The New Testament Documents and the Historicity of the Resurrection

by Sam Shamoun

The New Testament is constantly under attack, and its reliability and accuracy are often contested by critics.  If the critics want to disregard the New Testament, then they must also disregard other ancient writings by Plato, Aristotle, and Homer.  This is because the New Testament documents are better-preserved and more numerous than any other ancient writings.  Because they are so numerous, they can be cross checked for accuracy . . . and they are very consistent.

There are presently 5,686 Greek manuscripts in existence today for the New Testament. If we were to compare the number of New Testament manuscripts to other ancient writings, we find that the New Testament manuscripts far outweigh the others in quantity.

The historicity of the resurrection is firmly rooted in the reliability of the New Testament documents. If it can be shown that the NT documents are unreliable, then the case for the resurrection goes out the window. If, however, it can be demonstrated that the NT documents are historically accurate and were written down during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses to the life and resurrection of Jesus, then the truth claim of Christianity is affirmed.

We will examine both the external and internal evidence.

External Evidence

External evidence would include the number and dating of the available NT manuscripts as well as archaeological evidence. The first will be the evidence furnished by the manuscripts themselves.

Manuscript Evidence

We have today in our possession 5,300 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, another 10,000 Latin Vulgates, and 9,300 other early versions (MSS), giving us more than 24,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today! (taken from McDowell's Evidence That demands a Verdict, vol.1, 1972 pp. 40-48; Time, January 23, 1995, p. 57). Though we do not have any originals, with such a wealth of documentation at our disposal with which to compare, we can delineate quite closely what those originals contained. No other ancient writing of antiquity has as many MSS as the New Testament.

In fact, when we compare the works of antiquity with that of the NT documents, we will then see how superior the New Testament really is in terms of dating and number of MSS.

Secular Manuscripts: The Time Gap and the Number of MSS:

Date Written
Earliest Copy
Time Span
Copies (extent)

Herodotus (History)

480 - 425 BC

900 AD

1,300 years


Thucydides (History)

460 - 400 BC

900 AD

1,300 years


Aristotle (Philosopher)

384 - 322 BC

1,100 AD

1,400 years


Caesar (History)

100 - 44 BC

900 AD

1,000 years


Pliny (History)

61 - 113 AD

850 AD

750 years


Suetonius (Roman History)

70 - 140 AD

950 AD

800 years


Tacitus (Greek History)

100 AD

1,100 AD

1,000 years


In comparison, we have copies of the NT which date approximately 15-20 years after the authors of scripture originally penned the autographs.

Biblical Manuscripts: (note: these are individual manuscripts):

Magdalene Ms (Matthew 26)

1st century

50-60 AD


John Rylands (John)

90 AD

130 AD

40 years

Bodmer Papyrus II (John)

90 AD

150-200 AD

60-110 years

Chester Beatty Papyri (NT)

1st cen.

200 AD

150 years

Diatessaron by Tatian (Gospels)

1st cen.

200 AD

150 years

Codex Vaticanus (Bible)

1st cen.

325-350 AD

275-300 years

Codex Sinaiticus (Bible)

1st cen.

350 AD

300 years

Codex Alexandrinus (Bible)

1st cen.

400 AD

350 years

Total New Testament manuscripts = 5,300 Greek MSS, 10,000 Latin Vulgates, 9,300 others = 24,000 copies. Total MSS compiled prior to 600 AD = 230. Some of the most important MSS include:

The John Ryland Papyri:

Manuscript portions of the Gospel of John, located in the John Ryland Library of Manchester, England and believed to be the oldest known fragment of the New Testament, dated AD 130, within 40 years of the original.

Lukan Papyrus:

"The Lukan papyrus, situated in a library in Paris has been dated to the late 1st century or early 2nd century, so it predates the John papyrus by 20-30 years (Time April 26, 1996, pg.8)."

