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Historical Evidence for the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ

The Bible makes it clear that Christ died on 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). 

Historical Evidence for the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ
Carl Heinrich Bloch, “The Resserection” (sic) from the Chapel at Frederiksborg Palace in Copenhagen

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.

ANCIENT HISTORIANS

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).[ref]Tacitus, Annals, 15.44.[/ref] Josephus (AD 37-97) says that Jesus died and appeared “alive” again to his disciples.[ref]Josephus, Antinquities 18:3.[/ref] 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.[ref]Extant Writings, 18 in the Ante-Nicene Fathers. Julius Africanus in 221 quotes the words fof Thallus.[/ref]

JEWISH SOURCES

A second category Jewish sources. The Talmud (AD 70-200) directly references the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.[ref]Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a in the Babylonian Talmud.[/ref] 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.

GENTILE SOURCES

A third category is Gentile sources. Lucian says that Jesus was the founder of Christianity and was “crucified” for it.[ref]Lucian, Death of Pelegrine, 11-13.[/ref] Mara Bar-Seraphone was a Syrian (late first century) who wrote a letter to his son describing how the Jews “executed” Jesus.[ref]British Museum, Syrian MS, add. 14, 658; cited in Habermas, 200.[/ref]

GNOSTIC SOURCES

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.”[ref]Gospel of Truth, probably written by Valentinus. See 30:27-33; 31:4-6; 20:11-14, 25-34.[/ref] 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.

LOST SOURCES

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.[ref]cited by Origen, 4:455; cf. Habermas, 210; Anderson, 19. Origen 14, Julius Africanus, 18.[/ref]

By no means is this an exhaustive list. As Easter approaches let’s confidently celebrate our risen Savior, Jesus Christ!

By Christopher L. Scott

Christopher L. Scott serves as senior pastor at Lakeview Missionary Church in Moses Lake, Washington. Through his writing ministry more than 250,000 copies of his articles, devotions, and tracts are distributed each month through Christian publishers. Learn more at ChristopherLynnScott.com.