Few historians or religious scholars today deny that Jesus was a real person. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries skeptics attempted to refute the historical reality of Jesus. Every so often a skeptic will pop up who insists Jesus did not really exist. They claim that apart from the Bible no ancient record mentions Jesus. Are there any extra-Biblical references to Jesus of Nazareth?
The oldest mention of Jesus, outside the Bible, was written in the early 90’s AD by a Jewish historian named Josephus. While discussing Pontius Pilate’s governorship of Jerusalem, Jospehus said, “About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.”
The Roman historian Tacitus wrote in 109 AD about the fire in Rome during the reign of Nero. “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.” Tacitus was not a friend of Christians but he affirmed without question the existence of Jesus and the fact of His execution during the reign of Pilate.
References to Jesus can also be found in other ancient sources from people who were opponents of Christianity. These include Jewish authors and Roman officials. They had no reason support Christian claims about Jesus. The existence of Jesus could not be denied. Extra-Biblical evidence for Jesus remains today and supports the teachings of the Bible.
Ancient history gives a few passing references to Jesus, but to really know who Jesus is and what He did one must read the gospels. The gospels are reliable accounts of Jesus. Two of the gospels were written by close companions of Jesus. At least two of the gospels were written within thirty years of Jesus death while many eyewitnesses of His life were still living. Jesus is real and the Bible’s teachings about Him can be trusted.