Written By Thomas Perez. March 3, 2009 at 10:07am. Copyright 2009.
The picture above is the Chrestians of Christ. Book XV of Tacitus’ Annals is preserved in the 11th–12th-century Codex Mediceus II, a collection of medieval manuscripts now housed in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence, Italy, along with other manuscripts and books that belonged to the Medici family. Highlighted above is the Latin text reading “…whom the crowd called ‘Chrestians.’ The founder of this name, Christ, had been executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate…” Photo: Codex Mediceus 68 II, fol. 38r, the Biblioteca Medicea. Tacitus lived 55-120AD.
The corner stone upon which our Judeo-Christian faith is built upon is the man Jesus, who is called; the Christ, the Messiah, the Holy One of Israel as believed by Jesus’ original twelve Apostles who were all Jewish by blood and culture. Believers also included other early Christian Jews, and Gentiles alike. The early 1st century Christian Church were comprised of such believers. The Greek word for Church is ‘ekklasia, which means “to call out.” The birth of the first century Church was the by-product of such ‘called out believers.” These called out individuals were first called Christians as recorded in Acts. To be labeled a Christian in those days was not a compliment. Thus, the insulting slag of Christ – ian was born. It meant (to outsiders), that these Christian believers associated their faith and belief in Jesus, the man who claimed to be the ‘Christ’ as fulfilling the plan of God, providing redemption and salvation through Him and not by the Law of Moses, but by fulfilling the Law. To the empire of that time (Rome), it meant that anyone who believed in Jesus as the King were in essence denying the emperor Caesar as being the rightful king. However, Rome was not without religious tolerance, since they also accepted the ever growing consensus that Jesus, being considered a king, should be placed among other deities, but keeping and maintaining the Caesar’s as its central figure head. However, no true Christian in the truest sense of the word would accept such a compromise.
Yet, there were and still are some who still ponder to ask themselves the question, who is The Messiah? Was Jesus the Messiah? Who was Jesus anyway? Was Jesus truly The Son of God as the New Testament testifies? Was Jesus divine? Is Jesus truly the second person of the Godhead (God the Son)? Was Jesus a prophet sent by God or was he merely just a man, who happened to be a good teacher (as indicated in Dan Browns’ book/screenplay, The Da Vinci Code). Or, is it all of the above? There are also individuals that question the validity of the historical existence of the man called Jesus. There are also other individuals that claim that the figure head, who is called Jesus, is nothing more than an astrological myth handed down by ancient pagan religions and astrologers alike (as indicated by the movie Zeitgeist). Such claims will be examined in this article.
However, before we examine such claims, we must first consider the recorded historical accounts pertaining to the person of Jesus, namely the four Gospel Books, as recorded by four individuals; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It is in the four Gospels that we have the story of Jesus. His birth, life, death and resurrection are all recorded within these Books with slight variations of details. Such variations does not necessarily indicate contradictions, but rather style, continuity of the facts and audience. When one studies the seemingly contradictions of Scriptural passages as it relates to the story of Jesus, one will discover, as a lawyer does; that such variations are proof positive that the stories collaborate rather than deter from one another. It adds on to such recorded information rather than take away from it. Moreover, to have a testimony of facts that completely match in every word, detail and style is to concoct a lie based on secret collaborations in order to make up the perfect story or alibi.
For example, one may be listening to the local sporting news station and have learned that the local city’s baseball team lost their chances at making the playoffs due to bad pitching. They may well have said “due to bad pitching” because they normally cover their local team on a day to day daily basis (audience). However, when an outer town sports casting station broadcasts the same news of the loss, they may attribute the loss to a lack of batting power. Different styles, different audience’s, but the continuity of the fact remains. The story stays the same; the team lost – continuity of fact. Details may vary, but the fact remains constant. Examples of this are seen everywhere; in our everyday news media outlets, politics, sciences and religions. But, their constants and facts stay the same. The same thought remains as discussed in previous articles pertaining to the existence of God. Variations, yes, but the constant remains, the belief and idea of a Supreme Being.
Having thus established a constant or continuity of fact, one can systematically approach the Gospels through a parallel comparison of its variations through what is called a synoptic study. A synoptic study is the study of comparison. Comparing story for story, book for book, and variation with variation. It is also known as the study of Hermeneutics (interpreting scripture with scripture). Another method of study is what is called ‘Apologetics.’ Apologetics is the study of issues, debates and questions as it relates to topics as discussed ussed in variou fields of study. Therefore, an apologetic approach must be required to answer the questions set forth above pertaining to the person and validity of Jesus as pertained in the Gospel narrative stories.
A Brief Background
The validity about the person of Jesus has been asked since the day Jesus began his ministry and continues to be asked in the world of secular society today. Albeit, Matthew cited Jesus as asking the twelve Apostles “who do men say that I am?” (Matt 16:13). The Apostle Peter, at that moment of truth testified before Jesus and the other Apostles that he believed Jesus was indeed the Christ, Son of The living God (vs16). Furthermore, upon such said confession of faith Jesus looked upon Peter and said “Blessed art thou Simon/Peter!” It is by this confession or rock/foundation that the Church is built upon. “I will build my Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it” (vs18). When one looks upon the account of this story and take into consideration the bold statement of faith exercised by Peter and which was subsequntailly recorded in the Gospel of Matthew; the reader is left with an impenetrable decision. The impenetrable decision of choosing whether to accept this recorded account as accurate fact or ultimate fable.
During the early 1st century Church, the followers of Jesus was given a commandment called ‘The Great Commission.’ This great commission was a command given by Jesus Himself, to go into all the world and preach the Gospel (Matt 28:19-20, Mk 16:15-16, Lk 24:46-47). This Gospel message included the story of Messiah as coming in the flesh as the Son of God,’ death for the salvation of many, His burial, His physical resurrection and His coming Kingdom (I Cor 15:1-4). Moreover, this Gospel message included the same statement of faith as exercised by Peter. We read through out the Gospels, the Book of Acts and the epistles of Paul, James, Peter, John and Jude that such a statement of faith must be declared in order for one to secure his/her position in Christ. However, of all the recorded canonical Biblical works of the Apostles, it is the Gospel of John that emphasizes most: who Jesus really was, is and shall be to come.
The Gospel of John begins with historical background information of who Jesus was from eternity past, eternity present, to eternity future. The book ultimately ends with an affirmation of all that was recorded in therein, beckoning a response to the information recorded therein. All recorded information is an attempt by the Apostle John to reconcile the unbeliever onto God. For John, all the recorded signs in his gospel (which only number in seven: Turning water to wine 2:1-12, the healing of the nobleman’s son 4:43-54, the healing of the lame man 5:1-47, the feeding of the five thousand 6:1-14, Jesus walking on water 6:16-21, the healing of the blind man 9:1-41, and raising Lazarus from the dead 11:1-57), point to two miracles that are the greatest: Jesus’ Incarnation (1:14) and His resurrection (20:1-18). The Book of John beautifully summarizes its strategy, subject, and purpose. And yet at the same time, attests to the preeminence and deity of Jesus Christ (The God-Man).
