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Extrabiblical evidence on the life and crucifixion of Jesus
I am convinced that the bible has its origin in God (2 Tim.3: 16). Although skeptics believe that Biblical narratives are not supported by historical evidence. But, as part of this reflection, we will present external evidence that supports the evidence of the Biblical narratives. It must be said, by the way, that God in transmitting his word did not use some sort of mysterious language that the human mind cannot access. Far from there ! On the other hand, he uses human language, that is to say the different literary genres normally used by humans, to reveal himself to us. Having said that, when we read the historical texts, the epistles (letters), we must study them in their specific genre. So to speak, God goes down in history to reveal his plan to mankind. He used around forty authors from different geographical origins to write his message to the world in different genres. By the fact that he uses humans and their history to put his plan (Bible) on paper, it is possible to find archaeological and historical evidence supporting what is written in the Bible. However, what I am arguing for may not seem obvious to some. This is how we find people who try to prove the opposite in view of the tendency of skeptics mentioned at the beginning, and on which I will give more details.
This tendency, that historical evidence cannot support biblical facts, has its roots in distant times and was formally systematized in the 1970s-1980s by a current of historical thought called “Minimalism”. One of the examples taken by supporters of the latter to establish their perspective was the existence of “King David” as a mythical character.
In addition, it must be said that this new trend had allowed the development of what is called a biblical archeology which was going to have the object of investigating the places and the biblical characters reported in the Bible. Thus, this debate took seriously until, for the case of the history of King David, the archaeological researcher, Avraham Biran of “Hebrew Union College” was himself interested in investigating the historical existence of the King. David. In 1993, he discovered an Aramaic inscription dated to the ninth century BC in Tel Dan, in northern Israel, which contained a statement written by the enemy of Israel in which reference is made to the King's house. David. There were other finds that affirmed the historical existence of King David, such as the excavation on the Israel and Philistine border at Khirbet Qeiyafa which did indeed prove the character's dynasty. Thus, the archaeological work of Biran had closed this debate (Joseph M. HOLDEN, Norman GEISLER, 2013; KA Kitchen, 2003).
Jesus of Nazareth: from mysticism to historical evidence
Controversial open debates about the historical existence of Jesus Christ are numerous. I could even say that they are even more intense on Jesus Christ of Nazareth than on David we just introduced and any other biblical figure from the Old Testament. But I want, in reality to be quick, to briefly present here the position of Michel Onfray, a famous French atheist philosopher, who supports the thesis that Jesus is a mythical character that we will subsequently analyze. Its position sums up one of the trends among the others. According to him, Jesus is a conceptual or mythical character invented by some Jews to preach to the poor. In the process of confirming his hypothesis, the philosopher Onfray made two considerations which are worth repeating here. First, he neutralized the historical data found in the two works of two great historians of antiquity who are in favor of the historical existence of Jesus (Flavius Joseph and Tacitus), saying that it was the copyists who added these facts because they were not in the original text. Second, to affirm his hypothesis of the invention of Jesus, he mobilized the stories of several Greek philosophers, such as Socrates, Anaxagoras, Pythagoras, Empedocles. So he deduced the comparative meaning as follows: the announcement of the angel Gabriel and the birth of Jesus by a virgin to the story of Plato; the consideration of Jesus as the son of God to that of Pythagoras; the miracles operated by Jesus to those of the presocratic philosopher Empedocles; Jesus' prediction announcements to those of another pre-Socratic philosopher called Anaxagoras; the inspiration of Jesus by God to that of Socrates who was himself inspired by a demon; the night passed by Jesus before his death to a night passed by Socrates before his death; the resurrection of Christ in three days to that of Pythagoras after 207 years.
The perspective developed by Michel Onfray is located in a tradition of thought called: Mysticism. However, it would be important to question Onfray's considerations themselves. Why are the passages that relate specifically to the existence of Jesus that the copyists added? And if it was common for copyists to falsify texts by adding their own personal ideas, can we believe in the reliability of the ancient texts that people study in major universities around the world today? Knowing that Michel Onfray also carried out research work on ancient philosophers before Jesus Christ, are we to believe that he worked on mythical characters to support his atheistic ideas? Or at least, how does he manage to identify additions by copyists that were not in the original texts?
