Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Common Objection #16 - "We know nothing about Jesus outside of the New Testament."

Critics often claim that we know nothing about Jesus outside of the New Testament. I believe this claim is often the result of assumption and not investigation.
What follows is a summary of the data we have regarding Jesus outside of the New Testament from non-Christian sources.
There exist 17 known non-Christian sources that were written within 100-150 years of Jesus life which is excellent for ancient history. [1]

They are as follows:

Ancient Historians

Government Officials
Pliny the Younger
Emperor Trajan
Emperor Hadrian

Other Jewish Sources
The Talmud
Toledoth Jesu

Other Gentile Sources
Mara Bar-Serapion

Gnostic Sources

The Gospel of Truth
The Apocryphon of John
The Gospel of Thomas
The Treatise on Resurrection

Other Lost Works
Acts of Pontius Pilate- recorded as actual documents by Justin Martyr (ca. AD 150) and Tertullian (ca. AD 200). Both agree that it was an official document of Rome.
Phlegon- Phlegon’s work is not longer in existence and we depend on others for our information. [2]

What facts about Jesus do these ancient non-Christian sources report?

Here are just 12 of them:

1. Jesus lived during the time of Tiberius Caesar.
2. He lived a virtuous life.
3. He was a wonder-worker.
4. He had a brother named James.
5. He was acclaimed to be the Messiah.
6. He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
7. He was crucified on the eve of the Jewish Passover.
8. Darkness and an earthquake occurred when he died.
9. His disciples believed he rose from the dead.
10. His disciples were willing to die for their belief.
11. Christianity spread rapidly as far as Rome.
12. His disciples denied the Roman gods and worshiped Jesus as God. [3]

Please note that these facts are completely consistent with what the New Testament documents report concerning Christ.


From these non-Christian sources, we know more than 60 facts of the life of Jesus from outside the New Testament.

For those interested in examining more of these facts, please see here.

For readers interested in exploring the historical evidence for Jesus more in-depth, I recommend Gary Habermas' The Historical Jesus and/or Mike Licona's The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.

To view the other common objections we have dealt with, go here.

Courage and Godspeed,


1. Dr. Gary Habermas, Lecture: The Historical Jesus, Biola University.
2. Dr. Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus, p. 187-228.
3. Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, p. 222-223.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your great work, your site is really helpful.
Would you please help me to deal with one more objection - I have never faced it before. It is here: http://www.halfsigma.com/2011/07/why-am-i-writing-about-christianity.html
"Christianity was probably started by Hellenized Jews living in Anatolia, Greece, or Rome (while Latin was the language of Rome, the educated people also spoke and read Greek). Don’t believe that Christianity began in Palestine just because it says so in the New Testament. If you are living in Rome and want to make up a religion, it makes sense to create a fake founder who lives in Palestine, because none of your followers have the means to go to Palestine and check out the story."
What do you think of it? I am not skilled anough to answer that.
Thank you in advance.
God bless.

RichardLuciano1 said...

Unfortunately many agnostics and atheists can't understand how much their denial that Jesus ever existed hurts their credibility. No matter how much of a scholar one might try to come across, I am hard pressed to find a more uneducated objection. It's an extraordinary objection that goes beyond a lack of belief. It reveals their hope and intent to not believe or be objective.

Fatboy73 said...

What many believers don't understand is that it doesn't matter if he existed or not.It's not a trump card or an ace up the sleeve.It means that if he existed,great there was a guy named Jesus with the title of Christ that founded a belief system...WHOOPEEE! welcome to the club.Am I supposed to take on faith that because Jesus existed everything else must be true as well?
I will agree that way too many atheist or anti-theist put way too much time and effort debating something that just doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things.

Chad said...

Hello Fatboy73,

Welcome and thank you for taking the time to comment.

You wrote:

What many believers don't understand is that it doesn't matter if he existed or not.

Respectfully, the above statement strikes me as bizarre and a bit misguided at best.

If Jesus existed then it is at least possible that He did those things recorded in the New Testament documents.

If Jesus didn’t existed then it is clearly impossible that He did those things recorded in the New Testament documents. So clearly it matters.

Further, the focus of this post was to answer the objection that no sources for Jesus exist outside the New Testament.

Surely to sustain the other claims of Christ more arguments and evidence would be necessary. This seems to me obvious. However, to extract from this post that all the other claims of Christ must be accepted if Jesus existed has not been implied nor suggested.

Finally, neither RichardLuciano1 nor myself suggested or asserted that proving the existence of Jesus was any kind of “trump card” and until proven otherwise it seems that you are merely attacking a straw-man here.

With Sincere Respect

Fatboy73 said...

Hi Chad,
As far as the question of divinity goes it doesn't matter if he existed or not because it doesn't prove anything one way or the other,so I stick with my original statement.

If Jesus existed then it is at least possible that He did those things recorded in the New Testament documents.
By that line of reasoning there's the possibility that the fantastic elements of the Iliad and the Odyssey are true as well.

