Saturday, October 30, 2010

Reformation Day 2010

Why should a Christian in 2010 care about what some Roman Catholic monk nailed to a German church door 493 years ago? Sadly, the Martin Luther’s nailing of The 95 Theses to the Wittenburg Castle Church door on October 31, 1517 is no longer an important even within much of Protestant Christianity. It’s almost as if this event, which is considered by many historians, secular and Christian as the starting point of The Reformation, no longer has any importance today. In fact, I daresay that only a handful of churches even acknowledged this day as an important day in church history. In fact, I believe that the modern Protestant evangelical church has moved away from Luther and the other great reformers back towards Rome.

There are a number of reasons as to why Reformation Day has fallen out of disfavor with nearly all modern church pastors. One is the fact that we are nearly 500 years removed from the historical context of the act. How is that? First, today we go to bed with full stomachs, we go to bed worrying about what we will do tomorrow or what we will wear tomorrow. Western Christians simply do not have the same worries as those that lived in the early 16th century. They seldom if ever went to bed with a full stomach. They were worried not about what they would be wearing the next day or what they would wear, but about whether or not they would die in their sleep that night! It is said that for every one child that lived to maturity, their parents would go through at least ten pregnancies. The mortality rate was astronomical. The bubonic plague had just ravaged Europe. Imagine that one out of three persons you knew had died due to the plague! This is the grim reality that faced many Europeans, and as a result these people had a much deeper knowledge of eternity.

Because of these peoples’ focus, the Roman Catholic Church (whose Pope was building St. Peter’s Basilica) instituted the doctrine of purgatory (a spiritual place where people’s souls were purged of the sins they committed). There is no biblical justification for this doctrine. Nearly all the bibles, however, in existence at the time were in Latin (not the common languages of Europe), and even if they were in the vernacular the people were illiterate and could not read their own languages. These people had no way of knowing whether what they were being told by the Roman Catholic priests was biblical or not. However, purgatory was not the reason for Luther’s 95 Theses. It was the idea of Indulgences. Indulgences were sold to the people as a way of forcing God to remove their loved ones from purgatory altogether, or to cut the amount of time their loved spent in purgatory shorter. The money for received for these indulgences was funneled to Rome in order for St. Peter’s Basilica to be built in the most ornate manner possible.

Even worse than the freeing or shortening of a deceased loved one’s time in purgatory, the Indulgences were sold to people as fire insurance. In other words, people could purchase their own indulgences to counteract the time they were destined to spend in purgatory for the sins of a lifetime. It was these indulgences that caused Luther to write the 95 Theses.

Today in American evangelicalism we find pastors that are teaching that tithing and giving to a church or a ministry forces God to work or move on the behalf of the Christian that tithes or gives. The say that God is now “obligated” to prosper the individual Christian. In many ways these modern pastors are much like the Roman Catholic priests that were commissioned by the Pope to raise funds for the work going on at The Vatican.

No where in their preaching on this topic do they mention that if God is “obligated” then He ceases to be God. Obligation implies that a person is required to do something based on the proper actions of another. Obligation removes the divine attribute of omnipotence (all-power) from God since He is unable to do something unless the believer acts first. How anyone can teach that God is obliged by something His creation does is beyond me, and is totally foreign to scripture. This sort of teaching is nothing more than false religion to the idol of money. Why do I call it false religion? Simply this sort of teaching gets Christians to funnel all their giving to the church, and ignore the needs of widows and orphans. James stated that pure and undefiled religion is the caring of widows and orphans (James 1:27). This me first giving, as I call it is not about caring for people, but rather funding the agenda (good or bad) of the senior pastor of the church.

Pastors’ agendas aside, this sort of teaching on giving causes the believer to think that all he/she has to do is give a certain percentage of his/her income in order to obligate God to bless him/her. It leads the believer to segment his finances in which God gets His cut, and the believer can do whatever he/she wants with the difference. This is very much like the indulgences that were sold by Roman Catholic priests to the people. These people would get these indulgences from the Pope and then live like hell. Similarly, many Christians do very ungodly things with their money once they have paid their tithe. Also the ungodliness of their finances manifests itself in what they don’t do with their money.

Today we see many mercy ministries that struggle to stay open and provide both physical and spiritual comfort to people in bad situations. This focus on wealth and giving to the church has caused believers to ignore the plight of AIDS patients, the drug and/or alcohol addicted, the reduction of the plight of homelessness, the end of white slavery, just to name a few of society’s ills.

Because of this and other issues within the modern evangelical church, there is a dire need for a 21st century reformation of the church. I believe that this reformation is just beginning with the resurgence of Reformed theology within many American churches. I believe that this resurgence is just the beginning of a wave that will sweep this country in particular and the world in general. It’s time to be a part of this wave or get buried by it.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Six Lies of Islam, Part Three

Is Islam a Religion of Love?

In the second post of this series, I addressed the question of whether or not Islam is a religion of peace. It is clear from Islam’s own documents that it is NOT a religion of peace, but is a religion of bloodshed. Now the question arises, “Is Islam a religion of love?” With this question, as with the first we must look at what their religious writings state about Islam.

Before we go further, are Christianity and Judaism based on love? What did Jesus say about love? We find Jesus’ authoritative words recorded in Matthew’s gospel chapter 22, verses 34-40 (ESV). When a Pharisee asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment in the Torah, Jesus responded, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments depend all the Law and Prophets" Interestingly, Jesus’ first quotation is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, and the second is found in Leviticus 19:18. Therefore, both Christianity and Judaism are based on love.

Contrast the above verses with the motto of Islam. Is the motto of Islam Allah is love, Allahu muhibba? No, the motto of Islam, the motto that Muslim terrorists scream, as they fly jets into buildings, blow themselves up in crowded restaurants or nightclubs, or as they crash into empty fields as those they have hijacked fight for their lives, is “Allahu ackbar” or Allah is greater. Notice that I did not translate Allahu ackbar as “God is great”. First, the Arabic word for “great” is kabir. Second, whether or not Allah is God is something that we will address in a future post. Third, there is a person in the bible that wanted to be greater than God. Satan, spoken of figuratively in Isaiah 12:13 (ESV), said that he wanted to “ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high...."

It is also interesting to not that the Arabic word for “love” is only found 69 times in the Qur’an. On the other hand, “love” occurs 186 times in the Old Testament and 223 times in the New Testament. It is interesting to note that when loved is used in the Qur’an, it is never used in the context of loving non-Muslims. Contrast this with how many times Jesus states that love expressed to non-Christians is nobler than love expressed to Christians. As anyone who hasn’t buried his head in the sand has seen how Islam expresses itself towards those that are not Muslims. The reason for this is simple, while the New Testament speaks of love towards the stranger and neighbor 155 times, the Qur’an is stunningly silent.