Mark and Qumran:

"But of more importance are the manuscript findings of Mark and Matthew! New research which has now been uncovered by Dr. Carsten Thiede, and is published in his newly released book on the subject, the Jesus Papyrus mentions a fragment from the book of Mark found among the Qumran scrolls (fragment 7Q5) showing that it was written sometime before 68 AD It is important to remember that Christ died in 33 AD, so this manuscript could have been written, at the latest, within 35 years of His death; possibly earlier, and thus during the time that the eyewitnesses to that event were still alive!"

Magdelene Manuscript:

"The most significant find, however, is a manuscript fragment from the book of Matthew (chapt.26) called the Magdalene Manuscript which has been analyzed by Dr. Carsten Thiede, and also written up in his book The Jesus Papyrus. Using a sophisticated analysis of the handwriting of the fragment by employing a special state-of-the-art microscope, he differentiated between 20 separate micrometer layers of the papyrus, measuring the height and depth of the ink as well as the angle of the stylus used by the scribe. After this analysis Thiede was able to compare it with other papyri from that period; notably manuscripts found at Qumran (dated to 58 AD), another at Herculaneum (dated prior to 79 AD), a further one from the fortress of Masada (dated to between 73/74 AD), and finally a papyrus from the Egyptian town of Oxyrynchus. The Magdalene Manuscript fragments matches all four, and in fact is almost a twin to the papyrus found in Oxyrynchus, which bears the date of 65/66 AD Thiede concludes that these papyrus fragments of St. Matthew's Gospel were written no later than this date and probably earlier. That suggests that we either have a portion of the original gospel of Matthew, or an immediate copy, which was written while Matthew and the other disciples, and eyewitnesses to the events were still alive. This would be the oldest manuscript portion of our Bible in existence today, one which co-exists with the original writers!

"What is of even more importance is what it says. The Matthew 26 fragment uses in its text nomina sacra (holy names) such as the diminutive "IS" for Jesus and "KE" for Kurie or Lord (The Times, Saturday, December 24, 1994). This is highly significant for our discussion today, because it suggests that the godhead of Jesus was recognized centuries before it was accepted as official church doctrine at the council of Nicea in 325 AD There is still ongoing discussion concerning the exact dating of this manuscript. However, if the dates prove to be correct then this document alone completely eradicates the criticism leveled against the gospel accounts (such as the "Jesus Seminar") that the early disciples knew nothing about Christ's divinity, and that this concept was a later redaction imposed by the Christian community in the second century (AD)."

(NOTE: The preceding citations can be found at the following web page:

Other, more extensive, copies of the New Testament include the Chester Beatty Papyri, containing major portions of the New Testament and dated early 3rd century, the Bodmer Papyrus, dated late 2nd century, the Codex Sinaiticus, dated AD 350, and the Codex Vaticanus, dated AD 325 - AD 350. Some of the codices contain the entire New Testament. It can be seen that, as far as the time gap between the original writing of the New Testament and the earliest extant manuscripts, there is no work from the ancient world which can compare to the New Testament. As Sir Frederic Kenyon, former Curator of the British Museum, says:

"The net result of this discovery [of the Chester Beatty Papyri] ... is, in fact, to reduce the gap between the earlier manuscripts and the traditional dates of the New Testament books so far that it becomes negligible in any discussion of their authenticity. No other ancient book has anything like such an early and plentiful testimony to its text." (Sir Frederic G. Kenyon, The Bible and Modern Scholarship [London: John Murray, 1948], 20, as cited in McDowell, Evidence That Demands A Verdict, p. 49)

Add to this list the possible discovery of several NT quotations found in Qumran:

"Jose O'Callahan, a Spanish Jesuit paleographer, made headlines around the world on March 18, 1972, when he identified a manuscript fragment from Qumran ... as a piece of the Gospel of Mark. The piece was from Cave 7. Fragments from this cave had previously been dated between 50 B.C. and A.D. 50, hardly within the time frame established for New Testament writings. Using accepted methods of papyrology and paleography, O'Callahan compared sequences of letters with existing documents and eventually identified nine fragments as belonging to one Gospel, Acts, and a few Epistles. Some of these were dated slightly later than 50, but still extremely early...

