November 09, 2019
Who is Jesus?
Many different cultures, religious sects and political leaders all have different ideas of who Jesus is, ranging everywhere from the sweetest and most perfect man that ever lived, to a bigoted, homophobic, misogynistic fear-monger; some see him as just a good teacher, and others as the very Son of God.
We are going to go over the evidence, outside of the bible, that proves Jesus lived, walked the earth, died on a cross, and rose from the dead.
So who is this King Jesus?
Here are the sections we will be going over if you would like to skip around:
Let’s get right into it.
Did you know that there is extrabiblical evidence (extrabiblical means evidence OUTSIDE of the Bible) that Jesus of Nazareth, or Jesus Christ (Christ means ‘messiah’) lived in the 1st century AD, and was crucified on the cross?
Of course, there’s plenty of evidence within the Bible that these events occurred, but what we will be going over is evidence outside of the Bible that points to this man, Jesus, who was also God, living and dying on the cross, under Pontius Pilate, in the 1st century AD, just as the Bible says.
In this section, I will show you ancient non-Christian sources that speak about this historical person named Jesus walking the earth, performing miracles, being crucified on a cross, and being worshipped as God.
How do we know, outside of the Bible, that there even WAS a person named Jesus?
We will go over just 5 ancient non-Christian sources (there are others); I will show you right now.
Tacitus (statued below) (full name - Publius Cornelius Tacitus) was a Roman historian who lived from around AD 56 to around AD 120 (keep in mind that Jesus was crucified around AD 30, and that St. Paul’s letters (Galatians, Ephesians, etc.) were written between about AD 48 and AD 64).
Tacitus wrote a book called “Annals” in around AD 116. In one part of the book, Tacitus reports on the six-day Great Fire of Rome that burned much of the city in AD 64 during Emperor Nero’s reign.
Emperor Nero (statued below) (Roman emperor from AD 54 to AD 68) had decided to blame the Christians for the fire that had destroyed Rome in AD 64.
And Roman historian Tacitus (again, he is writing in AD 116, reporting on an event from AD 64) reports it like this:
Notice, first of all, that Tacitus reports that Christians derived their name from an historical person named Cristus (from the Latin Christ).
This Cristus is said to have suffered the extreme penalty (obviously referring to the Roman method of execution known as crucifixion).
So this is evidence, outside of the Bible, from an unsympathetic outside source, that there was a man named Jesus, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, in the 1st century AD, just as the Bible says.
For more information on Tacitus, check out this GREAT article by author Rob Bowman Jr. on the early extrabiblical references to Jesus:
Another important source for the validity of Jesus being worshipped as God, and the early Christians can be found in the letters from Pliny the Younger (real name - Gaius Plinius Caecillius Secundus) to Emperor Trajan.
Now Pliny the Younger (who lived from about AD 61-113) was the Roman governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor.
Emperor Trajan was a Roman emperor who reigned from about AD 98-113.
At one point in Pliny’s letter to Emperor Trajan (written between about AD 109 and AD 111), Pliny relates some of the information that he has learned about these Christians. He says:
This passage provides us with a number of interesting insights into the beliefs and practices of the early Christians.
If his interpretation is correct, Pliny understood that early Christians were worshipping an actual historical person (Jesus) as God.
Of course, this agrees perfectly with the New Testament doctrine that Jesus was both God and man.
Amongst many other divinity passages, in John 20:28, Thomas calls Jesus, "My Lord and My God".
If you would like more divinity passages, I have included a video here.
The Christian History Institute recounts the actual letters between Pliny and Emperor Trajan, and has many other informative resources as well here:
The Babylonian Talmud is a collection of Jewish rabbinical writings, and there are a few key references to Jesus in it.
In the case of the Talmud, the earliest period of compilation occurred between AD70 and AD200.
The most significant reference from the Jewish Babylonian Talmud to Jesus from this period states:
Now, you may have noticed that it refers to someone who is named, “Yeshu” so why do we think this is Jesus?
Actually, “Yeshu” or “Yeshua” is how Jesus’ name is pronounced in Hebrew.
But what does the passage mean by saying that Jesus was hanged? Doesn’t the New Testament say that Jesus was crucified?
Indeed it does.