Yet when we read the recorded epistles of John we are given a prerequisite to salvation. In the 1st Epistle of John, we are told in chapter 4:1-3 that “every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Christ (Messiah) is come in the flesh is not of God, and this is that spirit of antichrist” vs 3. John not only suggests to the reader that the person of Jesus is the promised Messiah, but that in so doing; has declared a warning of anathema to those that believe not in the deity of Christ. By doing so the Apostle John was thus keeping his allegiance with the faith that was once delivered unto the saints (Jude 3). It seemed imperative to John to uphold the divinity of Jesus and to maintain his own confession of faith as declared by the Apostle Peter some years earlier. John continued this doctrinal teaching until the time of his death (90-100 AD). The constituent works of Matthew, Mark, Luke, Peter, Jude, and Paul as testified in their books all proclaim Jesus as divine Deity incarnate and in bodily physical form as well (Rom 10:9, Col 1:19, 2:9, I Tim 3:16).
However, as beautiful as this may be, we still have not answered the question of “who is the Messiah?” Who was He to be? Did the person incarnate in Jesus fulfill the required prerequisites of Messianic authenticity? To answer this question we must define the definition of the word ‘Messiah.’ According to ‘Vines Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words,’ The word or title of Messiah comes from the Hebrew word “Anointed One” after the promise of David – II Sam 7:13” (150 of O.T. Hebrew words). The Messiah was to come after the rebuilding of the second Jewish temple as recorded in the writings of Daniel 9:25. However, in Israel’s past there have been many messiah’s or anointed ones. Such anointed ones included; the patriarchs, Moses (often called a deliverer), the priests, the kings and the prophets of old (Isa 45:1, Psa 105:15). Yet, all of the ancient Biblical deliverers, priests, kings, and prophets pointed to one central figure head, who came to be known as ‘Messiah The Prince’ or ‘The Christ’ as rendered in Greek.
According to ‘Stephen M. Miller’ “God had promised to send a Messiah – a King above all kings who would bring peace to Israel and to the world.” Furthermore according to Miller, “The old covenant which is a testament or binding agreement – was summed up in the laws of Moses. But the new agreement – The New Testament – between God and His people would come with Messiah and be summed up in His teachings” Jere 31:31. ‘The Complete Guide to the Bible’ (299). Prior to the arrival of this promised Messiah, Israel had under gone a turbulent history of blessings and curses (Deut 11:26-28). However, it was during the times of judgments and curses that Israel often remembered the promises of a Messiah yet to come, who would deliver them from their enemies.
After the Exodus of Israel under Moses, Israel entered the promised land under Joshua. After Joshua there was a period of seven social, spiritual, and economic ups-and-downs under The Judges. After The Judges, Israel demanded a king. They wanted to be like other nations (Judges 21:25, I Sam 8:4-5). The 1st king was Saul. The 2nd king was David. The 3rd king was Solomon, son of David. After this the Kingdom of Israel was divided into the North and South. The North consisted of 10 tribes and The South 2 tribes. It is during this time that two gentile nations came and conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel whose capital was Samaria and the Southern Kingdom of Judah whose capital was Jerusalem.
The Neo-Assyrian Empire took the 10 tribes in the Northern kingdom into captivity, never to be heard from again. Not far after that, The Babylonians took the 2 tribes from the Southern kingdom into captivity for seventy years. This was the beginning of what is often called “The times of the Gentiles,” represented and embedded in 5 Gentile world kingdoms/empires. Such empires included in this order; Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and last but not least a possible revived Roman Empire represented by king Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a great image in the form of a man divided into 5 colors/substances. However, it should be noted that the kingdom of Assyria is not listed as one of the 5 kingdoms described by Daniel, because king Nabopolassar eliminated the Assyrian Empire in what became known as the Neo-Babylonian or Chaldean Empire. The fifth and last kingdom is that which comes out of the fourth kingdom, represented by the ten toes of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Daniel’s ten horns that emerge out of the 4th beast in his dream (Dan 2 and 7). Thus, the gentile world kingdoms in Daniel chapter 2 is as follows:
1. The Head of gold is Babylon.
2. The chest and arms of silver is Medo-Persia.
3. The belly and thighs of Bronze is Greece.
4. The legs of Iron is Rome.
5. The feet of iron and clay is the 5th kingdom possibly the revived Roman Empire ruled under the Papacy which did indeed sprang out of the 4th kingdom.
In Daniel chapter 7, it is as follows:
1. The lion is Babylon.
2. The bear raised up on one side with its 3 ribs in its mouth is Medo-Persia showing its conquest of 3 kingdoms: Babylon, Lydia, and Egypt. Being raised on one side may suggest that the Persians were greater and more powerful than the Medes.
3. The leopard with its 4 wings is Greece divided among its four generals.
4. The dreadful beast is Rome.
5. The ten Horns is the 5th kingdom out of which came out of the 4th beast
During these times there were many prophets, both major and minor. Ahijah; who is considered a minor prophet, predicted the rise and conquest of Israel under the Neo-Assyrian Empire under Tiglath-Pileser III and Shalmaneser V during the reign of Jeroboam II and Pekah 732 BC and 721 BC respectively, (I Kgs 14:14-16, 2 Kgs 15:29). Sometime later in 705 BC – 701 BC, Sennacherib, king of Assyria attacked Judah and Jerusalem (2 Kgs 18:13-16) during the reign of Hezekiah, a godly king as recorded in (2 Kgs 19:14-19, 2 Chron 24:26, 32-33, 29:20-36). However, Sennacherib did not succeed in taking Jerusalem captive or destroying it as the prophet Isaiah predicted because of Hezekiah’s prayer (2 Kgs 19:5-7, 20-37, Isa 37:21-38). This period is often referred to as the Assyrian Crisis.
During the reign of Hezekiah, this same prophet, ‘Isaiah,’ according to ‘Halley’s Bible Handbook’, “Predicted the rise and fall of another kingdom called ‘The Babylonian Empire’ a hundred years before its rise” (293). The prediction is most likely from the very mouth of Isaiah himself (Isa 13, 14:4-22, 21:1-10). I use the term ‘from the very mouth of Isaiah’ because according to ‘The Nelson Study Bible’, “Critical scholars have concluded that there were two or three different authors for the book of Isaiah. The first being called the so called Proto-Isaiah (or “first Isaiah”) covering chapters 1-39. The second is called Deutero-Isaiah (or “second Isaiah”), which covers Isaiah’s message to the discouraged exiles in Babylon – chapters 40-55. The rest of the book, chapters 56-66 addresses the controversies that surrounded the postexilic community in the second half of the 6th cent BC. Thus, this last section is called the Trito-Isaiah (or “third Isaiah”)” (109).
