-Mike Jones (Inspiring Philosophy)
The Gospel of Thomas seems to be the most famous gospel that is not in the Bible. Everyone seems intrigued by this work; what it says and where it came from. Many argue it belongs in the Bible or that it represents an early sect of Christianity that disagreed with what we refer to as mainstream Christianity. They say it teaches a different Jesus than what we find in the canonical Gospels, or that Thomas is from the very early days of Christianity, and this is evidence that Christianity was a wide mix of various views of Jesus, despite what many laymen believed today. The majority of scholars do not place Thomas in the first century or believe any of it can be dated to the days of the first Christian Church. But some do date it early, like John Dominic Crossan or Elaine Pagels. So why was Thomas never considered canonical? Why do most scholars believe it belongs in the mid to late second century? Why do others argue it as earlier? Does any of it contain accurate sayings of Jesus? Does it represent a different sect of Christianity that would have differed from mainstream Christianity? And does it belong with the canonical Gospels? To answer these questions, we need to dive into what the Gospel of Thomas is, what it says, and what evidence scholars used to date it.
First, Thomas is not a narrative like the canonical Gospels are. It is just a list of sayings that Jesus supposedly said to his disciples. The theology also differs greatly from the ideas of the New Testament. In Thomas, Jesus is not the way, the truth, and the light. Jesus is just a teacher who instructs people on how to find enlightenment within them. Fasting and prayer are also considered bad in Thomas, whereas they are praised by Jesus in the canonical Gospels. Jesus also seems to act more like a Greek thinker in Thomas, rather than an early Jewish Rabbi. It also ends in a rather sexist way, claiming that Mary must become a male spirit before she can enter the kingdom of heaven. This seems contradictory to the Jesus portrayed in the canonical Gospels who seems to welcome women followers, and even allows them the high status of receiving divine revelation, to deliver to men which was quite revolutionary for the times Jesus lived in. So Thomas doesn't seem to fit with the theology of the New Testament, which is why most scholars say it represents a different theological view.
Second, we need to realize that dating Thomas is harder than other documents because of the internal and external evidence we have for it. We simply do not have a lot of manuscripts of Thomas. Our main source for Thomas as a Coptic manuscript discovered in 1945, and is part of the NAG Hammadi collection. The specific manuscript dates to around 340 AD. We also have three Greek fragments of Thomas that date to around 200 AD and contain about 20% of Thomas. However, scholars have noted remarkable differences between the complete Coptic version, and the Greek fragments. So Thomas seems to have changed remarkably over the course of 140 years, unlike the slight variation we see with the New Testament manuscripts. John Meyer says the Gospel of Thomas may have circulated in more than one form, and passed through several stages of redaction. Darrell Bock and Dan Wallace say the fact that the Greek papaiah of Thomas contains some significant differences from the Coptic forma Stelling it, suggests that this gospel may have gone through several uncontrolled editions by the time the NAG Hammadi volume was penned. So the textual evidence suggests Thomas may have been a document for an uncontrolled tradition that was meant to be fluid over time and meant to be adapted to each generations needs. We find the opposite when we look at the traditions of the other four Gospels in the rest of the New Testament. Other than that, the first writer to mention the existence of Thomas was Hippolytus of Rome, who speaks harshly of it. He says it was transmitted by a group called in the scenes, and even quotes a line from it which also varies from the line he seems to be quoting from in our manuscript of Thomas later. Origen also mentions its existence and says it was heretical. However, there were other works attributed to Thomas, so it is possible he and later authors could be referring to a different work that bore the name of Thomas in the 4th century. Cyril of Jerusalem mentions Thomas and says an early heretical group known as the main qian's wrote it.
Finally, a fifth century work mentions it in a list of heretical books.
So as you can see, our evidence for Thomas is rather scarce, negative, and varies and how it was read. The external evidence tells us Thomas would have to predate it to manuscripts and external mentions, so that it could have circulated enough to have caught the attention of critics, which means it would have to have been written prior to the 3rd century. Some argue that a lack of it being mentioned in the second century means it has to post date this time. But to be fair, that might be arguing from silence unless we can come up with a good reason 2nd century authors should have mentioned it. Scholars mainly need to rely on internal evidence to date Thomas. This is a harder test than dating other Gospels because Thomas is just a list of alleged sayings of Jesus. It contains no stories or a stork or reference in order to date it. Well on top of this, it contains little coherence outside of its use of catch words or catch phrases. In other words, the text itself has to be understood in terms of specific catch phrases to be translated properly into English.
Another interesting aspect of Thomas, is it seems familiar with several documents of the New Testament. It contains quotes or paraphrases from Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, acts, Romans, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, first Thessalonians, first Timothy, Hebrews, first John, and Revelation. Now this is rather telling, because either all of these works from the New Testament relied on Thomas, or Thomas was simply aware of the New Testament documents and made use of them. The second option is more likely because some of these documents are quite early and Thomas would have to have been written in the 40s, and be unbelievably popular early on, for multiple authors to make use of it. It is also far more probable a later author simply made use of multiple works that were popular by the second century. Also a lot of these New Testament books are alluded to by later authors and do not make mention or allude to Thomas, which also makes it more likely Thomas postdates these documents. Balkan Wallace says the silence of all second century writers regarding Thomas would be extremely peculiar if this gospel had existed for 50 or 60 years before AD 100. And all the more so if thomas was used extensively by many New Testament authors.