What a person does find in the Qur’an, can only be described as utter disregard for those that are not Muslims. “Truly Allah loves those who fight in His Cause in battle array as if they were a solid cemented structure” (Surah 61:4), Qur’an as translated by Yusef Ali), and “That ye believe in Allah and His Apostle and that ye strive (your utmost) in the Cause of Allah with your property and your persons: that will be best for you if ye but knew” (Surah 61:11). Not to mention the other Qur’anic verses mentioned in the Peace post. It becomes clear that Islam is neither a religion of peace nor a religion of love.

Next time, “Is Allah God?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Six Lies of Islam, Part Two

Is Islam a Religion of Peace?

When a person reads the original source documents of Islam, The Qur’an, the Hadiths, the biographies of Muhammad and his early followers, and its histories, one is struck by the casual and matter-of-fact manner in which Muhammad and his followers trafficked in violence and bloodshed. This writer and others have noted is that nothing was more influential in the spread of Islam than the edge of the sword. As we will see from its inception down to today, Islam is a bloody religion. This leads straight thinking persons to question whether or not Islam is a religion of peace.

What does Islam say about itself? Islamic scholars point out that the root Arabic word in Islam is s-l-m. In Arabic this root can mean both surrender and submission to Allah, or peace, soundness and safety. So is this true? Does Islam offer peace, soundness and safety? According to the, there have been 16,270 (as of this post) Islamic terrorist attacks around the world since September 11, 2001. Is this a religion that promulgates peace through peaceful means or a religion that enforces its will on people through the use of violence?

This is not just a modern issue with Islam, but an issue that dates back all the way back to its inception. Muhammad used to send letters to kings and leaders in the communities that surrounded Mecca and Medina, inviting them to surrender to his authority and to believe in him as the prophet of Muhammad. He always ended his letters to these leaders with the following two words, “Aslim taslam!” Although these two words are derived from the same Arabic word, “Salama,” i.e., “peace,” neither one of them implies peace. Rather the sentence “Aslim taslam” means “surrender and be safe” or, “surrender or face death.” It is clear that Muhammad promised peace to those who surrendered to Islam at the threat of their lives. Is this a religion of peace?

As I mentioned above, it is clear from the historical record documented in the Hadiths that Islam would not have existed or even survived today if it had not been for the violence Islam perpetrated on Arabia and the rest of the known world. A prime example of this violence is seen in the wars of Al-Riddah, or the wars against the apostates, that began immediately after the death of Muhammad. It is apparent that feeling the relief from the death of Muhammad caused Arabic tribes who had been coerced to join Islam to revolt and refuse to pay the taxes imposed on them by Muhammad’s theocracy. In response to this revolt, the first caliph, Abu Bakr, moved on these tribes and eventually brought them back into the fold of Islam.

These wars were not just ordered by Abu Bakr, but ultimately came from Allah through his prophet, Muhammad. The Qur’an clearly states that those who turn away from Islam are to be punished by death, “But if they turn renegades seize them and slay them wherever ye find them and (in any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks” (Surah 4:89). This verse has been commented on by the Hadiths. Note what Al-Bukhari says, “If somebody - a Muslim - discards his religion, kill him."

Muhammad said that it was not only necessary to kill those that fall away from Islam, but also to fight those nations that are not Muslim until they submit and recite the Shahada (the oath that once recited makes a person a Muslim), or pay the Jizya tax (which was the cause of the Barbary Coast war).

“Fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem ...” (Surah 9:5)
"Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the last day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and his apostle nor acknowledge the religion of truth of the people of the Book (the Jews and the Christians) until they pay the Jizya with willing submission and feel themselves subdued.” (Surah 9:29)

Much of Islam’s early success can be directed traced to the looting of caravans, the selling slaves and the ravaging of women done on the order of Muhammad from Allah. Does this sound like a religion that is a religion of peace?

Further evidence that Islam is not a religion of peace can be seen from how Islam views those that are not Muslims.

"Those who believe fight in the cause of Allah"(Surah 4:76).
"I will instill terror into the heart of the Infidels, strike off their heads then, and strike off from them every fingertip" (Surah 8:12).
"Kill those who join other gods with Allah wherever you may find them" (Surah 9:5-6).

Contrast what you find in Qur’an with what is found in the Bible. While the war is a tool of God to bring the Israelites into the Promised Land and to protect her from outside invasion, it is not how God spread his message. Jesus said that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. No where do we see, in the initial spread of Christianity as recorded in Acts, and the early church history (up to Constantine’s Edict of Toleration) that Christianity ever used the sword to spread the Gospel of Jesus.

While it is true that Christianity did use the sword during the Crusades, the Inquisition, and other dark times in her history, it has abandoned these tools as it has matured. Sadly, there is no sign of maturity in Islam.

Today we see the irrational screams of death to those that criticize, no matter how justly, the actions of radical Muslims. We see the irrational hatred of Israel and Jews that border on, if not exceed any anti-Semitic rants of the Third Reich. Just look at some of these pictures gleaned from a search of Google images:

These are just three of a myriad of photographs I could have posted. These are devotees of the Islam, and are truly practicing their religion as it has been prescribed in the pages of the Qur'an. It is clear that based on Islam's history and the actions of its adherents today, Islam is not the religion of peace Muslims claim it to be.

Next time, Is Islam a Religion of Love?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Six Lies of Islam, Part One

Before we begin, I want to state in a clear and succinct fashion that I do not hate individual Muslims. What I hate are the lies that deceive individual Muslims that are found in the Islam religion. Personally, I think it is sad that one has to make this type of statement, especially when addressing issues that are historical and documented facts. However, because of the politically correct world we live in, and the post-modern, multi-cultural philosophy that is in full effect in this country (USA) and world, a person must make the sort of statement like the one above.

It is really not my desire to offend 1/6th of the world's population.

However, the truth must be told, and sometimes the truth contains nasty facts that are embarrassing, offensive or angering to our Muslims friends. Let me say that it is not my intention to offend Muslims. My desire is to help Christians to prepare for the day when they have to deal with a Muslim at work, school or in their neighborhood.