When we continue to examine the nature and continuity of the book of Isaiah, we continually come across a central figure head that came to be known as ‘The Messiah.’ Yet, this Messiah was not seen as a conquering hero as often portrayed by His predecessors. Instead, this particular Messiah was seen as a suffering servant. Yet, there are also many other passages of scripture that eludes to a conquering Messiah as well. This must have been a hotly debated, yet curious topic, discussed in ancient synagogues. Did ancient rabbis, view this as two Messiah’s or one deliverer with two separate advents/comings? We can not be certain for sure as to which position was believed upon by the people. But this much is certain; the facts pertaining to the historical Jesus tells us that the religious institution (except for a small number within that institution) of Jesus’ day, did put Him to death upon a cross. Thus, asserting their disbelief in a Messiah of servitude. They wanted a conquering Messiah to deliver them from their Roman oppressor’s (the 4th beast, as we have seen).
However, when one reads the recorded passages of scripture pertaining to Israel’s blessings and curses throughout the Old Testament by such writers as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Daniel, etc; we can obviously see their belief in a general coming of a conquering Messiah justifiable, due to their yearning for liberation and freedom from oppression. In 587 or 445 – 444 BC (scholars differ as to the date), the Jews were allowed to return to their homeland from the Babylonian captivity of 606 / 586 BC by Artaxerxes, the 1st king of Persia, under Ezra and Nehemiah. Upon returning to their homeland; they rebuilt the city ‘Jerusalem,’ the walls, and the temple as predicted in the writings of Daniel. Upon completion, Jewish religious festivities were in full swing even during turbulent times via – the fallen Grecian Empire after Alexander‘s death and the rise of the Persian Empire. Such festivities were an everyday practice even onto ‘Messiah The Prince’ as Daniels 70 weeks of prophecy suggests (Dan 9:25). Here is a brief list of prophetic scriptural passages pertaining to various Messianic prophecies and their corresponding New Testament fulfillments as completed in Messiahs’ first advent/coming:
Note: It should be noted that about 300 prophecies was fulfilled in the man called Jesus. Here are 65 of them…
Messianic Prophecies: Search the Scriptures – Acts 17:11
1. Who Was Messiah to Be?
He was to be born of a woman’s seed.
Gen 3:15 Gal 3:16, 4:4, Luke 1:31-35
He was to bruise Satan’s head
Gen 3:15 Rom 16:20
He was to be born of a virgin.
Isa 7:14 Luke 1:34-35, Matt 1:23
He was to be a Child, Son, Wonderful Counselor, The Mighty God, The
Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
Isa 9:6 Luke 1:2-11, Titus 2:3, I Tim 3:16, Jn 14:27
He was to be born without sin.
Ex 12:5 Jn 8 :46, I Pet 1:19
He was to be a priest after the order of Melchizedek.
Gen 14:18-20, Psa 110:4 Heb 5:5-6, 7:21-24
He was to be descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob resulting in all the earth
Gen 12:3, 18:18, 22:18, 28:14 Gal: 3:8, 16
He was to be a Prophet like Moses.
Deut 18:15-19 (Not Joshua – Deut 34:10) Jn 1:45, Acts 3:20-23
He was to be from the stem of Jesse.
Isa 11:1 Matt 1:5
He would be from the line of David.
Zech 11:13 Matt 27:3-10
He was to be from the seed of David and heir to The Throne of David.
II Sam 7:12-13 Matt 1:1
He would be David’s Lord.
Psa 110:1 Matt 22:41-46
He was to be God’s Son.
Psa 2:7, Pro 30:4 Matt 3:16, 16:16, 17:5, Heb1:5
He was to be The Son of Man.
Dan 3:24-25, 7:13-14 Matt 26:64
He was to be God & Lord.
Psa 2:7, 45:6-7, 110:1, Isa 9:6 , Deut 6:4 Luke 12:36, Jn 1:1, 14, 5:17-18,
8:54-59, 10:30, 14:8-11, I Tim 3:16
He was to have a Name.
Pro 30:4 Matt 1:21-23, Phil 2:5-11
He was to be from the tribe of Judah.
Gen 49:10 Heb 7:14, Rev 5:5
He was to be born at a specific time.
Dan 9:24-25 Gal 4:4 (See Daniel’s Seventy Weeks Bible Study).
He was to be born in a spiritual dry land.
Isa 53:2 Matt 2:1-2
He was to be born in Bethlehem.
Micah 5:2 Matt 2:1
He was to be killed as a child, But The Lord will protect Him.
Jere 31:15 Matt 2:16-21
He was to be called out of Egypt.
Hos 11:1 Matt 2:13-15
He was to have a childhood.
Isa 53:2 Luke 2:40
He was to preceded by a forerunner.
Isa 40:3, Mal 3:1 Matt 3:1-12, Luke 1:17
He was to be The Eternal One.
Micah 5:2 Jn 8:53-58, Rev 1:8, 11, 17-18
2 Aspects of Messiah’s Ministry.
He was to be anointed by The Spirit of God.
Isa 11:2, 61:1-2 Matt 3:16-17, Luke 4:16-21
He was to know men’s thoughts.
Isa 11:3 Matt 9:4
He was to have no specific outward beauty.
Isa 53:2 Matt 13:55
He was to be a Servant. Yet, He was to be an exalted high being.
Isa 52:13 Jn 8:29, Heb 1:3-5, 13
He was to open the eyes of the blind.
Isa 35:5 Matt 10:27-31
He was to open the ears of the deaf.
Isa 35:5 Mk 7:32-35
He was to give strength to the lame.
Isa 35:6 Matt 21:14
He was to give speech to the speechless & perform other miracles.
Isa 35:6 Mk 7:32-35, Matt 11:4-6, Jn 11:47-48
He was to do much of His teachings in parables.
Psa 78:2 Matt 13:34-35
He was to enter Jerusalem in a specific manner.
Zech 9:9 Matt 21:1-11, Mk 11:4, 7-11
He was to suddenly come upon the defilers of the temple.
Mal 3:1-3 Matt 21:12-16, Luke 2:45-47
He was to possess an unusual zeal for The Lord.
Psa 69:9 Jn 2:13-17
He would become a stumbling stone to His people.
Isa 8:14-15, 28:16 Rom 9:31-33, I Pet 2:6-8
He was to become a place of rest for the gentiles.
Isa 11:10 Acts 13:46-48
He was to become The Foundation Stone.
Isa 28:16 Matt 7:24
He was to become The Foundation Stone of which the builders have rejected.
Psa 118:22-23 Matt 21:33-45
He was to gather all people.