But the term hanged can function as a term for crucified.
For instance, Galatians 3:13 declares that Jesus was hanged (or hung), and Luke 23:39 applies this term to the criminals who were crucified with Jesus.
The Babylonian Talmud is, of course, from an unsympathetic witness, who said that Jesus walked in power.
The problem is that Jesus’ so-called sorcery was not a couple magic tricks.
But this was Him healing the sick, casting out demons and raising the dead.
The passage also tells us why Jesus was crucified.
It says that he “practiced sorcery, and enticed Israel to apostasy”.
Since this accusation comes from a rather hostile source, we should not be surprised that Jesus is described a bit differently than he is in the New Testament.
But if we make allowances for this, what might this imply about Jesus?
They do not deny that he did miracles, they only disagree with the source of his power.
These miracles (healing the blind, raising the dead) are not the sort of events of sorcerers. Plus, Jesus’ ethical standards of not ever sinning in his life sort of defeat these arguments for sorcery.
The Talmud also declares that Jesus was crucified on the eve of Passover, just as the Bible tells us.
So that's 3 early and ancient NON-CHRISTIAN sources (Tacitus, Pliny the Younger and the Babylonian Talmud) who talk about Jesus, his power, Him being worshipped as God, crucified under Pontius Pilate (all confirming what the Bible says).
Here are 2 more for you.
Dr. Michael Brown is a fabulous resource for insight on the Talmud, and other Christian-related questions to Judaism.
Here is a great video from his website on the Talmud that will give you much more insightful information:
And for his YouTube page, where he has many more videos, go here:
In a passage written somewhere between AD 73 and AD 200, Mara Bar-Serapion (pictured above), who was a stoic philosopher from the Roman province of Syria, made these casual remarks about Jesus:
So here again, early on, we have here an historical account of Jesus being executed.
For further study on Mara Bar-Serapion, check out this article from the CHristian Apologetics Alliance:
Lucian of Samosata (pictured above) was a 2nd century Greek satirist. In one of his works, he wrote of the early Christians as follows:
Although Lucian does not mention his name, here is ANOTHER ancient work where he is clearly referring to Jesus.
But what did Jesus teach to arouse such wrath?
According to Lucian, he taught that “all men are brothers from the moment of their conversion”.
Well that’s harmless enough, but what did this conversion involve?
It involved denying the Greek gods (like the statue above), worshipping Jesus instead, and living according to his teachings.
It’s not too difficult to image someone being killed for teaching that. Since they denied other gods in order to worship Jesus, they apparently thought him a greater God than any Greece had to offer.
So if NO BIBLE ever existed, and all we had were these ancient NON-CHRISTIAN sources to go from, what would we know about Jesus?
Let’s summarize what we’ve learned about from this 5-part examination of non-Christian ancient sources.
First, Lucian of Samosata indicates that Jesus was wise.
Second, Pliny the Younger, the Talmud, and Lucian imply he was a powerful and revered teacher.
Third, the Talmud indicates that he performed miraculous feats.
Fourth, Tacitus, the Talmud and Lucian all mention that he was crucified.
Tacitus said this occurred under Pontius Pilate. And the Talmud indicates that this happened on the eve of Passover.
Much of this section was taken from the book, “Evidence for the Historical Jesus,” by Dr. Gary Habermas. Dr. Habermas is one of the, if not the, leading scholar on the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
You can find this e-book at GaryHabermas.com.
Another important evidence supporting Jesus' Divinity was the prophecies that He fulfilled.
It is absolutely astounding when you begin to track down each one, written sometimes hundreds of years before Jesus' earthly ministry.
Again, Dr. Michael Brown is a fantastic resource on this topic (mentioned above).
But how do we know that these prophecies were not written AFTER Jesus had already lived?
We know because the Dead Sea Scrolls find, which were scrolls of the Old Testament (including the prophecies about Jesus), and they were dated BEFORE Jesus showed up on the scene in the 1stcentury AD.
For more information on the Dead Sea Scrolls, check out our “21 Greatest Old Testament Biblical Archaeological Discoveries Ever” here:
From what town Jesus would be born to how He would die, from what family He would come from to the type of ministry that He would carry out, the prophecies about Jesus are dynamic and many are very detailed.
