A Historian's View of Christ
I once encountered an atheist who asked for proof of God's existence outside of the Bible. He claimed that he truly wanted to find God, but he did NOT want to look into the Bible to read about Him (didn't really want to talk about the Bible either); he said that if God were real, he could find Him outside of the Bible, too. He claimed that the Bible was a second-hand account, and the only reason he would give was that no historians were present to write down things as they happened. (I didn't think of it then, but that is TOTALLY FALSE -- Luke was there, and we have evidence that he was a very accurate historian!) Anyway, after going into a rather long speal about the different aspects to his questions, I brought up the topic that Jesus was God. I said, "Jesus is God's Son -- He is God. Jesus is the Truth and truth has to correspond to reality, so if Jesus really is the truth, than God is real. If you can believe this, you will know that God exists, so I want to provide some evidence that Jesus is real. The biggest proof that Jesus existed is from the those who did not profess to be believers in Him... One scholar said, 'We should realize that it is quite extraordinary that we could provide a broad outline of most of the major facts of Jesus life from 'secular' history alone. Such is surely significant.' Such examples, are Thallus, Pliny the Younger, Lucian of Samosata..." I gave him the example of Josephus, too, mainly because people don't think that he was a Christian -- he was a Jew, right? Well, in this post, I wanted to tackle that and just how accurate Josephus was.
Josephus was a Jewish historian, a Pharisee, who was born shortly after Jesus died. When he was thirteen, he was a consultant for Jewish rabbis. In his The Antiquities of the Jews (18.3.3), he writes,
About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats 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. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.
Notice the reference to Christ and His followers. This is substantial evidence that Jesus existed. In fact, no one really doubts that He did exist, they just claim that He didn't do all the signs and wonders that the Bible records. (They try to dumb Him down to the status of magician, or just an ordinary person.) But of course, there are a few stubborn skeptics out there who still maintain that Christ does not exist, because they don't believe in God. Interestingly, though, here in this passage, we not only have Josephus mentioning Jesus and His followers, but we also have a reference to the "surprising feats," or the miracles which Jesus did.
But there are some who like to claim that Josephus was a Jew, not a Christian; hence, his original passage did not mention Christ -- it was added in later. However, there are a few points to the contrary: First, if Josephus was a historian who was a Jewish consultant, don't you think he would have heard something about Jesus, especially since everyone was still talking about Him?
In addition, we should not assume that Josephus was not a Christian; for there are some Jews who are Christians, and even some Jews who aren't Christians have never doubted that Jesus lived. No one knows whether or not Josephus was a Christian, so we shouldn't say that he wasn't and that it's not like him to write what he did, until we have proof to stand on in this respect. But granting the possibility that Josephus were not a Christian, this is still significant, because it would be "secular" or antagonistic evidence of Christ's existence -- that is, evidence from Jesus' enemies that Jesus did fulfill prophecy, that Jesus did do many miracles, that Jesus did have a group of followers who continued to spread the Good News after His Resurrection -- all of which is accounted for in the Bible. And this is "extra-biblical" proof -- proof outside the Bible that Jesus existed.
Although Josephus does not mention that Jesus was God (though he does say that Jesus is the Messiah), the passage is still significant, because as a historian, Josephus would have mentioned any important persons who claimed to be the Messiah (because His purpose was to write a history of the Jewish nation); therefore, he would have looked at the prophecies in the Bible about the Messiah -- there are about 333 of them -- to see which, if any, of these people "fit the bill." (And he does say, "for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him.") This is evidenced in Acts 5 when Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, said that a man named Theudas claimed to be "somebody," adding, "A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed." Gamaliel went on to admonish the chief priests (vs. 38), "And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it--lest you even be found to fight against God." So it is evident that the Jews kept a close eye on people who claimed to be "saviors" of the people; they knew the Scriptures, though they clearly refused to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. (In fact, semi-recently, there was even a man whom the Jews "made" the Savior of the world by changing some of Daniel's prophecy to fit with this man's coming! They did this so that it would not appear that Jesus was the Messiah.).
As a Jew and having looked at history, Josephus would have looked at Jesus and seen that all 333 prophecies were fulfilled in this one Man alone. It's not likely that every guy on the planet it going to beat that! The chances of one man even fulfilling 48 prophecies is like trying to randomly find a predetermined atom among all the atoms in a trillion trillion trillion trillion billion universes the size of our universe -- it's practically impossible. So even though Josephus doesn't mention much about Christ, he could conclude by his research that Jesus was the Messiah. And although some people might "accidentally" fulfill prophecy, there has NEVER been any one person who has fulfilled as many prophecies as Jesus Christ.
"For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.' And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." ~ 2 Peter 1:16-21