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Thread: The Case for Christ

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    Default The Case for Christ

    Gary Habermas wrote The Verdict of History, 1988. In it he shows 39 ancient sources documenting the life of Jesus: 100 facts concerning Jesus' life, crucifixion, and resurrection.

    24 of those sources, including 7 secular and several earliest creeds of the church, specifically concern the divine nature of Jesus.

    Therefore, the doctrine of the deity of Christ was present in the earliest church.

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    Additionally, outside the Bible, Jesus is also mentioned by his near-contemporaries. Extra-Biblical and secular writers (many hostile) point to Jesus' existence, including the Roman writings of Tacitus, Seutonius, Thallus and Pliny, and the Jewish writings of Josephus and the Talmud. Gary Habermas has cited a total of 39 ancient extra-Biblical sources, including 17 non-Christian, that witness from outside the New Testament to over 100 details of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.

    It is significant that contemporaneous Christians, Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp described the Gospels as the words of Jesus.

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    Of the ancient Jewish writings, Flavius Josephus is most notable. Josephus was a historian who lived A.D. 37-97. He referred to Jesus Christ twice in his writings. In the first instance, he wrote:
    "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 other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders." [quoted in The Verdict of History: Conclusive Evidence for the Life of Jesus by Gary Habermas (Nashville: Nelson, 1988), pp 91-92)]
    In the second reference, a few pages later, Josephus wrote:
    "Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin 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." [Josephus' History of the Jews 20:9c]
    These citations are noteworthy because Josephus was neither a Christian nor a friend of Christianity. In fact, he wrote his history of the Jews for Romans whom he knew to be hateful toward Christianity.

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    Roman documents make up the third category of ancient sources testifying that Jesus really lived. Before considering examples from this group, however, it is important to note why we should not expect to find many references to Jesus in Roman sources. Imagine you are a preacher for a small country congregation in Oklahoma. If you stayed there for three years, how often do you suppose your name would appear in the Washington Post or the New York Times? That is more in keeping with the level of expectation we should have when it comes to reading about Jesus in ancient Roman writings. An obscure carpenter with few friends, from a remote town thousands of miles from Rome, would hardly make front-page news in the capital city of the world! Even His death on the cross was commonplace in that age of extreme cruelty. Nonetheless, some references were made to Jesus.

    Three authors stand out. First, Suetonius (an author who wrote biographies of the first twelve Roman emperors) referred to Christ and Christians in A.D. 120. Second, Pliny the Younger, a governor of Bithinia, sent a letter to the Emperor Trajan in A.D. 112 asking for advice on what to do with Christians. Among other things, he wrote that they "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...." [quoted in The Verdict of History: Conclusive Evidence for the Life of Jesus by Gary Habermas (Nashville: Nelson, 1988), p 95)]

    Third, perhaps the most outstanding Roman writer who mentioned Jesus was the historian Cornelius Tacitus. In his Annals, written about A.D. 116, Tacitus said this about Nero's attempts to avoid being blamed for the burning of Rome:
    "Therefore, to scotch the rumour, Nero substituted as culprits, and punished with the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men, loathed for their vices, whom the crowd styled Christians. Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate, and the pernicious superstition was checked for a moment, only to break out once more, not merely in Judaea, the home of the disease, but in the capital itself, where all things horrible or shameful in the world collect and find a vogue. First, then, the confessed members of the sect were arrested; next, on their disclosures, vast numbers were convicted, not so much on the count of arson as for hatred of the human race. And derision accompanied their end: they were covered with wild beasts' skins and torn to death by dogs; or they were fastened on crosses, and, when daylight failed were burned to serve as lamps by night." [quoted in He Walked Among Us by Josh McDowell and Bill Wislon (San Bernardino, CA:, Here's Life Publishers, 1988), p 49)]
    This is an important citation, since Tacitus is almost universally praised as one of the world's greatest ancient historians. He was not a follower of Jesus, nor did he like Christians. He simply recorded the facts as he knew them. Among those facts were that a man known as Christus [an apparent corruption of the "Christ"] died at the hands of Pontius Pilate, and that he had a following of people that reached as far as Rome. Tacitus even told of the horrible way Christians were treated. This is very important in itself. Remember, this persecution occurred less than 40 years after the death of Christ. These early Christians obviously believed that Jesus was much more than a myth. They were willing to die for Him.

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