The first reason for this series is to expose the lies that Mohammed and his followers have told and believed themselves. The second reason is to help Christians to understand what Islam is and what it isn’t. In studying Islam, I have found many lies. However, I am limiting the focus of this series to six lies that have been promulgated not only by Muslims (radical and moderate), but also by various political leaders both in the United States and in the world.

These six lies are as follows:
  • Islam is a religion of peace.
  • Islam is a religion of love.
  • Allah is the same God that Jews and Christians worship.
  • Mohammed is a true prophet.
  • The Qur’an is a true revelation from God.
  • The Arabs are descendants of Ishmael.

Each one of statements must be analyzed and accepted or dismissed on the merits of the evidence that can be found by conducting some basic research. It is my firm belief that each one of the above statements must be dismissed as lies, and consequently denounced by those in power every time they are uttered by Muslim religious leaders.

A Brief History of Islam

In 610 A.D., Muhammad, at the age of 40, received his first message from Allah in a cave outside the Arabian city of Mecca. Muhammad says that the angel Gabriel came to him and told him to recite what he was told. By Muhammad’s own admission, it was some two years later that he actually believed what had happened to him. The reason for this is that Muhammad apparently suffered from epilepsy. This is documented in various Hadiths (collections of Muslim oral traditions). These are commentaries on the life of Muhammad, and are considered sacred by Muslims.

In time, many of the Bedouin tribes on the Arabian Peninsula had converted to Islam. This group became a serious threat to the Quraysh tribe that controlled Mecca. This fact is important because Mecca was the center of Arabic paganism. In Mecca is the Kaaba, and in the Kaaba were the idols to the 360 Arabian gods, of which one was the moon god, Al-Ilah (I will discuss this Arabian god in depth in a later post). On September 17, 622, Muhammad and his followers had to flee Mecca for their lives for Medina. This journey is called the “Hijrah” and is considered by many Muslims to be the official beginning of the Islam religion.

In 630 A.D., Muhammad regained control of Mecca, and Islam became the religion of the Arabs. Two years later, Muhammad died after complaining of a headache and weakness. Muhammad did not name a successor to his budding religion, and a civil war within the Muslims exploded, and still exists to this day. During this time, two candidates emerged as successors to Muhammad, his cousin and son-in-law, Ali ibn Abi Talib and Abu Bakr, who was one of the first converts to Islam and Muhammad’s close companion.

Abu Bakr was eventually named as Muhammad’s successor, or caliph, because Ali was considered too young to hold the office. Bakr conducted The Wars of Al-Riddah (wars against apostasy) against those that rejected his claim as successor to Muhammad. Bakr ruled as caliph from 632 to 634. Bakr was succeeded by his hand-picked successor, Umar ibn Khattab. Umar ruled as caliph from 634 to 644. Umar was murdered by a servant and succeeded by Uthman ibn Affan. Uthman ruled as caliph from 644 to 656 when he too was murdered and succeeded by Muhammad’s cousin Ali. It was under these four caliphs that that Islam spread beyond the Arabian Peninsula. Islam eventually reached from modern day Afghanistan in the east to modern day Portugal in the west.

These four men are important today because of the Shia and Sunni sects within Islam. Shias are adherents of Ali and reject the caliphs that preceded Ali as caliph. Sunni Muslims are adherents of the first three caliphs, and reject Ali. Shia Muslims compose about 10% of the total Muslim population, and are primarily located in Azerbijian, Iraq, Iran, Oman and Lebanon. Sunni Muslims make up roughly 90% of Muslims worldwide and reject Ali as a rightful caliph, and accept the first three as rightful caliphs.

Islam reached its peak in the tenth century. However, when the Turks converted to Islam in the 13th century, the so-called, “second wave of Islam” was initiated. Under the Turks, Islam spread into Europe and the Balkans beginning an occupation that would last 500 years. This second wave was eventually checked at Vienna, Austria in 1683 and in 1687 by Polish.

A Brief History of the Qur’an

The Qur’an is a revelation of the Creator as opposed to the revelation of the messenger. Muhammad was an illiterate Arab, and recited what he was told in his visions. These recitations were memorized by his followers. Eventually, Muhammad’s followers saw the need to write down Muhammad’s recitations, and made use of whatever they had on hand to record the words of Muhammad. They used papyrus, flat stones, palm leaves, shoulder blades of animals, wood boards and leather to record what Muhammad said.

Abu Bakr began the first collections of these writings. Bakr’s wishes eventually led to a divergent number of translations. Eventually Uthman determined the need for a single text of the Qur’an. Therefore, between 650 and 656, a single text of the Qur’an was produced and all other versions were burned.

The Qur’an is divided into chapters, called suras and verses. The Suras are not arranged in chronological order. They are arranged from shortest to longest. The early surahs seem to deal with specific issues that Muhammad experienced with his nearly found sect. It appears that as these problems appeared Muhammad would receive a vision, recite it, and his followers would implement it.

Second to the Qur’an are the Hadiths. Hadiths are to Islam as the Talmuds are to Judaism. The Hadiths are commentaries on the Qur’an as well as narratives on the life of Muhammad and his earliest followers. The Hadiths are considered to be sacred writings and are second only to the Qur’an. It is from the Hadiths that much of Islam stands or falls.

The above has been a very brief history of Islam. If a reader wants to do more research on the history of Islam, the Qur’an and the Hadiths there are a number of resources available to research these topics. I believe that if a person, Muslim or not, that wants to find out what Islam is all about the information is out there. My attempt is simply to provoke people to think abut Islam and whether or not it is a religion based on truth or lies.

Next post: Islam is a religion of peace.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Sovereignty Line

I wanted to begin my series on the six lies of Islam with this post, however, my research is taking longer than I expected.  As a preview, I will be posting on the following lies of Islam:
  1. Islam is a religion of peace.
  2. Islam is a religion of love.
  3. Mohammad is a true prophet.
  4. The Qu'ran is a true revelation from God.
  5. Allah is God.
  6. The Arabs are descendants of Ishmael.
I believe I will be done with my research early next week and I will begin this series then. I would appreciate your prayers, as those that publicly criticize Islam tend to receive death threats, and if found, get the heads cut off.

The Sovereignty Line

It is very trendy to claim that God is sovereign. There are books galore on the topic. There is, however, a line that many who claim to affirm the sovereignty of God refuse to cross. That line is whether or not God can do exactly as He pleases without getting permission from anyone, including man. It is this specific topic that is the dividing line between the Biblicists from the humanists.

