Is the Bible the only historical evidence that Jesus called the Christ
ever lived on earth?
Communists taught that Jesus never even existed. Are Christians foolishly
relying on a made-up story about a Jesus that never even existed? Do Christians
believe that Jesus exists or existed only because “the Bible says so” or
are there other reasons for believing in Jesus’ existence?
Well, actually, Jesus is mentioned by early historians who were not
Christians. Let’s see what we can learn from them about Jesus.
1. Josephus – a Pharisee and Jewish historian
Writing about Ananias, a high priest mentioned in the Book of Acts in
the Bible, Josephus, the most significant Jewish historian of the
“He convened a meeting of the Sanhedrin and brought before them a man
named James, the brother of Jesus, who was called the Christ, and certain
others. He accused them of having transgressed the law and delivered them
up to be stoned.” (Josephus, The Antiquities 20.200)
The Bible teaches that Mary had other sons after she bore Jesus. One
of them was James. According to the New Testament, James did not even believe
in Jesus before his crucifixion. Paul, in 1 Corinthians, says that Jesus
appeared to James. It seems that this made a believer out of James. This
passage from Josephus confirms important details in the New Testament and
directly mentions Jesus, called the Christ.
Remember that not all Jews liked Jesus, and Josephus was not a Christian.
He was known as an accurate historian. We have evidence then, apart from
the Bible, that Jesus really did exist as a historical person, and that
some called him ‘the Christ’, which is a Greek translation of the Hebrew
word Mashiach, or Messiah.
2. Tacitus – A Roman Historian
In A.D. 115, Tacitus, the most important Roman historian of the first
century, wrote as follows:
“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 Tiberias 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 Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even
in Rome … Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty:
then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so
much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind” (Tacitus,
It is clear from this passage that Tacitus was no friend of the Christians.
He called Christianity a ‘mischievous superstition’. But at the same time,
he tells us the following:
1. Christ was crucified under Pontius Pilate, who was known of to Roman
This is totally consistent with the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and
John on this point and is in fact part of the apostles creed – an important
Christian statement of faith of the early church.
2. This happened during the reign of Tiberias (i.e. a time consistent
with the A.D. 33 date which is the year most likely to have been the year
of the crucifixion).
3. Christ’s crucifixion briefly stopped the spread of Christianity (‘for
a moment’) but then it broke out again from Judea and spread even to Rome.
Its clear that Christianity started amongst JEWS.
4. Already an immense multitude believed in Jesus by the time of Nero
and were arrested for their faith by Nero.
3. Pliny the Younger
Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia, wrote as follows to the
Emporer Trajan around 111 A.D.
“I have asked them if they are Christians, and if they admit it, I repeat
the question a second and 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 stubborness
and unshakable obstinacy 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 met regularly before dawn on a fixed day
to chant verses alternately amongst 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 from two slave-women, whom they called deaconesses. I found
nothing but a degenerate sort of cult carried to extravagant lengths.”
– Pliny the Younger, Letters
This letter, this time from a persecutor of the church, shows us that
the Christians by the early second century most definitely considered Christ
to be a god, if not God.
4. Other Jewish Writers
The Talmud is a collection of writings very important in Judaism. It
mentions Jesus, but not favorably. According to the Talmud, Jesus was a
false Messiah, who practiced magic and deceived the people. He was called
a sorcerer. This corroborates the accounts of the gospels that Jesus did
many supernatural signs and wonders – like healing the sick, feeding the
five thousand with a few loaves and fishes and so on.
If we are to believe historians and writers hostile to Christianity
who lived around the time of Christ or the early church, then Jesus really
did exist. Furthermore, belief in Him was so strong amongst even a multitude
of people that He was worshipped as God. He did supernatural things amongst
the Jewish people, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate according to
Tacitus, and was believed by many to be the Christ.
If we can believe anything in history we should believe these reports
by the detractors of Christianity. They effectively put to rest the ideas,
popularised by some, that Jesus of Nazareth never really existed, or if
he did, the stories that went around about Him and who He was were not
believed until much later.