"Did Jesus really exist?" This accusation is not very common, but you do occasionally hear it. Someone told me that it was recently explored on the History Channel.
How do we know that Christ existed? We have the four Gospels and the other day we established how these four books are the most historically attested documents in human history.
What about non-Christian sources? Here are some non-Christian sources that testify to Christ's existence:
- Tacitus, the Roman historian, tells of the founding of Christianity by Jesus who was "crucified under Pontius Pilate." Tacitus also tells us that Nero blamed the Roman Christians for the great fire of Rome. See Tacitus' Annal. 15, 44.
- Suetonius, the biographer of the Roman Caesars, records how the Roman Jews were expelled from Rome in AD 50 because of internal fights and debates over a certain man named "Chrestus." Almost all scholars agree that "Chrestus" is a misspelling of "Christus." By the way, tradition states that Peter came to Rome in the AD 40s and so the Jewish debates in Rome "over Chrestus" may have been kindled by Peter. By the way, the reason Peter is back in Jerusalem for the Council of Jerusalem is that all Jews were expelled from Rome in about AD 50. So Peter (a Jew) left Rome and came back to Jerusalem.
- Josephus was a Jewish historian writing in the first century. He mentions Jesus of Nazareth twice and gives plenty of details about him and the Christians who follow him.
- Pliny the Younger, in AD 111 wrote a letter to Trajan about the "superstitious sect" of Christians in Asia Minor. Remarkably, Pliny records that Christians believed that Christ was God: "they sing together a hymn to Christ as God." See Pliny the Youngers Epistle 97.
- The Talmud is the record of Jewish oral tradition. The Talmud contains many blasphemous accounts of Christ (and Mary). For the sake of history, the Talmud records that Jesus was a false Messiah who learned dark magic in Egypt. The Talmud records that this Jesus was crucified on the Eve of the Passover.
These five sources (3 Roman, 2 Jewish) reveal that there was a remarkable Jewish man named Jesus who truly lived in the first century. His named was Jesus, and He was the crucified, claimed to have risen, and that his followers had already flourished as far away as Rome itself. When we couple these pagan and Jewish testimonies with the writings of St Paul and the four Gospels, (all of which were written in the middle/late of the first century) we have an amazing amount of evidence.
There is more evidence for the existence of Christ than there is for the existence of Buddha, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, or Cicero.