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New Testament Account of Jesus Christ Supported

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Many skeptics dismiss the Gospel accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as having been fabricated centuries after His time by leaders of the so-called “Christian movement.” In the past, such skeptics even denied that there had ever been a historical Jesus of Nazareth—until the overwhelming bulk of corroborating evidence made them look quite foolish.

Lately, it has been more fashionable to allege that since Jesus and His followers would have been only illiterate tradesmen and could not possibly have written the biblical books bearing their names, these books were probably not written until centuries later by people other than those after whom the books are named. How, then, can we believe much of the New Testament? Is there any support from outside secular sources for the New Testament accounts of the life of Christ and the writings of His followers?

According to Craig L. Blomberg, the answer is an emphatic yes. After extensively quoting many of these sources, he sums it up: “Combining the evidence of these various Greco-Roman writers, one can clearly accumulate enough data to refute the fanciful notion that Jesus never existed, without even appealing to the testimony of Jewish or Christian sources.”29

An example of the sources Blomberg cites was one of the most trusted contemporary Roman historians, Cornelius Tacitus, who was a member of the Roman Senate after having served in several official Roman posts. About 115 AD, Tacitus wrote The Annals, a history of the acts of those emperors who had succeeded Augustus Caesar up to and including Nero—a period spanning the years 14-69 AD. Much of what Tacitus included came from his personal experiences (he was born in 57), and his earlier material was drawn from the archives to which he had access as an official.

In The Annals, Tacitus writes of the disastrous fire that burned a huge portion of Rome, which many suspected Nero himself had deliberately set. “Nero looked around for a scapegoat, and inflicted the most fiendish tortures on a group of people already hated by the people for their crimes. This was the sect known as Christians. Their founder, one Christus, had been put to death by the procurator [governor] Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. This checked the abominable superstition for a while, but it broke out again and spread, not merely through Judaea, where it originated, but even to Rome itself….” Tacitus goes on to describe in grisly detail the hideous ways in which Nero punished people for the “crime” of professing Christianity. Note that Tacitus speaks of Christianity in very negative terms. He himself was certainly no advocate of this “abominable superstition.”30

Another extra-biblical writer that mentions Jesus is the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. At the behest of Roman authorities, in about 94 AD he wrote Antiquities of the Jews. In Book 20, Chapter 9, section 1, he gives an account of the illegal execution of Jesus’ half-brother James in which he also mentions Jesus Himself. “Festus [the former Roman procurator, mentioned in Acts 24-26] was now dead, and Albinus [his newly appointed successor] was but upon the road; so he [Ananus II, the High Priest] assembled the Sanhedrin of the judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called [the] Christ, whose name was James, and some others…. [And] when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned….”

Jesus had been born during the Roman dominion over His birthplace, Judea. Any student of the history of Rome can find the accurately recorded names, dates, and places relating to the important events in the long history of the most extensive and powerful empire of the ancient world. For our purposes, the most important notable people in the life of Christ are all known from documented history: Emperor Augustus Caesar and his successor Tiberius; Herod the Great and his sons, kings of Judea and Galilee; Pontius Pilate, Roman procurator of the province; and Annas and Caiaphas, the High Priests appointed by Rome who tried and convicted Jesus.

We read of Christ’s birth in Luke 2: “Now it happened in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the [Roman] world should be registered [for tax purposes]” (verse 1). Continuing in verses 4-6, “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was from the house and lineage of David, to register himself along with Mary, who was betrothed to him as wife, and was great with child. And it came to pass that during the time they were there, the days were fulfilled for her to give birth.”

Augustus reigned as Roman Emperor from 31 BC to 14 AD. History remembers his administration as having been competent and relatively just. According to the Jewish/Greek philosopher and historian Philo, during the reign of Augustus “no one dared to molest the Jews.”31

The same cannot be said for Herod “the Great,” Rome’s appointee to the kingship of Judea. We learn from Josephus that Herod was not even ethnically Jewish, but attained the throne by a mixture of political intrigue, military force, and outright treachery. Josephus depicts Herod as a highly corrupt despot who routinely courted the favor of those in power, betrayed the trust of associates, and ascended to political prominence via murder (including the murder of many of his own family members). It was thus that Herod both usurped and maintained power over the Jews in a tyrannical reign that stretched from 37 BC to 4 BC—a few months after the birth of Christ.