Gen 49:10 Jn 10:16
3. Aspects of His Death, Burial, and Resurrection.
He was to be rejected.
Psa 69:8, Isa 53: 3 Jn 1:11, 7:5, 19:14-15
He was to be betrayed by a friend.
Psa 41:9 Jn 13:18-21, Acts 1:16, Luke 22:47-48
He was to be sold for 30 pieces of silver.
Zech 11:10-12 Matt 26:14-16
Potter’s field bought with His price.
Zech 11:13 Matt 27:3-10
His follows were to be scattered.
Zech 13:7 Mk 14:27,50, Matt 26:31
He was to be falsely accused.
Psa 35:11-15 Matt 12:22-28
He was to be beaten.
Isa 50:6 Matt 27:26
He was to be smitten on the cheek.
Micah 5:1 Matt 27:30
He was to be shamed and spat upon.
Isa 50:6 Matt 26:65-67, 27:30
He was to receive a unbelieving response from people shaking their heads.
Psa 22:7-8 Matt 27:30-31
He was to not open His mouth.
Isa 53:7 Matt 26:62-63, Jn 19:9
His hands and feet was to be pierced.
Psa 22:16, Zech 12:10 Jn 19:18, 34-37, 20:24-29
He was to be taunted.
Psa 22:6-8 Matt 27:39-44
He was to suffer dehydration. He was to be given vinegar to drink.
Psa 22:15, 69:21 Matt 27:34, Jn 19:28-29
His garments was to be divided among sinners.
Psa 22:18 Jn 19:23-24
He was to quote scripture during His suffering.
Psa 22:1 Mk 15:34
He was to be cut off.
Dan 9:26 Matt 26:45
He was to die.
Isa 53:8 Jn 19:30
His bones was not to be broken. (Debatable)
Ex 12:46, Psa 34:20 Jn 19:31-37
He was to be buried.
Isa 53:9 Jn 19:38-42
He was to be buried among the wealthy.
Isa 53:9 Matt 27:57-60
He was to be resurrected and ascended.
Psa 16:10, 68:18, Matt 28:5-7, Acts 1:9, I Cor 15:1-4, Eph 4:8, Jn 20:17
4. The Purpose of His Death, Burial, and Resurrection.
He was to be made a curse upon a tree.
Deut 21:23 Gal 3:13
His blood was to be given within the veil.
Lev 16:15, 17:11-14 Matt 26:26-29, 27:50-51
He was to atone for our sin.
Lev 17:11, Isa 53:12 Jn 3:16, Rom 5:9-11
He is to give us life, if we look upon Him; then we will live.
Num 21:9 Jn 3:14-15
He was to be the Lamb of God, who takes away all sin.
Gen 22:8, Isa 53:7 Jn 1:29
He was to be The Redeemer of Gentiles and Jews alike.
Isa 42:1-7, Gen 49:10 Matt 12: 18-21
He was to be a light onto The Gentiles
Isa 42:6, 60:1-3 Jn 8:12, 12:20-33, 35-36, 46 Luke 2:32
He was to make an end to all sin and provide reconciliation.
Dan 9:24 Rom 3:23-26, 8:32
He was to bear the sins of the world and make intercession.
Isa 53:12 II Cor 5:21, Heb 9-10, I Jn 1:9, 2:1-2
He was to fulfill the hope of the O.T. Patriarchs and Prophets in the resurrection.
Job 19:26, Psa 16:10 Luke 24:36-44, Jn 20:26-29, I Cor 15:1-4,
He was to provide a new covenant.
Jere 31:31-33, 32:40, Ezek 11:19 Matt 26:28, I Cor 11:23-26
He will rule with God. God will rule by Him.
Psa 2:4-6 Acts 17:30-31
He demands worship.
Psa 2:10-12 Heb 10:28-29
5. Events to happen after His Death, Burial, and Resurrection.
Israel to be trodden down. Judah’s power to rule taken.
Dan 9:26 Matt 24:1-2
Nations shall rise against Him, refusing to accept His Messianic Kingship
Psa 2:1-3 Acts 4:25-28, Luke 21:24
He will establish His rulership.
Gen 49:10, Isa 9:6, Jere 23:5, Dan 7:13-14 Matt 28:18, Jn 3:3, 10:17-18,
18:36-37, Phil 2:10-11, Rev
Upon careful examination of the various Messianic prophecies listed above, one can safely conclude that the figure head called ‘Messiah’ did fulfill the required prerequisites of Messianic authenticity and anticipations through the person of Jesus. Moreover, when considering this information, we must bear in mind that the Old Testament scriptures were written in a span of about 996 years. From about 1440BC to 444BC. To concoct an elaborate scheme, and to connect this central figure head to this one historical person, who is called Jesus, is to say at the very least, quite impossible! The only individuals that had access to the Torah, poetic, wisdom historical and propehtic writings were the established religious orders of that day (the Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees), which often kept them locked behind a wall and veil. Moreover, according to Prof; Martin E. Marty, “Every synagogue had a set of handwritten Torah scrolls, which are treated with great respect, and kept in a cupboard or alcove (called the ark) in the wall of the synagogue which faces Jerusalem” (Religions of the World, (pg 31). The Scriptures were to be touched only by the synagogue’s rabbi or teacher appointed by the Jewish council.
As the community gathered for worship at the synagogue, the ruler of the synagogue (chosen among the elders) would select readers. Since synagogues readers were lay oriented, any qualified male Jew might read the Scriptures. Following the readings, an explanation or exposition of the scripture would be given. The exposition of the Word also was a task shared by the worshippers. The one who preached or explained the Scripture, might even be a visitor. Such was the case with Paul and Timothy (Acts 13:5,15, 14:1,10,17,18:4,19, I Tim 4:13). Jesus also fulfilled this task at his home town in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30).
Not all Jews understood Hebrew. Thus, the readings would sometimes be translated into Aramaic, the common language of Palestine in Jesus’ day. This practice goes back to the times of Ezra. After the Jews returned from the Babylonian exile, many no longer understood Hebrew. Thus Ezra read the scripture but had to give “the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read” (Ned 8:8). Scripture passages from the Law was read in synagogue worship were not always chosen at random. Jewish feasts required certain appointed readings. By the 1st Cent BC in Palestine, the Law was divided into about 155 sections with designated readings for each Sabbath. This permitted a triennial cycle of readings so that every three years the Pentateuch would be read in its entirety in public worship. The choice of Scripture was made by the priest or attendant, who took the scrolls from the ark and invited persons to read and comment on Scripture. This is done even to this day in what is called the ‘Parasha.’ During service a weekly portion from the Torah would be read accompanied by a passage from the Prophets (the Haftarah) then as a triennial cycle. This continues to be a part of contemporary Jewish practice.
