If you were asked whether we had more evidence for the existence of Julius Caesar (below) or Jesus Christ, what would you say?
It may surprise some people to know that based on the surviving contemporary documents, Julius Caesar is more likely to be a legend than Jesus Christ.
This is because there is a lot of evidence for Jesus. There was a huge amount recorded about Jesus around the time he lived, 2000 years ago, and I don’t just mean in the Gospels. Three historians wrote plenty about him, and none of them was a Christian – all have no reason to favour Jesus in their testimony.
Tacitus (active c. AD 64-116) refers to Christians as followers of “Christus” who had “undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the Procurator Pontius Pilate.”
Thallus (c. AD 52) in his writings refers to Christ’s death as a fact.
Josephus (c. AD 80-93), the famous Jewish historian, refers to Jesus, his miracles, his crucifixion and his disciples. He also mentions “James the brother of Jesus who was called Christ.”
Very few written works at all survive today from the middle of the 1st Century AD – perhaps just a bookshelf’s worth have ever been found. So to have several independent works that mention him like this is a fact that cannot be ignored.
The New Testament itself stands up as a reliable historical source as well. There are two tests that historians use to determine the reliability of ancient documents:
1. The number of years that have elapsed between the event happening and the date of the earliest written copy available today. Obviously, the longer the period of time, the less reliable it will be.
2. The number of copies of the document that survive. The more copies there are, the more reliable the document is.
The New Testament performs very well in both tests.
1. The events happened around 30-100 AD. The earliest copy we have dates back to about 130 AD. A gap of only 30-100 years is tiny in comparison with Homer’s Iliad (500 years), Pliny’s account of Vesuvius erupting (750 years) and so on. If someone is sceptical about the New Testament text, they need to throw out all the other classical history we take for granted.
2. Pliny’s account survives in 7 copies. Homer is doing well with 643. But the New Testament comes down to us in more than 24,000 ancient copies and fragments in existence.
Historians in their professional capacity would say the New Testament is an accurate, reliable record of events. This is a major piece of evidence that what the Bible says about Jesus is true.