Answers to Skeptics: Testing Claims
By: André M Bland
If ever there’s an issue so overlooked and often swept under the rug, it is the answers to skeptics about Biblical beliefs and historical evidences. I have found that when asked tough questions that most Christians, Messianics, and the likes do not know how to respond to, they give these generic replies like, “You just don’t have faith” or “Well I know the God of the Bible is real because I have experienced him”. Often times, we as believers feel attacked when nonbelievers mock us, yet in many ways we make a mockery of nonbelievers by our words and deeds for someone simply not understanding like us or asking questions that we believe are “easy”, yet in many cases, very justifiable questions.
Consider the verse in 1 Thessalonians 5:21,
“Panta dokimazete to kalon katechete” roughly transliterated into English from Greek as “Prove/Test ALL things (EVERYTHING); Hold fast to that which is good”
The word teaches us to test everything. This will be the foundation for the basis of this article. Basically, I plan to present some of the issues often poorly answered by believers and respond to some of the questions posed by nonbelievers. At the end of the day, I hope there are no hard feelings between anyone and I will respect whatever stance people take.
The first issue I’d like to address is the question probably MOST often brought forth by atheists. How do we know that God exists?! One simple question I have is how do we know God doesn’t exist?! To answer this question, I’d like to open with some basic thoughts. We have items such as computers that can save, copy, and transfer information. Computers now have intelligence in a sense. We have programs built into computers. Through the construction of such technology, we now have advanced computer games that we humans can challenge. Many times these games outsmart us with the programming put in place. Computers can keep track of time and through satellites they can identify locations. Are we to believe that computers poofed out of thin air? Did they evolve from plastic, wires, rocks and metals?! No, they were created by humans. When we look at plant life and the biology of humans, our entire construction is built like a computer. Consider how the basic structure of a single cell is built like a well-designed computer:
Or consider how the veins in a leaf look vastly similar to that of a human blood vessel structure as well as our river systems:
Are we to believe all of this spontaneously arose by chance? Are we to suppose that nothing produced a microscopic dot (something) and this dot randomly began to spin and spin at such an alarming rate that a bunch of energy formed out of nowhere and exploded and produced our universe which ironically seems to have a LOT of order supposedly originated out of chaos?
Don’t get me wrong, there are many paradoxes within our universe, but it doesn’t negate the order and the fact that everything is not deteriorating as it should be doing if this theory is correct. Based on construction alone, it would make sense that there has to be a Creator. And let us not forget that just because we do not see a Creator/God with our visible eyes that it isn’t real. We don’t see love, but we know that is real. We do experience love. We don’t see our brains unless we dissect a human body or do possible X-Ray Scans, yet we would still know that something such as a brain is within us for us to be able to produce such thoughts. Also, if an all-powerful God does exist, then it would make sense that this God has no beginning and no end, but has always been there in some sort of spiritual realm (Psalm 90:2; 106:48; 147:5).
So let’s just assume that someone begins to accept that God exists, this is when the questions about books like the Bible begin to truly arise. Is the Bible authentic? Are Scriptures inspired? Are there contradictions? How come there are discrepancies between texts like the Dead Sea Scrolls, Septuagint, Masoretic texts, etc.? It is impossible for me to respond to EVERY question in one article. For one, if I did, nobody would read it as it would be way too long. So it’s only natural that I will focus on a few issues.
Here’s a funny comparison I hear often. If we are to say the mythical Jesus exists, we can say the same about Snow White. She’s a historical figure, world renowned, had seven dwarfs that can testify to her existence, she’s quoted in other sources, she died and resurrected back to life from a handsome prince, and she changed the world. The Jesus story has the same construction of a fable. And any great story tellers know how to capture the heart of their followers.