However, as time went on, the early Church grew. Jewish Christians finally had to break away from the synagogue. This break did not occur uniformly in time and place, since we know that in Paul’s life he preached in both synagogues and house churches. Eventually, however, Jesus’ warning that His followers would be put out of the synagogues came to pass (Jn 16:2). Since early Jewish Christians were put out of the synagogues, they would no longer have access to the Scriptures. And therefore since they no longer had access to the Scriptures, how did the authors of the synoptic Gospels sit down and concoct the greatest fabrication of all time? They didn’t. The only writings toward the end that they had was that of the Apostle Paul, and possibly the Gospel if Mark and the epistle of James.
Furthermore, when we read the Acts and the letters of Paul, we do not see actual prophetic events as being fulfilled in Christ (because they already were). What we do see are doctrinal expositions of explanation described therein, exhorting worshipper’s and unbelievers alike to search the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). Even though the Gospels appear first in our New Testament, Paul’s letters were written earlier. Eventually, Paul’s letters came to be accepted as Scripture, equal to the Old Testament. Even before they were recognized as Scripture, they were held in high esteem (2 Pet 3:15-16) and were probably read in the context of worship (I Thess 5:27, Col 4:16). Therefore, for one to make the claim by insinuating that the synoptic Gospels merely took passages of Old Testament Scripture and attributed them to the historic Jesus and onto this new religion called Christianity, and then centered it around the central figure head called ‘Messiah’ is by far impossible, since they had not the access to these writings, for they were expelled and persecuted to the death. As Moses and the Prophets of old were, the most logical explanation is that these men were inspired by God, as they wrote the synoptic Gospels (2 Pet 2:21, 2Tim 3:16).
The Acid Test:
There are several advocates that hold to the opinion that Jesus was one of many saviours and/or He became divine by the authority of the 1st universal council of 325 AD headed under Emperor Constantine the Great. There are also others who claim that Jesus is nothing more than an astrological myth handed down to us from ancient pagan beliefs. Such advocates include those that uphold the curious teachings of the Da Vinci Code, the Zeitgeist movement (also known as the Jesus Seminar, whose advocates often appear on the ‘History Channel’ and the ‘National Geographic Channel’) located in sunny California. In short we will examine the various ideologies and distorted half truths as proclaimed by Dan Browns best selling novel ‘The Da Vinci Code.’ To begin, we must ask ourselves, additional questions to answer the preceding questions above. One such question is: Did Constantine invent the deity of Christ?
In 319AD a serious problem threatened the Church and the unity of the empire. In Alexandria, Egypt, a Libyan Presbyter, or priest, named Arius (256-336) began teaching a new doctrine that contradicted orthodox beliefs about what was to become defined as the trinity: the relationship between God, Jesus, and The Holy Spirit. Arius announced that “If the Father begat the Son, then He who was begotten had a beginning in existence, and from this it follows there was a time when the Son was not” In other words Arius denied Christ’s true divinity, arguing that God created Christ from nothing. Those who supported Arius’s arguments and those that who remained orthodox became fierce opponents. Arianism was rapidly gaining followers, and the alarmed bishops in the East turned to their Imperial protector (Constantine) for help.
In the ‘The Da Vinci Code,’ Dan Brown asserts that the emperor Constantine invented the deity of Christ in order to consolidate his power. And, we are told, he also eliminated books from the N.T. that did not suit his political agenda. The emperor convened the council of Nicea in 325 AD, and upgraded Jesus’ status to that of divinity almost 3 centuries after Jesus’ death. The council agreed, and today we have the famous ‘Nicene Creed.’ Until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet, as a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal, as the novel indicates.
There is not a single shred of historical evidence for such a notion! Not only was Christ’s deity the consensus of the delegates, but as can be easily be shown, this doctrine was held by the Church centuries before the council met! Contrary to the claim in the ‘Da Vinci Code,’ many believed that Christ was more than a “mortal prophet.” Such men were the Apostolic Church fathers. The Apostolic fathers knew and were thought by the actual original Apostle’s themselves who in turn were thought by the Eternal Logos – Jesus Christ Himself.
Non Biblical Evidence
In this section, we will examine 1st and 2nd century sources which verify Jesus as an actual man of history (not a compilation of pagan myths as the Zeitgeist movement/Jesus Seminar indicates and alleges). Each of the following sections offer their own advantages: the non-Christian sources are important as they had nothing to gain by their admissions. On the other hand, the Christian witness had everything to lose – many paying for their testimony with their lives. The outline we will be following for this discussion is as follows:
A. Extra-Biblical Sources (Christian)
B. Secular Sources (Documentary)
C. Secular Sources (Commentary)
D. Jewish Sources (Non-Christian)
A. Extra Biblical Sources (Christian) Evidence
1. IGNATIUS, THE BISHOP OF ANTIOCH IN SYRIA. In 110 A.D. he wrote a series of several letters to several churches. The center piece of his doctrine was his convictions that Christ was God incarnate, calling Jesus Christ our Lord and referring to Him as the Christ-God (Historical Theology: An Introduction). Ignatius was a Bishop of Antioch reported to have been appointed to his position by Peter of whom he was a disciple. He is also believed to be a disciple of Paul and John. Ignatius was arrested by the Romans and executed as a martyr in the arena. Even though his testimony would ultimately lead to his death, Ignatius was adamant about the things he witnessed. He reinforces early Christian beliefs in the letters he penned while in prison. Even when execution was imminent, Ignatius refused to recant his faith.
“Jesus Christ who was of the race of David, who was the Son of Mary, who was truly born and ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died in the sight of those in heaven and on earth and those under the earth. Who moreover was truly raised from the dead, His father having raised Him, who in the like fashion will so raise us also who believe in Him.” Trallians
“He is truly of the race of David according to the flesh but Son of God by the Divine will and powered, truly born of a virgin and baptized by John that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him, truly nailed up in the flesh for our sakes under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch… That He might set up an ensign unto all ages through His resurrection.” Smyrneans, 1
“Be ye fully persuaded concerning the birth and the passion and the resurrection, which took place in the time of the governorship of Pontius Pilate. For these things were truly and certainly done by Jesus Christ our hope.” Magnesians XI
Examples of Extra-Biblical Resource Evidence for Ignatius:
Theodoret states Ignatius was personally appointed to the Antioch See by Peter (like Clement, this implies a personal relationship with an original apostle, making extra-biblical information available to him).
John Chrysostom emphasises the honor bestowed upon Ignatius as he personally received his dedication from the apostles. Clement was also believed to be a disciple of Paul and John.
2. CLEMENT OF ROME (? – 98 A.D.) Clement was a bishop of Rome and later became known as the fourth pope. He was eventually martyred in approximately 98 A.D. Some speculate Paul was referring to Clement in Philippians 4:3 but this cannot be proven. Clement was a first century apostolic author which gives credence to his first-hand account of early Christianity. In the passage below, Clement confirms the ministry of the disciples and some of the basic tenets of early Christianity.