Should we be surprised, then, that Herod ordered the killing of all baby boys up to the age of two in Bethlehem after hearing of the birth of Jesus, whom the visiting “wise men” were calling “King of the Jews”? The increasingly mad Herod had never allowed anyone to live who even seemed to threaten any of his ambitions—and he certainly was not about to start.32

Tiberius, successor to Augustus, appointed Pontius Pilate to be procurator of the Roman province of Judea in 26 AD. Pilate’s administration is thus characterized by Alfred Edersheim: “Venality, violence, robbery, persecutions, wanton, malicious insults, judicial murders without even the formality of a legal process, and cruelty—such are the charges brought against his administration. If former governors had to some extent respected the religious scruples of the Jews, Pilate set them purposely at defiance; and this not only once but again and again….”33

The office of High Priest seems to have been a political reward given to whoever could curry the favor of foreign occupying authorities. (Such had been the case since the time of Greek rule of Judea under first the Ptolemies, then the Seleucids.) Edersheim writes of Annas and Caiaphas: “After holding the Pontificate for nine years, [Annas] was deposed and succeeded by others, of whom the fourth was his son-in-law Caiaphas. The character of the High Priests during the whole of that period is described in the Talmud in terrible language…. It deserves notice that the special sin with which the house of Annas is charged is that of ‘whispering’—or hissing like vipers—which seems to refer to private influence on the judges in their administration of justice, whereby morals were corrupted, judgment perverted, and the Shekinah withdrawn from Israel.”34

“The names of those bold, licentious, unscrupulous, degenerate sons of Aaron were spoken with whispered curses…. [We] can understand how antithetic in every respect a Messiah, and such a Messiah as Jesus, must have been to Annas. He was as resolutely bent on His death as his son-in-law, though with his characteristic cunning and coolness, not the hasty, bluff manner of Caiaphas.”35

The brutal nature of Pilate and the wholesale corruption of the Jewish religious leadership are verified by the New Testament account of Jesus’ death. On the night of His betrayal and subsequent mock trial by the Sanhedrin, His captors took Him first to Annas, the ex-High Priest—an obvious breach of protocol. For any official trial by the Sanhedrin, Caiaphas, as the current High Priest, would be required to preside.36 We read in Matthew 26 that Caiaphas demanded that Jesus tell whether or not He claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus answered, “You have said it. Moreover, I say to you, in the future you shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” Then Caiaphas ripped his own garments, saying, “He has blasphemed! Why do we need any more witnesses? Behold, you have just now heard His blasphemy. What do you think?” They answered, “He is deserving of death!” (verses 63-66).

Since the Romans did not permit the Jews to carry out executions themselves, they took Jesus to Pilate—who after questioning Him concluded that he could find no fault worthy of His death. As we have seen, Pilate had no scruples against unjustly killing Jews. So we might wonder why he was so hesitant to execute Jesus if he thought He was innocent. Pilate even ceremoniously washed his hands before the crowd as if to absolve himself of the guilt for Jesus’ execution. Perhaps Matthew 27:19 suggests an answer: “Now as he sat on the judgment seat, his wife sent a message to him, saying, ‘Let there be nothing between you and that righteous man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.’ ”

The point here is this: If the execution of Christ had simply been fabricated, it would seem likely that the part about Pilate being reluctant to carry out this one execution could have been left out. Pilate was notorious for unjustly killing scores of Jews, so why bother to highlight his hesitation in this case unless the story really happened?

Finally, we have additional corroboration of the account of Christ’s crucifixion from (of all places) the Jewish Talmud: “It was taught: On the day before the Passover they hanged Jesus … because he practiced and enticed Israel to go astray….”37 The passage also claims that for forty days a herald went around trying to find anyone who might witness in Jesus’ favor, yet no one was found. This part seems unlikely, since the Bible tells us that Christ’s trial and crucifixion all took place in less than 24 hours. In fact, what the authorities actually did was to search for witnesses against Jesus—but as it turned out, even their false witnesses could not get their conflicting stories straight. We should not be surprised, however, that the Talmud often conflicts with the scriptural account. 

The Book of Acts Corroborated

In the late 19th century, a skeptical British scholar named William Ramsay set out to investigate the veracity of Luke’s book entitled “Acts of the Apostles.” Ramsay’s approach was to retrace the steps supposedly taken by Paul on his journeys through Asia Minor (modern Turkey) at a time long before paved roads would noticeably alter the landscape from what it had been in Paul’s day. He was expecting to find obvious discrepancies between locations and place names in Acts and the geographic reality—and possibly even prove that Paul could never have gone where Luke said he went. Highly influenced by the “Tubingen Theory” (which holds that most biblical books are composites of writings by multiple authors penned long after the events they describe), Ramsay started out believing that the book of Acts had actually been written in the second century (long after Paul and Luke had died), probably by multiple authors. He did not begin with an attitude ready to see Acts as reliable firsthand history.

