Did Jesus Really Exist? Where is the proof from non-Bible sources that he is real?
These questions and others like it are often asked by Bible skeptics and atheists alike. This article will show that not only is there historical evidence (from secular sources as well as Christian) that Jesus Christ was real and existed, but also that Jesus Christ is the most documented and historically verifiable figure in antiquity.
Historical Evidence of Jesus Christ’s Existence From Sources Outside the Bible
Non Biblical sources
There are many secular historians who lived in the century after the death of Jesus Christ who confirmed his existence. Here are some of them:
According to his Wikipedia entry: “Titus Flavius Josephus (37 – c. 100), was a 1st-century Romano-Jewish historian and hagiographer of priestly and royal ancestry who recorded Jewish history, with special emphasis on the 1st century AD and the First Jewish–Roman War, which resulted in the Destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70.”
His most important works were The Jewish War (c. 75) and Antiquities of the Jews (c. 94). The Jewish War recounts the Jewish revolt against Roman occupation (66–70). Antiquities of the Jews recounts the history of the world from a Jewish perspective for an ostensibly Roman audience. These works provide valuable insight into 1st century Judaism and the background of Early Christianity.
Josephus was a Jew who did not believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God or Christianity. In The Antiquities of the Jews, book 18, chapter 3, paragraph 3 the famous historian Flavius Josephus writes:
“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 [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.” (source)
Later Josephus writes:
“But the younger Ananus who, as we said, received the high priesthood, was of a bold disposition and exceptionally daring; he followed the party of the Sadducees, who are severe in judgment above all the Jews, as we have already shown. As therefore Ananus was of such a disposition, he thought he had now a good opportunity, as Festus was now dead, and Albinus was still on the road; so he assembled a council of judges, and brought before it the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as law-breakers, he delivered them over to be stoned.” (source)
Josephus considered one of the greatest historians of antiquity, independently provides proof and evidence that Jesus was a real person who did exist and also confirms the crucifixion of Jesus on the cross under the orders of Pontius Pilate, thus confirming the Biblical account as well.
Cornelius Tacitus was a Roman Historian who lived from 55-120AD. In 115 AD, P. Cornelius Tacitus wrote the following passage that refers to Jesus (called “Christus,” which means “The Messiah”) in book 15, chapter 44 of The Annals after a six-day fire burned much of Rome:
“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.” (source)
Despite the fact the clearly despised Christianity as a “mischievous superstition”, Tacitus no less confirms once again the existence of Jesus and His crucifixion on the cross, it also states Pontius Pilate as the procurator who oversaw the crucifixion again giving non-Biblical proof of Jesus’ existence as recorded in the Bible.
Pliny The Younger
Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, (61 AD – ca. 112 AD) : “better known as Pliny the Younger, was a lawyer, author, and magistrate of Ancient Rome. According to Wikipedia: “Pliny is known for his hundreds of surviving letters, which are an invaluable historical source for the time period. Many are addressed to reigning emperors or to notables such as the historian, Tacitus. Pliny himself was a notable figure, serving as an imperial magistrate under Trajan (reigned AD 98–117). Pliny was considered an honest and moderate man, consistent in his pursuit of suspected Christian members according to Roman law, and rose through a series of Imperial civil and military offices, the cursus honorum.”
In his correspondence with the emperor Trajan (Epistulae X.96) he reported on his actions against the followers of Christ. He asks the Emperor for instructions dealing with Christians and explained that he forced Christians to curse Christ under painful torturous inquisition:
“They were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft, adultery, never to falsify their word, not to deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of a meal–but ordinary and innocent food.” (source)
So not only was Pliny aware of Jesus Christ, he also provides description of the activities of the early church. In a later writing he details persecution against Christians:
“Even this practice, however, they had abandoned after the publication of my edict, by which, according to your orders, I had forbidden political associations. I therefore judged it so much more the necessary to extract the real truth, with the assistance of torture, from two female slaves, who were styled deaconesses: but I could discover nothing more than depraved and excessive superstition.