Mark 4:28


A.D. 50

Mark 6:48


A.D. ?

Mark 6:52, 53


A.D. 50

Mark 12:17


A.D. 50

Acts 27:38


A.D. 60+

Rom. 5:11, 12


A.D 70+

1 Tim. 3:16; 4:1-3    


A.D. 70+

2 Peter 1:15


A.D. 70+

James 1:23, 24


A.D. 70+

"... Both friends and critics acknowledge that, if valid, O'Callahan's conclusions will revolutionize New Testament theories. If even some of these fragments are from the New Testament, the implications for Christian apologetics are enormous. Mark and Acts must have been written within the lifetimes of the apostles and contemporaries of the events. There would be no time for mythological embellishment of the records... They must be accepted as historical ... There would hardly be time for a predecessor series of Q manuscripts ... And since these manuscripts are not originals but copies, parts of the New Testament would be shown to have been copied and disseminated during the lives of the writers. No first-century date allows time for myths or legends to creep into the stories about Jesus." (Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics [Baker Books, Grand Rapids; 1999], p. 530)

Hence, if further research confirms O'Callahan's theories this would establish beyond any reasonable doubt the reliability of the New Testament. Even without these discoveries, the evidence from the Patristic writings and MSS overwhelmingly supports the authenticity and reliability of the biblical text.

For instance, in the Patristic writings the case for the preservation of the NT text and its early composition is further established, as well as the extensive usage of the New Testament, especially that of the four Gospels:

"Of the four gospels alone there are 19,368 citations by the church fathers from the late first century on. This includes 268 by Justin Martyr (100-165), 1038 by Ireneaus (active in the late second century), 1017 by Clement of Alexandria (ca. 155-ca. 220), 9231 by Origen (ca. 185-ca. 254), 3822 by Tertullian (ca. 160s-ca. 220), 734 by Hippolytus (d. ca. 236) and 3258 by Eusebius (ca. 265-ca. 339…) Earlier, Clement of Rome cited Matthew, John, 1 Corinthians in 95 to 97. Ignatius referred to six Pauline Epistles in about 110, and between 110 and 150 Polycarp quoted from all four Gospels, Acts and most of Paul's Epistles. Shepherd of Hermas (115-140) cited Matthew, Mark, Acts, I Corinthians, and other books. Didache (120-150) referred to Matthew, Luke, I Corinthians, and other books. Papias, companion of Polycarp, who was a disciple of the apostle John, quoted John. This argues powerfully that the Gospels were in existence before the end of the first century, while some eyewitnesses (including John) were still alive." (Norman Geisler, Encyclopedia, pp. 529-530)

Some critics have tried to debunk the NT documents due to the variant readings that exist between the MSS. Geisler responds:

"There is widespread misunderstanding among critics about 'errors' in the biblical manuscripts. Some have estimated there are about 200,000 of them. First of all, these are not 'errors' but variant readings, the vast majority of which are strictly grammatical. Second, these readings are spread throughout the more than 5300 manuscripts, so that a variant spelling of one letter in one verse in 2000 manuscripts is counted as 2000 'errors.' Textual scholars Westcott and Hort estimated that only one in sixty of these variants have significance. This would leave a text 98.33 percent pure. Philip Schaff calculated that, of the 150,000 variants known in his day, only 400 changed the meaning of the passage, only fifty were of real significance, and not even one affected 'an article of faith or a precept of duty which is not abundantly sustained by other and undoubted passages, or by the whole tenor of Scripture teaching' (Schaff, 177).

"Most other ancient books are not so well authenticated. New Testament scholar Bruce Metzger estimated that the Mahabharata of Hinduism is copied with only about 90 percent accuracy and Homer's Illiad with about 95 percent. By comparison, HE ESTIMATED THE NEW TESTAMENT IS ABOUT 99.5 PERCENT ..." (Geisler, Encyclopedia, pp. 532-533)

B. F. Westcott and F.J.A. Hort, the editors of The New Testament in Original Greek, also commented:

"If comparative trivialities such as changes of order, the insertion or omission of the article with proper names, and the like are set aside, the works in our opinion still subject to doubt can hardly mount to more than a thousandth part of the whole New Testament." (B.F. Westcott, and F.J.A. Hort, eds., New Testament in Original Greek, 1881, vol. II, 2.)

