus’ time.
The Dead Sea scrolls as valuable in showing that the New Testament portrays the first century period that it reports and is not a product of a later period.

When these scrolls were examined by scholars they found that this Qumran site contained a library with hundreds of precious texts of both biblical and secular manuscripts that dated back before the destruction of the Second Temple and the death of Jesus Christ.
Once the Bedouins recognized the value of the scrolls they began searching for additional documents in every valley and cave near the Dead Sea.
The most incredible discovery was the immense library of biblical manuscripts in Cave Four at Qumran that contained every single book of the Old Testament with the exception of the Book of Esther
Multiple copies of several biblical texts such as Genesis, Deuteronomy and Isaiah were found in Cave Four. The scholars discovered that the Hebrew manuscript copies of the most authoritative Hebrew text, Textus Recepticus, used by the King James translators in 1611, were virtually identical to these ancient Dead Sea Scrolls.
After carefully comparing the manuscripts they discovered that, aside from a tiny number of spelling variations, not a single word was altered from the original scrolls in the caves from the much copied A.D. 1100 manuscripts used by the Authorized King James Version translators in 1611.
How could the Bible have been copied so accurately and faithfully over the many centuries without human error entering into the text? The answer is found in the overwhelming respect and fear of God that motivated Jewish and Christian scholars whose job was to faithfully copy the text of the Bible.

The Dead Sea Scrolls refer to Jesus and His crucifixion (150 BC and AD 70):

A public relations campaign demanded the release of the unpublished scrolls to other scholars, eventually the last of the unpublished scrolls were released to the academic world. To the great joy and surprise of many scholars, the scrolls contain definite references to the New Testament and, most importantly, to Jesus of Nazareth. In the last few years several significant scrolls were released that shed new light on the New Testament and the life of Jesus. One of the most extraordinary of these scrolls released in 1991 actually referred directly to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

The Psalms Scroll (11Q5), one of the 972 texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, with a partial Hebrew transcription.

The Psalms Scroll (11Q5), one of the 972 texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, with a partial Hebrew transcription.

Evidence from the early Church Fathers:

We still have lots and lots of quotations by church fathers prior to the fourth century.
Ignatius, in about A.D. 110, calls Jesus ‘our God’ and then says, ‘the blood of God,’ referring to Jesus.
But possibly the greatest attestation for the authority of our New Testament are the masses of quotations taken from its pages by the early church fathers.
Dean Burgon in his research found in all 86,489 quotes from the early church fathers. In fact, there are 32,000 quotations from the New Testament found in writings from before the council of Nicea in 325 A.D.
J. Harold Greenlee points out that the quotations of the scripture in the works of the early church writers are so extensive that the New Testament could virtually be reconstructed from them without the use of New Testament manuscripts.

Sir David Dalrymple sought to do this, and from the second and third century writings of the church fathers he found the entire New Testament quoted
except for eleven verses 14! Thus, we could throw the New Testament manuscripts away and still reconstruct it with
the simple help of these letters. Some examples of these are 15:

-Clement (30- 95 A.D.) quotes from various sections of the New Testament.

-Ignatius (70-110 A.D.) knew the apostles and quoted directly from 15 of the
27 books.

-Polycarp (70-156 A.D.) was a disciple of John and quoted from the New

From here we can see that the very Bible we hold in our hands today, 2000 years later, are accurate copies.

The Church Fathers, an 11th-century Kievan miniature from Svyatoslav's Miscellany

The Church Fathers, an 11th-century Kievan miniature from Svyatoslav’s Miscellany

Evidence from Lectionaries.

A lectionary is a cycle of biblical readings for the church year. Scripture readings are assigned for Sundays and feast days, for each day of Lent and the Holy Weeks, for raising people to various offices of the Church, for the blessing of Holy Oil and various services such as baptisms and funerals.
Generally, three Old Testament lessons, a selection from the prophets, and three readings from the New Testament are prescribed for each Sunday and Feast day. The New Testament readings include a reading from Acts, another from the Catholic Epistles or the Pauline Epistles, and a third reading from one of the Gospels. During Christmas and Easter a fourth lesson is added for the evening service. The readings reach a climax as we approach the week of the Crucifixion. Through Lent lessons are recited twice a day except Saturdays. During the Passion Week readings are assigned for each of the major prayer hours.

