Is it possible for the existence of Christ to be proven fact? Apart from the Christian sources are plenty of non-Christian sources to convince both historians and biblical scholars alike of the existence of Christ, at the very least, as a historical figure. The most well known of those who refer to Christ is Josephus (c. 37-c.100), a Jewish historian, who speaks of Christ in two separate passages, one being hotly contested, the other being much more accepted amongst scholars. In “Antiquity of the Jews” Josephus writes: “About this time came Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it is appropriate to call him a man. For he was a performer of paradoxical feats, a teacher of people who accept the unusual with pleasure, and he won over many of the Jews and also many Greeks. He was the Christ. When Pilate, upon the accusation of the first men amongst us, condemned him to be crucified, those who had formerly loved him did not cease to follow him, for he appeared to them on the third day, living again, as the divine prophets foretold, along with a myriad of other marvelous things concerning him. And the tribe of the Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to this day.” ("Antiquities of the Jews", by Flavius Josephus. Book 18, Chapter 3, paragraphs 1-5. Paragraph 3)
It’s easy to see why this would be questioned, a jew referring to Jesus as Christ, would and should be questioned. Yet there is no evidence to suggest that it was falsified by later Christians, however many scholars believe that Josephus did indeed write something similar to this, but there may have been some interpolation at a later period. Maybe a few words were added to give the impression that Josephus believed Jesus is the Christ. Regardless, Josephus wrote something here regarding Christ, that much we do know. Personally I think he is merely repeating something told to him by a Christian. His other reference to Christ is widely accepted as authentic, when Josephus refers to James as the “brother of Jesus, who was called Christ.” This sounds like the words of a historian writing from the perspective of a Jew, notice he did not say “who was Christ” but “who was called Christ” which does not conflict with his Jewish beliefs, he is merely stating this as a historical fact. Josephus would not have fabricated either of these passages, he is simply recording them as a historian, not from a Jewish bias.
Tacitus (ca. 56 A.D. - ca. 117), a pagan Roman historian, also attests to the historicity of Jesus when he writes: “Nero fastened the guilt of starting the blaze and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians [Chrestians] by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.” (Tacitus, Annals 15.44) There are those who also suggest that this is also an interpolation made by later Christians. This seems to be quite a stretch since, unlike the contested quote from Josephus, Tacitus does not speak very highly of Christians. This is what makes it difficult to believe that any Christian would make such disparaging remarks about themselves.
Therefore this reveals itself to be a wonderful source, as many scholars have contended that Tacitus drew from the Roman archives for his sources, even though he cites no source. What about Tacitus referring to Pilate as procurator and not prefect? Josephus and Philo also record Pilate as being procurator and in a province like Judea it is likely that he held both titles. What exactly does Tacitus prove to us? According to Bart Ehrman “Tacitus’ report confirms what we know from other sources, that Jesus was executed by order of the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, sometimes during Tiberius’ reign.”
Pliny the younger (c. 61 - c. 112), also a Roman pagan, writes in a letter to Emperor Trajan that: “Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ — none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do — these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshiped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.” (Pliny to Trajan, Letters 10.96–97) Pliny is speaking of those who refused to worship the emperor, but instead worship Christ. This attests to the fact that Christianity was indeed real and that these Christians worshipped Christ. This speaks more of the existence of the Christian faith existing, which logically infers that Christ Himself most likely existed.