Before I go further, I want to define what I mean by Biblicist and humanist. Both are Christians. Let me repeat, both Biblicists and humanists are Christians. Biblicists are those that let Scripture speak for itself, form their theology according to Scripture, and defend God at all costs. On the other hand, humanists are Christians that bring their presuppositions with them to their biblical exegesis, and allow the presuppositions to form their interpretation of Scripture. Humanists look at Scripture and believe that they must defend man at all costs, including stripping God of His sovereignty.

What is sovereignty? This is a question that Americans have no idea about as a real concept. In America, we the people are the sovereigns. We elect those that would rule over us, and conversely we can fire them. Because of this Americans, and many other people in this world, have no concept of what it means to live under a king, and worse, see little or no reason to bow their knee before God. I digress however, so let’s get back to the question at hand. Sovereignty is defined by Merriam-Webster as, “freedom from external control; controlling influence”. This definition by itself eliminates the humanist Christian doctrine of “free will”. As Biblicists, however, we do not base our doctrines on an English language dictionary; rather we base doctrine on what the Scriptures say.

Dr. James R. White calls sovereignty, “the free and proper kingship of God.” By this, Dr. White means “…that God truly can do as He pleases without getting permission from anyone, including man…” (The Potter’s Freedom, p. 41). The Bible is full of passages that demonstrate the free and proper kingship of God (Psalm 33:8-11; 135:6; Proverbs 21:1; Isaiah 14:27; 41:21-23; 46:9-10; Daniel 4:34-35).

God’s “free and proper kingship” is illustrated throughout the Old Testament by the analogy of the Potter and the clay. In these scriptures, God is continually referred to as the Potter, and humanity as the clay. The clay is constantly referred to as being formed and fashioned by the Potter according to His sovereign choice. Now many humanist Christians will say that these verses refer to Israel, but they have one problem. Namely, Romans chapter nine; this chapter is utterly devastating to humanist Christians because Paul applies the Potter/clay analogy to Christians.

The Potter/clay analogy is seen clearly in Jeremiah 18:4-6. Here God explains to Jeremiah that He can do with the clay (Israel) exactly what the potter does to the clay he is forming into various vessels. Just as the potter did not ask permission of the clay as to what sort of vessel it should become, so God did not need to ask Israel or anyone outside Himself about how He should deal with Israel.

Further, Scripture speaks of an impassable chasm between the Potter and the clay. We see this in Isaiah 29:16. Here God tells Israel that they have turned things upside down. That they, the formed, are telling the Former, “He did not make me” and that the Potter “knows nothing”! These statements should strike us as featherheaded. These statements from the clay are attempts to bring God down to the level of man. This is contrary to Scripture which teaches humanity should view God with reverential awe and true fear because He is the one that gives us every breath we take. It is utter stupidity for the thing made (the pot) to argue with the Potter as stated in Isaiah 45:9. Here the pot is quoted as asking of the potter, “What are you doing?”, or telling the potter, “He has no hands.”

God’s use of sarcasm and irony are emphasizing the foolishness of man arguing with God. How ludicrous it is to think of the clay telling the potter what the potter should make of the clay! What is even more ludicrous, are humanistic Christians telling the God they worship when and if they will accept His grace! God must sit upon His throne and laugh at the audacity of puny humans shaking their fists at God.

Even worse, is that many humanistic Christians actually have the audacity to claim that God is not fair for exercising His free will. The utter biblical ignorance of this statement is shocking. The reason I say this is that humanist Christians do not want God’s fairness. If God was fair, we would all be grease spots on the surface of a scorched earth! As sinners, not neutral people with damaged emotions that cause us to sin, we are fairly deserving of one thing and one thing only; an eternally separated from God!

On the contrary, biblical Christians echo the words of Isaiah, “But now, O LORD, you are our Father, we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are the work of your hand.” A truly redeemed person rejoices in knowing that God has formed us. This thought does not foster pride, as some humanist Christians posit; rather it is humbling to know that everything in our lives is a result of God’s gracious hand on our lives. This even extends to salvation. When a person understands that the only thing he brings to the salvation is his sin, then it is easier for the person to bow his knee before the sovereign God, and cross the sovereignty line from humanist to Biblicist.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Evidence For Jesus Outside the New Testament, Part Three

On part one of this series, we learned that there are a number of witnesses attested to by the writers of the New Testament. From the selection of Judas’ replacement to Peter’s sermon on Pentecost and to Paul’s writing in 1st Corinthians 15, eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life and resurrection did actually exist. However, there are people, whether hostile skeptics or open-minded seekers, that want evidence for Jesus outside the New Testament. This is a legitimate question, and it requires answers. The problem I have found is that there are some people for whom no amount of evidence is sufficient in order to believe in the resurrection. To these persons, their presuppositions may need to be addressed, or at worst, they may just need to be left alone. That decision is up to the individual Christian and who that Christian is engaging in an apologetic discussion.

In part two of this series, we looked at a number of non-Jewish witnesses to the life of Jesus. Many of these accounts focused on the followers of Jesus, and how these people were impacting the Roman culture. It is important to note, that none of these witnesses ever stated that Jesus did not exist. In fact, a number of important facts chronicled in the gospels about Jesus were confirmed by these non-Jewish witnesses.

Jesus’ impact, however, was not limited to non-Jewish society. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection also impact Jewish society. What do Jewish witnesses to the life of Jesus have to say about Jesus? An overview of Jewish testimony reveals a rather critical view of Jesus. This is to be expected, as Jesus did not fulfill the Jewish expectation of a Messiah that would throw the Roman Empire off their necks. Because of this, the Jewish writings are very harsh, critical and demeaning to Jesus. That being said, there is still much that these writings confirm about the life of Jesus.


Josephus was a Jewish historian who wrote, in more detail, about the life of Jesus than any other non-biblical historian of the time. In 93 AD, Josephus wrote Antiquities of the Jews, and in this work Josephus documented the history of Jews. In Antiquites, we find three references regarding Christians. In one, Josephus describes the death of John the Baptizer:

Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod's suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. (Josephus, Antiqities, 18.5.2)

In a second, Josephus references the execution of James, the brother of Jesus:

Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned. (Josephus, Antiqities, 20.9.1)

Lastly, Josephus references the life of Jesus, also called the Flavium Testimonium:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [called] the Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross,those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day. (Josephus, Antiquities, 18.3.3)

Please note that there are segments of this quote that I have deliberately struck through. This is because the struck through segments have been deemed as later additions to the Flavium Testimonium, according to Géza Vermes. Another scholar, Shlomo Pines, published a different translation of the Flavium based on a tenth century Arabic manuscript.