Today we have several thousand Lectionaries, these church-service books containing Scripture quotations used in the early centuries of Christianity. This is another indication that the Bible we have today has remained the same throughout history.

The best reasons for reading the Scriptures are found in the Holy Word itself:

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living so that a person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed.”

Evidence from Cornelius Tacitus (Annals):

The Annals passage (15.44), which has been subjected to much scholarly analysis, follows a description of the six-day Great Fire of Rome that burned much of Rome in July 64 AD. The passage reads as follows:

“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind”.

What does this indicate to us today?

-Nero blamed the Christians for a fire they had nothing to do with.

-Christians were horrifically tortured for their belief in Jesus as the Son of God. This indicates that they rejected Roman pagan gods.

-Christians were called “abominations” and “superstitious” by the Roman authorities and populace.

-This evidences the fact that early Christians worshiped Jesus Christ as God.

Copy of Annals - TacitusA copy of the second Medicean manuscript of
Annals, Book 15, chapter 44, the page with
the reference to Christians

Evidence from Pliny the younger: – (Letters to Trajan – 112 AD)

-Another important source of evidence about Jesus and early Christianity can be found in the letters of Pliny the Younger to Emperor Trajan. Pliny was the Roman governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor. In one of his letters, dated around A.D. 112, he asks Trajan’s advice about the appropriate way to conduct legal proceedings against those accused of being Christians.{8} Pliny says that he needed to consult the emperor about this issue because a great multitude of every age, class, and sex stood accused of Christianity

“They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food–but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.”

What does this indicate to us today?

– Provides a number of interesting insights into the beliefs and practices of early Christians.

– This is evidence that Christians regularly met on a certain fixed day for worship.

– The worship was directed to Christ, demonstrating that they firmly believed in His divinity.

– Early Christians held Christ’ teachings as very valuable.

Evidence from Lucian of Samosata – satirist

Lucian of Samosata was a second century Greek satirist. In one of his works, he wrote of the early Christians as follows:

“The Christians . . . worship a man to this day–the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account. . . . [It] was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws.”

What does this indicate to us today?

-Lucian clearly identifies that Christians worshiped a man, a well known man
that was crucified.

-This passage indicates that this man the Christians worshiped angered the
authorities and thus was crucified as a result.

-This account attests that this man the Christians worshiped was more than

-The notion of denying the Gods of Greece could result in one being killed,
this evidences the power of belief exercised by these Christians.

Evidence from Martyrdom.

This is not a transcript of any sort but it is strong evidence for the autheniticty, existence, and life of Jesus.
Literally thousands of Christians in the first century A.D., including the twelve apostles, were willing to give their lives as martyrs for Jesus Christ. People will die for what they believe to be true, but no one will die for what they know to be a lie.
Here is a brief account regarding the deaths of Christ’s apostles:

-Matthew – killed by stabbing as ordered by King Hircanus
-James, son of Alphaeous – crucified
-James, brother of Jesus – thrown down from a height, stoned and then beaten to death at the hands of Ananias (circa AD 66)
-John – tortured by boiling oil, exiled to Patmos in AD 95
-Mark – burned during Roman emperor Trajan’s reign
-Peter – crucified upside-down by the gardens of Nero on the Vatican hill circa AD 64
-Andrew – crucified on an “X” shaped cross by Aegeas, governor of the Edessenes, around AD 80
-Philip – stoned and crucified in Hierapolis, Phrygia
-Simon – crucified in Egypt under Trajan’s reign
-Thomas – death by spear thrust in Calamina, India
-Thaddaeous – killed by arrows
-James, son of Zebedee – killed by sword in AD 44 by order of King Herod Agrippa I of Judea
-Bartholomew – beaten, flayed alive, crucified upside down, then beheaded.