Again, as I said earlier, this is not proof Thomas post dates the New Testament. But it does lend credence to the theory Thomas did come after the New Testament, since these works were quoted and attested by early authors, and Thomas isn't. Richard Baulkham also notes Thomas seems to be comparing itself to other Gospels already in existence, specifically Matthew and Mark. Section 13 of Thomas has Simon Peter in Matthew guessing who Jesus was. Peter says he was a messenger or a righteous angel in Matthew guesses a wise philosopher before Thomas speaks. Baucom argues using Matthew and Peter who the early church says was Mark’s source for his gospel, meaning that Thomas is acknowledging that at least these two Gospels already existed by the time Thomas was written. Matthew would be one of the most obscure of the twelve had not a gospel been attributed to him. The saying in the Gospel of Thomas must presuppose the existence of Matthew's Gospel, and its attribution to Matthew if Matthew in this passage represents Matthew's Gospel, then it becomes highly likely that Peter represents Mark's Gospel.
Peter states that Jesus is like a righteous angel. It's presumably a deliberate substitute for Peter's confession in Mark 8:29, “You are the Messiah.” Since many external sources seem to attribute Mark's Gospel of Peter's preaching, it fits with this idea that Thomas will compare himself to two well-known disciples, from which two of the canonical Gospels allegedly came from; or at least that is what the church argued was the case in the second century. The idea of Thomas relying on many of the books of the traditional Canon, also correlates to the opening line of Thomas, which reads, “these are the hidden words that the living Jesus spoke and Didymus, Judas, and Thomas wrote them down.” Thomas says these are the hidden words of Jesus, implying there was a public ministry of Jesus that was more well known. The author, knowing his teachings, would contradict the public ministry of Jesus, seeming to have thought he had to disguise his words as secret teachings. This implies the acknowledgement of more well-known teachings of Jesus and implies Thomas would post-date them. So it is more probable Thomas postdates the New Testament books, which were more well known and attested in the ancient world.Thomas is trying to go against the New Testament theology by disguising his theology as secret teachings of Jesus, which implies the author knew other Gospels existed before he wrote his.
However, one of the biggest reasons most scholars date the Gospel of Thomas to the mid to late second century, is this connection to late Syrian. Christian scholar Nicholas Peron, analyzed the Gospel of Thomas and translated it into Syriac and Greek. What he found was Thomas was most likely originally written in Syria, not Greece or Coptic. I mentioned earlier Thomas contains a lot of catch words or catch phrases, and unless we understand this, the gospel really doesn't make sense. Well parent identified more than 500 Syria catch words, which implies it makes most sense in Syria not Greek or Coptic. Scholar Craig Evans says Thomas has extensive coherence with late 2nd century Syrian tradition in a lack of coherence with pre 70 Jewish Palestine. It is also recognized by virtually all scholars that Thomas contains a lot of Syrian elements, like how it were first at Thomas is Judas Thomas. This was a common name for Thomas and Syrian traditions, or as Craig Evans has noted, most of the time Thomas follows Matthew, it seems to be following a Syriac version of Matthew. This is also interesting because Paran noticed something else about Thomas; it seems to follow the order of a mid-second century work called the Diet Tessarin. The Diet Tessarin was put together by a man named Tation who wanted to harmonize the four Gospels, so he wrote a Syrian translation which goes through all four, and tries to harmonize the time-line.
Thomas seems to be copying from the Diet Tessarin and follows the same order in Syriac style, meaning it would post date the completion of the Diet Tessarin, which was between 160 AD and 175 AD. Some try to suggest Thomas has to be early because it is just a simple list of sayings and the traditional gospels are more developed because they contain narratives. But just being a simple list of sayings doesn't at all mean it is early. Craig Evans notes that other collections of sayings emerge from around this time, long after the canonical Gospels. Rabbinic works, like the chapter of the fathers and the sentences of sexes, are simple lists of sayings and were written around the same time. The sentences of sexist is specifically interesting because it also seems to have originated in Syria in the second century correlating to the most likely area and time frame for the emergence of Thomas. N. T. Wright in The New Testament and The People of God, also points out that Thomas lacks the early Jewish identity of the first church. The traditional four Gospels seem to be telling the story of Israel, with the climax being in the death and resurrection of Jesus, in the form of greco-roman biographies, that contain deep Jewish elements and themes.