For he says in the treatises that he has written in the governance of the Jews: "At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus, and his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon their loyalty to him. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive. Accordingly they believed that he was the Messiah, concerning whom the Prophets have recounted wonders.

Sadly, there are skeptics and atheists, who are more than willing to toss out the Flavium Testimonium completely based on the interpolations mentioned above. This is premature, because we can reconstruct the passage without the disputed segments and still have a statement that accurately describes the life of Jesus. Further, there is nothing in the Flavium Testimonium that contradicts anything written in the gospels concerning the life of Jesus.

The Jewish Talmud

The earliest Talmudic writings of Jewish rabbis appeared in the 5th century. The tradition of these rabbinic writers indicates that the teachings recorded in the Talmud were faithfully transmitted from the early Tannaitic period from the 1st century B.C.E. to the 2nd century A.D. There are a number of writings in the Talmud that scholars believe refer to Jesus. Many of these passages are said to use “code words” to describe Jesus (e.g., Balaam, Ben Stada, or “a certain one”).

For the purposes of this post I will not use these “coded” passages. I will only passages that refer directly to Jesus.

Jesus practiced magic and led Israel astray” (b. Sanhedrin 43a; cf. t. Shabbat 11.15; b. Shabbat 104b)

Rabbi Hisda (d. 309) said that Rabbi Jeremiah bar Abba said, ‘What is that which is written, ‘No evil will befall you, nor shall any plague come near your house’? (Psalm 91:10)… ‘No evil will befall you’ (means) that evil dreams and evil thoughts will not tempt you; ‘nor shall any plague come near your house’ (means) that you will not have a son or a disciple who burns his food like Jesus of Nazareth.” (b. Sanhedrin 103a; cf. b. Berakhot 17b)

Our rabbis have taught that Jesus had five disciples: Matthai, Nakai, Nezer, Buni and Todah. They brought Matthai to (to trial). He said, ‘Must Matthai be killed? For it is written, ‘When (Mathai) shall I come and appear before God?’” (Psalm 92:2) They said to him, “Yes Matthai must be killed, for it is written, ‘When (mathai) he dies his name will perish’” (Psalm 41:5). They brought Nakai. He said to them, “Must Nakai be killed? For it is written, “The innocent (naqi) and the righteous will not slay’” (Exodus 23:7). They said to him, “Yes, Nakai must be kille, for it is written, ‘In secret places he slays the innocent (naqi)’” (Psalm 10:8). (b. Sanhedrin 43a; the passage continues in a similar way for Nezer, Buni and Todah)

Lastly, this is the most famous Talmudic passage about Jesus.

It was taught: On the day before the Passover they hanged Jesus. A herald went before him for forty days (proclaiming), “He will be stoned, because he practiced magic and enticed Israel to go astray. Let anyone who knows anything in his favor come forward and plead for him.” But nothing was found in his favor, and they hanged him on the day before the Passover. (b. Sanhedrin 43a)

Just in these four passages in which Jesus is mentioned by name, we see a number of facts found in gospels confirmed by hostile Jewish witnesses. Namely, that Jesus had magical powers, led the Jews away from their beliefs, had disciples who were martyred for their faith (one of whom was named Matthai), and was executed on the day before the Passover. It is important to repeat that these passages are from a period within 100 years of the events they describe, and are very compelling in their confirmation of details found within the four gospels.

The Toledot Yeshu

The Toledot Yeshu is a retelling of the life of Jesus that appears around 1000 A.D. It is completely anti-Christian, however, my point in using this passage is not to enflame anti-Semitism, but to demonstrate the confirmation by hostile Jews to the life of Jesus as recorded in the four gospels. The Toledot is one of many retellings that is partially transmitted orally, and later written down by Jewish scholars. Based on what is written in the Toledot, we can reasonably infer that the ides found in it can be traced back to Jesus. While the Toledot Yeshu does try to explain away the miracles of Jesus (such as the virgin conception), and is, at times, quite vicious the Toledot Yeshu still does confirm details found in the four gospels.