“The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was sent forth from God. So then Christ is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ. Both therefore came of the will of God in the appointed order. Having therefore received a charge, and being fully assured through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and confirmed in the word of God will full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth with the glad tidings that the kingdom of God should come. So preaching everywhere in country and town, they appointed their first fruits, when they had proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons unto them that should believe.” Corinthians 4:2
Examples of Extra-Biblical Resource Evidence for Clement:
“And giving heed unto His words, ye laid them up diligently in your hearts, and His sufferings were before your eyes” Chapter 2 (correspondence with possible eye-witnesses)
Tertullian and Jerome record the belief Clement was personally ordained by and a disciple of Peter(which implies he was privy to extra-biblical information as he was close to an original apostle).
“The New Testament he [Clement] never quotes verbally. Sayings of Christ are now and then given, but not in the words of the Gospels. It cannot be proved, therefore, that he used any one of the Synoptic Gospels.” The Catholic Encyclopedia Online
3. QUADRATUS OF ATHENS (126 A.D.) Quadratus was an Athenian bishop and direct disciple of the Apostles. He is generally regarded as the first Christian apologist because of his defense given to Emperor Hadrian in 126 A.D. Quadratus points out the fact that a few who were healed and resurrected by Jesus lived until modern times.
“The deeds of our Savior were always before you, for they were true miracles. Those that were healed, those that were raised from the dead, who were seen, not only when healed and when raised, but were always present. They remained living a long time, not only while our Lord was on earth, but likewise when he had left the earth. So that some of them have also lived to our own times.” Eusebius IV III, 2
Examples of Extra-Biblical Resource Evidence for Quadratus:
In the above passage, Quadratus refers to those who were healed by Jesus and had lived until modern times. Like Clement and Ignatius, Quadratus was said by Eusebius to be a direct disciple of the apostles.
4. ARISTIDES THE ATHENIAN (126 A.D.) Aristides, along with Quadratus mentioned above, presented an apology to Emperor Hadrian during his stay in Athens in 126 A.D. Aristides describes the treatment of Jesus by His own people, the Jews, and contrasts their beliefs with those of the Christians.
“When the Son of God was pleased to come upon the earth, they received him with wanton violence and betrayed him into the hands of Pilate the Roman governor. Paying no respect to his good deeds and the countless miracles he performed among them, they demanded a sentence of death by the cross…Now the Christians trace their origin from the Lord Jesus Christ….The Son of the most high God who came down from heaven, being born of a pure [Hebrew] virgin, for the salvation of men….And he was crucified, being pierced with nails by the Jews. And after three days He came to life again and ascended into heaven. His twelve apostles, after his ascension into heaven, went forth into the provinces of the whole world proclaiming the true doctrine…They who still observe the righteousness enjoined by their preaching are called Christians.” Apology XIV-XV
5. POLYCARP OF SMYRNA, a disciple of the Apostle John and bishop, sent a letter to the church at Philippi in about 112-118 A.D. In it, he acknowledges the divinity of Jesus, His exaltation to Heaven, and His subsequent glorification. Polycarp was martyred in about 160 A.D. (History of Doctrine).
6. JUSTIN MARTYR was born in Palestine and was impressed with the ability of Christians to face death heroically. When he heard the Gospel, he converted and became a defender of the faith he loved. He said Christ was “The Son and the Apostle of God, Father and Master of all” (Historical Theology). He was born about 100 A.D. and martyred in 165 A.D. possibly the most well-known early Christian apologist, was an educated pagan philosopher who converted to Christianity around 130 A.D. Though he risked losing his wealth, status, and life, Justin fearlessly spread Christianity throughout Asia Minor and Rome. Refusing to recant his testimony, he was led to his death via scourging and beheading in 165 A.D. Being a thoroughly educated man, Justin weighed the evidence carefully before accepting his new faith and explains to the reader he made his decision only after careful consideration and research.
“There is a village in Judea, thirty-five staid from Jerusalem, where Jesus Christ was born, as you can see from the tax registers under Cyrene’s, your first procurator in Judea…He was born of a virgin as a man, and was named Jesus, and was crucified, and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven…After He was crucified, all His acquaintances denied Him. But once He had risen from the dead and appeared to them and explained the prophecies which foretold all these things and ascended into heaven, the apostles believed. They received the power given to them by Jesus and went into the world preaching the Gospel.” First Apology, 34, 46, 50
“At the time of His birth, Magi from Arabia came and worshiped Him, coming first to Herod, who was then sovereign in your land… When they crucified Him, driving in the nails, they pierced His hands and feet. Those who crucified Him parted His garments among themselves, each casting lots…But you did not repent after you earned that He rose from the dead. Instead, you sent men into to the world to proclaim that a godless heresy had sprung from Jesus, a Galilean deceiver, whom was crucified and that His disciples stole His body from the tomb in order to deceive men by claiming He had risen from the dead and ascended into heaven.” Dialogue with Typhoo, 77 97, 107-8
Examples of Extra-Biblical Resource Evidence for Justin:
Justin presents one of the earliest statements that specifically attest to Jesus’ historicity. Justin refers his audience to the Judean tax registers where they would find evidence of Jesus’ birth.
In the second quote above, Justin is refuting the rumors concerning a resurrection conspiracy and the accusation that Jesus was a Galilean deceiver. Justin’s awareness of the rumors concerning Jesus reveals his knowledge of extra-Biblical testimony. Justin uses the healing ministry of Christians to attest to the very real power of Christ:
“Countless possessed men throughout the land are being exorcised by many of our Christian men in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, continue to heal, rendering helpless and driving the demons out of men, though they could not be cured by any other exorcists or those who used incantations and drugs.” Second Apology VI
Justin makes a reference to The Acts of Pilate which was not a Biblical: “And that these things did happen, you can ascertain from the Acts of Pontius Pilate.” First Apology XXXV
7. IRENAEUS became bishop of Lyons in 177 A.D. He spent most of his life combating the heresy of Gnosticism. Speaking of passages such as John 1:1, he wrote that, “All distinctions between Father and Son vanish, for one God made all things through His Word” In his belief, we find ‘Modalistic Monarchianism’ (a oneness belief in God). An economic trinity, not an eternal trinity. It is very probable that Irenaeus believed in a trinity of God’s activities or roles, rather than a trinity of persons since he expressed oneness concepts.
8. HEGESIPPUS (110 A.D. – 180 A.D.) Hegesippus converted to Christianity from Judaism after extensively researching the Gospel story for himself. Instead of accepting the Gospel story at the word of others, he traveled extensively throughout Rome and Corinth in an effort to collect evidence of the early Christian claims. Hegesippus provides important testimony that the stories being passed around were not watered down, embellished, or fabricated.
