The Historical Jesus
America was founded for the most part by professing Christians seeking religious freedom. The Separatists (the Pilgrims), the Puritans, the Quakers, the Presbyterians, all had a strong belief that the Bible was the Word of God and that Jesus was the Savior, Lord, and Judge.
But what if Jesus were just a myth? Every once in a while, we hear a false charge. The accusation is that supposedly there is no historical reliability to Jesus as a person.
That is so false. For example, Will Durant, the great historian who wrote the series, The Story of Civilization, noted in the volume, Caesar and Christ, that if the same criterion by which some philosophers claim Jesus didn’t really exist as an historical person, then by that same criterion we’d have to throw out all sorts of historical figures, such as Hammurabi or King David.
Will Durant was not a believer. But even he saw how false this notion was.
This lie that we don’t know if Jesus ever existed is even dallied with, and (thankfully) dismissed, by some of the modern bestselling books promoting atheism by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens.
I heard a caller on a talk show recently where he was challenging the host and co-host as to Jesus Christ. The caller made the astounding claim that Jesus is only written about in the New Testament, but there were no secular or non-Christian sources writing about Him during those early years.
Dr. Gary Habermas of Liberty University is the author of The Historical Jesus. He tells us that there are multiple non-Christian sources from the first and second centuries that refer to Jesus Christ in one way or another.
These include: Josephus, Tacitus, Thallus, Phlegon, Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, Emperor Trajan, Emperor Hadrian, the Talmud, Lucian, Mara Bar-Serapion, and so on.
In addition, there are multiple sources from Christian writers who are not in the New Testament. They would include Clement of Rome, Diognetus, Aristedes, Papias, Barnabas, Polycarp, Ignatius, Melito of Sardis, Quadratus, Justin Martyr, and so on.
Gary Habermas and Mike Licona, authors of The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, note that there is more documentation for Jesus Christ within 150 years of his life, even from secular sources, than there is for Caesar Tiberius.
That’s an astounding observation.
To create an analogy: Imagine if 2000 years from now, there was more documentation on the life of a traveling minister (whose ministry lasted three and a half years) than there was for the President of the United States, during whose term the preacher preached.
Furthermore, Dr. Habermas once told me, “Actually, the life of Jesus is recorded in whole or in part, different segments, in about 20 different non-Christian sources, archaeological or historical, outside the New Testament.”
He went on to say, “Now most of these are little snippets, a sentence here, a paragraph there, but you put them all together and there’s approximately 60 to 65 facts concerning the life, death, resurrection, teachings of Jesus in the earliest Church. You can get an outline of his life and never touch the New Testament.”
If we turn to early Christian sources, including the New Testament, than the recording of Jesus’s life is even greater. And there are many early Christian sources writing about Jesus that are beyond the pages of the Bible. Writers such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Quadratus, Barnabas, Justin Martyr.
So the next time somebody tries to sell you on the idea that Jesus cannot be documented in history—even secular history, please lovingly but firmly stop them in their tracks…with the facts.
No reputable historian denies the historicity of Jesus.
Jerry Newcombe, D.Min., is the executive director of the Providence Forum, a division of D. James Kennedy Ministries, where Jerry also serves as senior TV-producer. He has written or co-written 33 books. He also serves as Associate Pastor at New Presbyterian Church, Wilton Manors.