In the year 3671 (in Jewish reckonging, it being ca 90 B.C.) in the days of King Jannaeus, a great misfortune befell Israel, when there arose a certain disreputable man of the tribe of Judah, whose name was Joseph Pandera. He lived at Bethlehem, in Judah. Near his house dwelt a widow and her lovely and chaste daughter named Miriam. Miriam was betrothed to Yohanan, of the royal house of David, a man learned in the Torah and God-fearing. At the close of a certain Sabbath, Joseph Pandera, attractive and like a warrior in appearance, having gazed lustfully upon Miriam, knocked upon the door of her room and betrayed her by pretending that he was her betrothed husband, Yohanan. Even so, she was amazed at this improper conduct and submitted only against her will. Thereafter, when Yohanan came to her, Miriam expressed astonishment at behavior so foreign to his character. It was thus that they both came to know the crime of Joseph Pandera and the terrible mistake on the part of Miriam… Miriam gave birth to a son and named him Yehoshua, after her brother. This name later deteriorated to Yeshu ("Yeshu" is the Jewish "name" for Jesus. It means "May His Name Be Blotted Out"). On the eighth day he was circumcised. When he was old enough the lad was taken by Miriam to the house of study to be instructed in the Jewish tradition. One day Yeshu walked in front of the Sages with his head uncovered, showing shameful disrespect. At this, the discussion arose as to whether this behavior did not truly indicate that Yeshu was an illegitimate child and the son of a niddah. Moreover, the story tells that while the rabbis were discussing the Tractate Nezikin, he gave his own impudent interpretation of the law and in an ensuing debate he held that Moses could not be the greatest of the prophets if he had to receive counsel from Jethro. This led to further inquiry as to the antecedents of Yeshu, and it was discovered through Rabban Shimeon ben Shetah that he was the illegitimate son of Joseph Pandera. Miriam admitted it. After this became known, it was necessary for Yeshu to flee to Upper Galilee. After King Jannaeus, his wife Helene ruled over all Israel. In the Temple was to be found the Foundation Stone on which were engraven the letters of God's Ineffable Name. Whoever learned the secret of the Name and its use would be able to do whatever he wished. Therefore, the Sages took measures so that no one should gain this knowledge. Lions of brass were bound to two iron pillars at the gate of the place of burnt offerings. Should anyone enter and learn the Name, when he left the lions would roar at him and immediately the valuable secret would be forgotten. Yeshu came and learned the letters of the Name; he wrote them upon the parchment which he placed in an open cut on his thigh and then drew the flesh over the parchment. As he left, the lions roared and he forgot the secret. But when he came to his house he reopened the cut in his flesh with a knife an lifted out the writing. Then he remembered and obtained the use of the letters. He gathered about himself three hundred and ten young men of Israel and accused those who spoke ill of his birth of being people who desired greatness and power for themselves. Yeshu proclaimed, "I am the Messiah; and concerning me Isaiah prophesied and said, 'Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.'" He quoted other messianic texts, insisting, "David my ancestor prophesied concerning me: 'The Lord said to me, thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee.'" The insurgents with him replied that if Yeshu was the Messiah he should give them a convincing sign. They therefore, brought to him a lame man, who had never walked. Yeshu spoke over the man the letters of the Ineffable Name, and the leper was healed. Thereupon, they worshipped him as the Messiah, Son of the Highest. When word of these happenings came to Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin decided to bring about the capture of Yeshu. They sent messengers, Annanui and Ahaziah, who, pretending to be his disciples, said that they brought him an invitation from the leaders of Jerusalem to visit them. Yeshu consented on condition the members of the Sanhedrin receive him as a lord. He started out toward Jerusalem and, arriving at Knob, acquired an ass on which he rode into Jerusalem, as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah. The Sages bound him and led him before Queen Helene, with the accusation: "This man is a sorcerer and entices everyone." Yeshu replied, "The prophets long ago prophesied my coming: 'And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse,' and I am he; but as for them, Scripture says 'Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly.'" Queen Helene asked the Sages: "What he says, is it in your Torah?" They replied: "It is in our Torah, but it is not applicable to him, for it is in Scripture: 'And that prophet which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.' He has not fulfilled the signs and conditions of the Messiah." Yeshu spoke up: "Madam, I am the Messiah and I revive the dead." A dead body was brought in; he pronounced the letters of the Ineffable Name and the corpse came to life. The Queen was greatly moved and said: "This is a true sign." She reprimanded the Sages and sent them humiliated from her presence. Yeshu's dissident followers increased and there was controversy in Israel. Yeshu went to Upper Galilee. the Sages came before the Queen, complaining that Yeshu practiced sorcery and was leading everyone astray. Therefore she sent Annanui and Ahaziah to fetch him. The found him in Upper Galilee, proclaiming himself the Son of God. When they tried to take him there was a struggle, but Yeshu said to the men of Upper Galilee: "Wage no battle." He would prove himself by the power which came to him from his Father in heaven. He spoke the Ineffable Name over the birds of clay and they flew into the air. He spoke the same letters over a millstone that had been placed upon the waters. He sat in it and it floated like a boat. When they saw this the people marveled. At the behest of Yeshu, the emissaries departed and reported these wonders to the Queen. She trembled with astonishment. Then the Sages selected a man named Judah Iskarioto and brought him to the Sanctuary where he learned the letters of the Ineffable Name as Yeshu had done. When Yeshu was summoned before the queen, this time there were present also the Sages and Judah Iskarioto. Yeshu said: "It is spoken of me, 'I will ascend into heaven.'" He lifted his arms like the wings of an eagle and he flew between heaven and earth, to the amazement of everyone…Yeshu was seized. His head was covered with a garment and he was smitten with pomegranate staves; but he could do nothing, for he no longer had the Ineffable Name. Yeshu was taken prisoner to the synagogue of Tiberias, and they bound him to a pillar. To allay his thirst they gave him vinegar to drink. On his head they set a crown of thorns. There was strife and wrangling between the elders and the unrestrained followers of Yeshu, as a result of which the followers escaped with Yeshu to the region of Antioch; there Yeshu remained until the eve of the Passover. Yeshu then resolved to go the Temple to acquire again the secret of the Name. That year the Passover came on a Sabbath day. On the eve of the Passover, Yeshu, accompanied by his disciples, came to Jerusalem riding upon an ass. Many bowed down before him. He entered the Temple with his three hundred and ten followers. One of them, Judah Iskarioto apprised the Sages that Yeshu was to be found in the Temple, that the disciples had taken a vow by the Ten Commandments not to reveal his identity but that he would point him out by bowing to him. So it was done and Yeshu was seized. Asked his name, he replied to the question by several times giving the names Mattai, Nakki, Buni, Netzer, each time with a verse quoted by him and a counter-verse by the Sages. Yeshu was put to death on the sixth hour on the eve of the Passover and of the Sabbath. When they tried to hang him on a tree it broke, for when he had possessed the power he had pronounced by the Ineffable Name that no tree should hold him. He had failed to pronounce the prohibition over the carob-stalk, for it was a plant more than a tree, and on it he was hanged until the hour for afternoon prayer, for it is written in Scripture, "His body shall not remain all night upon the tree." They buried him outside the city. On the first day of the week his bold followers came to Queen Helene with the report that he who was slain was truly the Messiah and that he was not in his grave; he had ascended to heaven as he prophesied. Diligent search was made and he was not found in the grave where he had been buried. A gardener had taken him from the grave and had brought him into his garden and buried him in the sand over which the waters flowed into the garden. Queen Helene demanded, on threat of a severe penalty, that the body of Yeshu be shown to her within a period of three days. There was a great distress. When the keeper of the garden saw Rabbi Tanhuma walking in the field and lamenting over the ultimatum of the Queen, the gardener related what he had done, in order that Yeshu's followers should not steal the body and then claim that he had ascended into heaven. The Sages removed the body, tied it to the tail of a horse and transported it to the Queen, with the words, "This is Yeshu who is said to have ascended to heaven." Realizing that Yeshu was a false prophet who enticed the people and led them astray, she mocked the followers but praised the Sages.

Now in spite of the fact that the Jewish religious scholars attempted to put a different spin on the miracles of Jesus, they do inadvertently make several claims about Jesus in the passage. This passage, along with several others from the Toledot tradition, confirms that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, that he healed the lame, that Isaiah foretold of his life, that he was worshipped as God, that he was arrested by the Jews, beaten with rods, given vinegar to drink, wore a crown of thorns, rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, was betrayed by a man named Judah Iskarioto, and had followers who claimed he was resurrected and ascended, leaving an empty tomb!

There is an amazing amount of evidence regarding the historical Jesus in existence, and most of it comes from witnesses that are hostile to Christians and Christianity. This information is available in spite of how many manuscripts of any text from Jesus day are in existence today. Historians during this era often wrote very little about religious figures. Jesus was active for a relatively short time (three years). Jesus ministered in a remote part of both the Roman Empire (Palestine) and Jewish culture (Galilee).

