Worldinvisible Newsletter

March 2021    No. 143

Historic Sources

Son of Man - Part 1

By an unknown author sometime in the 20th Century

In this twentieth century, few will doubt that Jesus Christ ever lived under the reign of Tiberius (A.D. 14-37), and that He was crucified under Pontius Pilate. This is mentioned by Tacitus (A.D. 55-120), 1 as well as by the Latin Historian Suetonius (A.D. 69-141) 2, both contemporaneous with the Apostle John. In the Talmud the death of Christ is mentioned as having occurred ''in the evening of the passover (Sanhedrin).We also possess the testimony of Pliny the Younger (A.D. 62-120) 3, Roman writer, statesman, and orator. The passage in the Jewish historian Josephus regarding Christ is well-known 4   (Antiquities 18/3/3).

Non-biblical testimonies that Jesus Christ lived

Tertullian (A.D 155-200) in his ''Apology - Chapter 5” mentions the exchange of correspondence between Tiberius and Pontius Pilate: “Tiberius accordingly, in whose days the Christian name made its entry into the world, having himself received intelligence from Palestine of events which had clearly shown the truth of Christ's divinity, brought the matter before the senate, with his own decision in favor of Christ. The senate, because it had not given the approval itself, rejected his proposal. Caesar held to his opinion, threatening wrath against all the accusers of the Christians” .

Great stress is to be placed on the fact that Tertullian was probably juris-consult, familiar with the Roman archives, and influenced by them in his acceptance of divine truth. It is not supposable that such a man would have hazarded his bold appeal to the records, in remonstrating with the senate and
in the very faces of the Emperor and his colleagues, had he not known that the evidence was irrefragable. In chapter 21 he states that ''Pilate sent word of Him (Christ) to the reigning Caesar, who was at the time Tiberius.'' (Cf. Justin Martyr, Apology I/35.)

Thus historians attest that Christ lived twenty centuries ago, and that He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.

The Four Gospels

For detailed information regarding the life of Christ we must turn to the Four Gospels.

We must never lose sight of the fact that the Gospels were composed by contemporaries of Jesus Christ. This can easily be demonstrated. Clement of Rome, in an epistle composed A.D. 96 and sent to Corinth, mentions the First Epistle to the Corinthians composed in A.D. 57 or 58 .  (The First Epistle of Clement, chap. 47)

The Epistle of Barnabas, written before the end of the first century, quotes the Gospel of Matthew and introduces the quotation by the words: ''As it is written” (Epistle of Barnabas, chapter 4).

The Gospel of Matthew was in existence before the end of the first century and held to be authoritative by believers. In the letters of Ignatius (A.D. 30-107) several books of the New Testament are mentioned. Toward the middle of the second century a harmony of the Four Gospels was in use throughout the Roman Empire. Recently, a fragment of the Gospel of John dated A.D. 125 by specialists was discovered in Egypt. Illustrations could be multiplied. ''So firm is the ground upon which these Gospels rest, that the very heretics themselves bear witness to them, and, starting from these (documents), each one of them endeavours to establish his own particular doctrine (Irenaeus (A.D.120 -202) Against Heresies III/11/7).

Large gaps of time between authors of the Greco-Roman classics and the oldest manuscripts

The situation is altogether different regarding most of the Greco-Roman authors. Plato lived and wrote four centuries before Jesus Christ, but the oldest manuscript of his works is dated 895.

Thirteen centuries elapsed between the original composition of his works and the oldest manuscript in our possession. The oldest complete manuscript of the works of Homer is from the eleventh century. The same holds true for the writings of Herodotus, Tacitus, and most of the Greco-Latin authors. In spite of this, hardly anyone doubts the authenticity of the writings of such men as Plato, Herodotus, Vergil, and Homer.

Large number of New Testament Greek and Latin manuscripts

We have, therefore, every reason to accept the authenticity of the Four Gospels and of the other books that compose the New Testament. Their origin is much better attested than that of other books from the same period. There are in existence over 5,800 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in whole or in part, not to mention among others the different versions (10,000 manuscripts of the Vulgate) and quotations in the Church Fathers. We cannot escape the conclusion that the Gospels were written by contemporaries of Jesus Christ.

Value of the Gospels

One might object that the historic attestation of the New Testament books does not demonstrate that the Bible is inspired, or that it is God's Word. Although I am convinced that the Bible is God's Word, and that holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, the problem of inspiration is not under discussion. It can be scientifically demonstrated that the Gospels were written by contemporaries of Jesus Christ, of whom at least two were eye-witnesses. Consequently we can hardly deny the historic accuracy and importance of the documents. The problem of inspiration and the problem of authenticity are not identical.

What verdict would a jury give about Jesus Christ’s existence?

“'If an intelligent jury be engaged on the trial of a man accused of murder, and five or six competent witnesses bear clear and concurrent testimony to his guilt, they will unanimously agree to bring in a verdict of guilty. They will do so without misgiving, even though they know the witnesses are not infallibly inspired, but are liable to make mistakes. They will do so even though there may be some points in regard to which one or more of the witnesses may appear to be in mistake, and not a few points in regard to which there may be a measure of apparent mystery and confusion which cannot be satisfactorily cleared up. Even in these circumstances, the whole jury may attain to such a certainty, that they have no doubt remaining in their minds in regard to the essential facts, to such certainty indeed, that they do not hesitate to bring in a verdict of guilty, even though it is to cost a fellow-creature his life. From all this we may clearly see that, even if the New Testament was not inspired, but only the composition of thoroughly qualified and trustworthy wit-nesses, immovable certainty might be produced on the mind, such certainty as we possess in regard to the lives of Caesar, or Napoleon the Great, or the best-accredited events of past history” (A. Mair).

The Four Gospels give testimony to the person of Jesus Christ. On the basis of their declaration, you, the jury, are able to come to a clear-cut decision regarding the person of Jesus Christ, the accused. The witnesses declare that Jesus Christ is innocent and that He is the Son of God and the Son of Man. You cannot possibly deny the historic value of the Four Gospels. The witnesses declare what they have seen and observed concerning the person of Jesus Christ, and their testimony can hardly be doubted.

1 Tacitus, Annals, Book XV/44 where, speaking of the punishment of Christians he states: "The Author of that name (Christians) was Christ, who in the reign of Tiberius suffered punishment under his Procurator Pontius Pilate.”

2 Suetonius, Life of Claudius, chapter 25/4

3 Pliny the Younger, Epistle X/96.

4 “There was about this time, Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works - a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was (the) Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day…”

TO BE CONTINUED

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