In the meanwhile, the method I have observed towards those who have denounced to me as Christians is this: I interrogated them whether they were Christians; if they confessed it I repeated the question twice again, adding the threat of capital punishment; if they still persevered, I ordered them to be executed. For whatever the nature of their creed might be, I could at least feel not doubt that contumacy and inflexible obstinacy deserved chastisement. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.” (source)
So here we see that not only did Pliny not follow the Christian faith, he was torturing Christians and threatening death against them. And he even records that under threat of execution (just for believing in Jesus Christ as God) the early church members refused to deny their faith in Jesus. This is remarkable evidence of Jesus’ existence outside of the Bible.
Julius Africanus and Tallus
Sextus Julius Africanus (c.160 – c.240) was a Christian traveller and historian of the late 2nd and early 3rd century AD. He is important chiefly because of his influence on Eusebius, on all the later writers of Church history among the Fathers, and on the whole Greek school of chroniclers
Julius Africanus quotes the writings of Tallus, who was a first century non-Christian historian. In his Chronicles, Africanus quoting the historian Tallus, explains the reason for it being so dark during the day time on the day of crucifixion of Jesus Christ:
“An eclipse of the sun’unreasonably, as it seems to me (unreasonably of course, because a solar eclipse could not take place at the time of the full moon, and it was at the season of the Paschal full moon that Christ died.” Julius Africanus, Chronography, 18.
The importance of this quote is two fold as it shows: 1) non-Christian proof of Jesus’ existence and 2) yet another confirmation of the Bible’s account of Jesus’ crucifixion. The Bible states in reference to the time Jesus was put on the cross: “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour” The “sixth hour” is noon and the ninth hour is 3:00PM. Thus we see that the historian Thallus was trying to explain the odd occurrence of the sky being dark at noon during the crucifxion of Jesus as an eclipse. Africanus also quotes the secular scholar Phlegon, a Greek Historian who lived in the 2nd century AD and also wrote of an eclipse occuring on the day Jesus was crucified. This again provides proof from a non-Christian source that confirms the account of Jesus being a real person who lived as well as confirming the account of His crucifixion straight from the Bible.
Lucian of Samosate
Lucian (Born 115 AD) was a well-known Greek satirist and traveling lecturer. More than eighty works bear his name. He mocked Christians in his writing, but at the same time provided evidence that Jesus really did exist:
“He was second only to that one whom they still worship today, the man in Palestine who was crucified because he brought this new form of initiation into the world.”
“Having convinced themselves that they are immortal and will live forever, the poor wretches despise death and most willingly give themselves to it. Moreover, that first lawgiver of theirs persuaded them that they are all brothers the moment they transgress and deny the Greek gods and begin worshiping that crucified sophist and living by his laws.”
“They scorn all possessions without distinction and treat them as community property. They accept such things on faith alone, without any evidence. So if a fraudulent and cunning person who knows how to take advantage of a situation comes among them, he can make himself rich in a short time.”
So again, even though Lucian does not mention Jesus by name, there is no doubt he is speaking of the Jesus as he confirms: 1) that he was crucified in “Palestine” (the name of Israel at that time), 2) had followers who believed in eternal life and 3) that they were all equal in Jesus Christ. Lucian even mentions that Christians deny all other gods and believe on “faith alone.” This again is all in accordance with the Bible’s clear statements about the Christian faith and provides even more evidence from outside of the Bible that Jesus, the “man in Palestine” did really exist.
Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus commonly known as Suetonius (ca. 69/75 – after 130), was a Roman historian belonging to the equestrian order in the early Imperial era. His most important surviving work is a set of biographies of twelve successive Roman rulers, from Julius Caesar to Domitian, entitled De Vita Caesarum. The description of his writings states:
The emperor Claudius reigned 41 to 54 AD. Suetonius reports his dealings with the eastern Roman Empire, that is, with Greece and Macedonia, and with the Lycians, Rhodians, and Trojans. He then reports that the emperor expelled the Jews from Rome, since they “constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Christ” (Judaeos impulsore Chresto assidue tumultuantis Roma expulit). The name appears in manuscripts of Suetonius as Chrestus, a form also used by the Roman historian Tacitus to refer to Chrestiani. (source)
Skeptics will point to the different spelling to say “that’s not Jesus he’s talking about!” but again, with the totality of evidence, it’s very obvious that followers of Jesus in the Roman Empire were persecuted by Roman authorities. So it certainly falls in line with the other historical accounts. And there are a number of sources the support the history of Christians in the Roman empire who followed Jesus Christ and being punished for it.