Thomas seems to have been shortening, smoothed out for a later Gentile audience unfamiliar with the Jewish context. If Thomas was first and Jesus was originally more like a Greek philosopher, it is unlikely that a later Gentile audience would want to add in more Jewish elements to the story of Jesus, in creating the canonical Gospels. Considering the early church was slowly moving towards being filled with a majority of Gentiles, why would you make Jesus more Jewish if that was not how he was originally? As NT Wright says, “if the earliest form of the controversy stories is therefore likely to have been that of the Jewish stories of the struggle and vindication of the little remnant or renewal movement, it is not difficult to see how these stories could have become smooth down over time into something more like Hellenistic kriya, especially as the news of Jesus passed beyond the area where Jewish style controversy and vindication stories would be an expected form. This, I suggest, is the most likely explanation for works like the Gospel of Thomas.”
So these are the main reasons we date Thomas to the late second century. The fact that it is just a simple list of sayings doesn't mean it is early, let alone earlier than our canonical Gospels. The fact that it resembles later Syria and Christianity follows the Diet Tessarin paints Jesus more like a Greek philosopher and says it contains the secret teachings of Jesus, all seems to point to a tradition much later than what we see in the New Testament. There is also not a plausible reason Thomas should be included in the Canon of Scripture or that it could be considered to contain authentic words of Jesus. It is simply too late to be considered reliable.
It’s important to know what happened, where did it happen, and when it happened concerning the events in the Old Testament. This article will focus on where it happened. Knowing where the events of the Old Testament happened is good for getting an important background for the New Testament. Where the Old Testament events happened will show the land in which God’s revelation occurred.
The Old Testament occurred in ancient Israel which is a small part of the Ancient Near East. This is of course in reference to what we call the Middle East today. Israel was geographically smaller than most of its neighbors, but yet it’s location was strategically important throughout ancient history. Israel connects the three continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe. This is one of the reasons why Israel was taken over many times ranging from the Babylonians to the Romans. Two things would result of Israel’s location. First, many nations desired to take control of this land for the very strategic point mentioned before. Second, it resulted in many foreign cultural influences on Israel, which is why we see idol worshiping many times in the Old Testament.
The Middle East contains three geological sub regions all joined together by the Fertile Crescent. Many of these lands contain mountain regions where a lot of the battles from the Old Testament took place. Many of these lands contained deserts, flat lands, and rivers which played into transportation. The three sub regions are Mesopotamia, Syria-Palestine, and Egypt. Israel also had four sub regions that play into many of the events that have occurred there. First, is the coastal plains that are western coastline slants which are narrow in the north and become broader toward the south. Second, the central mountains that are a ridge of hills located between the coastal plains and the Jordan Rift. These hills are divided into four main regions, which are Galilee, Ephraim, Judean Hill Country and Eastern Negeb. Third, the Jordan Rift that is a series of depressions that run from the Jordan River to the foot of Mount Hermon. This area contains the lowest place on earth, which is the Dead Sea located 1,371 feet below sea level. Finally, The Trans-Jordanian Highlands that is located east of the Jordan Rift and sharply rises into a plateau. This area gives way to the Arabian Desert.
Mesopotamia contains the area in between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, which the Greek implies land between the rivers. The region extends from the mouth of the Persian Gulf to the foot of the Zagros Mountains. Mesopotamia was not a good landscape for defending against enemies mainly due to the lack of natural defenses such as mountain ranges. However, for those who were able to live were able to grow crops and had transportation because of the two rivers. This is where civilization began and writing like cuneiform developed which was wedged shaped writings on wet clay tablets. Many nations sought to take this land because of the weak defense and the benefits of its landscape.
Egypt is a land located by and in the Nile River that is the dominate geographic feature of Egypt. Egyptian culture developed a unique language of hieroglyphs that is “sacred caving.” This was influenced by the cuneiform developed by Mesopotamia cultures, possibly by the Sumerians. Egypt also had great soil due to its locational relationship to the Nile River, which gave Egypt the name of “black land.” Egypt had commercial trading with Asian and European areas due to their seaports. Unlike Mesopotamia, Egypt was very seclusive to outside nations because of the desert borders and its location to the Mediterranean Sea. Due to this, invasion and cultural change did not occur often. At one time, the nation of Israel was located in Egypt.
Syria-Palestine is the area from the northern bend of the Euphrates and southward to the Sinai desert. Israel is located at the southernmost section of Syria-Palestine. This area contains smaller rivers like the Jordan, unlike the Tigris or Euphrates river. Syria-Palestine was not a location to advance societies or national empires in its early history. This was a point of control for many river cultures for both military and political reasons. The most important geographic feature of this area is its formation of a land bridge along the Fertile Crescent. This is also the area that contains the four sub regions of Israel.
The Middle East also contains two important highways that are Via Maris (the way of the Sea) and The King’s Highway. The Via Maris designates all the network of roadways from Egypt through Syria-Palestine into Mesopotamia. The King’s Highway is the second important route, which gets its name from Num. 20:17 & 21:22. It extends from the Gulf of Aqabah at Elath through the Trans-Jordanian Highlands to Damascus. It’s important to know where the events happened to understand what happened. The geology helps show details that are important for many of the events in both Old and New Testament. It also tells us why God choose to reveal himself to the Israelite's in this area and will play into when God did this as well.
