Historical Proof for the Existence of Jesus (Powell)

 Some of us might have friends, family, or colleagues that reject Christianity.  There are many reasons people reject the Christian faith – that’s a huge topic!  One reason (humanly speaking) that people reject Christianity is because they don’t believe it has any solid historical basis.  They may view the stories of the Bible as myth or a twisted form of history.  Or they might not believe that Jesus of Nazareth really existed.

If you know someone who doubts the existence of Jesus, it might be helpful to show this skeptic some historical evidence that proves as much.  Using tact, love, and proper timing, proving the historicity of Jesus might cause a skeptic to doubt his or her doubt.  On this topic, Doug Powell gives some helpful notes.  He gives proof of Jesus’ existence from some ancient texts that are neither Christian nor pro-Christian:

Here’s an excerpt from the Roman historian Tacitus (d. 117AD) which mentions Christ and Christians:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. 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 not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.

Here’s a letter from Pliny the Younger to Emperor Trajan written around 110AD:

I have asked them if they are Christians and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and a third time, with a warning of the punishment awaiting them. If they persist, I order them to be led away for execution; for, whatever the nature of their admission, I am convinced that their stubbornness and their unshakable obstinancy ought not to go unpunished.… They also declared that the sum total of their guilt or error amounted to no more than this: that they had met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately among themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god, and also to bind themselves by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery, and adultery.… This made me decide it was all the more necessary to extract the truth by torture of two slave-women, whom they call deaconesses. I found nothing but a degenerate sort of cult carried to extravagant lengths.

Finally, here are some words from the second century Greek writer Lucian:

(Christians) still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.… The poor wretches have convinced themselves, first and foremost, that they are going to be immortal and live for all time, in consequence of which they despise death and even willingly give themselves into custody; most of them. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another after they have transgressed once, for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshipping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws. Therefore they despise all things indiscriminately and consider them common property, receiving such doctrines traditionally without any definite evidence.

Powell then summarized these early sources proving the historicity of Christ and early Christianity:

Just from the… citations quoted above we see that Jesus was a real person who lived in Palestine during the time of Tiberius and Pontius Pilate. He had a reputation for working wonders and teaching radical doctrine. He was worshiped as God. His followers met on a certain day of the week and exhibited an extreme devotion, even to the point of enduring torture and welcoming death. There was a communal culture that cared for the welfare of all believers. His followers were bound by oath to adhere to a high ethical standard.

All of these things, written by neutral parties at best, corroborate the New Testament. And many other ancient non-Christian writings join these in supporting the history documented in the New Testament.

Doug Powell, Holman QuickSource Guide to Christian Apologetics (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2006), 167.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015