“This man [James] was a true witness to both Jews and Greeks that Jesus is the Christ…The Corinthian church continued in the true doctrine until Primus became bishop. I mixed with them on my voyage to Rome and spent several days with the Corinthians, during which we were refreshed with the true doctrine. On arrival at Rome I pieced together the succession down to Anicetus, whose deacon was Eleutherus, Anicetus being succeeded by Soter and he by Eleutherus. In ever line of bishops and in every city things accord with the preaching of the Law, the Prophets, and the Lord.” The History of the Church.
Perhaps of all the figures mentioned in this section, no one uses more extra-biblical resource evidence than Hegesippus (in fact, he hardly uses Biblical testimony at all!). Because his entire manuscript is basically a compilation of outside research, I’ll only list a few examples:
Hegesippus describes the ministry and demise of James (Jesus’ brother) at the hands of the Pharisees. These accounts were not mentioned in the New Testament.
Hegesippus fervently retraced the roots of the early church and states he did so in order to ensure the circulating testimonies concerning Christ were genuine.
In his research, Hegesippus recounts the ministries of several witnesses (primarily church fathers) not included in the Bible.
Hegesippus documents the interrogation of Jesus’ grand-nephews by Domitian and records they lived into the reign of Trojan.
Hegesippus documents the martyrdom of Bishop Symeon, (the son of Cleopas mentioned in Luke 24:18). He was believed to be either a relative, disciple, and/or contemporary of Jesus.
Hegesippus addresses heresies being spread by differing sects, implying he did not focus his research solely on Biblical teachings.
To this list can be added teachers like Tertullian (150-212 A.D.), (who over a hundred years before Constantine, advocated a fully divine and fully human Christ), and Hermes. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries we have Noetus of Smyrna, Praxeas, and Sabellius. Sabellius relied heavily upon scripture, especially passages such as Ex 20:3, Deut 6:4, Isa 44:6, John 10:38, etc. He said that God revealed Himself as Father in creation, Son in incarnation, and Holy Spirit in regeneration and sanctification. He believed the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the same person. Three names attached to one and the same being, not 3 separate persons.
As we can see the Apostolic fathers had a general consensus that Jesus was divine – truly God and truly man. Moreover, it can also be observed that in their writings the thought of a Trinitarian concept of a Godhead was not a central thought or theme as revealed in the Apostles Creed written in about 100-200AD. If Dan Brown wanted to debunk the divinity of Christ, he should have concentrated on the pagan origins of the trinity instead, rather than attacking the one true God as revealed in Jesus Christ, (the God-Man) incarnate.
B. Secular Sources (Documentary) Evidence
1. CORNELIUS TACITUS (55 – 120 A.D.) Tacitus was a 1st and 2nd century Roman historian who lived through the reigns of over half a dozen Roman emperors. Considered one of the greatest historians of ancient Rome, Tacitus verifies the Biblical account of Jesus’ execution at the hands of Pontius Pilate who governed Judea from 26-36 A.D. during the reign of Tiberius.
“Christus, the founder of the [Christian] name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius. But the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time, broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, by through the city of Rome also.”
What this passage reveals and how it confirms the Biblical account:
Jesus did exist
Jesus was the founder of Christianity
Jesus was put to death by Pilate
Christianity originated in Judea (With Jesus)
Christianity later spread to Rome (Through the Apostles and Evangelists)
2. GAIUS SUETONIUS TRANQUILLUS (69 – 130 A.D.) Suetonius was a prominent Roman historian who recorded the lives of the Roman Caesars and the historical events surrounding their reigns. He served as a court official under Hadrian and as an annalist for the Imperial House. Suetonius records the expulsion of the Christian Jews from Rome (mentioned in Acts 18:2) and confirms the Christian faith being founded by Christ.
“As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, [Claudius] expelled them from Rome.” Life of Claudius 25.4
THALLUS (~ 52 A.D.) Although his works exist only in fragments, Julius Africanus debates Thallus’ explanation of the midday darkness which occurred during the Passover of Jesus’ crucifixion. Thallus tries to dismiss the darkness as a natural occurrence (a solar eclipse) but Africanus argues (and any astronomer can confirm) a solar eclipse cannot physically occur during a full moon due to the alignment of the planets. Phlegon of Tralles, a 2nd century secular historian, also mentions the darkness and tries to dismiss it as a solar eclipse. He also states the event occurred during the time of Tiberius Caesar.
“On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness. The rocks were rent by an earthquake and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun. For the Hebrews celebrate the Passover on the 14th day according to the moon, and the passion of our Savior falls on the day before the Passover. But an eclipse of the sun takes place only when the moon comes under the sun. And it cannot happen at any other time… Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth-manifestly that one of which we speak. Chronography XVIII, 47
PLINY THE YOUNGER (63 – 113 A.D) Pliny the Younger admits to torturing and executing Christians who refused to deny Christ. Those who denied the charges were spared and ordered to exalt the Roman gods and curse the name of Christ. Pliny addresses his concerns to Emperor Trajan that too many citizens were being killed for their refusal to deny their faith.
“I asked them directly if they were Christians…those who persisted, I ordered away…Those who denied they were or ever had been Christians…worshiped both your image and the images of the gods and cursed Christ. They used to gather on a stated day before dawn and sing to Christ as if he were a god…All the more I believed it necessary to find out what was the truth from two servant maids, which were called deaconesses, by means of torture. Nothing more did I find than a disgusting, fanatical superstition. Therefore I stopped the examination, and hastened to consult you…on account of the number of people endangered. For many of all ages, all classes, and both sexes already are brought into danger…” Pliny’s letter to Emperor Trajan
Though Pliny states some of the accused denied the charges, a recurring theme in the correspondence between Pliny and Trajan is the willingness of the true believer to die for Christ. This would hardly be reasonable if they knew He never existed!
C. Secular Sources (Commentary) Evidence
1. CELSUS (~ 178 A.D.) Celsus was a second century Roman author and avid opponent of Christianity. He went to great lengths to disprove the divinity of Jesus yet never denied His actual existence. Unfortunately for Celsus, he sets himself up for criticism by mimicking the exact accusations brought against Jesus by the Pharisees which had already been addressed and refuted in the New Testament. There are two very important facts regarding Celsus which make him one of the most important witnesses in this discussion: Though most secular passages are accused of being Christian interpolations, we can accept with certainty this is not the case with Celsus! The sheer volume of his writings (specifically designed to discredit Christianity) coupled with the hostile accusations presented in his work dismiss this chance immediately. The idea of Celsus getting his information entirely from Christian sources (another recurring accusation against secular evidence) is wholly absurd. Though he is obviously aware of his opponents’ beliefs (as anyone who is engaging in a debate should be), Celsus wrote his exposition in the form of a dialogue between a “Jewish Critic” and himself. This gives us cause to believe he used non-Christian (probably Jewish) sources.
