There are people in this world that say that Jesus was a mythological figure who never existed in history. They say He is nothing more than a legend whom a group of men in the first century made up to fool the world. But is this true? Is Jesus mentioned in historical writings? The answer is YES.
To begin, we have 27 writings that mention Him, four of which are in depth accounts of His ministry. The New Testament is Historical Literature. Whether you look at it as the word of God or not, it is historical eyewitness testimony of the events of Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection. Many unbelievers like to deny these accounts of Jesus’ life are historical accounts. This is unwarranted. They only do this with the New Testament documents. If they held all of history to this standard, they would need to disregard all of history. There is no justifiable reason to reject the main source documents of Jesus’ life as a historical witness while accepting other primary source documents of other historical events.
Here are some examples of Jesus being mentioned in historical accounts outside of the New Testament documents:
- Tacitus, one of the greatest historians of Rome wrote speaking of how Christians were made scapegoats for the Great Fire of Rome in AD64. He wrote concerning the death of Christ
- “…Christus, from whom the name (Christians) had it’s origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of procurators, Pontius Pilatus…” (Annals 15.44.2-4)
- The Jewish Talmud, written between 70AD and 200AD speaks of Jesus Christ, although in hostile language. This proves that the enemies of Christ believed that he was a historical figure!
- “On the eve of the Passover Yeshu (Jesus) was hanged [on a cross]. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.’ But since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged [on a cross] on the eve of the Passover.” (The Babylonian Talmud, translated by I. Epstein (London: Soncino, 1935), vol. III, Sanhedrin 43a, p. 281)
- The Jewish historian Josephus,writing for the Roman government in the 70′s A.D. records some incidental things regarding Christ and the church. He confirms that John the Baptist died at the hand of Herod (this same incident is recorded in the gospels) as well as the death of, “The brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James. . . he delivered them to be stoned.” He also speaks of “marvelous deeds” that Jesus did. (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVIII, ch. V, p. 20; Book XX, ch. IX, p. 140 ).
- Julius Africanus quotes the historian Thallus in a discussion of the darkness which followed the crucifixion of Christ (Extant Writings, 18).
- Pliny the Younger, in Letters 10:96, recorded early Christian worship practices including the fact that Christians worshiped Jesus as God and were very ethical, and he includes a reference to the love feast and Lord’s Supper.
- Lucian of Samosata was a second-century Greek writer who admits that Jesus was worshiped by Christians, introduced new teachings, and was crucified for them. He said that Jesus’ teachings included the brotherhood of believers, the importance of conversion, and the importance of denying other gods. Christians lived according to Jesus’ laws, believed themselves to be immortal, and were characterized by contempt for death, voluntary self-devotion, and renunciation of material goods.
- We have late first century and early second century writings of the Early Church Fathers which include many references to Jesus and His teachings. The majority of the New Testament could be reconstructed from their writings
- We have all the Gnostic writings (The Gospel of Truth, The Apocryphon of John, The Gospel of Thomas, The Treatise on Resurrection, etc.) that all mention Jesus.
The historian, Will Durant, certainly no friend of Christianity, wrote:
“That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and appealing a personality, so lofty an ethic, and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the gospel (1944, p. 557).
These are just a few of the historians that have mentioned Jesus Christ and His disciples. The question must be asked, “How many historical accounts of someone do we need to have to believe He is a real historical figure?” All of the documents outside of the New Testament that talk about Jesus, even if you take away the early church fathers, are enough to show that Christ was doing amazing things, was crucified by Pilate, and the tomb was found empty.
The only reason to reject the existence of Jesus is not a rational one, but an emotional one. There is a lot at stake if the historical accounts of Jesus’ life are true. If Jesus is who He claimed to be (God), there is only One God and One way to eternal life, there is an absolute standard of truth and morality in which we all we be held accountable to, miracles are possible, and the heavens and earth were created by God (not by evolution).
“If the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt.” -F. F. Bruce