Sir Frederick Kenyon states:

"... no unbiased scholar would deny that the text that has come down to us is substantially sound." (Kenyon, The Bible, as cited in McDowell, Evidence, p. 49)

Kenyon rightly concludes:

"It cannot be too strongly asserted that in substance the text of the Bible is certain: Especially is this the case with the New Testament." (Sir Frederic G. Kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts [New York: Harper and Brothers, 1941], 23 as cited in McDowell, Evidence, p. 45)

F. F. Bruce comments:

The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical author, the authenticity of which no one dreams of questioning. And if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt. (F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? 5th rev. ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988], p. 15)

Archaeology and the NT

Independent archaeological research has solidified the authenticity and the historical reliability of the New Testament. Some of the discoveries include:

Luke refers to Lysanias as being the tetrarch of Abilene at the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry, circa 27 A. D. (Luke 3:1) Historians accused Luke of being in error, noting that the only Lysanias known was the one killed in 36 B. C. Now, however, an inscription found near Damascus refers to "Freedman of Lysanias the tetrarch" and is dated from 14 and 29 A. D.

Paul, writing to the Romans, speaks of the city treasurer Erastus (Romans 16:23). A 1929 excavation in Corinth unearthed a pavement inscribed with these words: ERASTVS PRO:AED:P:STRAVIT: ("Erastus curator of public buildings, laid this pavement at his own expense.")

Luke mentions a riot in the city of Ephesus which took place in a theater (Acts 19:23-41). The theater has now been excavated and has a seating capacity of 25,000.

Acts 21 records an incident which broke out between Paul and certain Jews from Asia. These Jews accused Paul of defiling the Temple by allowing Trophimus, a Gentile, to enter it. In 1871, Greek inscriptions were found, now housed in Istanbul which read:


Luke addresses Gallio with the title Proconsul (Acts 18:12). A Delphi inscription verifies this when it states, "As Lucius Junius Gallio, my friend, and the Proconsul of Achaia ..."

Luke calls Publicus, the chief man of Malta, "First man of the Island." (Acts 28:7) Inscriptions now found do confirm Publicus as the "First man". (Josh McDowell, The Best of Josh Mcdowell: A Ready Defense, pp. 110-111)

The five porticoes of the pool of Bethesda by the Sheep Gate and the pool of Siloam mentioned in John 5:2 and 9:1-7 has now been unearthed.

The pavement (Gabbatha) of John 18:13 and Solomon’s porch in the Temple precincts (John 10:22-23), have been found.

Archaeologists have unearthed Jacob’s well at Sychar. (John 4:5)

An inscription found in Ceasarea confirms Pilate’s role as the prefect of Judea during the time of Christ.

The discovery of a bone-box of a crucified man named Johanan from the first century Palestine confirms the fact that nails were used to pierce the ankles of the victims. Such was the case of Christ, of course, and this discovery is significant in answering the skeptics who believed that the Romans used only ropes to tie the victim’s legs to the cross.

Finally, in 1990, the burial grounds of Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest, and his family were uncovered. This is an undeniable fact that Caiaphas existed as a true historical figure.

The significance of such extra-Biblical evidence is of such magnitude that honest skeptics are now forced to agree that the Bible is historically accurate and reliable. One such person was Sir William Ramsey, considered one of the world’s greatest archaeologists. He believed that the New Testament, particularly the books of Luke and Acts, were second-century forgeries. He spent thirty years in Asia Minor, seeking to dig up enough evidence to prove that Luke-Acts was nothing more than a lie. At the conclusion of his long journey however, he was compelled to admit that the New Testament was a first-century compilation and that the Bible is historically reliable. This fact led to his conversion and embracing of the very faith he once believed to be a hoax.