Although the above statements are true, I’m not sure we can make such an argument. For one, we know who the writers and producers of the original Snow White story are, why it was compiled, and nobody deifies Snow White. People do look to the story for relationship advice though, which is kind of funny… Yet based on this very Snow White argument we can now mystify the stories of Confucius or Julius Caesar and say neither of them existed. The only real historical evidence we have of the existence of Confucius is by the writings of his followers. None of the historians of his time quote him. What about Socrates? We can do practically the same for him. Unlike the previous Confucius and Socrates, we can say that Julius Caesar is quoted by a LOT of historians, but we should consider his role. Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general, statesman, consul, and notable author of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the events that led to the demise of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire. He was a military leader. Confucius was insignificant to most historians because if they didn’t follow him, they didn’t care what he had to say, and thus he was irrelevant to mention in their histories for public record. The same can be said about Jesus/Yeshua. If the historians didn’t believe in Him, if they found him to be a phony like many that they saw as lunatics before Him, then they too would not even give Him the time of day as a significant figure worthy of historical record. Basically, with people such as these, the main historical records we have are by their followers. Yet we know they existed. This sort of argument can become an endless rabbit trail that can be applied to many historical figures making this an unfair argument.
To be fair, I will list many historians that did live within Yeshua HaMaschiach’s (Jesus Christ’s) lifetime or within 100 years of it, afterwards: 1. Apollonius of Tyana 2. Appian of Alexandria 3. Arrian of Nicodemia 4. Aulus Gellius 5. Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella 6. Damis 7. Dio Chrysostum 8. Dion Pruseus 9. Epictetus 10. Favorinus of Arelate 11. Florus Lucius 12. Hermogenes of Tarsus 13. Titus Flavius Josephus (Joseph ben Matityahu) 14. Justus of Tiberius 15. Juvenal 16. Lucanus 17. Lucian 18. Lysias 19. Martial 20. Marcus Velleius Paterculus 21. Pausanias 22. Aulus Persius Flaccus 23. Petronius 24. Gaius Julius Phaedrus 25. Philo Judaeus (of Alexandria) 26. Phlegon of Tralles 27. Pliny the Elder 28. Pliny the Younger 29. Plutarch 30. Pompon Mela 31. Ptolemy 32. Quintilian 33. Quintius Curtius 24. Seneca 25. Silius Italicus 26. Publius Papinius Statius 27. Gaius Seutonius Tranquillis 28. Publius (Gauis) Cornelius Tacitus 29. Theon of Smyrna 30. Valerius Flaccus 31. Valerius Maximus
From all of these historians there are only a few mentions of the Christ that Christian apologists like to quote. I will go point by point through each.
The first person I want to mention is number 13, Titus Flavius Josephus, born 37AD and died 100AD. There are two supposed texts in Josephus that give credence to Jesus Christ. The first reference (usually called the Testimonium Flavianum) is in Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 3, verse 3:
“Now 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;as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”
The second Josephus reference is in Antiquities of the Jews, Book 20, Chapter 9, verse 1:
“AND now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus. Now the report goes that this eldest Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and who had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests. But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a Sanhedrim without his consent. Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.”
Before I test these claims, I would like to give some background history on Josephus. Titus Flavius Josephus is one of the most respected and most quoted Roman-Jewish historians of all time. Both early Jews and early Christians alike were passionate followers and readers of his works. He was native of Judea, living in the 1st century AD, Josephus was actually governor of Galilee for a short period (prior to the war of 70 AD) – the very province in which Yeshua/Jesus is said to have done His miracles. Although he was not born until 37 AD which would annul him as any contemporary witness to Yeshua/Jesus, Josephus at one point lived in Cana (in Galilee), the very city in which Christ is said to have done his first miracle. [On the first occasion, Jesus and his first disciples turned up at a wedding feast, possibly that of a close relative of his mother Mary. The wine ran out — perhaps because those additional guests had not been catered for — and Mary turned to her Son to overcome the embarrassment (John 2: 1-11). “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?” he responded. “My hour has not yet come.” But she persisted and her Son turned six jars holding more than 550 liters of water (equivalent to more than 730 bottles) into fine wine.]
Josephus’s two major scholarly books are History of The Jewish War and The Antiquities of the Jews. In these complementary works, the former written in the 70s, the latter in the 90s AD, Josephus mentions every noted personage of Palestine and describes every important event which occurred there during the first seventy years of the Christian era.
Now that we’ve covered this back history, let’s test the authenticity of the “witnesses” to our Messiah. As a forewarning, I don’t play favorites. I will closely examine the evidence and many times, I too come to disagree with the Bible believers like myself and find myself within the minority. So now I will begin.