As an atheist I've done as much internet research as I can on the "did Jesus really exist" question
because it fascinated me and bothered me as well.I will freely admit that when it comes to the subject it appears that a lot of atheists indeed stick their fingers in their ears and yell LA LA LA LA trying to ignore or dismiss the facts as they stand.
For me one of the hard ones to get around was the fact that Josephus mentions what we suppose is the fictional Hercules multiple times in his Antiquities and Annals as well as Jesus.But upon further research finding out that in the context of what he was talking about,Hercules was most likely referring to the title that was bestowed upon African men and women who displayed qualities and behavior that promoted truth and nobility.
The fact that I have never heard that mentioned before when discrediting Josephus made me wonder if the rest wasn't just blatant misdirection as well.
So again,Jesus may well have existed historically but but as you stated it would take a lot more to prove his divinity.

Chad said...

Hello Ingvar,

I appreciate your encouragement and I am grateful that you have found the blog helpful!

I apologize for taking some time to publish and respond to your comment but it was: 1. Sent to my spam folder for some reason 2. a comment that I wanted to think about.

I would answer this objection as follows:

An assertion does not equal an argument. Or, to put it another way, it is very easy to make up a story when you don’t have any facts to deal with. I would respectfully ask your friend or acquaintance what first century evidence he has to support his story.

Further, I would challenge him with the historical facts we do know about the life of Jesus, particularly the ones surrounding his death and resurrection. Here is a good place to start or I have blogged on the matter in the past here.

I would encourage you to remember that regardless of the persons worldview, we are all examining the same evidence when it comes to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The question then that follows is, “Who’s worldview best explains the evidence we do have?”

I hope you have found this helpful.


JR said...

The very first source you cite does not make the claim of a historical Jesus.
From Tacitus:

[15.44] Such indeed were the precautions of human wisdom. The next thing was to seek means of propitiating the gods, and recourse was had to the Sibylline books, by the direction of which prayers were offered to Vulcanus, Ceres, and Proserpina. Juno, too, was entreated by the matrons, first, in the Capitol, then on the nearest part of the coast, whence water was procured to sprinkle the fane and image of the goddess. And there were sacred banquets and nightly vigils celebrated by married women. But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. 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 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, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. 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. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being destroyed.

You will note it only refers to Christ as the root word of Christians. Here there are only the actions of Christians documented, not Christ's actions. It provides evidence of Christians. Can you provide me with a source where Christ's acts are historically documented. Tacitus refers to Christ as a ”mischievous superstition” in this document?

Chad said...

Hello JR,

I hope you are well and thank you for commenting.

First off, I would like to clarify that the modest goal of this post is to demonstrate that facts about the life of Jesus Christ can be known apart from the biblical record.

Second, you wrote The very first source you cite does not make the claim of a historical Jesus

Here, you seem to have overlooked 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…

Can you provide me with a source where Christ's acts are historically documented.

First, I would offer the New Testament documents. I have found them to be reliable for reasons such as this.

However, I believe you are asking if such evidence exists from the non-Christian sources cited in this post? If this is the case, I would refer you to on example that comes to mind, the Jewish Talmud; which says the following about Jesus (here, Yeshua, Jesus’ name pronounced in Hebrew):

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."

As author Michael Gleghorn points out:

Let's examine this passage. You may have noticed that it refers to someone 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 he was crucified? Indeed it does. But the term "hanged" can function as a synonym for "crucified." For instance, Galatians 3:13 declares that Christ was "hanged", and Luke 23:39 applies this term to the criminals who were crucified with Jesus. So the Talmud declares that Jesus was crucified on the eve of Passover. But what of the cry of the herald that Jesus was to be stoned? This may simply indicate what the Jewish leaders were planning to do. If so, Roman involvement changed their plans!

The passage also tells us why Jesus was crucified. It claims He practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy! Since this accusation comes from a rather hostile source, we should not be too surprised if Jesus is described somewhat differently than in the New Testament. But if we make allowances for this, what might such charges imply about Jesus?

Interestingly, both accusations have close parallels in the canonical gospels. For instance, the charge of sorcery is similar to the Pharisees' accusation that Jesus cast out demons "by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons."  But notice this: such a charge actually tends to confirm the New Testament claim that Jesus performed miraculous feats. Apparently Jesus' miracles were too well attested to deny. The only alternative was to ascribe them to sorcery! Likewise, the charge of enticing Israel to apostasy parallels Luke's account of the Jewish leaders who accused Jesus of misleading the nation with his teaching. Such a charge tends to corroborate the New Testament record of Jesus' powerful teaching ministry. Thus, if read carefully, this passage from the Talmud confirms much of our knowledge about Jesus from the New Testament.

Finally, please see here for a comprehensive look at the non-Christian sources for Jesus. I would also recommend Dr. Habermas’ book The Historical Jesus.

I hope this reply was helpful to you.



1. http://www.probe.org/site/apps/nlnet/content.aspx?c=fdKEIMNsEoG&b=4282487&ct=5516783&notoc=1