Arnold, Bill T. and Bryan E. Beyer. Encountering The Old Testament: Third Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015. Text Book.
The word atheist can be dated back to the 5th century BC, which was used by the Greeks (History of Atheism). The Greeks used it as a word meaning without Gods, since they were polytheists. Diagoras of Melos is considered to be the first atheist, along with Theodorus of Cyrene. They did believe in the God’s, but they did not believe they intervened in human affairs (History of Atheism). This is what we call classical deism which was developed during the enlightenment. Protagoras proposed the proposition of agnosticism, but is different from atheism (History of Atheism). It was a crime against the capital of Greece to be an atheist or deny the God’s. Socrates himself was executed for his lack of belief in God, but he himself denied the charge of blasphemy. Many of Greece’s citizens may have been “closeted atheists,” but did not share their lack of belief for the sake of their own lives (History of Atheism). The word atheist did not get it’s more modern meaning until the sixteenth century.
“The System of Nature” is the first book to publicly deny the existence of God. This was during the time of the of the enlightenment when religious thought started to be challenged. David Hume was a famous agnostic philosopher who coined that religious thought is irrational. Many still denied being atheists because of the capital punishments of being an admitted atheist (History of Atheism). The French Revolution was the event that was inspired by the American Revolution after America became an independent nation. The French Revolution happened from 1789-1794 and helped the spread of the atheism in Europe to this day. “(Between 1700 and 1750 thousands of atheistic clandestine manuscripts circulated across Europe (although still only read by a very small minority)” (History of Atheism). These documents ultimately help spread the antireligious thought from the French Revolution to the New Atheists in the modern day of western civilization. The enlightenment mainly targeted the Roman Catholic church of England for their attack on scientists, like Galileo. However, many scientists of this time were Christians and even apologists as well like John Locke, Descartes, and Pascal. Many became antireligious and even against atheists who were okay with religion. The French revolution was against the tyranny of the religious king of France. If the French Revolution didn’t happen, then atheism would not be as well spread in Europe today (History of Atheism).
The Enlightenment was powered by skepticism, doubt, and uncertainty. 'If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him', wrote Voltaire" (History of Atheism). This meant that people were starting to doubt the existence of God and would ultimately lead to nihilism. Nihilism is simply the view that there is no ultimate meaning, value, or purpose to life. “Thoughts and Feelings of Jean Meslier: “Clear and Evident Demonstrations of the Vanity and Falsity of All the Religions of the World” was the first modern book to promote atheism with its critiques of the soul, miracles, and the existence of God. This marked the real promotion of die-hard atheism (History of Atheism). Hume was another contributor to the skeptic movement with his assertion of miracles and the historicity of Christianity. He was more of a hardcore agnostic in all reality. Hume and all the enlightenment atheists and agnostics were naturally naturalists. They believed that the universe has always existed and did not need a cause since it did not come into being (History of Atheism). The Cult of Reason terrorized religious sites and public practices. They ransacked churches and discriminated against religious belief. All though most of the advances made by the enlightenment were made by Deists and Christians, skepticism had its part in the enlightenment and would not be here without the enlightenment (History of Atheism).
Communism is inherently directed by atheistic ideology driven by Karl Marx. Karl Marx was a secular Jew, but only considered to be Jewish by descent. Karl Marx was the founder of Communism and Marxism. Marxism is an ideology influenced by all of Karl Marx ideas. Karl Marx believed that religion was a main factor of stopping society from becoming the ultimate Utopia. Karl Marx along with Friedrich Nietzsche influenced the rise of the Soviet Union with their antic-religious beliefs (History of Atheism). Friedrich Nietzsche in his book “Gay Science” announced the death of God. “God is dead and we have killed” - Friedrich Nietzsche. He predicted the genocide that would occur from taken God out of society. The twentieth century was the bloodiest century of all time due to the rise in secularism and communism. Stalin, Mao, Lenin, Pol Pot, Mussolini, and questionably Hitler were atheist leaders who oppressed religion. They killed millions with their crusades against religious people and religious thought. They were inspired by the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche (History of Atheism). The twentieth century didn’t give atheism a good name just as the crusades didn’t give Roman Catholicism a good name.
The New Atheists are the most modern atheists. They are the most hostile atheist group to intellectually challenge modern religious thought. The four horsemen of the atheist apocalypse are Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. They’ve all written books expression their anti-religious views and are very provocative to religious people. Richard Dawkins has written “The God Delusion” which has sold over 2 million copies, which has influenced this movement of new atheism. Christopher Hitchens has written “God is not Great” claiming that all religion and their God’s are immoral. These men were influenced by the events of 911 and the history of religious violence. They believe that religion is poisonous to society and must adapt to societies standards. If not, then religion must be wiped for society to evolve to the next stage. The claims of these men are influencing many people and we could have another French Revolution. These are the modern day atheists who have their agenda for religion (Mohler 2008:15-37; Taylor).
Mohler, Albert Jr. Atheism Remix. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008. Book.