Other sources include Suetonius (c. 69 A.D. - c. 140) who writes: “As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he (Claudius) expelled them (the Jews) from Rome" (see Robert Graves translation of Suetonius, Claudius 25, in The Twelve Caesars (Baltimore: Penguin, 1957), and his introduction p. 7, cf. p. 197)
The Jewish stoic, Mar Bar Sarapion, writes to his son: “For what benefit did the Athenians obtain by putting Socrates to death, seeing that they received as retribution for it famine and pestilence? Or the people of Samos by the burning of Pythagoras, seeing that in one hour the whole of their country was covered with sand? Or the Jews by the murder of their Wise King, seeing that from that very time their kingdom was driven away from them? For with justice did God grant a recompense to the wisdom of all three of them. For the Athenians died by famine; and the people of Samos were covered by the sea without remedy; and the Jews, brought to desolation and expelled from their kingdom, are driven away into every land. Nay, Socrates did “not” die, because of Plato; nor yet Pythagoras, because of the statue of Hera; nor yet the Wise King, because of the new laws which he enacted.” (Theissen, Gerd and Annette Merz. The historical Jesus: a comprehensive guide. Fortress Press. 1998. translated from German, 1996 edition)
References to Christ also exist within the Jewish Talmud that state: “It is taught: On the eve of Passover they hung Yeshu and the crier went forth for forty days beforehand declaring that Yeshu is going to be stoned for practicing witchcraft, for enticing and leading Israel astray. Anyone who knows something to clear him should come forth and exonerate him." But no one had anything exonerating for him and they hung him on the eve of Passover. Ulla said: Would one think that we should look for exonerating evidence for him? He was an enticer and God said (Deuteronomy 13:9) "Show him no pity or compassion, and do not shield him." Yeshu was different because he was close to the government.” (Sanhedrin 43a)
Thallus, a Samaritan historian writes, in what is considered by scholars as the earliest reference to Jesus, around the year 55, saying: “On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in his third book of History, calls (as appears to me without reason) an eclipse of the sun. (Julius Africanus, Extant Writings XVIII in Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973) vol. VI, p. 130)
Lucian (c. 125 - c. 180), a Roman satirist wrote: “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day — the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account… You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws.” (Lucian, The Death of Peregrine, 11–13 in The Works of Lucian of Samosata, translated by H. W. Fowler (Oxford: Clarendon, 1949) vol. 4)
Finally Celsus who had wrote a book against Christians, which now survives only in Origen’s refutation of it. Celsus made accusations that Christ was a sorcerer and magician, and even referring to Christ as a “mere man”. It is obvious that Celsus is attempting to explain away the miracles of Christ as being nothing but tricks as opposed to denying that Christ ever performed them or even existed. Why exactly would Celsus make this argument if he felt that Christ did not exist?
However, none of this evidence seems to satisfy most scientific atheists who assert that nobody during the time of Christ wrote about Him. They contend, therefore, that Christ and the Gospels were greatly exaggerated or pure fabrications. Since these non-Christian sources were written after Christ, this somehow negates them as being reliable and yet most of our history from the ancient world is very similar in that most of the accounts are written after the person existed. Often times their account is transmitted through oral tradition before it is eventually written down, and this is not uncommon to history, and certainly does not disqualify any source as being unreliable.
early Christian evidence
So what if Christ existed, just because He existed does not make him God. How do we know that the Gospels were not changed or what the early Christians, apart from the apostles, believed? There is no evidence that the Gospels were changed at any point to deify Christ, despite what atheists may claim. We know this very fact from comparing the earliest manuscripts, Codex Vaticanus (300 A.D.), Codex Sinaiticus (350 A.D.), and Codex Alexandrinus (450 A.D.), with what we have today. Despite not having the originals many are surprised to find that almost all of our ancient history is the exact same way, for instance Socrates, the earliest manuscripts that survive him come from the 7th centuryA.D. In comparison, Jesus has some very solid manuscript evidence and our sources that support early Christians believing in the divinity of Christ comes from the writings of the early church fathers.
There are atheists and even some religious sects that claim Jesus was deified at the council of Nicaea and before this council all Christians believed Christ became like a god, but was born a man. If this idea is true than it should be reflected in the writings of the early church fathers, those preceding the council of Nicaea (A.D. 325). Here is a list of just a few of the ante-Nicaean fathers and their quotes.
Ignatius of Antioch (ca. 35 - ca. 98 or 117)
"Ignatius, also called Theophorus, to the Church at Ephesus in Asia . . . predestined from eternity for a glory that is lasting and unchanging, united and chosen through true suffering by the will of the Father in Jesus Christ our God" (Letter to the Ephesians 1 [A.D. 110]).
"For our God, Jesus Christ, was conceived by Mary in accord with God’s plan: of the seed of David, it is true, but also of the Holy Spirit" (ibid., 18:2).
"[T]o the Church beloved and enlightened after the love of Jesus Christ, our God, by the will of him that has willed everything which is" (Letter to the Romans 1 [A.D. 110]).
Aristides the Athenian (2nd Century)
"[Christians] are they who, above every people of the earth, have found the truth, for they acknowledge God, the Creator and maker of all things, in the only-begotten Son and in the Holy Spirit" (Apology 16 [A.D. 140]).
Tatian the Syrian (c. 120 - c. 180)
"We are not playing the fool, you Greeks, nor do we talk nonsense, when we report that God was born in the form of a man" (Address to the Greeks 21 [A.D. 170]).