The Bible is Historical Proof That Jesus Existed
There is a great logical fallacy among Bible skeptics, atheists and those who like to challenge Christianity that says when discussing the historical aspects of the Bible “you can’t use the Bible as proof that Jesus existed. You must use non-Bible sources!!” To which this author says, “why not?” The four Gospels of the Bible are bibliographical accounts of the life of Jesus. The normal objective measure of the reliability of historical documents is: 1) The number of available copies of ancient manuscripts and 2) the time span between the original version and the date of those copies still in existence today. When examined under this standard, the Bible proves to provide a treasure trove of proof and evidence that Jesus really existed.
Some of the earliest manuscript fragments of the New Testament are the John Rylands Fragment, Chester Beatty Papyrus and the Bodmer Papyrus which were written between 50-100AD. Copies of these papyri were reproduced in 125-200AD, meaning that the time span between the originals and the copies still in existence today is 29 years to 130 years, putting all these manuscripts beings written anywhere from 50-100 years after the death of Jesus Christ. Now some may object and say “Hold on! These manuscripts were written years after Jesus died. There’s no way they could be reliable!” But any expert on ancient documents would disagree.
Let’s look at some of the more famous and universally accepted historical documents and see how they match up with the Bible:
Plato — Plato wrote his works from 427-347 BC. The earliest manuscript copy of Plato’s writing in existence today was written in 900 AD. That is 1,200 years after Plato’s death! And there are only 2 copies of these manuscripts in existence. (source)
Julius Caesar — One of the most celebrated and trusted historical figures. Caesar lived from 100-44 BC and the earliest manuscript copy of his writings dates back to 900 AD, putting our best evidence of Caesar ever existing 1,000 years after his death. And there are 10 copies of ancient manuscripts of Caesar’s Gallic Wars. (source) So if you question the Bible based on when it was written, being “translated so many times” (it was not – we still have the same Greek manuscripts today) and still question whether Jesus existed, then you must also be really sure that Julius Caesar and Plato were completely fictional characters and never really existed.
Homer — Homer, who historians are not even sure ever really existed even today, is credited with writing the Iliad in ca 900 BC. The earliest manuscript copy of the Iliad dates to 400 BC. Meaning the only proof of Homer or the Iliad being accurate is from 500 years after the death of Homer. Additionally there are 643 copies of ancient manuscripts of the Iliad written over the centuries that when compared against each other by experts have a 95.3 consistency and accuracy, making it one of the most reliable and proven documents of antiquity. (source)
That is of course, until you compare it to the New Testament. The New Testament manuscripts date to less than 100 years after the death of Christ. Additionally there are over 5,600 ancient manuscript copies of the New Testament giving it more copies to a degree that dwarfs any other figure of ancient history (to view actual copies of some of these ancient manuscripts, see here). And they have a 99% accuracy when compared to each other. The evidence is not even comparable. And it all points to Jesus Christ. The record of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has more evidence and proof than any other person from antiquity.
The Proof and Evidence is Clear – Jesus Christ Really Existed
The most amazing conclusion in all of this is not that Jesus really existed — it is that He still exists. And He sits in Heaven at the right hand of God offering forgiveness to those who will not just believe He was a regular man, but that He as the Son of God, gave His life on that same cross that so many historians knew about, to take the punishment for sins that all of humanity has committed. It just takes faith and trust in that sacrifice to receive him. Jesus said: Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. - Revelation 3:20-21.
Jesus wants us to believe in Him so we can be freely forgiven of the sins we have committed in our lives, have eternal life and reign with Him. So now that it is established that He existed, why not take the time to get to know Jesus Christ and who He said He is from His historically-verifiable perspective? Your eternal life may depend on it.