Taylor, James E. “The New Atheists.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Westmont College, www.iep.utm.edu/n-atheis/
“New Atheism.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 3 Oct. 2017,
Epic Archaeology: http://epicarchaeology.org
Jesus mythicists can best be described as people who are “highly skeptical” if not completely doubtful that Jesus Christ ever existed. Of course, most of what we learn about the life and ministry of Jesus comes to us from the New Testament in the Four Synoptic Gospels. For example, Jesus mythicist, Bob Price (whom I’ve previously debated on the historicity of the Exodus), once wrote the following:
“It is quite likely, though certainly by no means definitively provable, that the central figure of the gospels is not based on any historical individual. Put simply, not only is the theological "Christ of faith" a synthetic construct of theologians, a symbolic "Uncle Sam" figure. But if you could travel through time, like Super boy, and you went back to First-Century Nazareth, you would not find a Jesus living there” .
Similarly, Jesus mythicist, Richard Carrier, in his book, On the Historicity of Jesus: Why Might Have Reason to Doubt [Might, sic!], states that: “The Gospels generally afford us no evidence for discerning a historical Jesus.” And, that “Most of what Christians [i.e. “early Christians”] wrote were lies. We should approach everything they wrote with distrust.” Elsewhere Carrier noted that the NT book of Acts, “…reliability for demonstrating the historicity of Jesus is essentially non-existent” .
Ever since I’ve heard about Jesus mythycists, the question I’ve always wanted to ask them is: “What are you smoking?!” Furthermore, I frankly wonder why anyone takes them seriously. If history is at all knowable, with any degree of certainty, then the New Testament is one of THE most remarkable and reliable primary sources in the ancient world!
I think it’s interesting - that radical critics & skeptics of the New Testament read quite a bit of material in order to “debunk” it as a hoax or as mythology, but they curiously don’t read about the history of critics and skeptics of the past, whose own theories been debunked and disproven. Through the years, The New Testament has stood strong like a stone-clad lighthouse anchored to bedrock, while the waves, foam and torrents of the critics have crashed against it to no affect (John 10:35b).
What is History? How Can We Know It?
In the classical sense of the term, historiography is the science of writing history, where the scholars carefully analyze and vet primary sources. There are three primary sources for accurately reconstructing the past: (1) Eyewitnesses, (2) Historical Records (which includes manuscripts, MSS, and historical inscriptions), and (3) Archaeological Remains.
Historians and scholars today have broad and varied views of the relative value and proper usage of these three primary sources, and these stem primarily from philosophical principles rather than historical, or archaeological ones. For a further discussion of the philosophical dimensions to history and archaeology see my article, Summa Archaeologica.
EYEWITNESSES TO CHRIST & HIS RESURRECTION
Eyewitnesses to historical events are vital. Without them, it is difficult to reconstruct an accurate picture of what happened in the past. Eyewitnesses from ancient history (& even the recent past!) have been long dead, so they can’t be consulted or interviewed. What we do have, however, are the historical records, historical inscriptions, as well as archaeological remains.
The New Testament is a historical document of the finest caliber, written by eyewitnesses to the life, death, burial and resurrection of Christ. As the Apostle John writes:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of Life…. (1 John 1:1).
The Apostle Peter wrote;
We did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty (2 Peter 1:16).
HISTORICAL RECORDS (MANUSCRIPTS & ANCIENT WRITERS)
So, as Richard Carrier states: “There is no evidence for a historical Jesus…” Really?!
The original manuscripts of the New Testament are called the autographa (or autographs). Most scholars are unanimous in the belief that the original NT autographs were written in the first century AD, during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses of Jesus and His public ministry. The sheer number and quality of New Testament manuscripts (MSS) testifies to both the early source material and the accuracy of the central New Testament message.
New Testament Greek scholar, and Director of the Center of the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM), Dr. Daniel Wallace states:
"It would be safe to say that we have altogether about 20,000 handwritten manuscripts of the NT in various languages, including Greek....If someone were to destroy all of those manuscripts, we would not be left without a witness, because the church fathers wrote commentaries on the N.T. To date, more than one million quotations of the NT by the fathers have been recorded. ‘if all other sources for our knowledge of the New Testament were destroyed, [the patristic quotations would be sufficient alone for the reconstruction of practically the entire New Testament],’ wrote Metzger and Ehrman.” .
The above quote from Professor Wallace was from seven years ago. The number of New Testament Greek Manuscripts (MSS) as it stands today is around 5,800 (close to 6,000) Non-Greek NT Manuscripts (MSS) (Armenian, Latin, etc…) number to about 18,100, bringing the total amount of NT Manuscripts - 23,900 (MSS) .
In addition to the amazing number of manuscripts we have of the New Testament, and quotations from the Early Church Fathers, there are also contemporary non-Biblical accounts which confirm the existence of Jesus and the impact of Jesus on His followers, as well as the beliefs that the earliest Christians had concerning Him. Among those non-Biblical writers are the first century Jewish/Roman historian, Flavius Josephus, Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, Mara Bar Serapion, and Suetonius.