The first extra biblical reference from Josephus cited above is the so-called Testimonium Flavianum. In this passage, Josephus confirms almost every pertinent detail of the Christian faith. Yet he still NEVER manages to convert, rather seems to be strongly opposed to this faith and remaining a devote Jew. This should off the bat send up a red flag. But here are the claims in this SINGLE passage:
1. Jesus’s existence 2. Jesus is divine (more than human) 3. He worked miracles 4. He taught 5. He had ministry among the Jews & the Gentiles 6. He is Messiah 7. He is condemned by the Jewish priests 8. He is sentenced by Pilate 9. He died on the cross 10. His followers were devout 11. He resurrects on the 3rd day 12. He has post-death appearances 13. He fulfills divine prophecy 14. And lastly, there is a successful continuance of the Christians.
In just 127 words Josephus confirms everything – now that is a miracle!
The oldest surviving manuscript of the Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus is from the 9th or 10th Century. But it doesn’t contain the books 18 & 20 where this Jesus reference is mentioned. The oldest surviving manuscript containing this reference is Codex Ambrosianus (Mediolanesis) F. 128 superior depicted above, is from the 11th Century. However, this Testimonium Flavianum is attested to far earlier than the 11th Century and by many people. However the FIRST person to EVER mention this reference is the notable “Church Father” and historian Eusebius of Caesarea in the 4th Century. He is ALSO the FIRST person to ever mention the Jesus passage from the second reference in Book 20, about the execution of the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, although it is erroneously quoted and said the Origen first said this. Yes, this means that it was CLEARLY ABSENT from Origen’s 3rd Century version of Josephus, referenced in Contra Celsum. Not a single writer before the 4th century, not Justin, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Cyprian, Arnobius, etc. with ALL of their apologetics and defenses against Gnosticism makes a single reference to Josephus’ lines. But we won’t go down a rabbit trail.
With the simple fact that there is NO mention or quotation of EITHER of these passages before the fourth century, we can clearly suspect forgery by a later Christian author or at the very least, tampering with the actual account to play in favor of the Christian faith. So yes, I would conclude that nonbelievers that debunk these passages to Christians that quote them by storm are in fact correct.
“Its brevity disproves its authenticity. Josephus’ work is voluminous and exhaustive. It comprises twenty books. Whole pages are devoted to petty robbers and obscure seditious leaders. Nearly fourty chapters are devoted to the life of a single king. Yet this remarkable being, the greatest product of his race, a being of whom the prophets foretold ten thousand wonderful things, a being greater than any earthly king, is dismissed with a dozen lines.”
(The Christ, by John E. Remsburg, reprinted by Prometheus Books, New York, 1994, pages 171-3)
But things get even more interesting. Not just do I believe that they are both forgeries first appearing in the 4th Century, but I also have even more evidence against the claims. Earlier on, I focused mainly on the TF reference. Now I’d like to focus on the James reference. Josephus’s second reference seems to crumble mainly because it is dependent upon the earlier (false) reference for explanation (mentioning the Christ). For arguments sake, let’s say we remove the Christ reference from the equation and say that was the only forgery. Even IF we removed that, the actual Jesus referenced appears to be “Jesus, the son of Damneus” who was made high priest by King Agrippa, as we see if we simply continue to read the rest of the account:
“… Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.”
The support for both continues to fall. To FURTHER establish my point, contradicting Josephus, Hegesippus wrote a history of Christianity in 170AD saying that James, the brother of Jesus, was killed in a riot, not by sentence of a court.
Now that I’ve pretty much covered Josephus, I’d like to move on to references such as Pliny the Younger. This is the 28th historian in the list. The Roman governor of Bithynia-Pontus (now in modern Turkey) wrote a letter (the Epistulae) to Emperor Trajan around 112 AD and asked for counsel on dealing with Christians. The letter (Epistulae X.96) details an account of how Pliny conducted trials of suspected Christians who appeared before him as a result of anonymous accusations and asks for the Emperor’s guidance on how they should be treated.
