Although almost every other major religion out there acknowledges that Jesus really did live, there are still some people who insist that He is a fairy tale, like a mythological legend from ancient history. And many believe that the Bible – while a good book – was written just by men, not really God-inspired.
When trying to reason with people who think like this, many Christians try to cite Bible verses to “close the argument,” acting like simply quoting a Bible verse should convince everyone of God’s Truth. But since many people, including atheists, don’t believe the Bible is true, they do not want to hear the Bible being used to prove the validity of the Bible and the fact that Jesus lived. That’s “circular reasoning,” using the Bible to validate the Bible.
This is why it’s important to be able to refer to extra-biblical sources that show that Jesus really did live and that Scripture is reliable. So what I am going to do here is give a quick overview of some extra-biblical support for the existence of Jesus and the validity of the Bible. (This is my paraphrase of information mostly from Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ, and Josh McDowell’s book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict.)
(Yet no matter how much support or “proof” there is, many people will still choose to ignore it or deny it. And that is their right. And they will be held accountable to God for it, not to us. It’s not our job to force them to see the light; it’s just our job to reflect it.)
Extra-biblical Support for Jesus:
There are several first- and second-century historians who refer to Jesus:
Josephus (born a few years after Jesus’ death) refers to both James and Jesus in one of his writings, The Antiquities. In it, he talks about how the high priest had James killed and how Jesus was known as “the Christ.”
Tacitus was a first-century Roman historian who refers to Nero’s persecution of Christians and the death of Jesus (whom he called Christus, from whom Christians get their name) at the hands of Pontius Pilate.
Another first-century historian, Thallus, refers to the day that the earth went dark (when Jesus was crucified and darkness came over the land), calling it an eclipse. This event is also recorded by Phlegon (a Greek author), who says that there was also a great earthquake at the same time.
Pliny the Younger, a Roman, refers to the Christians whom he had arrested and executed. (I am paraphrasing what Pliny wrote around 111 A.D. It’s referenced in Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ.) He talks about how dedicated they were to their belief in Jesus Christ (treating Him as their God) and how they shared Bible verses with each other and vowed to abstain from sins. Then he talks about how he was sure that they must be guilty of something more evil than that, that they must be hiding something darker. This is why he has them tortured, to get them to confess to what’s really going on (what he thinks is really going on).
Suetonius, a Roman historian from 120 A.D., refers to “Chrestus” (another spelling for Christus, which is another name for Christ) and how He caused the Jews to create disturbances.
Lucian of Samsota was not a historian but a satirist in the second century. He refers to Jesus’ crucifixion and calls Jesus a cult-leader.
In addition to these historical writers who referenced Jesus, there are early Christians from the first and second century who referenced Jesus and the disciples, but whose writings were not part of the Bible. Some of these writers even knew the people of the New Testament.
- Ignatius (martyred for his faith, knew all the apostles, and was a disciple of Polycarp)
- Polycarp (a disciple of John and martyred for his faith)
- Clement of Rome from 95 A.D., affirmed the validity of the Bible
- Irenaeus (martyred, disciple of John)
- Papias/Eusebius (Papius got writings from John, which referred to John, Mark, Peter, Matthew, and Jesus. And Eusebius preserved the writings.)
Historical Christians and non-Christians alike attest to the fact that Jesus was real (as well as the disciples). And as I said, so do most other religions.
So the question is not “Did Jesus live?”
The question is “Who was Jesus?”
Jesus was crucified because He put Himself on the same level as God. And throughout His ministry, He called Himself the only way to God.
People who don’t believe that He is God, that He is Christ, want to at least say that He was a “good, wise teacher,” maybe even a “prophet.” But what good, wise teacher would tell people that He was God and that He was the only way to salvation if He really wasn’t. That’s not “good” or “wise.” That’s despicable.
People cannot call Him a good, wise person if they won’t also call Him God and Christ. Because if He knew that He wasn’t God but told people He was then He was a deceiving liar. And if He didn’t know He was God but thought He was then He was a delusional schizophrenic.
The only other option is that He was telling the truth, that He told people He was God because He is God.
These are the only three options we have when figuring out who Jesus was: Liar, Schizophrenic, or truly the Son of God, the Christ. But we cannot patronize Him by calling Him “good and wise” unless we also admit that He was telling the truth.
Support for the Validity of the Bible:
Time Gap – The writings of other religions have a much greater gap of time between when the founder of the religion lived and when his teachings were written down, oftentimes hundreds of years.
Such as (according to The Case for Christ), Buddha lived in the 500s B.C., but his life and teachings weren’t written down until after Jesus’ time. And Muhammad’s teachings of the Qur’an (Koran) were not written down until a century after his death. And yet these writings are still considered reliable and authentic, even though they were written down long after the founders died.
