By Eusebio Tanicala, Ph.D.
(Note: This lesson was delivered on January 6, 2008 during the National Evangelism Workshop-Seminar which was conducted in the chapel at the Morning Breeze Subdivision in Kalookan City, Metro Manila. We want to share these ideas with our readers).
The purpose of this article is to submit proofs and arguments in support of the historicity of Jesus Christ of the Christian Bible. We deny that Jesus of the Bible is a fictitious person. Among Christians, anyone who denies the historicity of Jesus is likened to a person who denies his own physical existence. But for the sake of those who have not been raised in a Christian surrounding and for the sake of academic discussion, we oblige ourselves to prove our thesis.
We submit the following proofs and arguments:
FIRST, Jewish History Provides Strong Evidence on the Historicity of Jesus of Nazareth.
The nation of Israel recognizes that Jesus of Nazareth is a historical person. However, Jesus is considered an ordinary Hebrew, a prophet but not the Messiah. Places, people, events that are interwoven with the life and times of Jesus Christ as recorded in the gospels are geographically and historically correct.
It is also said that rabbinic and Talmudic literatures make references about Jesus of Nazareth of Nazareth.
SECOND, Jewish and Roman Historians Make References of Jesus of Nazarth.
The following historians make mention of Jesus of Nazareth. Their proximity to the time of Jesus Christ and the decades of the twelve apostles who spread Christianity should suggest that they had fresh and living sources of their narratives.
- Flavius Josephus who lived from A.D. 37—96. He was a well educated Jew and for his education and his influence among his people he was appointed a Roman army general.
- Thallus wrote about the year A.D. 52.
- Mara-Bar-Serapion wrote about the year A.D. 73.
- Cornelius Tacitus
- Pliny the Younger lived from A.D. 55—117.
- Lucian of Samosata.
- Celsus the second century Epicurean philosopher.
- Toledot Yeshu
THIRD, Early Christian Literature Bear Witness of Jesus Christ.
- Old manuscripts of books of the Bible and portions of the Bible dated from the third to the fourth centuries of the Christian Era are extant which prove that Jesus Christ was a historical person and not a product of myth writers. These ancient manuscripts are the Codex Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Alexandrinus, Ephraematic, Bezae are the major ones among five thousand Greek copies.
- The first followers of Jesus Christ like the twelve apostles and his disciples were so persuaded about the claims of the Lord as the Son of God and Savior who died and was resurrected and returned to heaven that in the next one hundred years this new religion has reached Spain in the West of the Roman Empire, Egypt, Arabia and Ethiopia in the South, Persia and India in the East. The kind of missionary zeal exercised by the first disciples debunks the fictitious origin of Jesus Christ. Their writings which included accounts of eyewitnesses support a historical Jesus.
- The Roman or Western branch of Christianity makes a list of their bishops in Rome back to the middle of the first century. Churches that believe in Jesus Christ have an unbroken line of generations back to the time of Jesus Christ.
- Bibles translated in the vernaculars in the third and 4th centuries testify that belief in Jesus Christ is ancient. There were early translations of parts of the Bible in the languages of Syria and Egypt. The Latin Vulgate Bible translated by Jerome was started in A.D. 380. This work was the basis of the Douai Version of the Roman Catholic Church which came out in 1908.
- There are the so-called church fathers, leaders and writers of Christian communities some of whom were disciples of the apostles or were converts of the immediate disciples of the apostles wrote about Jesus Christ as a historical person. Among them were Papias who was born between A.D. 50—60, a disciple of Apostle John. Justin Martyr who lived from A.D. 100—165, was beheaded in Rome. Irenaeus of the second century wrote many things that refer to Jesus Christ. Their works are compiled in a book with the title, Ante Nicean Fathers.
- Eusebius Pamphili, bishop of Caesarea who lived from A.D. 264-340, wrote about the beginning and spread of Christianity.
FOURTH, Muhammad of Arabia, the Prophet of Islam, Recognizes the Historicity of Jesus Christ.
The Qur’an and the Ahaddith make many references about Jesus the son of Mary. Jesus Christ is one of the 25 great prophets of God recognized by Muhammad who lived from A.D.570 to 632.
FIFTH, Make a Comparison with Other Literary Works
Some people are skeptical about the historicity of Jesus Christ and also doubt the veracity of the Bible as a book of history. But the text of the Bible is based on very ancient manuscripts dating back to the third and 4th centuries. Whereas, other literary works that are readily accepted are based on very late manuscripts like the following:
- The oldest manuscripts of the Greek poet Homer date back to A.D. 800.
- Caesar’s Gallic War of 58—50 B.C. are dated A.D. 900.
- Roman History of Livy, 59 B.C. – 17 A.D. Of the 147 books originally written, only 35 manuscripts are said to exist and 29 of these date back to the 4th century.
- Histories of Tacitus written A.D. 100-115, only 14 books are extant which are derived from two manuscripts of the ninth century.
- The Annals of Titus written about A.D.100 has ten manuscripts which date back to A.D.1100.
- History of Thucydides written 480—425 B.C. has eight manuscripts existing that date back to A.D. 900
The gospels written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John contain the teachings of Jesus Christ. These teachings are the bedrock of European Civilization which affected America and the Philippines. Christ’s teachings influenced world view, philosophy, justice, government and economics.
Belief in the One God as creator and governor of the universe gives us reasonable philosophical world view. The Sermon on the Mount makes society God centered and makes human relationship enlightened.
Other ideas that improve society are the Fatherhood of a merciful God; Heaven as eternal home of the faithful gives a bright tomorrow; Trust in God creates a positive view of life and reduces anxiety; Praying to God makes life positive; Loving neighbor as one loves self improves society; Last Judgment provides a sense of justice; the Parable of the Good Samaritan has inspired the establishment of hospitals and enhanced the value of human life; Christ’s philosophy of “ The Greatest Is One Who Serves” is the current philosophy of leadership and governance today; 1 Cor 13; Galatians 5:17-21; Philippians 2 refine our emotions and puts the emotion of LOVE on a pedestal. Love is the finest and the most noble among emotions