Neither Pliny nor Trajan mentions the crime that Christians had committed, except for being a Christian; and other historical sources do not provide a simple answer to this question, but a likely element may be the stubborn refusal of Christians to worship Roman gods; making them appear as objecting to Roman rule. (Backgrounds of Early Christianity by Everett Ferguson, August 19, 2003).
Pliny states that he gives Christians multiple chances to affirm they are innocent and if they refuse three times, they are executed. Pliny states that his investigations have revealed nothing on the Christians’ part but harmless practices and “depraved, excessive superstition”. However, Pliny seems concerned about the rapid spread of this “superstition”; and views Christian gatherings as a potential starting point for sedition. (Backgrounds of Early Christianity by Everett Ferguson, August 19, 2003).
The letter is the earliest surviving Roman document to refer to early Christians, and provides key information on early Christian beliefs and practices; and how these were viewed and dealt with by the Romans. (“Why Were the Early Christians Persecuted?” Past & Present, St. Croix GEM, November 1963, retrieved June 1, 2012). The letter and Trajan’s reply indicate that at the time of its writing there was no systematic and official Empire-wide persecution of Christians. (J. B. Rives, The Decree of Decius and the Religion of Empire The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 89, (1999), pp. 135-154). Trajan’s reply also offers valuable insight into the relationship between Roman provincial governors and Emperors and indicates that at the time Christians were not sought out or tracked down by imperial orders, and that persecutions could be local and sporadic.
In sections 7-10 of his letter, Pliny says that they (Christians) meet on a certain day before light where they gather and sing hymns to Christ as to a god. They all bind themselves by oath, “not to some crimes” (as he would have expected); they pledge not to commit any crimes such as fraud, theft, or adultery, and subsequently share a meal of “ordinary and innocent food”. Pliny says, however, that all of these practices were abandoned by the Christians after Pliny forbade any political associations (hetaerias or “club”). These clubs were banned because Trajan saw them as a “natural breeding ground for grumbling” about both civic life and political affairs.
The basis of what I’m stating here is that Pliny (early 2nd Century) is the earliest reference to Christ we have aside from Biblical sources, at least to MY knowledge. Although the reference speaks of Christians way early on, it doesn’t particularly give a reference to Jesus/Yeshua. Yet it makes the claim of Christ (which could be applied to just about anything), but we KNOW it’s talking about that which any Christian would consider Christ, being Jesus and early Christians viewing Him as a God. In this account, he is simply relaying what other people, such as myself would believe. As a nonbeliever, he wouldn’t give it credence. So yes, we can say that it is a historical reference, but he isn’t giving history on Jesus (as he actually wasn’t alive during the time, nor did he relay any past history as it was probably irrelevant to him at the time).
The last possible reference to Jesus Christ we can find is from Gauis Tacitus (56AD-117AD). He was a senator, governor, a member of the Roman consul, and one of the greatest historians of the Roman Empire of all time. He lived in what has been called the Silver Age of Latin Literature. The surviving portions of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—examine the reigns of the Roman Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero, and those who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors (AD 69). These two works span the history of the Roman Empire from the death of Augustus in AD 14 to the years of the First Jewish–Roman War in AD 70. Tacitus has been noted for his compilation of histories on events such as the Greco-Persian Wars (which are fabled in movies such as 300), the Trojan Wars, as well as a number of other key events that many once believed to be mere myth, and were later confirmed to be true.
In his Annals, in book 15, chapter 44, written 116 AD, there is a passage which refers to Christ, to Pontius Pilate, and to a mass execution of the Christians after a six-day fire that burned much of Rome (aka the Great Fire of Rome) in July 64 AD by Nero:
“Such indeed were the precautions of human wisdom. The next thing was to seek means of propitiating the gods, and recourse was had to the Sibylline books, by the direction of which prayers were offered to Vulcanus, Ceres, and Proserpina. Juno, too, was entreated by the matrons, first, in the Capitol, then on the nearest part of the coast, whence water was procured to sprinkle the fane and image of the goddess. And there were sacred banquets and nightly vigils celebrated by married women. But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians 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. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed.”