Indeed, the majority of specialist historians who have investigated the historical existence of Jesus have affirmed the opposite of Onfray's thesis. Moreover, they recognized that the texts of Flavius and Tacitus are authentic and cited them as reliable documents. This leads us to say that Michel Onfray, out of intellectual dishonesty, wanted to dispel the historical evidence presented by these historians who come to support the real existence of Jesus Christ of Nazareth for the benefit of his ideological position. So to speak, we are dealing with an individual who wants at all costs to defend his ideological position by sacrificing historical truth. This can be sacrificed, twisted, misrepresented and rejected, but it will remain unchanged. But Flavius Joseph, what exactly does he say about Jesus who has earned him the amputation of part of his work? Explaining how Pontius Pilate ruled the city of Jerusalem during the reign of King Caesar, Flavius introduced the story of Jesus who lived during that time in the following manner:
Now, there was Jesus at that time, a wise man, if it is right to call him a man; for he was a miracle worker, a teacher of a few who received the truth with pleasure. He attracted to him both a large number of Jews and pagans. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who loved him did not forsake him, when it happened. He appeared to these on the third day of his resurrection, as the divine prophets foretold these things and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct to this day (Flavius, p.965).
In this text by Flavius, it is important to note that he not only made mention of Jesus' ministry in Pilate's time, but he also speaks of his crucifixion and resurrection. It should also be noted that Flavius was not a Christian who defended Jesus. He was a learned historian. Nevertheless, he could not ignore this important fact during Pilate's reign in Jerusalem. In this same line of thought, Gary Habermas, one of the great scholars on the question of the life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, presented extrabiblical sources that come to support the life and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. Particularly, in chapter nine of his work, he reviewed seventeen sources in which he analyzed the writings of great historians and official documents from antiquity which convincingly supported the thesis of life, of the death and resurrection of Christ. He mentioned Tacitus, Flavius, but he also referred to Suetonius, Thallus, and for official documentation he worked on writings by Pliny the Younger, Emperor Trajan, Emperor Hadrian and Emperor Lucian to name a few. (Habermas, 2011, pp. 181-228).
In the same line of historical investigation into the life and crucifixion of Jesus, a historian professor specializing in ancient history, Bart Ehrman, being moreover a skeptic who does not himself believe in the resurrection, asserts that there is has more historical records of the existence and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth than of any other figure of his time. He asserts that all the eminent scholars of antiquity are unanimous on this fact (Ehrman, 2012: 12). And he goes on to say that he can in no way pretend to ignore historical evidence in favor of ideological interests; Jesus did exist (Ehrman, 2012: 338).
In conclusion: of the resurrection of Jesus as a fact
But what about the resurrection? If it is true that skeptical historians refuse to admit it because they say that the duty of the historian is not to study the miraculous fact, however, one aspect interested them, and that is the tomb. empty. Also unable to ignore the historical evidence on the tomb, where Jesus was buried, found empty, some argue that the body of Jesus was stolen by his disciples. But the problem with this perspective is that it seems impossible for people to assert without any doubt that Jesus presented himself to them after his resurrection until he agreed to be put to death. The resurrection of Jesus is the central message of the preaching of Peter, Stephen, John, Paul and James; the message for which they were being put to death. Moreover, when we read the introduction to the books of Luke (Gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles), a historian who is classified in the line of Greco-Roman historians because these works scrupulously respected the criteria of the time , it should be noted that the author made mention of his research approach which enabled him to find convincing facts. And Luke mentioned and reported the resurrection of Jesus. To continue, the conversion of Paul and James, according to Harbermas, two skeptics who converted to Christ after his resurrection, is a fact convincing enough to support the resurrection of Christ. When non-skeptical historians analyze 1 Corinthians 15, in which Paul defends the resurrection of Christ which is the very basis of the message of Christianity, they argue that it is sufficient text in itself to defend the resurrection of Christ. Even skeptical historians find convincing evidence that this epistle is by Paul. It is a fact that the resurrection of Christ is a miraculous fact, but there is compelling historical evidence to enable it to be traced as historical truth.
EHRMAN, Bart, Did Jesus Exist: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, New York: Harper Collins publishers, 2012.
FLAVIUS, Josephus, “Antiquities of the Jews (book XVIII)”, in Josephus: the complete works, Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, (SD), pp. 964-967.
HABERMAS, Gary R., The historical Jesus: ancient evidence for the life of Jesus, Missouri: College Press Publishing Company, 2011.
HOLDEN, Joseph M., Norman GEISLER, The popular handbook of archeology and the Bible, Eugene: Harvest House publishers, 2013.
KA Kitchen, On the reliability of the Old Testament, Michigan / Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans publishing Company / Grand Rapids, 2003.
ONFRAY, Michel, The invention of Jesus [Audio file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/7QZ3o6yDjxQ (accessed October 27, 2015).
TACITUS, The Annals: the reigns of Tiberius, Claudius and Nero (translated by J. C Yardley with an introduction and notes by Anthony A. Barrett), New York: Oxford University press, 2008.