Have you ever doubted the existence of Jesus? Is there really historical evidence of Jesus? We live in an age of scientific knowledge and atheism where people are more skeptical than ever before. Challenging Jesus is a trend growing at exponential rates. Many of us have our belief systems about Jesus because we were taught about Him as children. But did you know there is evidence outside of the Scriptures that Jesus lived, died and impacted the world?
What can we learn from Christian writings?
Most of the time historical evidence of Jesus (Christian writings) starts with New Testament research or extrabiblical accounts of that time. It is early and detailed, which makes it valuable. In the New Testament Gospels, the first detailed biographical accounts of Jesus date from around 40 years after Jesus’ death. Scholars believe these letters were written within 25 years of Jesus’ death at the very latest. These were written within the lifetimes of multiple eyewitnesses and describe the culture and geography of first-century Palestine. It is also hard to comprehend why Christian writers would invent a Savior figure so thoroughly Jewish in a time and place where the Roman Empire targeted Judaism.
He performed miracles
We can’t ignore this dynamic side of Jesus in our hunt for historical evidence of Jesus. In the second century, Celsus, a Greek philosopher opposed to Christianity, made the first comprehensive intellectual assault on Christianity by attempting to figure out how Jesus could do miracles. Though Celsus could attest to Jesus’ miracle-working powers, he proclaimed they were done through sorcery.
During His crucifixion, an earthquake and darkness were present
The next representative on our journey through historical evidence of Jesus is Thallus, a Samaritan historian who lived during the time of Jesus (AD 5-60), who first recorded this fact. He wrote a three-volume history of the Mediterranean in the first century, a work that sadly no longer exists. In AD 221, Julius Africanus cited him before his writings were lost. According to Africanus, Thallus described what happened at the crucifixion of Jesus:
Tiberius Caesar ruled during His lifetime
Another fun bit of historical evidence of Jesus is that Tiberius had been emperor of Rome all through Jesus’ life. He was the second Roman emperor following Augustus, who died in AD 14, and It isn’t known if Tiberius knew about Jesus or the crucifixion of Jesus. The word spread rapidly about Jesus and His miracles throughout the Roman Empire, even to the imperial palace on the Palatine Hill. Still, Tiberius retired to his palace on Capri Island in AD 26, while corruption was rampant in Rome. Julius Africanus additionally found that another early historian, Phlegon, verified the darkness in the time of Jesus’ death and that Jesus lived “in time of Tiberius Caesar, at the complete moon, there had been a total eclipse of sunlight from the sixth hour to the ninth.”
Just what do non-Christian authors state regarding Jesus?
To the very best of our understanding, the first author outside the church to point out Jesus may be the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who authored a history of Judaism around AD 93. He generates two references to Jesus. One is disputed as it’s believed to be corrupted by Christian scribes (most likely turning Josephus’ negative account into a more positive one). At the same time, another isn’t suspicious: a reference to James, the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ.
About 20 years after Josephus, we have the Roman politicians Tacitus and Pliny, who held several of the highest state offices at the start of the next century. From Tacitus, we learn Jesus was executed. At the same time, Pontius Pilate was the Roman prefect in charge of Judaea (AD 26-36) and Tiberius was emperor (AD 14-37) — accounts that fit with the time frame of the Gospels. Pliny includes the data that Christians venerated Christ as a god where he was governor in northern Turkey. Both disliked Christians: Pliny describes their “pig-headed obstinacy,” and Tacitus calls their religion a harmful superstition.
His disciples worshipped Him regularly, believing He was God
In ancient Rome, Pliny the Younger was a prominent lawyer and magistrate who lived from AD 61 to 113. His letter to Emperor Trajan reads as follows:
“They [Christians] were in the habit of meeting on a particular 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.”
Greek satirist Lucian of Samosata was a witty and sarcastic figure of the second century. He did affirm some things about Christians, even though he sneered at believers:
“The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day—the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rights, 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.”
The stories and accounts about Jesus outside the Scriptures could probably go on forever. I don’t know about you, but researching these accounts boosted my inspiration to love Him more. Even His naysayers couldn’t deny Him. We know from Scripture He is who He says He is.
But don’t these accounts make you smile and have you saying, “That’s MY Jesus, whom even the skeptics can’t deny”? Any lingering doubts should quiet down and turn into a more profound certainty of who Jesus has always been.
Is there historical evidence of Jesus outside of the Bible? In short, yes. Early non-Christian historical evidence, extrabiblical evidence, can be pointed to support the idea that Jesus really did live, die and rise again.
Centerpoint Church is ready to walk with you on your faith journey
At Centerpoint, our community believes in purpose and passion, and we would love to walk with you on your journey in finding yours. You can also find out what our community’s drive and passion are all about by checking out some of the past sermons we’ve posted on our website.
Do you want to grow in your faith, or are you curious about who this Jesus guy is? You’re not alone. We encourage you to listen to our podcast series online and welcome you to come to one of our Sunday morning services in Valrico, Florida.