This manuscript (known as the Medicean Manuscript) has been examined carefully and there is NO evidence of forgery. It all appears to be a legit reference. No original manuscripts of the Annals exist and the surviving copies of Tacitus’ works derive from two principal manuscripts, known as the Medicean Manuscripts, written in Latin, which are held in the Laurentian Library in Florence, Italy. It is the second Medicean manuscript, 11th Century and from the Benedictine abbey at Monte Cassino, which is the oldest surviving copy of the passage describing Christians. Scholars generally agree that these copies were written at Monte Cassino and the end of the document refers to Abbas Raynaldus cu… who was most probably one of the two abbots of that name at the abbey during that period.
The ONLY discrepancy in the manuscript is:
“… called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin …”
In 1902 Georg Andresen commented on the appearance of the first “I” and subsequent gap in the earliest extant, 11th century, copy of the Annals in Florence, suggesting that the text had been altered, and an ‘e’ had originally been in the text, rather than this “I”. (Georg Andresen in Wochenschrift fur klassische Philologie 19, 1902, col. 780f). “With ultra-violet examination of the MS the alteration was conclusively shown. It is impossible today to say who altered the letter e into an i. In Suetonius’ Nero 16.2, “christiani”, however, seems to be the original reading”. (Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, Jerusalem 2012, p. 355, n. 2). Since the alteration became known it has given rise to debates among scholars as to whether Tacitus deliberately used the term “Chrestians”, or if a scribe made an error during the Middle Ages. It has been stated that both the terms Christians and Chrestians had at times been used by the general population in Rome to refer to early Christians. (Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries by Peter Lampe, page 12). Robert Van Voorst says that many sources indicate that the term Chrestians was also used among the early followers of Jesus by the second century. (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: A-D by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, 1995). The term Christians appears only three times in the New Testament, the first usage (Acts 11:26) giving the origin of the term. (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: A-D by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, 1995). In all three cases the uncorrected Codex Sinaiticus in Greek reads Chrestianoi.
Simply put, no matter how we look at it, even with this discrepancy, there is NO discounting Tacitus’ claim. The only real issue anyone can bring forth is that he is a second century source. Yet we know he has been extremely accurate in all of his other histories, although I have found that he has potentially been wrong about a few number counts such as with the amount of Persian soldiers in the Greco-Persian wars. Aside from that, he’s always been very reliable. And even with his number count differing with other historians that recorded the events as well, none of them had the same numbers and this is probably the only real issue anyone has brought forth with him.
Many try to claim that nobody in the first three centuries quoted Tacitus’ reference to Jesus, but unlike the others arguments as this, Tacitus was compiling IN the second century. Furthermore, Tacitus hasn’t really been quoted much at all about any of his histories up until more recent times… Ironically, Sulpicius Severus seems to quote Tacitus on his Jesus reference with Pilate. Even IF Sulpicius mixes it with other suspect claims, I would believe that it would confirm that at least for Tacitus, his reference was actually being spread AFTER it was published. Clearly this would make sense much like any historical documents.
For arguments sake, since we’re talking about extra biblical references, let’s look at quotations from those within some form of Christian faith that we do have historical writings of within the SAME time frame as the above list of historians.
1. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 50–117): For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary according to God’s plan, both from the seed of David and of the Holy Spirit. (Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians, 18.2. Translation from Michael Holmes, Apostolic Fathers, 197)
2. Ignatius (again): Consequently all magic and every kind of spell were dissolved, the ignorance so characteristic of wickedness vanished, and the ancient kingdom was abolishedwhen God appeared in human form to bring the newness of eternal life. (Ibid., 19.3. Holmes, AF, 199)
3. Ignatius (again): For our God Jesus Christ is more visible now that he is in the Father. (Ignatius, Letter to the Romans, 3.3. Holmes, AF, 229)
4. Ignatius (again): I glorify Jesus Christ, the God who made you so wise, for I observed that you are established in an unshakable faith, having been nailed, as it were, to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Ignatius, Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 1.1. Holmes, AF, 249.)
5. Ignatius (again): Wait expectantly for the one who is above time: the Eternal, the Invisible, who for our sake became visible; the Intangible, the Unsuffering, who for our sake suffered, who for our sake endured in every way. (Ignatius, Letter to Polycarp, 3.2. Holmes, AF, 265.)