The Bible, however, has the shortest amount of time between Jesus’ life and when the Scriptures were written down, ensuring accuracy and reliability. The books of the New Testament were written between 40-100 A.D., within a hundred years of Jesus’ death. And many of them were written by the very people whom knew Jesus personally. But even Paul, who never met Jesus when He was alive on earth, wrote his books within a few decades (in general) of Jesus’ death, when he could still talk to those who did know Him personally.
Accurate Facts - Time and time again, the events, people, and places of the Bible have been proven to be accurate by archeological research, further confirming the Bible’s credibility. (You can look up some of the details for yourself online or in Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ, or Josh McDowell’s book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict.)
Number of Copies – The Bible has more extant manuscript copies (ancient copies of the original writings) in existence than any other historical writing, further supporting its authenticity and accuracy.
According to Josh McDowell, there are over 24,000 manuscript copies of parts of the New Testament in existence. I am not saying that they have made 24,000 copies of the New Testament on modern printers, but that they have found over 24,000 copies of sections of the New Testament which were written way back when. And they all affirm the message and accuracy of the Bible.
The ancient writing with the second highest amount of copies out there is the Iliad, which has only 643 copies. The Bible far surpasses any other historical writing when it comes to the amount of ancient copies in existence.
We can also compare the Iliad and the New Testament by the “time gap.” The Iliad was created in 900 B.C., but the earliest copy is dated 400 B.C. A five hundred year gap of time between when Homer composed it and when the earliest surviving copy was written down.
However, the New Testament, as I said, was composed between 40-100 A.D. and the earliest surviving copy is dated 125 A.D., which is about an average of 55 years.
This is all evidence from outside the Bible that supports its validity and reliability and the existence of Jesus. However, you could go further and bring up arguments like:
1. Some people say that the disciples stole Jesus’ body from the tomb and hid it, in order to make it look like He rose again. And some say that He never really died on the cross but only appeared to be dead. They say that the cool tomb revived Him, that He let Himself out of the tomb by rolling away a giant rock that blocked the exit, and that He made it past a Roman guard (after He had just been whipped to shreds and hung on a cross and stabbed in the heart by a soldier and nearly died).
But if anyone would know if Jesus was a fake, that His body was hidden, or that He was still in a beaten-up body and didn’t rise again, it would be the disciples. Yet, history says that most of the disciples were martyred.
Would you be willing to be martyred for a lie, if you knew that He didn’t rise again and that you hid the body instead, or that He only appeared to rise again but was really still in His beaten-up human body, proving to you that He was a phony the whole time?
Yet nearly all of the disciples were persecuted or martyred for their faith. And they knew Him better than anyone. Do you think they would all be willing to be martyred for something they knew was a lie? Would you?
2. But maybe they didn’t know it was a lie, someone might ask. Maybe they really thought Jesus rose again because the tomb was empty somehow.
Well, then, what happened to Jesus’ body? If they really thought He rose again – if they didn’t take His body and if Jesus didn’t prove He was a fake by being revived in the tomb and appearing to them in a beaten-up body – then what happened to it?
They really did believe that He rose again, enough to convince them to die for Him. The Roman soldier at the tomb wouldn’t do anything to the body because his life would be at risk if he failed at his job. The Jewish leaders and the Roman leaders had nothing to gain, only everything to lose, if Jesus went missing from the tomb because then it would look like they were wrong and the disciples were right, that Jesus was God and rose from the dead.
So what happened to the body?
So what happened to the body?
Whatever it was, it was enough to cause the disciples to give up their life for their faith in Jesus. Do you think they would do that if they weren’t sure that Jesus was who He said He was?
3. How about the fact that the world and universe show incredible balance and intricate design and precision? People want to accuse Christians of being unreasonable because we believe in a God we can’t see. But how much more unreasonable is it to think that all the things that make up the intricate balance of life happened by accidental, unthinking forces?
4. What about all the supernatural things that we hear about, things that defy logic and science? There is enough supernatural activity to know that there is something else out there, that there is more than just what can be seen.
5. The Bible was written by over 40 different authors, over a span of 1,500 years, and yet it has continuity in its message and has accuracy in its details, making it seem as though it was really written by one Author. The books all support and agree with each other. What are the odds of that happening if it wasn’t God-inspired? (A lot of atheists and skeptics don’t believe in the Bible because of “discrepancies” and because of snippets of it that they don’t like. Yet I wonder how many of them have actually read the whole Bible for themselves all the way through and researched these “discrepancies” before forming their conclusion.)
6. And then there are the prophecies of the Bible (relating to countries, to the Jewish people, to Jesus, etc.) that have been fulfilled throughout history and in the life of Jesus.
Christianity is not an unreasonable thing that requires blind faith. It’s a very reasonable, verifiable, scientifically- and historically-supported faith. But the fact is that many people don’t want to believe in it because they don’t want to change the way they are living. And no amount of proof or support for the Bible will change their minds … not if they are unwilling to change their hearts. You can’t make a blind man see if he wants to stay blind.