On Jesus’ Miracles: “Jesus, on account of his poverty, was hired out to go to Egypt. While there he acquired certain [magical] powers… He returned home highly elated at possessing these powers, and on the strength of them gave himself out to be a god…It was by means of sorcery that He was able to accomplish the wonders which He performed…Let us believe that these cures, or the resurrection, or the feeding of a multitude with a few loaves…These are nothing more than the tricks of jugglers…It is by the names of certain demons, and by the use of incantations, that the Christians appear to be possessed of [miraculous] power…”Not only does Celsus confirm Jesus’ existence, he also tries to debate the source of Jesus’ miracles. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, Celsus tries to dismiss these miracles as both demonic possession and cheap parlor tricks. However, he is clearly grasping at straws: On one hand Celsus accuses Jesus of performing magic learned in Egypt, then later states it is by the power of possession, then states the miracles were not really miracles at all but were illusionary tricks performed by a deceiver, then finally states the miracles never occurred!
On the Virgin Birth: “Jesus had come from a village in Judea, and was the son of a poor Jewess who gained her living by the work of her hands. His mother had been turned out by her husband, who was a carpenter by trade, on being convicted of adultery [with a Roman soldier named Panthera]. Being thus driven away by her husband, and wandering about in disgrace, she gave birth to Jesus, a bastard.”
Celsus acknowledges Jesus’ birth and existence but does not accept the concept of a virgin conception. He tries to dismiss Mary’s premarital pregnancy as the result of an affair she had with a Roman soldier. Strangely enough, there is a very similar passage in the Jewish Talmud which makes the same accusation. This gives us reason to believe Celsus might have referenced Jewish sources for some of his arguments.
On the Apostles: “Jesus gathered around him ten or eleven persons of notorious character… tax-collectors, sailors, and fishermen… [He was] deserted and delivered up by those who had been his associates, who had him for their teacher, and who believed he was the savior and son of the greatest God…Those who were his associates while alive, who listened to his voice, and enjoyed his instructions as their teacher, on seeing him subjected to punishment and death, neither died with nor for him… but denied that they were even his disciples, lest they die along with Him.”
Celsus’ intentions were to argue that if the disciples really believed Jesus was the Son of God, they would not have forsaken Him at His arrest. Instead, he only ends up confirming the Biblical account! The Bible tells us when Jesus was arrested, the apostles denied being His followers. It was only upon Jesus’ resurrection they understood the spiritual principles concerning Jesus’ crucifixion and boldly went out to preach the Gospel. Celsus is also wrong with his statement, [they] neither died with nor for him. We are told by early historians all but one of the remaining apostles were killed for their faith.
On Jesus’ Divinity: “One who was a God could neither flee nor be led away a prisoner…What great deeds did Jesus perform as God? Did he put his enemies to shame or bring to an end what was designed against him? No calamity happened even to him who condemned him…Why does he not give some manifestation of his divinity, and free himself from this reproach, and take vengeance upon those who insult both him and his Father?”
Celsus ridicules Jesus for the exact same reasons the Pharisees of His time ridiculed Him- if Jesus was the Son of God, why didn’t He save Himself from the cross? Neither Celsus nor the Pharisees understood the spiritual implications of Jesus’ death to atone for sin. Celsus also asks why no judgment came upon the Jews but history shows shortly after His death Jerusalem was invaded by the Romans, the Jewish temple was destroyed, and the Jewish people were dispersed for almost 2,000 years!
John the Baptist “If any one predicted to us that the Son of God was to visit mankind, he was one of our prophets, and the prophet of our God? John, who baptized Jesus, was a Jew.” Celsus confirms Jesus’ baptism by John but asserts that John was the only one who actually prophesied His coming – not the Old Testament Messianic prophecies.
On the Crucifixion: “Jesus accordingly exhibited after His death only the appearance of wounds received on the cross, and was not in reality so wounded as He is described to have been.”
In this statement, Celsus confirms Jesus’ death by crucifixion although he claims the only wounds Jesus received were those inflicted by the crucifixion (thus denying any previous torture had taken place). But not even history offers Celsus the benefit of a doubt as floggings were the standard form of torture given to victims prior to crucifixion (See here). Celsus contradicts himself yet again when he later states Jesus was probably never even crucified but instead had an impostor die in His place!
2. LUCIAN OF SAMOSATA (120 – 180 A.D.) Lucian was a second century Greek satirist and rhetorician who scornfully describes his views of early Christianity. Though he ridicules the Christians and their Christ, his writings confirm Jesus was executed via crucifixion and that He was the founder of Christianity.” The Christians, you know, 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 they are converted and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws…” The Death of Peregrinus 11-13
What this passage reveals and how it confirms the Biblical account:
Jesus did exist
Jesus was the founder of Christianity
Jesus was worshiped by His followers
Jesus suffered death by crucifixion
3. MARA BAR-SERAPION (Post 70 A.D) Mara Bar-Serapion of Syria penned this letter from prison to his son. Though it is obvious he does not acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God, he does mention aspects of Jesus’ life. There is some criticism regarding this passage but it must be noted nothing in Serapion’s letter contradicts what we know about Jesus.
“What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment 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. The Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good. He lived on in the teachings of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good. He lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise King die for good. He lived on in the teaching which He had given.” You can Google his name to find out more information or you can type Mara Bar-Serapion.
D. Jewish Sources (Non-Christian) Evidence
1. FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS (37 – 100 A.D.) Josephus was a first century Pharisee and historian of both priestly and royal ancestry who provided important insight into first-century Judaism. Josephus was born only three years after the crucifixion of Jesus, making him a credible witness to the historicity of Jesus.
“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 among 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 tribes of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this day.” Antiquities XVIII, 3:2
There is another version to this citation which leaves out the words: “If it be lawful to call Him a man,” “He was the Christ,” “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.” Nevertheless, both accounts verifies the belief early Christianity held in regards to Jesus. Josephus was not condoning a belief in Christ but merely documenting it. We’ll now examine the second passage given to us by Josephus. Fortunately, it is not surrounded in as much controversy!
“So [Ananus] assembled a council of judges, and brought before it the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as lawbreakers, he delivered them over to be stoned.” Antiquities XX 9:1. Again, many critics are quick to point out the phrase, “the so-called Christ” in this passage. Again, Josephus was a Jewish historian and was verifying and documenting historical facts as a good historian should, excluding any personal convictions or beliefs.
Even if we dismiss the disputed words in Josephus’ Testimonium, we still see he testifies to a number of things in the above two passages:
Jesus lived in the first century
He performed wonderful works (miracles)
Some believed Jesus to be the Christ
He was a teacher
He had many followers
He was tried by Pilate
He was crucified
He was the founder of Christianity
James was the brother of Jesus