6. Polycarp of Smyrna (69–155): Now may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the eternal high priest himself, the Son of God Jesus Christ, build you up in faith and truth . . ., and to us with you, and to all those under heaven who will yet believe in our Lord and God Jesus Christ and in his Father who raised him from the dead. (Polycarp, Philippians, 12:2. Holmes, AF, 295)
7. Epistle of Barnabas (written c. 70–130): “If the Lord submitted to suffer for our souls, even though he is Lord of the whole world, to whom God said at the foundation of the world, “Let us make humankind according to our image and likeness,” how is it, then, that he submitted to suffer at the hands of humans?” (Epistle of Barnabas, 5.5. Holmes, AF, 393)
8. Justin Martyr (100–165): And that Christ being Lord, and God the Son of God, and appearing formerly in power as Man, and Angel, and in the glory of fire as at the bush, so also was manifested at the judgment executed on Sodom, has been demonstrated fully by what has been said. (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 128. Translation from Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, I:264)
9. Justin (again): “Permit me first to recount the prophecies, which I wish to do in order to prove that Christ is called both God and Lord of hosts.” (Ibid., 36. ANF, I:212.)
10. Justin (again): Therefore these words testify explicitly that He [Jesus] is witnessed to by Him [the Father] who established these things, as deserving to be worshipped, as God and as Christ. (Ibid., 63. ANF, I:229)
11. Justin (again): The Father of the universe has a Son; who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God. And of old He appeared in the shape of fire and in the likeness of an angel to Moses and to the other prophets; but now in the times of your reign, having, as we before said, become Man by a virgin . . .” (Justin Martyr, First Apology, 63. ANF, I:184)
12. Justin (again): For if you had understood what has been written by the prophets, you would not have denied that He was God, Son of the only, unbegotten, unutterable God. (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 126. ANF, I:263)
13. Tatian (110–172): We do not act as fools, O Greeks, nor utter idle tales when we announce that God was born in the form of man. (Tatian, Address to the Greeks, 21. ANF, II:74)
14. Melito of Sardis (d. c. 180): “He that hung up the earth in space was Himself hanged up; He that fixed the heavens was fixed with nails; He that bore up the earth was born up on a tree; the Lord of all was subjected to ignominy in a naked body – God put to death! . . . [I]n order that He might not be seen, the luminaries turned away, and the day became darkened—because they slew God, who hung naked on the tree. . . . This is He who made the heaven and the earth, and in the beginning, together with the Father, fashioned man; who was announced by means of the law and the prophets; who put on a bodily form in the Virgin; who was hanged upon the tree; who was buried in the earth; who rose from the place of the dead, and ascended to the height of heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father.” (Melito, 5. ANF, VIII:757)
15. Irenaeus of Lyons (120–202): “For I have shown from the Scriptures, that no one of the sons of Adam is as to everything, and absolutely, called God, or named Lord. But that He is Himself in His own right, beyond all men who ever lived, God, and Lord, and King Eternal, and the Incarnate Word, proclaimed by all the prophets, the apostles, and by the Spirit Himself, may be seen by all who have attained to even a small portion of the truth. Now, the Scriptures would not have testified these things of Him, if, like others, He had been a mere man. . . . He is the holy Lord, the Wonderful, the Counselor, the Beautiful in appearance, and the Mighty God, coming on the clouds as the Judge of all men; — all these things did the Scriptures prophesy of Him.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.19.2. ANF, I:449)
16. Irenaeus (again): “He received testimony from all that He was very man, and that He was very God, from the Father, from the Spirit, from angels, from the creation itself, from men, from apostate spirits and demons.” (Ibid., 4.6.7. ANF, I:469)
17. Irenaeus (again): “Christ Jesus [is] our Lord, and God, and Savior, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father.” (Ibid., 1.10.1. ANF, I:330)
18. Irenaeus (again): “Christ Himself, therefore, together with the Father, is the God of the living, who spoke to Moses, and who was also manifested to the fathers.” (Ibid., 4.5.2. ANF, I:467)
19. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215): “This Word, then, the Christ, the cause of both our being at first (for He was in God) and of our well-being, this very Word has now appeared as man, He alone being both, both God and man—the Author of all blessings to us; by whom we, being taught to live well, are sent on our way to life eternal. . . . . . . The Word, who in the beginning bestowed on us life as Creator when He formed us, taught us to live well when He appeared as our Teacher; that as God He might afterwards conduct us to the life which never ends” (Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Heathen, 1. ANF, II:173)
