Prays Together: Historical Evidence for the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ
By Christopher Scott
The Bible makes it clear that Christ died on the cross (Matt 27:32-61; Mark 15:33-47; Luke 23:44-56; John 19:28-42) and three days later Jesus came back to life and left the tomb in which he was buried (Matt 28:1-7; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-10; Acts 1:4-8; 9:1-9; 1 Cor 15:6-8). I love the Bible and trust it as a reliable and credible witness to events that occurred in the first century. Yet, the Bible is not the only witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are five different categories of sources that contain at least thirteen different independent references to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The first category comes from ancient historians. Tacitus (first century AD) wrote about a Christian that suffered under Pontius Pilate (the man who sentenced Christ to death). Josephus (AD 37-97) says that Jesus died and appeared “alive” again to his disciples. Thallus (AD 52) describes the physical events of Jesus’s death just as they were recorded in Luke 23:44-45. Scholars say Thallus wrote in AD 52 while Luke did not write his Gospel until AD 65.
A second category is Jewish sources. The Talmud (AD 70-200) directly references the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The Toledoth Jesu (fifth century) states that Jesus was in a tomb but was resurrected and not at the tomb when people came to see him days after his death.
A third category is Gentile sources. Lucian says that Jesus was the founder of Christianity and was “crucified” for it. Mara Bar-Seraphone was a Syrian (late first century) who wrote a letter to his son describing how the Jews “executed” Jesus.
A fourth category is “gnostic” sources which talk about Jesus directly but are much less credible than books that are in the Bible. The Gospel of Truth (second century) referenced Jesus as a historical person who had a “death for many . . . nailed to a tree.” The Treatise on the Resurrection (late second century) says that Jesus died and came back to life. The Gospel of Thomas (second century) records Jesus’s death. The Gospel of Peter describes how Mary and other women went to the tomb of Jesus but he was not there.
The fifth category is “lost” sources which we do not have copies of, but portions of these writings are quoted in writings that we do have. The Acts of Pontius Pilate says that in Jesus’s crucifixion he was pierced in his hands and feet. Phlegon (born in AD 80) wrote that Jesus was alive, died, and arose to life after his death. By no means is this an exhaustive list. As Easter approaches let’s confidently celebrate our risen Savior, Jesus Christ!
Christopher Scott is small groups pastor at Rocky Hill Community Church in Exeter. He may be reached by calling 559-730-1906.
Prays Together is a rotating column between the pastors of the First Presbyterian Church of Exeter, Church of Christ of Exeter, Nazarene Church of Exeter, Church of God of Exeter, the New Life Assembly of God and Rocky Hill Community Church as well as the Lemon Cove Presbyterian Church.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.