Irenaeus (2nd Century - c.202)
“For the Church, although dispersed throughout the whole world even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and from their disciples the faith in one God, Father Almighty, the creator of heaven and earth and sea and all that is in them; and in one Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became flesh for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who announced through the prophets the dispensations and the comings, and the birth from a Virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the bodily ascension into heaven of the beloved Christ Jesus our Lord, and his coming from heaven in the glory of the Father to reestablish all things; and the raising up again of all flesh of all humanity, in order that to Jesus Christ our Lord and God and Savior and King, in accord with the approval of the invisible Father, every knee shall bend of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth . . . " (Against Heresies 1:10:1 [A.D. 189]).
"Nevertheless, what cannot be said of anyone else who ever lived, that he is himself in his own right God and Lord . . . may be seen by all who have attained to even a small portion of the truth" (ibid., 3:19:1).
Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 - c. 215
"The Word, then, the Christ, is the cause both of our ancient beginning—for he was in God—and of our well-being. And now this same Word has appeared as man. He alone is both God and man, and the source of all our good things" (Exhortation to the Greeks 1:7:1 [A.D. 190]).
"Despised as to appearance but in reality adored, [Jesus is] the expiator, the Savior, the soother, the divine Word, he that is quite evidently true God, he that is put on a level with the Lord of the universe because he was his Son" (ibid., 10:110:1).
Tertullian (c. 160 - c. 220)
"The origins of both his substances display him as man and as God: from the one, born, and from the other, not born" (The Flesh of Christ 5:6–7 [A.D. 210]).
"That there are two gods and two Lords, however, is a statement which we will never allow to issue from our mouth; not as if the Father and the Son were not God, nor the Spirit God, and each of them God; but formerly two were spoken of as gods and two as Lords, so that when Christ would come, he might both be acknowledged as God and be called Lord, because he is the Son of him who is both God and Lord" (Against Praxeas 13:6 [A.D. 216]).
Origen (c. 185 - c. 254)
"Although he was God, he took flesh; and having been made man, he remained what he was: God" (The Fundamental Doctrines 1:0:4 [A.D. 225]).
Hippolytus of Rome (c. 170 - c. 235)
"Only [God’s] Word is from himself and is therefore also God, becoming the substance of God" (Refutation of All Heresies 10:33 [A.D. 228]).
"For Christ is the God over all, who has arranged to wash away sin from mankind, rendering the old man new" (ibid., 10:34).
Cyprian of Carthage (3rd Century)
"One who denies that Christ is God cannot become his temple [of the Holy Spirit] . . . " (Letters 73:12 [A.D. 253]).
Gregory the Wonderworker (ca. 213 - ca. 270)
"There is one God, the Father of the living Word, who is his subsistent wisdom and power and eternal image: perfect begetter of the perfect begotten, Father of the only-begotten Son. There is one Lord, only of the only, God of God, image and likeness of deity, efficient Word, wisdom comprehensive of the constitution of all things, and power formative of the whole creation, true Son of true Father, invisible of invisible, and incorruptible of incorruptible, and immortal of immortal and eternal of eternal. . . . And thus neither was the Son ever wanting to the Father, nor the Spirit to the Son; but without variation and without change, the same Trinity abides ever" (Declaration of Faith [A.D. 265]).
Lactantius (ca. 240 - ca. 320)
"He was made both Son of God in the spirit and Son of man in the flesh, that is, both God and man" (Divine Institutes 4:13:5 [A.D. 307]).
"We, on the other hand, are [truly] religious, who make our supplications to the one true God. Someone may perhaps ask how, when we say that we worship one God only, we nevertheless assert that there are two, God the Father and God the Son—which assertion has driven many into the greatest error . . . [thinking] that we confess that there is another God, and that he is mortal. . . . [But w]hen we speak of God the Father and God the Son, we do not speak of them as different, nor do we separate each, because the Father cannot exist without the Son, nor can the Son be separated from the Father" (ibid., 4:28–29).
With these few writings from well respected church fathers we can deduce that ante-Nicaean Christians did indeed believe Christ to be God. One of the earliest, Ignatius, is an apostolic father and was even ordained by St. Peter and he firmly believed Christ is God, and this is only one verse amongst many demonstrating his belief very clearly. These few verses demonstrate that ante-Nicaean Christians believed Christ to be God. This was not something created at the council, but it was re-affirmed in the face of a great heresy that many had fallen into, Arianism, the belief that Christ is not God but created and became “a god” later. Arianism is foreign to early Christianity and therefore shows its own self to be introduced much later, around the late 3rd century early 4th century.
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