With all this taken into consideration, we have an amazing amount of information about the life of Jesus. This why I believe that Jesus actually lived, and trust what was written about him in the gospels.

We can summarize the hostile testimony from this and the immediately preceding post and be able to distill that a man called Jesus did indeed exist in time. Even when we remove the pro-Christian insertions found in Josephus, we see that Jesus was indeed an historical figure. Based on the most conservative statements about Jesus from these hostile witnesses we can put together the following facts about the historical Jesus:
  • He was born, supposedly, to a virgin and had an earthly father who was a carpenter.
  • He was a teacher who taught that by repentance and belief, all followers would become brothers and sisters.
  • He led the Jews away from their beliefs.
  • He was a wise man who claimed to be God and the Messiah. He had unusual magical powers and performed miraculous deeds.
  • He accurately predicted the future.
  • He was persecuted by the Jews for what he said, betrayed by Judah Iskarioto.
  • He was beaten with rods, forced to drink vinegar and wear a crown of thorns and crucified on the eve of the Passover.
  • His crucifixion occurred under the direction of Pontius Pilate, during the time of Tiberius.
  • On the day of his crucifixion, the sky grew dark and there was an earthquake.
  • Afterward, he was buried in a tomb and the tomb was later found to be empty.
  • He had disciples and followers who upheld a high moral code. One of them was named Matthai.
  • They claimed that he was resurrected and eventually ascended into heaven.
  • The disciples were also persecuted for their faith but were martyred without changing their claims.
  • They met regularly to worship Jesus, even after his death.

It is vital to note that none of the facts recorded by these hostile witnesses contradict what is written by Jesus in any of the four gospels.

Now, I have two questions for two segments of my audience:

For Christians I want to ask, based on the evidence present in the last three posts, is there any reason why you are not preaching the gospel of Christ, and doing so with the confidence that you are preaching facts and not “cleverly devised myths” (2 Peter 1:16, ESV)?

For the non-Christian, I ask, what further evidence do you need in order to begin to trust the claims of Jesus as recorded in the gospels? It is clear from the testimony of hostile Jewish and non-Jewish witnesses that Jesus did indeed exist. However, he was not merely a good teacher, because no teacher can be called good who makes the claims that Jesus made and not be who he said he was. So I ask you again, are you going to accept the claims of Jesus, or continue in your suppression of the truth (Romans 1:18, ESV)?

It is my prayer that you would bend your knee to the Lord Jesus Christ and accept his saving work on the cross.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Building a True Legacy

Today would have been the 307th birthday of the great American preacher Jonathan Edwards. 9 out 10 of you (based on the Pew Religious Knowledge Survey) are probably asking, "Who is he and why should I care?" To which I say, that Jonathan Edwards is America's greatest theologian and pastor. With one sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, he launched the First Great Awakening. His theological books are still being published (much to the chagrin of the liberal controlled Yale University).

What was even more outstanding about Edwards, however, was his impact upon his descendants. Here is what is said of Edwards' progeny:
  • practically no lawbreakers
  • more than 100 lawyers
  • 30 judges
  • 13 college presidents
  • one hundred and more professors
  • sixty physicians
  • 100 clergymen, missionaries, and theological professors
  • 80 elected to public office, including 3 mayors, 3 governors, several members of congress, 3 senators, and 1 vice president (Aaron Burr)
  • 60 have attained prominence in authorship or editorial life, with 135 books of merit
  • 75 army or navy officers
  • 2 more physicians and a comptroller of the U.S. treasury

If you are serving God, then you are building a legacy. If you lived a debauched life prior to God saving you, then you can build a legacy like this for your descendants.

The culture in which we live is so focused on the here and now, that this "me first" attitude has even crept into the church. All one has to do is turn on TBN and see how materialistic the messages broadcast on that channel are. However, Christians are not to be focused on prosperity and health, but instead on preaching the gospel and training the next generation. If we perform these two duties, then we also can have a legacy like that of Edwards'.

The point of the post today, is to show Christians that it's not just about you. It's not about the here and now, but it's about a future. A future with God should He return, and a future for your descendants should He tarry longer. What sort of legacy are you building?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Evidence For Jesus Outside the New Testament, Part Two

In part one of this series, we learned that there is abundant evidence for the historicity of the life of Jesus in the New Testament. We saw that Luke composed his gospel account of Jesus’ life with the aid of personal interviews of eyewitnesses and written records (possibly the gospels of Mark and Matthew) (Luke 1:1-4). As early as the first Pentecost after Jesus’ death and resurrection the Apostle Peter referenced the fact that there were eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 2:29-33). We also see that the apostle Paul staked the resurrection of Jesus on the fact that there were at least 500 eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus (1 Cor. 15:3-7). Paul is so adamant about the existence of these 500 eyewitnesses that he stakes his reputation on their ability to confirm his astounding claims of a savior that was crucified and later raised from the dead.

However, most skeptics, and even some people honestly searching for truth, do not hold the testimony of scripture in high esteem when it comes to the testimony they give on the life of Jesus. They do this for a number of reasons. First, they may erroneously think that the New Testament is rife with errors. However, as we have demonstrated in another post, the New Testament variants are 99% inconsequential to any major doctrine contained in the New Testament.

Another objection is that the gospels were written too late to be accurate accounts of the life of Jesus. That the accounts of the miracles Jesus performed were simply legends added by later followers of Christ in order to “pad his résumé”. To the contrary, the evidence does not allow for a late date for the authorship of the gospels, but rather it clearly points to dates within 20 to 30 years after the events they purport to chronicle.

The objection I want to look at in this post is whether or not there is any evidence for the life of Jesus outside of the New Testament. The reason is that many skeptics tell Christians, “If Jesus existed, and he did the miracles attributed to him by his followers, then why is there no documentation outside of the New Testament for his existence?” Before I begin to answer this question, it is important to point out that many who bring up this objection will not accept any evidence whatsoever that contradicts their presupposition (the idea behind the objection) that Jesus did not exist because he performed miracles. Let me break down that argument: Miracles are of supernatural origin. The supernatural does not exist. Therefore, Jesus did not perform miracles. Therefore, Jesus never existed.

That being said, there are people that are trying to deal with their presuppositions, and look at the evidence in an unbiased manner. We can provide evidence to them from sources other than the New Testament, of Jesus’ historical life. The outside testimony can be placed into one of two groups: hostile non-Jewish sources and hostile Jewish sources. When the hostility is peeled away a surprising picture begins to appear, a picture that many skeptics and atheists recoil in horror. That picture, however, will become clear as we begin our look at the extra-biblical evidence for the life of Jesus.

