The Historical Argument represents the sixth step in Logic & Light’s systematic case for the Christian God. It seeks to demonstrate, using sound historical facts from both biblical and extra-biblical testimony, that Jesus was divine and actually resurrected after His crucifixion. If the fact of Jesus’ resurrection is established, then Christianity is, without a doubt, true. We have addressed one form of the Historical Argument previously (Six Facts About Jesus: Part I, Part II, Part III), but we will cover a bit more ground here.
The Biblical Record
Some will claim that the Bible cannot be used as evidence to support the truth of Christianity because it is a biased, if not mostly fictional, source of information. The default position of this group is to view the Bible with skepticism and to side with non-biblical sources anytime there is a disagreement between the two. However, this perspective is flawed for numerous reasons.
First, “the Bible” is not one source of information. The New Testament alone consists of 27 separate books by 8-9 different, largely independent, authors depending on who we assume wrote Hebrews. If we are objective, we cannot simply dismiss all of them as unreliable out of hand.
Secondly, as we have covered, the biblical documents have a strong record of reliability where they can be verified. Over 25,000 archaeological sites in biblical lands have largely verified the Bible and never proven an error. If the Bible has been repeatedly confirmed in the areas where we can verify it, we should give it the benefit of the doubt in those areas that have not yet been confirmed. Below is a sampling of quotes from famous archaeologists regarding the Bible’s reliability:
“It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference.” Nelson Glueck, renowned Jewish archaeologist1
“There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of the Old Testament tradition.” Dr. Millar Burrows2 of Yale, a leading scholar on the Dead Sea Scrolls
“The excessive skepticism shown toward the Bible by important historical schools of the eighteenth- and nineteenth centuries, certain phases of which still appear periodically, has been progressively discredited. Discovery after discovery has established the accuracy of innumerable details, and has brought increased recognition to the value of the Bible as a source of history.” WF Albright, renowned archaeologist3
“Luke is an historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy…this author should be placed along with the greatest of historians…Luke’s story is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness.” Sir William Ramsay, famous Scottish archaeologist4
Regarding Jesus’ resurrection, the Biblical record is clear and consistent. All four gospels proclaim Jesus’ divinity (either explicitly or implicitly) and His resurrection. Likewise, Paul, John, and Peter explicitly do so as well. James does not specifically mention Jesus’ divinity in his epistle, but he does refer to Jesus as “Lord” and “Christ” numerous times (James 1:1, 2:1) which strongly implies it and he refers to himself as a “slave” of Jesus. Similarly, Jude does the same (vs. 1, 4, 17, 21, 25), going so far as to call Jesus “our only Master and Lord.” Given these facts, we have 6 biblical authors (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter) that explicitly testify to Jesus’ resurrection and 8 (adding James and Jude) to His divinity.
Unbeknownst to many, there is also much testimony about Jesus in secular, non-biblical sources. Taken in totality, this testimony confirms that Jesus lived, was viewed as a prophet, did amazing or unexplainable things, was crucified, potentially resurrected, and was viewed as divine. Excerpts from some of these writings are below:
Josephus, Jewish Historian (ca. 37-101 AD)
Josephus is a very important and well-known first century historian and his writings include several references to Jesus. The most detailed is known as the Testimonium Flavianum and is found is his Jewish history called The Jewish Antiquities. This writing records many facts about Jesus including His status as a prophet/Christ, His miracles, and His supposed resurrection.
It is important to note some scholars dispute the text. We no longer have the original autograph of Antiquities, but only Greek copies. Some scholars claim that while it is generally genuine, it was corrupted with later “interpolations” or insertions added by Christians to lend credibility to Jesus. However, no Greek copy without these supposed interpolations has been found. Below is the reference to Jesus in the Testimonium with the potential interpolations underlined:
“About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.”5
It is important to note that even if we remove the contested passages, Josephus still confirms Jesus lived, taught, performed “surprising feats,” and was crucified under Pontius Pilate. Consequently, it is one of the most important non-biblical references to Jesus.
In addition, in 1971, an Arabic copy of the Testimonium was discovered. This version of the text largely agrees with the Greek copies we have, including many of the supposed interpolations. Since this copy is less likely to have been “corrupted” by Christians, it lends further credibility to Josephus’ testimony. The Arabic version is shown below:
“At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. Many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.”6
Finally, Josephus also references “James, the brother of Jesus, called the Christ” in Antiquities. This passage is much less controversial among scholars and also confirms Jesus’ existence and supposed position as Messiah.
Tacitus (Roman historian, ca. 56-120 AD)
Tacitus confirms Jesus’ crucifixion when he states “Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out…7
Pliny the Younger (Roman lawyer, author, magistrate, ca. 61-113 AD)
Pliny confirms early Christians viewed Jesus as divine when he writes to Emperor Trajan “they were in the habit of meeting on a certain 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 do any wicked deeds…”8
Lucian (Greek satirist, ca. 125-180 AD)
Lucian, describing Christians, confirms Jesus was crucified and that His followers believed Him to be divine and capable of providing eternal life when he wrote “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day, the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account…You see, these misguided creatures, start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them…”9
Celsus (2nd century Greek philosopher)
Celsus confirms that Jesus performed unexplainable feats when he writes “It was by means of sorcery that He was able to accomplish the wonders which He performed.” Celsus also refutes Jesus’ miraculous virgin birth by claiming Mary committed adultery and “she bore a child to a certain (Roman) soldier named Panthera.”10 By doing so, he at least acknowledges there was some controversy surrounding Jesus’ conception that needed to be answered.
(NOTE: Celsus’ original text has been lost. His work is known through quotes by 2nd-3rd century church father Origen in his rebuttal of Celsus’ arguments)
Talmud (Collection of Jewish Rabbinic writings on a variety of subjects, 2nd-3rd centuries)
As a collection of Jewish writings, much of what the Talmud says of Jesus (or “Yeshu,” an Aramaic translation) is negative and derogatory. However, it does confirm His existence and accuses Him of false teaching and “sorcery,” providing evidence of unexplained deeds. It also confirms His execution.11
In total, we have strong and consistent historical documentation supporting Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The biblical record, from multiple close or eyewitness sources, clearly testifies to Jesus’ divinity and resurrection. The non-biblical record also confirms that Jesus did amazing and/or unexplained feats, was thought of as divine, was crucified, and was believed to have resurrected. The fact that non-Christian sources confirm these statements is very telling.
- McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Thomas Nelson 1999. 61
- Ibid, Pg. 372
- Ibid, Pg. 61
- Ibid, Pg. 61
- Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ. Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan 1998. 79-80.
- McDowell, Josh. Cit. Pg. 57
- Ibid, Pg. 55
- Ibid, Pg. 58
- Ibid, Pg. 59
- “Celsus as Quoted by Origen.” http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/celsus.html
- McDowell, Josh. Cit. Pg. 58