Section 3 – What do we see in summary?

Summary pertaining to the Bible and the New Testament:

Thus the manuscript evidence at our disposal today gives us over 24,000 manuscripts with which to corroborate our current New Testament. The earliest
of these manuscripts have now been dated earlier than 60-70 A.D., so within the lifetime of the original writers, and with an outside possibility that they are the originals themselves. On top of that we have 15,000 early translations of the New Testament, and over 2,000 lectionaries. And finally we have scriptural quotations in the letters of the early Church fathers with which we could almost reproduce the New Testament if we so wished. This indeed is substantial manuscript evidence for the New Testament.
It is safe to posit that the Bible we have in our hands today, is the same the early Church had.

Summary of manuscript references to Jesus Christ:

Let’s summarize what we’ve learned about Jesus from this examination of ancient non-Christian sources. First, both Josephus and Lucian indicate that Jesus was regarded as wise. Second, Pliny, the Talmud, and Lucian imply He was a powerful and revered teacher. Third, both Josephus and the Talmud indicate He performed miraculous feats. Fourth, Tacitus, Josephus, the Talmud, and Lucian all mention that He was crucified. Tacitus and Josephus say this occurred under Pontius Pilate. And the Talmud declares it happened on the eve of Passover. Fifth, there are possible references to the Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection in both Tacitus and Josephus. Sixth, Josephus records that Jesus’ followers believed He was the Christ, or Messiah. And finally, both Pliny and Lucian indicate that Christians worshipped Jesus as God!

Just by listening to Jesus’ enemies and outsiders, we can put together the following profile on Christ and his influence; the sum of which positively affirms the believability of the Bible and deity of his person:

-Jesus was a wise man and was called the Christ or Messiah, (Josephus)

-Jesus gained many disciples from many nations, (Josephus)

-He healed blind and lame people in Bethsaida and Bethany, (Julian the Apostate)

-He was accused of practicing sorcery and leading Israel astray, (the Talmud)

-Under Herod, and during the reign of Tiberius, Pontius Pilate condemned Christ to die, (Tacitus)

-Christ was crucified on the eve of Passover, (the Talmud)

-His crucifixion was accompanied by three hours of unexplained darkness, (Thallus)

-Christ’s disciples, “reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive;”, (Josephus)

-His disciples took to the habit of meeting on a fixed day of the week and took their name “Christians” from him, (Pliny)

-They gave worship to Christ “as to a god”, (Pliny)

-They bound themselves over to abstaining from wicked deeds, fraud, theft, adultery, and lying, (Pliny)

-Christians held a contempt for death and were known for a voluntary self-devotion, (Lucian)

-Christians believed themselves all brothers from the moment of their conversion, (Lucian)

-Christians lived after Christ’s laws, (Lucian)

-Christians were willingly tortured and even executed for their refusal to deny their belief in the resurrection and deity of Jesus Christ. (Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny, Lucian)

I believe through this study that we have put together a sufficient portrait of Jesus Christ through a variety of non-biblical sources. I hope that this could inspire you, as the reader, to venture forth in your own personalized research.
I hope this has been satisfactory.

James Bishop

References and Further Reading:

Further recommended Reading:

-“There is Historical, non-Biblical Proof of an Actual Jesus Christ of Nazareth”

-“What do we know about Jesus – from non-biblical sources?”

-“What Are the Odds of Jesus’ 700 Plus Prophecies Fulfillment?”

-“Did Jesus really exist? Is there any historical evidence of Jesus Christ?”

- – Information on Lectionaries

Brilliant Christian Websites For Answers:

-“GotQuestions” (highly recommended)

-“Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry”

Wikipedia articles:

- – Historical Jesus
- – Historicity of Jesus
- – Suetonius on Christians
- – Josephus on Jesus
- – Lucian on Jesus
- – Mara Serapion on Jesus
- – Church Fathers
- – Dead Sea Scrolls

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