Early Secular Sources Support New Testament Accounts of Jesus’ Divinity
by SJ Thomason
The foundation upon which Christianity rests is in Jesus’ resurrection. If the resurrection did not occur, early Christian disciples would have remained in hiding, fearful of persecution. If the resurrection did not occur, they would likely have returned to their positions prior to Jesus’ ministry and their cause would have died down as the realization that their leader had died an excruciating and demeaning death sunk in.
But they did not remain in hiding, and Christianity did not die down. Consider that Christianity had an estimated five to six million adherents prior to 313 AD when legalized by Constantine (Wawro, 2008). Why, you ask, did so many people believe despite the potential for persecution?
Jesus resurrected from the dead and early believers who were eyewitnesses to this event refused to recant their testimonies.
Details of Jesus’ life are documented both Biblically and extra-biblically. We have Gospel accounts of the empty tomb and Jesus’ resurrection, along with accounts from Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, Romans 1:4, Philippians 3:10-11 and 2 Timothy 2:18. We further have five non-Christian sources who confirm Jesus’ death via the crucifixion. These are Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, Mara Bar-Serapion, and the Talmud (Habermas & Licona, 2004). We have seven sources pointing to multiple, very early and eyewitness testimonies to the disciples’ claims of witnessing the risen Jesus who all note that early disciples were willing to suffer for their beliefs in Jesus: Luke – in Acts, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Ignatius, Dionysius of Corinth, Tertullian, and Origen (Habermas & Licona, 2004). Finally, we have eyewitness testimonies from disciples Peter, Mark, Matthew, Paul, James and Jude, along with the testimony of Luke, who authored the book of Luke and Acts. In Acts, Luke refers to himself in the first person when traveling with Paul (who knew Peter and James), which suggests he was well-aware and had first-hand knowledge of the testimonies of (at least) Peter, James, and Paul.
Nonbelievers such as Richard Carrier have often challenged historians’ majority consensus that the Gospels are historical biographies to make the claim that they’re instead of a mythical genre. He and his peers further assert that early Christian disciples, such as Paul, Peter, and James, who claimed to have seen the risen Jesus, had “hallucinations.” Rather than honestly examining why these early disciples braved decades of persecution and endured beatings, stoning, imprisonments, beheadings, and crucifixions to prove their claim, they dismiss them as “schizos” or as “delusional.”
Implying a mass hallucination and applying a schizophrenia diagnosis to explain the actions of ancient people in history is not an approach used by professional historians or psychologists. Suggesting that all early worshippers of Jesus experienced hallucinations and had schizophrenia, which is a chronic and severe neurological brain disorder affecting 1.1% of the population, only exposes their biases against Jesus.
Nonbelievers often suggest the entire Bible is a myth, yet even if we did not have the Bible, we have enough extra-biblical evidence to support Jesus. The rest of this blog will provide details on the evidence we have from ancient sources with particular attention to our secular sources.
Historians often request two sources of evidence when piecing together histories, yet we have an astounding forty-two sources within one hundred and fifty years of Jesus’ resurrection that support accounts of Jesus…