We talk about some of them in the video below.
So we know, from the extrabiblical evidence (again, that’s evidence outside the Bible) that Jesus existed, walked the earth and was crucified on a cross under Pontius Pilate in the 1st century AD.
So what now?
Well He rose from the dead.
I would like to say at the outset that liberal scholars don't even use alternatives to the resurrection anymore in formal debate, because they have all been debunked long ago.
But we will go through them anyways so that you will be able to know how to counter the arguments.
Because of the extrabiblical evidence for Jesus mentioned above, 99% of scholars, if not more, would say that there actually was a person named Jesus of Nazareth, who lived in the 1st century AD.
And probably 95% of all scholars (liberal and conservative) would agree that He was crucified on the cross under Pontius Pilate.
Again, not just because the Bible says it, but because of the extrabiblical references (references outside the Bible) to this by non-Christian sources (mentioned above).
So if we know He lived and walked the earth, and we know He was crucified on a cross, then that leaves the all-important question, "What happened to His body?"
The video below explains a bit further:
So as the video above discusses, within weeks of Jesus rising from the dead, there are literally thousands of Jews who have now become followers of Jesus, and all the Jewish leaders, or Roman leaders, had to do to silence this rebellion was to produce the body of Jesus.
But they couldn't, of course, because He rose from the dead bodily.
Well, someone may say, maybe He didn't rise up. Let's talk about some of the alternatives.
Maybe Jesus just hypnotized the disciples into thinking they had seen the risen Lord.
The problem with this theory is that Jesus didn't just show up to one person at a time.
He showed up to all the disciples at once, and hypnosis doesn't work in group settings, for people all have different experiences.
Plus, He showed up to over 500 people at once, again eliminating hypnosis as a viable option.
This video below explains this a bit.
Maybe Jesus never really died on the cross. Maybe He just swooned, or fainted, and so they took Him off the cross, and then He got up from the tomb, still alive.
The problem with this theory, firstly, is Jesus' flogging. Jesus was whipped and bloody. Before I proceed, watch this quick video on the whip used to flog Jesus.
Have you ever gotten a cut on the bottom of your foot? How does it feel to walk even a few steps on that foot?
Well let's play this out just for fun though.
So Swoon Theory says that Jesus was beaten and bleeding from his shoulders, down his back, passed his buttocks, and onto his thighs, and is laying there in a tomb for multiple days, without food or water.
Then somehow, He manages to get up, walk over to the 2-ton stone door, roll that away, still bleeding, walk out the door, fight off the Roman guards keeping watch, whose lives depended on them keeping watch, then walk miles to where His disciples were, and appear to them, and say, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, follow Me."
Can you imagine the disciples thinking to themselves, as He is bleeding all over the ground, "Wow, I really want that sort of resurrected body as well."
No, they would have said, "Get this guy a doctor!"
Here is a quick video which explains this absurdity.
Ok so let's move to the third alternative people like to try and propose, instead of the resurrection.
Maybe the disciples just stole the body, and told everyone that He rose from the dead.
The problem with this theory is that the disciples would not die for a lie. Would you?
If you knew something was a lie (something that you made up), and someone was about to kill you for it, would you stick to your lie?
Doubtful. Additionally, this doesn't explain the conversions of St. Paul, and James the brother of Jesus (who did not believe in Jesus as the Son of God until after He rose from the dead).
Here is a quick video that discusses this point.
We had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Gary Habermas (interviewed by my good friend Alex Blagojevic, from FaithThinkers.org) and Dr. Habermas ran through his famous, "Minimal Facts" argument.
Here is the video from that interview:
If you want an excellent resource on who Jesus (the Son of God) was, both in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament, I highly recommend you check out the book, Putting Jesus in His Place, by Rob Bowman Jr., and J Ed Komoszewski.
We have more information on this topic and other Apologetics topics at WelcomeToTruth.com.
Now let me turn it over to you: Which extrabiblical reference were you most impressed with? Was it Pliny the Younger's letters to Emperor Trajan, talking about the early Christians worshipping Jesus as God, or Tacitus referring to Jesus being crucified under Pontius Pilate?
Let me know in the comments section below.
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