New Testament Historian Dr. Gary Habermas states that at least 10 truths can correlate about Jesus’ life between the New Testament and Josephus alone:
1. 1. Jesus was known as a wise and virtuous man
2. 2. Jesus had many disciples both Jews and Gentiles
3. 3. Pilate condemned Jesus to die
4. 4. He was executed by crucifixion
5. 5. His disciples reported that He rose from the dead
6. 6. He appeared to them the 3rd day after His crucifixion
7. 7. His disciples continued to proclaim His teaching
8. 8. He was perhaps predicted by the OT prophets
9. 9. His brother’s name was James
10. 10. He was called “Messiah” by some 
And this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg! To date every single Roman procurator, governor, and official mentioned in the New Testament has been discovered either historically or archaeologically, some by accident by scholars not seeking to “prove the Bible!” In addition, every major NT town or village is known archaeologically! There are 31 historical figures mentioned in the New Testament that we have historical evidence for.
If Jesus didn’t exist, then neither did Julius Caesar, or Hannibal, Tiglath Pileser, or Cleopatra. If Jesus didn’t exist, then we have to be skeptical of ALL history!
THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF JESUS
The third source for knowing ancient history is archaeological remains. Archaeology is a relatively new science, but ever since scholars have been scientifically excavating in Israel and Levant, the pages of the New Testament have been illuminated and confirmed as an amazingly reliable historical source for the life and times of Jesus!
Space here does not allow us to review in great depth all of the remarkable archaeological discoveries as they relate to the New Testament. Just a mere listing of what has been discovered concerning the life of Jesus is quite remarkable in itself!
According to the New Testament, Jesus’ public ministry spanned only about 3 years, yet within that short time span archaeology has illuminated and confirmed most of the people, places, and the culture in which He lived, as well as the impact of His life upon the people and geography of the region.
THE BIRTH OF JESUS
• Herod the Great - Massive archaeological & historical evidence for Herod I exists. Herod figures largely in the birth narrative of Jesus, and many of his buildings and works are the backdrop on which many of the events recorded in the NT take place.
• Nazareth (First Century) - Early historical scholars doubted whether or not that Nazareth existed in the first century. In the Twentieth century, archaeologists have confirmed that Nazareth was indeed in existence and populated by Jews in the First Century AD, according to Roman records.
• Bethlehem - The very likely ancient cave (or crèche) where Jesus was born has been well preserved in Bethlehem under the current structure (predicted by the OT prophet Micah in Micah 5:2). Even Muslims affirm that Bethlehem is the place where Jesus was born.
EARLY CHILDHOOD/MAHNOOD OF JESUS
• Sepphoris- Greco-Roman city very near Nazareth where Jesus was reared by Mary & Joseph. It is highly likely that Jesus may have worked here as a stone mason (carpenter) with his adoptive father, Joseph. It was the regional capital of the Galilee region in Christ’s day.
MINISTRY OF JESUS
• Stone Quarry in Cana of Galilee - The very likely location of the construction of the stone water jars used by Jesus when He turned the water into wine has recently been discovered by archaeologists (Jn. 2:1-11) in Israel.
• First Century Town of Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee - The first century Roman town of Tiberius named after the Roman emperor is well known to archaeologists
• Small Village of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee - Capernaum has often been called the “City of Jesus” because He spent much time there in His Galilee ministry. Franciscan archaeologists have excavated much of the town whose levels reach down into the first century during the Roman occupation of Judea.
• The Jewish Synagogue at Capernaum - Jesus taught on several occasions in the Jewish synagogue at Capernaum (cf. Jn. 6:25-59). The foundations of the same synagogue lie directly beneath a 4th Century synagogue built over the exact spot.
• Peter’s House - The foundations of an octagonal first century stone house have been excavated by Franciscan archaeologists who’ve have identified the site as the likely dwelling place of Simon Peter, the Apostle of Jesus, whose home was used as an early Christian meeting place.
• Tabgha (Location of Jesus Miracle of Feeding the Five Thousand) - Geographical, historical and archaeological evidence point to this location as the site where Jesus performed the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand - It is also called Heptapegon - or “seven springs.”
• Shechem (Jacob’s Well) - location where Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn. 4) is has been positively identified in the West Bank near the archaeological site of Tell Balata - Ancient city of Shechem has also been positively identified and is well known archaeologically
• Pool of Siloam (Jerusalem) - location where Jesus healed the man born blind (Jn. 9) has recently been discovered in Jerusalem by Israeli archaeologist Eli Shukron.
• Destruction of Jerusalem (Arch of Titus/Vespasian in Rome) - In Matthew 24 Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem. In AD 70, it happened exactly as He predicted. The Romans commemorated the event on the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum.
• Stones Along the Southern Wall - Stones from the First Century Temple platform razed by the Romans, have been uncovered along the base of the SE wall, confirming Jesus prediction in Matthew 24.
