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The Reliability of the Bible – Part 2

posted Mar 22, 2016, 10:07 AM by First Baptist

Series Overview


By definition, a Christian is somebody who believes what the four Gospels reveal about Jesus Christ. “That’s fine, somebody might say, “but how do you know that the Gospels are true & accurate?


Christian apologists (experts in defending the faith) argue that it’s important to judge the Gospels by the same standards as other writings that purport to describe a person or event from history. If done so, the apologists claim, the Gospels stand up to scrutiny quite well.


Last week, we looked at the “rule of immediacy” – the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses (or close associates of eyewitnesses) near the time the events are alleged to have taken place. This week, we look at the “rule of independent attestation.”





According to the rule of independent attestation, the reliability of a historical document is enhanced when there are other documents or sources that attest to – to confirm – the document(s) under question.


For example, the claim that Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theatre in 1865 is bolstered by the fact that numerous sources made the same claim at or around the time of his death.


What about Jesus? Are there sources other than the four Gospels?



A Minor Figure


In the case of Jesus, there was not a lot written about him in the 1st century outside of the New Testament (at least writings that have been preserved).


We might ask, why? After all, he was quite an amazing person – a miracle worker, prophet and teacher. In addition, he rose from the dead. That’s pretty extraordinary.


The fact is, Jesus was a minor figure in the Greco-Roman world of the early 1st century. There were other miracle workers during that period, other prophets and other teachers.


While Jesus went on to be acknowledged as one of the most important persons in history (Christians say the most important), he wasn’t regarded as that significant – from a historical standpoint – until the movement he started began to grow & spread.


Most “history” of that era (not unlike today, I suppose) focused on high profile people like emperors and kings, not on itinerant preachers in small, unimportant regions of the mighty Roman Empire. So, it’s not surprising that little was written about Jesus until Christianity exploded beyond Jerusalem.


Nevertheless, there are a few non-Christians sources who attested to certain details of Jesus’ life.



Roman Sources


§  Pliny (c110 AD)


Pliny was an administrator under the emperor Trajan. He wrote about the spread of Christianity and confirmed that Christians worshipped Jesus as God from the very beginning.


§  Tacitus (c100 AD)


Tacitus was a Roman governor and a friend of Pliny. He confirmed six details mentioned in the New Testament:


1.      Jesus ministered during the time of the emperor Tiberius.

2.      Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor when Christ died.

3.      Jesus was executed as a criminal.

4.      This occurred in Judea.

5.      The movement did not die out, but exploded following his death.

6.      The movement spread all the way to Rome.



A Jewish Source


§  Josephus (37-100 AD)


Josephus was a Jewish historian (a Pharisee) who wrote about the Roman-Jewish War (66-70 AD). He confirmed two additional details about Jesus:


1.      He was called “Christ.”

2.      James was his brother.


In addition, Josephus wrote about Jesus in a document known as the Testimonium Flavianum, although some scholars regard the TF as a forgery. I’ll quote the relevant section in its entirety:


“About that time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of Christians so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.”





While there’s not a lot of independent documentation about the life of Jesus (understandably so, given that he was minor figure), there is some. Moreover, there are no documents from that era disputing or contradicting the Gospel accounts.


Tune in next week for further evidence of the reliability of the Gospels.



Pastor Dan