20. Tertullian (c. 160–225): For God alone is without sin; and the only man without sin is Christ, since Christ is also God.” (Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul, 41. ANF, III:221)
21. Tertullian (again): “Thus Christ is Spirit of Spirit, and God of God, as light of light is kindled. . . . That which has come forth out of God is at once God and the Son of God, and the two are one. In this way also, as He is Spirit of Spirit and God of God, He is made a second in manner of existence—in position, not in nature; and He did not withdraw from the original source, but went forth. This ray of God, then, as it was always foretold in ancient times, descending into a certain virgin, and made flesh in her womb, is in His birth God and man united.” (Tertullian, Apology, 21. ANF, III:34–35)
22. Hippolytus (170–235): “The Logos alone of this God is from God himself; wherefore also the Logos is God, being the substance of God.” (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, 10.29. ANF, V:151)
23. Caius (180–217) [in response to those who would question the deity of Christ] “Perhaps what they allege might be credible, did not the Holy Scriptures, in the first place, contradict them. And then, besides, there are writings of certain brethren older than the times of Victor, which they wrote against the heathen in defense of the truth, and against the heresies of their time: I mean Justin and Miltiades, and Tatian and Clement, and many others, in all which divinity is ascribed to Christ. For who is ignorant of the books of Irenaeus and Melito, and the rest, which declare Christ to be God and man? All the psalms, too, and hymns of brethren, which have been written from the beginning by the faithful, celebrate Christ the Word of God, ascribing divinity to Him.” (Caius, Fragments, 2.1. ANF, V:601)
24. Origen (c. 185–254): “Jesus Christ . . . in the last times, divesting Himself (of His glory), became a man, and was incarnate although God, and while made a man remained the God which He was.” (Origen, De Principiis, Preface, 4. ANF, IV:240)
25. Novatian of Rome (210–280) “For Scripture as much announces Christ as also God, as it announces God Himself as man. It has as much described Jesus Christ to be man, as moreover it has also described Christ the Lord to be God. Because it does not set forth Him to be the Son of God only, but also the Son of man; nor does it only say, the Son of man, but it has also been accustomed to speak of Him as the Son of God. So that being of both, He is both, lest if He should be one only, He could not be the other. For as nature itself has prescribed that he must be believed to be a man who is of man, so the same nature prescribes also that He must be believed to be God who is of God. . . . Let them, therefore, who read that Jesus Christ the Son of man is man, read also that this same Jesus is called also God and the Son of God” (Novatian, On the Trinity, 11. ANF, V:620.)
And since we spoke of Josephus being silent about Jesus, just about every known scholar, except for critics searching for needles in a haystack will agree that Josephus’ reference in Book 18 to John the Immerser is legit!! So although he may not mention JESUS/YESHUA, he does give credence to the historical account of the Brit Chadasha (NT). Consider the following:
Renewed Covenant (NT)
A Baptism of Repentance
John the baptizer appeared in the desert, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Luke 3:3-3:18 (Matthew 3:1-12)
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius…the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight…'”
John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance….”
And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” In reply he said, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”
Herod, Herodias, Salome and the Head of John the Baptist
But Herod the Tetrarch, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison.
Luke 9:7-8 (Mark 6:14-16)
Now Herod the Tetrarch heard about all that had taken place, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the ancient prophets had arisen. Herod said, “John I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?” And he tried to see him.
Mark 6:17-29 (Matthew 14:1-12)
For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him.
When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
A Baptism of Purification
Antiquities 18.5.2 116-119
Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and was a very just punishment for what he did against John called the baptist [the dipper]. For Herod had him killed, although he was a good man and had urged the Jews to exert themselves to virtue, both as to justice toward one another and reverence towards God, and having done so join together in washing. For immersion in water, it was clear to him, could not be used for the forgiveness of sins, but as a sanctification of the body, and only if the soul was already thoroughly purified by right actions. And when others massed about him, for they were very greatly moved by his words, Herod, who feared that such strong influence over the people might carry to a revolt — for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise — believed it much better to move now than later have it raise a rebellion and engage him in actions he would regret.