• Church of the Holy Sepulchre - Converging lines of formidable historical and archaeological evidence point to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
THE TRIAL AND CRUCIFIXION OF JESUS
• Pontius Pilate Inscription - Discovered in 1961, Italian archaeologists working at Caesarea uncovered an inscription containing the name of Pontius Pilate naming him as the Roman prefect of Judea exactly as he is mentioned in the New Testament Gospels.
• The Caiaphas Ossuary - In 1990 in Jerusalem, an elaborately carved limestone ossuary containing the name “Joseph ben Caiaphas” was discovered. The majority of Near Eastern archaeologists hold that it is the ossuary of the High Priest who presided over the trial of Christ (Mt. 26:57-75)
• Evidence of 1st Century Roman Crucifixion in Jerusalem - In the 1970’s archaeologists in Jerusalem recovered the remains of a foot bone containing nail used by the Romans for crucifixion. The ossuary dated to the first century and affirms that crucifixion was practiced by the Romans during the late Second Temple Period.
• The Nazareth Inscription - A remarkable non-unprovenanced artifact was recovered in Nazareth inscribed in Greek with an edict from Caesar Augustus ordering capital punishment for anyone caught robbing or destroying tombs. The item was a marble tablet in which the epigraphy (style of writing) dates it to the first half of the First Century. Although the inscription does not mention Jesus by name, it is understood by some to indicate that the decree was written in response to the widespread belief that Jesus had risen from the dead, and to prevent other “so-called” rumors from spreading (a lie that was spread by the Pharisees - see Matt. 28:11-15).
Jesus Mythicism: Not Even False
Some years ago, I read an article written by (ID) Intelligent Design theorist and scholar William A. Dembski in which he quoted the late physicist, Wolfgang Pauli. Pauli was commenting on an opposing scholar’s viewpoint on some matter a stated that the view “…was not even false.” There are categories of true and false for a respective position, but when something is “…not even false,” then it is so bad that it doesn’t even measure up to being “false.”
It is my view as an archaeologist, that the view that Jesus never existed, held by many Jesus mythcists today, is “…not even false.” The most radical of skeptical biblical scholars do not hold to this view. In terms of scholarly credibility, Jesus mythicism is the “flat-earth theory” of historical Jesus studies.
This is not just my opinion. Allow me to quote one of the most radical Biblical scholars of this century: Thomas Thompson of the University of Copenhagen. Thompson is known as a “Biblical Minimalist” - a position which combines the postmodern philosophy of Jacques Derrida with Martin Heidegger - hardly friendly to the historical trustworthiness of the Bible!
Thompson referring to one of Robert Price’s books on the historicity of the Bible states the following:
“In international scholarship today, I don’t see that your readings, oriented towards problems that are current in scholarship (and they are not accompanied with a discussion of either method or goals — other than the story’s lack of historicity), would arouse much interest. It is a very passive essay and I don’t really understand what you want to do with it ”
On any given Sunday millions of Christians around the world will carry their copy of the New Testament to church with them, having little or no idea of just how remarkable a record they hold in their hands, in terms of manuscript evidence, archaeology, and historical geography. In its pages the New Testament records, the cornerstone fact of Christianity: the life, death, burial and physical/bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Both the facts of history and archaeology affirm that the record has been well preserved.
Christians can rest assured that their faith is firmly planted in the facts of history and truth.
.Robert-Price,-Christ-is-a-Fiction,-1997:(https://infidels.org/library/modern/robert_price/price-rankin/price1.html)accessed, May 29, 2018
. Richard Carrier, On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason to Doubt (Sheffield: Phoenix Press, 2014), pp. 506, 222, & 385 respectively (emphasis mine).
. Daniel B. Wallace Ed., Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament: Manuscript, Patristic, and Apocryphal Evidence (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2011), pg. 27-8
. There are two scholarly organizations that vet and record the most up to date New Testament Greek manuscripts: The Institute for New Testament Textual Research (Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung, INTF) located in Münster, Germany. The other is The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts CSNTM, located in Dallas, TX.
 see, Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (College Press Publishing Company, 1996).
 Thomas Thompson, University of Copenhagen, Denmark (1993-2009)
The Gospels are the main sources that contain the main facts of Jesus’ life and ministry. The question of their reliability is extremely important, especially when Christ is one of the most influential people to have walked this planet. The Gospels contain the main claims made by Christ, so it’s important to check their validity and reliable. Jesus did claim to be divine and equal to God the Father. If the Gospels are not reliable, then neither are the claims made about Christ.