“On the contrary, I began with a mind unfavorable to it [his later conclusion that Acts did indeed constitute reliable firsthand history], for the ingenuity and apparent completeness of the Tubingen Theory had at one time quite convinced me. It did not lie then in my line of life to investigate the subject minutely; but more recently I found myself often brought in contact with the book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities, and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth. In fact, beginning with the fixed idea that the work was essentially a second-century composition and never relying on its evidence as trustworthy for first-century conditions, I gradually came to find it a useful ally in some obscure and difficult investigations.”38

“It is not my object to assume or to prove that there was no prejudice in the mind of Luke, no fault on the part of Paul; but only to examine whether the facts stated are trustworthy, and leave them to speak for themselves (as the author does). I shall argue that the book was composed by a personal friend and disciple of Paul, and if this be once established, there will be no hesitation in accepting the primitive tradition that Luke was the author.”39

After having personally seen the region and experienced the topography of the land, the locations of the named cities and towns, and the prevailing winds and currents as described by Luke, aided by his knowledge of historical records, Ramsay came finally to the conclusion that Acts did in fact constitute not only reliable history, but what he termed “historical work of the highest order”—comparable even to that of great ancient historians like Thucydides. Though it isn’t clear that Ramsay came to see the Bible as the inspired Word of God, it seems he did at least become a believer in the accuracy of the Bible’s history. He even went on to write several other historic works about Paul and other early Christian notables.

These examples from secular history clearly support the veracity of the New Testament accounts of the life of Christ and the writings of His followers.

Archaeological Finds Supporting the New Testament 

Here is a sampling of the countless archaeological discoveries that support the narratives found in the New Testament:

Nazareth—A lower-Galilee village where Jesus grew up after His family’s return from Egypt, Nazareth was located just a four-mile walking commute from Sepphoris—the bustling capital of Galilee under Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great. Sepphoris was the site of a massive urban rebuilding project following its destruction by the Romans after an ill-advised rebellion had sprang up in the wake of the death of Herod the Great in 4 BC. Thus, as artisans working in building construction, Nazareth’s proximity to the city gave Joseph and Jesus ample opportunities for employment.40

Archaeological exploration of the remains of both Sepphoris and Nazareth has been ongoing since the early 1980s. In the time of Jesus’ youth, the “proximity of Sepphoris to the satellite village, Nazareth, made contacts with this influential urban center convenient and natural.”41 This fact supports the biblical narrative that Joseph and Mary, though originally from Bethlehem, would have chosen Nazareth as their home.

Capernaum—A city by the Sea of Galilee mentioned 16 times in the Gospels. We are told that Peter and several other disciples of Christ were fishermen working out of Capernaum. As Randall Price tells us, “From the period of the New Testament there has been uncovered [at Capernaum] the evidence of the fishing industry (anchors, fishhooks), which employed the disciples, as well as a street and houses certainly used by them on occasion.”42

A first-century fishing boat—“In the 1980s, drought exposed a well-preserved first-century fishing boat (measuring 26.5 feet long, 7.5 feet wide, and 4.5 feet high) in the mud of the Sea of Galilee…. Pots and lamps found inside the boat dated it to the first century. Carbon-14 testing further confirmed the dating. The design of the boat was typical of fishing boats used during that period on the Sea of Galilee. In the back of the boat was a raised section like the one where Jesus could have been sleeping, as indicated in the Gospel accounts. The boat could accommodate fifteen people including crew. This archaeological discovery confirms the description given in the Bible.”43

To sum up the opinions of respected biblical archaeologists, we quote two of the most esteemed authorities of the 20th century. First, William F. Albright: “The excessive skepticism shown toward the Bible by important historical schools of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, certain phases of which still appear periodically, has been progressively discredited. Discovery after discovery has established the accuracy of innumerable details, and has brought increased recognition to the value of the Bible as a source of history.”44 Another leading archaeologist, Nelson Glueck, writes: “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or in exact detail historical statements in the Bible. And by the same token, [the] proper evaluation of biblical descriptions has often led to amazing [archaeological] discoveries.”45

Jack Finnegan has published a 409-page book, entitled The Archaeology of the New Testament, containing pictures, diagrams, and street plans of nearly every place mentioned in the New Testament—places that can be visited today by anyone who can afford it. This thick book can be ordered from It may cost a bit more than you care to pay, but any good city library probably contains a copy.

This sampling of discoveries from archaeology clearly supports the biblical account. To those with an open mind, these examples should lend credence to at least the possibility that the Bible is in fact the inspired Word of God.

In Part III, we will examine some of the ways in which the Bible agrees with the proven facts of science—as opposed to unproven theories and speculations by scientists.