And so John, out of Herod’s suspiciousness, was sent in chains to Machaerus, the fort previously mentioned, and there put to death; but it was the opinion of the Jews that out of retribution for John God willed the destruction of the army so as to afflict Herod.
Herodias and Salome
Antiquities 18.5.3 136
Herodias was married to Herod, the son of Herod the Great by Mariamme the daughter of Simon the high priest. They had a daughter Salome, after whose birth Herodias, taking it into her head to flout the way of our fathers, married Herod the Tetrarch, her husband’s brother by the same father, who was tetrarch of Galilee; to do this she parted from a living husband.
Herod and Herodias and Herod’s First Wife and Aretas
Antiquities 18.5.1 109-115
(This paragraph immediately precedes the one about John.)
About this time Aretas, the king of Petra, and Herod the Tetrarch had a quarrel on account of the following. Herod the tetrarch had married the daughter of Aretas and had lived with her a great while; but once when he was on his way to Rome he lodged with his half-brother, also named Herod but who had a different mother, the high priest Simon’s daughter. There he fell in love with Herodias, this latter Herod’s wife, who was the daughter of their brother Aristobulus and the sister of Agrippa the Great.
This man ventured to talk to her about a marriage between them; she accepted, and an agreement was made for her to come to him as soon as he should return from Rome, one condition of this marriage being that he should divorce Aretas’s daughter. So when he had made this agreement, he sailed to Rome; but when he had finished there and returned again, his wife, having discovered the agreement he had made with Herodias, and before he knew that she knew of the plan, asked him to send her to Machaerus, a place on the border between the territories of Aretas and Herod, without informing him of any of her intentions.
Accordingly Herod sent her there, thinking his wife had not perceived anything. But she had sent messages a good while before to Machaerus, which had been under the control of her father, and so all things necessary for her escape were made ready for her by the general of Aretas’s army. By that means she soon came into Arabia, under the conduct of the several generals, who carried her from one to another successively; and soon she came to her father and told him of Herod’s intentions.
Aretas made this the start of his enmity toward Herod. He also had a quarrel with him about their boundaries in the area of Gabalis. So they raised armies on both sides and prepared for war, sending their generals to fight instead of themselves. And when they had joined battle, all Herod’s army was destroyed by the treachery of some fugitives who, though they were of the tetrarchy of Philip and joined the army, betrayed him. So Herod wrote about these affairs to Emperor Tiberius, who was very angry at the attempt made by Aretas and wrote to Vitellius to make war upon him and either to take him alive, and bring him in chains, or to kill him, and send him his head. This was the command that Tiberius gave to the governor of Syria.
Plain and simple, even if we try to say that historical references to Jesus are limited, this argument isn’t really the strongest. Yet even if we were to say that Jesus Christ did live, die, and resurrect on the 3rd day, we cannot use some of the forged texts or weak arguments generally given. We really must be careful in what we quote and how we witness. To be honest, we can’t even force our beliefs on anyone. They have to WANT to follow Yeshua/Jesus. They have to literally act on their faith based on a seed that gets watered. It isn’t a work that any of us do, so we should calm down, relax, and simply be more patient. And say all of us Bible believers die and find out we’re wrong, what do we have to lose?! But consider what it would be if nonbelievers died and find out that we were all right, what do they gain?! In the end, I still hope we can all get along.
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21
Due to the fact that I’m running out of time and the fact that this paper is getting rather long, I will end here with a quote by 18th Century French philosopher, writer, and skeptic, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. “I must confess to you that the majesty of the Scriptures astonishes me; the holiness of the evangelists speaks to my heart and has such striking characters of truth, and is, moreover, so perfectly inimitable, that if it had been the invention of men, the inventors would be greater than the greatest heroes” (Frank Mead, Encyclopedia of Religious Quotations, p. 32). I hope there are no hard feelings and I would hope that we can all walk away having learned something no matter what we believe.
Be blessed and shalom,
André M Bland