How Do We Know that Jesus Lived?
By Kelly McDonald, Jr.
There are people today that doubt whether or not Jesus actually lived. What does the evidence say?
We have a free booklet written on this subject called “How Do We Know That Jesus Lived?” (Click here to download). A brief summary of the book’s findings are discussed below.
There were at least five ancient writers, who were non-Christian, that mention pertinent details about Jesus and His early followers: Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, and Lucian.
Among the details that these writers mention include, but are not limited to, Christ’s crucifixion, Pontius Pilate, and that the Jesus movement started in Judea. They mention that His early followers were called Christians. Some Christian beliefs are discussed and the suffering they endured for those beliefs.
There are also archaeological findings that provide even more corroboration with the New Testament account of Jesus’ life. This includes people, events, and places.
One of the chief figures from the historical sources and the New Testament concerning the death of Jesus is Pontius Pilate. In the 1960s, archaeologists found a stone with his name on it and his position within the Roman government. Additionally, there have been coins found that date to his reign. An ancient first-century ring was unearthed in the 1960s which was re-analyzed just a few years ago using modern technology. It was revealed that the name Pilato was engraved upon it; the ring likely belonged to someone in his administration.
As mentioned earlier, several ancient writers referenced Jesus’ crucifixion. In the1960s, the first archaeological finding for a crucifixion was uncovered; there was a 4.5 inch-nail driven through a man’s heel bone. Analysis of his bones allowed us to understand more about the crucifixion in practice. Graffiti of people being crucified have been discovered as well, with one of them likely being a direct reference to Christ.
In the New Testament, we learn that Nazareth was the town that Jesus spent His formative years (Matthew 2:19-23). Some have doubted whether this city existed at all. In recent years, homes that date to the time of Jesus have been unearthed. The household items found in these homes reflect the lifestyle of a simple Jewish family. One archaeological dig may have found the very house that Jesus lived in!
In Josephus and the New Testament, we learn that Jesus had a brother named James. In 2002, an ossuary, or burial bone box, that dates to before the destruction of Jerusalem (pre 70 AD) was analyzed. On the side, the inscription reads: “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” It was exceedingly rare for the brother of someone to be listed on an ossuary. Typically, only the father of someone was listed. This ossuary is most likely the bone box for Jesus’ brother James, who was killed around 62 AD at the behest of Jewish leaders.
Lastly, we will consider the importance of the New Testament in this conversation. Can we trust it? After all, it is the chief primary source that people are familiar with for the life of Jesus. The New Testament manuscript history dates much closer to the time of Jesus than many other ancient manuscripts from that same era. The earliest complete copy of the New Testament, called the Codex Sinaiticus, dates to about the middle of the fourth century AD or a little over 320 hundred years after Jesus’ time on earth. There are also hundreds of fragments of the New Testament that date to the same time of the Codex Sinaiticus and even earlier.
The manuscripts of most other ancient writings, such as the five we mentioned earlier, usually date to 700 years or more after the time of the writer. The New Testament has an older manuscript history and one that is more traceable than most other ancient writings.
The details from the historical and archaeological evidence we have available confirm about 2,000 verses (or more) in the New Testament. The text history of the New Testament also contains references to many other historical figures that can be independently confirmed with history and/or archaeology. This means it is a historically reliable document.
Based on the evidence available to us, which includes the New Testament, we say with certainty that Jesus lived on earth. He had followers called Christians who continued His teachings.
Kelly McDonald, Jr.
President of the BSA www.biblesabbath.org