Can We Trust Josephus?
by Matt Rawlings
There is a very small fringe group of “scholars” that claim there is no credible evidence that Jesus ever existed. The claim is quickly dismissed even by atheists like Bart Ehrman as asinine but the outrageous historical statement is increasingly cited online by atheists. When apologists like myself are forced to respond, we typically point to ancient sources outside the Bible which speak of Jesus. We do so because it is quicker than demonstrating how Scripture itself provides reliable eyewitness testimony about Jesus and the early church.
One of the ancient sources I often quote is the 1st century Jewish historian Josephus (36-100 A.D.). In Josephus’ work Jewish Antiquities, we find the following lines:
About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds 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. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared. (18.63-64).
Critics charge Josephus, who was not a Christian, would not have called Jesus “the Messiah” and, as such, would also not have believed he rose from the dead. Thus, skeptics believe the work has been altered by a later Christian editor and dismiss the entire passage as unreliable.
Do they have a point? Yes and no.
In all likelihood, Josephus would not have called Jesus “the Messiah” or believed he had risen from the dead and remained outside of the faith. But that’s not the whole story.
Later, in section 20.200, Josephus wrote…
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