Mark is dated to be the first one written and to be influenced by Peter. Matthew and Luke are synoptic, but are different eyewitness accounts. John’s account is almost completely different from the synoptic gospels because it is more theologically based on the deity of Christ. This Gospel is considered to be the latest written account of Christ’s life. Luke is considered one of the greatest historians in the ancient world, mainly due to the 84 historical facts that he records the book of Acts. His Gospel is considered to be written before the book of Acts because in Acts 1:1-2, Luke talks about his first account he wrote before he started Acts. Also, he did not mention the death of Peter, Paul, or James in the book of Acts, which places Acts even earlier. With this in mind, Luke’s Gospel is dated even earlier since Acts is written prior to AD 64 when Paul was martyred under Nero in Rome. Luke also quotes Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels as well, which would date their Gospels earlier. Luke admits to not being an eyewitness himself, but rather compiles accounts from the earliest eyewitness accounts. These witnesses would have been Matthew and Mark, since we find synoptic features from Luke’s Gospel which are from Matthew and Mark’s Gospels. We also have to remember the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 by the Romans. Since Luke was writing as a historian, so if he wrote his Gospel after the destruction of Jerusalem, then he would have mentioned it. The destruction of Jerusalem was like the 9-11 terrorist attacks, except on a more devastating level. This would date the synoptic Gospels earlier than 70 AD based on what we fined in the Gospel of Luke.
Are they contradictory?
Some will attack these accounts as being contradictory, but when we examine the text with concise thinking and context of the perspective of each witness, then they will be shown to be written accounts from different eyewitnesses. These slight differences actually show more reliability to these eyewitness accounts because if they were made up, you would expect to find virtually the same exact details. If this were the case, then we would find the gospels to be exact copies with just different names. It’s actually a necessity to have different perspectives because that shows how each eyewitness perceived the events. Also, these differences are not contradictory as well. Every eyewitness will not agree completely say the same thing on the small details, but rather will agree the same way upon the major facts. Every Gospel writes about the crucifixion and the resurrection which shows them to be accurate accounts on the more important details. Slight difference of details about the genealogy of Christ do not undermine his existence or the reliability of these four unique eyewitness accounts. Many of these discrepancies is what is found in any historical and eyewitness accounts, so it does not undermine the minimal facts recorded in the gospels.
The Gospels also contain embarrassing details that add on to their historical reliability. The first, is when the gospel accounts records the woman as the first eyewitnesses of the risen Christ. This would have been embarrassing to the men (who were also the writers) because women’s testimony didn’t count in first century Israel. If your number one witnesses were women in this time period, then your account would not be a taken seriously and would be ridiculed. Today, we have better standards of witnesses then the sexism in the first century. Another embarrassing detail recorded in the gospels would be when the disciples deny Christ when he is taken in. Peter denies him along with the rest of the disciples. If you were making up this story, then you would not have abandoned the man that you were making out to be divine. This detail shows that the Gospel accounts most likely didn’t make up the messiah story, which will be discussed in opposing theories to the resurrection hypothesis. A final embarrassing detail, would be the fact that their messiah was crucified, which is something a first century Jew would not make up, not to mention many first century Jews. The messiah that most were expected, was to be one that over throws the Roman Empire. Of course, the gospels record that Christ died by the Roman Empire. First Century Jews would not make a crucified Messiah story because it would contradict their beliefs. The Gospels prove to be reliable with these embarrassing details that you would not make up in first century Israel.
The Archaeological claims in the gospels have been shown to be accurate as well. To demonstrate this, here are some examples of these claims. First, Pontius Pilate has been established as the governor who controlled Jerusalem under the reign of Tiberius Caesar. The evidence for this is discovery of his name on a piece of limestone discovered in 1961. This piece of limestone discovered had Pontius Pilates name and years of reign. The gospel accounts share this archaeological detail that was affirmed by this discovery. Another archaeological fact, was the punishment under the Roman Empire, which is death by Crucifixion. All the Gospels record this as to how their Lord died, and described the details of this punishment as well. Josephus writes about this as well, along with the Roman historians who write about this punishment. This is another archeological detail that the gospel accounts get right. A final archaeological fact that the Gospel of John records is the pool of Bethesda. After the destruction of Jerusalem, this pool of Bethesda did not exist to the visible eye. This seemed to indicate for a while that the Gospel of John was inaccurate about this detail. In 1888, archeologists found the remains of this pool that John had talked about in John 5:1-9. This also could be used to show that the Gospel of John could easily have been written before the Destruction of Jerusalem. It’s very likely that the Gospel of John is written before AD 70 because of this accurate description of the pool of Bethesda.
These are the shortest arguments that can be made to show the reliability of the Gospel’s as eyewitness account, which will add on to the evidence for the resurrection. The Gospels are early, accurate, and meet historical criteria that are used to investigate historical claims. Cold Case Christianity is a great book that goes into detail on these arguments for the reliability of the Gospels. Two other great books would be The Historical Jesus by Gary Habermas, and the updated version of Evidence that Demands a Verdict by both Josh and Sean McDowell. Overall, The Gospels are reliable historical sources concerning the life of Jesus based on the evidence.
Geisler , Norman L. and Frank Turek. I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist. Wheaton: Crossway, 2004. Book.
McDowell, Josh and Sean McDowell. Evidence That Demands A Verdict: Life-Changing Truth For A Skeptical World. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, 2017. Book.
Wallace, James Warner. Cold Case Christianity. Colorado Springs: David C Cook, 2013. Book.