Christianity on Trial (Extra-Biblical Evidence)

In the world today there are so many religions that claim to be exclusively true. This in fact should cause any rational being to ask the question- ‘Are they all true, all false or one true?’. Now from the last article- ‘All False, All True, One True?’ I think we can concede that the statement- ‘All Religions are true’-in the sense that they all teach the same thing is blatantly illogical and is not up for discussion. Ravi Zacharias a Christian apologist states and I’ll paraphrase-

“All religions are at best similar superficially and fundamentally different”

As for ‘All false’ and ‘One True’, proving either to be true automatically disproves the other. I’ll start by giving evidence for the latter ‘One True’. Which I believe to be Christianity.

I lay no claim to being an expert on world religions but from my basic study of world religions I’ve come to the conclusion that of all the world religions, Christianity is one of the easiest religions to disprove or prove, and I’ll tell you why. This is mainly because the entire fate of Christianity rests on the legitimacy of the claims and person that is Jesus Christ. All you have to do is prove that his claims were either true or false to either prove or disprove Christianity respectively. Christianity is about Jesus, his claims, and his deeds. He fulfilled prophecy, claimed to be God in flesh, performed many miracles, died, and physically rose from the dead. It is based on him and is only as true as he is true.

Before I began typing up this article, my aim was to use only biblical evidence to prove why Christianity is true. However, after much thought I felt that for you the non-believing reader it might not wash (me trying to use the bible to defend a faith based on bible) and this is not because the Bible is an unreliable piece of historical material, far from it! In fact, the opposite is the case. Majority of bible scholars recognize the historical accuracy the Bible demonstrates. I want to emphasize that I am not talking about evangelical or conservative scholars only, but about the broad spectrum of New Bible critics who teach at secular universities and non-evangelical seminaries. Two of the greatest 20th-century archaeologists, William F. Albright and Nelson Glueck, both praised the Bible (even though they were non-Christian and secular in their personal beliefs) as being the single most accurate source document from history. Over and over again, the Bible has been found to be accurate in its places, dates, and records of events. No other “religious” document comes even close. The 19th-century critics used to deny the historicity of the Hittites, the Horites, the Edomites, and various other peoples, nations, and cities mentioned in the Bible and I could go on. The names of over 40 different kings of various countries mentioned in the Bible have all been found in contemporary documents and inscriptions outside of the Old Testament, and are always consistent with the times and places associated with them in the Bible. Very few critics dare to question the geographical and ethnological reliability of the Bible. Nothing exists in ancient literature that has been even remotely as well-confirmed in accuracy as has the Bible.

I will begin with the non-biblical evidence supporting the legitimacy of the person of Jesus Christ and his claims as described in the Bible.

  1. Roman Historian, Tacitus.

Let’s start with a passage that historian Edwin Yamauchi calls “probably the most important reference to Jesus outside the New Testament.”[1] Reporting on Emperor Nero’s decision to blame the Christians for the fire that had destroyed Rome in 64A.D., the Roman historian Tacitus wrote:

“Nero fastened the guilt … 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 … Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome…” [2]

What can we deduce from this ancient reference to Jesus Christ and the early Christians? As explained perfectly by Michael Gleghorn a theologist;

“Notice, first, that Tacitus reports Christians derived their name from a historical person called Christus (from the Latin), or Christ. He is said to have “suffered the extreme penalty,” obviously alluding to the Roman method of execution known as crucifixion. This is said to have occurred during the reign of Tiberius and by the sentence of Pontius Pilatus. This confirms much of what the Gospels tell us about the death of Jesus.” [3]

Furthermore, what can we make of Tacitus’ puzzling statement- “a most mischievous superstition”. I strongly believe he was referring to the early Christians conviction that Christ was crucified and rose from the grave. While this is purely speculative, it seems to me to be the best explanation for the unexpected rapid growth of a religion based on the worship of a man who had been crucified as a criminal.

  1. Evidence from the Babylonian Talmud

Then we have the evidence from the Babylonian Talmud- a collection of Jewish rabbinical writings compiled between approximately A.D. 70-500. The most significant reference to Jesus from this period states:

“On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald … cried, “He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy.”[4]

This passage also refers to Yeshu (Hebrew equivalent for Jesus) being hanged- the equivalent for crucifixion. For instance, in the Bible Galatians 3:13 declares that Christ was “hanged”, and Luke 23:39 applies this term to the criminals who were crucified with Jesus. It also tells why Jesus Christ was crucified he “practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy”. It’s very obvious from the text that the writer was not a believer, considering the hostility shown.  Interestingly, both accusations have close parallels to the canonical gospels. The charge of sorcery is similar to the Pharisees’ accusation that Jesus cast out demons “by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons”-Matthew 12:24. Thus, if read carefully, this passage from the Talmud confirms much of our knowledge about Jesus from the New Testament.

There at least 3 other ancient sources which provide non-biblical evidence for the person of Jesus as described in the bible. From the ‘Jewish Antiquities’ by Josephus (a Jewish historian), to the writings of Lucian of Samosata (a second century Greek satirist) and finally the letters of Pliny (the Roman governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor). Michael Gleghorn a theologist comments;

“Both Josephus and Lucian indicate that Jesus was regarded as wise. Second, Pliny, the Talmud, and Lucian imply He was a powerful and revered teacher. Third, both Josephus and the Talmud indicate He performed miraculous feats. Fourth, Tacitus, Josephus, the Talmud, and Lucian all mention that He was crucified. Tacitus and Josephus say this occurred under Pontius Pilate. And the Talmud declares it happened on the eve of Passover. Fifth, there are possible references to the Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection in both Tacitus and Josephus. Sixth, Josephus records that Jesus’ followers believed He was the Christ, or Messiah. And finally, both Pliny and Lucian indicate that Christians worshipped Jesus as God! [3]

I hope that you see that from this list of non-biblical sources the account of Jesus Christ given in the Bible can be corroborated. There are many more evidences.

Please leave your comments and likes, I’d really like to what you think about this.

 References

  1. Edwin Yamauchi, quoted in Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), 82.
  2. Tacitus, Annals 15.44, cited in Strobel, The Case for Christ, 82.
  3. Michael Gleghorn. (). Ancient Evidence for Jesus from Non-Christian Sources. Available: http://www.bethinking.org/jesus/ancient-evidence-for-jesus-from-non-christian-sources. Last accessed 1st Aug 2016
  4. The Babylonian Talmud, transl. by I. Epstein (London: Soncino, 1935), vol. III, Sanhedrin 43a, 281, cited in Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 203.
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4 thoughts on “Christianity on Trial (Extra-Biblical Evidence)

  1. Pingback: Christianity on Trial (Biblical Evidence) |

  2. Pingback: Q&A: The Bible is a Fake! |

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