The Hostile Non-Jewish Witnesses

We begin our journey with the historian Thallus. Thallus may be the earliest non-Christian writer to mention Jesus. In fact, he is so ancient that we only have a reference from Julianus Africanus who wrote the following around 221 A.D. in his documentation of Thallus’ explanation of the darkness that occurred during Jesus’ crucifixion:

On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun." (Julius Africanus, Chronography, 18:1)

Whether or not Thallus documented more of Jesus’ life is not known. However Thallus does confirm one of the events that occurred during Jesus’ resurrection.

Pliny the Younger was a Roman historian who documented the life of Christians to the then Roman Emperor Trajan. Pliny gives the following testimony:

They (the Christians) were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food—but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.

Pliny describes several facts about the early Christian church: the early Christians believed Jesus was God, they held to a strict moral code, and that they gathered regularly to worship Jesus as God.

Suetonius was a Roman historian who wrote for the Roman Emperor Hadrian. He describes Christians and their treatment under the Emperor Claudius.

Because the Jews at Rome caused constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus (Christ), he (Claudius) expelled them from the city (Rome)." (Life of Claudius, 25:4)

This expulsion took place in 49 A.D. and was described by Luke in Acts 18:2. In another work, Suetonius writes of the fire that nearly destroyed Rome in 64 A.D., how Nero blamed the Christians for it, and how he began a severe persecution of the Christians over it.

Nero inflicted punishment on the Christians, a sect given to a new and mischievous religious belief." (Lives of the Caesars, 26.2)

What we learn about early Christians from Suetonius’ accounts is that Jesus had an IMMEDIATE impact on his followers; that they believed Jesus as God deeply enough to withstand the persecution of the Roman Empire; and that the impact of Jesus’ life on their own empowered them to die courageously for what they knew to be true. It is important to point out that just because they died for their beliefs, their deaths do not make Christianity true. People, however, do not generally die for what they know to be a lie. Further, Christian martyrdom did not entail the taking of the lives of others, as the followers of Mohammad so often do.

Cornelius Tacitus was well known for his analysis and examination of historical documents of his time, and is known to be one of the most trusted ancient historians. In his Annals written around 116 A.D., Tacitus describes the great fire of Rome, and how Nero blamed Christians for it.

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 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.

Tacitus’ account confirms a number of facts found in the gospels. Namely that Jesus was from Judea; he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and had followers that were persecuted for their faith in Jesus.

Sometime around 70 A.D. a Syrian philosopher named Mara Bar-Serapion wrote to his son comparing the life and persecution of Jesus with the lives of other philosophers who were persecuted for their ideas. In this letter, Bar-Serapion confirms two things; first, that Jesus was a real person, and second Bar-Serapion refers to Jesus as the “Wise King.”

What benefit did the Athenians obtain by putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as judgment for their crime. Or, the people of Samos for burning Pythagoras? In one moment their country was covered with sand. Or the Jews by murdering their wise king?...After that their kingdom was abolished. God rightly avenged these men...The wise king...Lived on in the teachings he enacted.

From Bar-Serapion, we have more outside confirmation of the gospel accounts. We see that Jesus was a wise and influential man who died for his beliefs, and we also learn that Jesus’ followers adopted these beliefs and lived lives that reflected them to the outside world.

Next we have Phlegon, who is an historian similar to Thallus in that we no longer have any manuscripts of his writings, but we have references to them from another scholar (in this case Julianus Africanus once again). Phlegon, like Thallus, attempted to explain the darkness that surrounded the crucifixion.

During the time of Tiberius Caesar an eclipse of the sun occurred during the full moon." (Africanus, Chronography, 18:1)

Interestingly, solar eclipses can only occur when the moon is in the “new moon” phase. Only a lunar eclipse can occur during the “full moon” phase.

Phlegon was also quoted by the early church historian and scholar, Origen.

And with regard to the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in whose reign Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquakes which then took place . . . ” (Origen Against Celsus)
And with regard to the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in whose reign Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquakes which then took place . . . ” (Origen Against Celsus)

Phlegon confirms details of the crucifixion found in the gospels, namely that Jesus was crucified during the reign of Tiberius, that earthquakes occurred, and that there was darkness in the land.

Lucian of Samosata was a Greek satirist who sarcastically spoke of Christ and Christians. However, in his attempt to ridicule he never spoke of him as a fictional character.

The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day—the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account....You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property." (Lucian, The Death of Peregrine. 11-13)

Once again details given in the gospels regarding the message of Christ are confirmed. We see Jesus spoke about repentance and being a part of the family of God. These teachings were quickly adopted by Jesus’ followers and exhibited in such a manner that the entire world was transformed.

The last hostile non-Jewish account we will look at is from Celsus. He was quite hostile to the gospels, but in his hostility he affirmed and reinforced the authors and their content. In his extensive writings he alludes to 80 different biblical quotes, also confirming their appearance early in history. In addition to all of this, Celsus admits that the miracles of Jesus were generally believed in the early 2nd century.

Jesus had come from a village in Judea, and was the son of a poor Jewess who gained her living by the work of her own hands. His mother had been turned out of doors by her husband, who was a carpenter by trade, on being convicted of adultery [with a soldier named Panthéra (i.32)]. Being thus driven away by her husband, and wandering about in disgrace, she gave birth to Jesus, a bastard. Jesus, on account of his poverty, was hired out to go to Egypt. While there he acquired certain (magical) powers which Egyptians pride themselves on possessing. He returned home highly elated at possessing these powers, and on the strength of them gave himself out to be a god.

Again, Celsus in his hostility confirms many details found in the gospels, particularly the virgin conception of Jesus. The serious difference being that Jesus was the result of an adulterous relationship between Mary and a Roman soldier named Panthera. Interestingly, this was a commonly told in Jewish circles during Celsus’ day. However, Celsus does affirm that Jesus had an earthly father who was a carpenter, that he possessed unusual magical powers, and that he claimed to be God.

In conclusion, we learn that a number of details found in the gospels are confirmed in the testimony of these hostile non-Jewish witnesses. While a number of them speak of the followers of Jesus, it is important to note that if Jesus had not existed then there is no reason for the growth of Christianity during that time, nor the acknowledgment of the life of Jesus by various historians.These are non-Jewish sources. What do Jewish sources have to say about Jesus of Nazareth? That is for the next post.