Dr. Ramsey stated:

"Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy ... this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians."

Ramsey further said: "Luke is unsurpassed in respects of its trustworthiness." (Josh McDowell, The Best of Josh Mcdowell: A Ready Defense, pp. 108-109)

Other skeptics who have conceded the Bible’s historical accuracy include the renowned Jewish archaeologist Nelson Glueck:

"It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference," and "the almost incredibly accurate historical memory of the Bible, and particularly so when it is fortified by archaeological fact." (Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands A Verdict p. 65)

This is a very significant statement since it is made by one who totally denied the inspiration of Scripture. Earl Radmacher, former president of Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, notes:

"I listened to him [Glueck] when he was at Temple Emmanuel in Dallas, and he got rather red in the face and said, ‘I’ve been accused of teaching the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Scripture. I want it to be understood that I have never taught this. All I have ever said is that in all my archaeological investigation I have never found one artifact of antiquity that contradicts any statement of the Word of God.’" (Ibid., p. 22 [emphasis ours])

Another one time skeptic was Dr. Clifford Wilson who, due to the discoveries made, concluded that, "It is the studied conviction of this writer that the Bible is ... the ancient world’s most reliable history textbook ..." (Wilson, Rocks, Relics And Biblical Reliability, p. 126)

Dr. Wilson, like Ramsey, goes on to hail Luke for his accuracy:

Luke demonstrated a remarkably accurate knowledge of geographical and political ideas. He referred correctly to provinces that were established at that time, as indicated in Acts 15:6. He demonstrated a clear knowledge of local customs, such as those relating to the speech of the Lycaonians (Acts 14:11), some aspects relating to the foreign woman who was converted at Athens (Acts 17:34), and he even knew that the city of Ephesus was known as the "temple-keeper of Artemis" (Acts 19:35) ... he refers to different local officers by their exact titles – the proconsul (deputy) of Cyprus (Acts 13:7), the magistrates at Phillipi (Acts 16:20,35), the politarchs (another word for magistrates) at Thessalonica (Acts 17:6), the proconsul of Achaia (Acts 18:12), and the treasurer of Corinth (Aedile) – which was the title of the man known as Erastus at Corinth (Acts 19:22; Romans 16:23 ...)

Luke had accurate knowledge about various local events such as the famine in the days of Claudius Caesar (Acts 11:29); he was aware that Zeus and Hermes were worshiped together at Lystra, though this was unknown to modern historians (Acts 14:11,12). He knew that Diana or Artemis was especially the goddess of the Ephesians (Acts 19:28); and he was able to describe the trade at Ephesus in religious images. (Ibid., pp. 112-113)

Hence, Wilson’s statement:

"Those who know the facts now recognize that the New Testament must be accepted as a remarkably accurate source book ..." (Ibid., p. 120)

Leading NT archaeologist John McRay was interviewed by atheist turned Christian Lee Strobel regarding the archaeological evidence for the NT. After dealing with the evidence for Luke's accuracy, Strobel asked McRay about the evidence supporting John's Gospel:

Archaeology may support the credibility of Luke, but he isn't the only author of the New Testament. I wondered what scientists would have to say about John, whose gospel was sometimes considered suspect because he talked about locations that couldn't be verified. Some scholars charged that since he failed to get these basic details straight, John must not have been close to the events of Jesus' life.

That conclusion, however, has been turned upside down in recent years. "There have been several discoveries that have shown John to be very accurate," McRay pointed out. "For example, John 5:1-15 records how Jesus healed an invalid by the Pool of Bethesda. John provides the detail that the pool had five porticoes. For a long time people cited this as an example of John being inaccurate, because no such place had been found.

"But more recently the pool of Bethesda has been excavated - it lies maybe forty feet below ground - and sure enough, there were five porticoes, which means colonnaded porches or walkways, exactly as John described. And you have other discoveries - the pool of Siloam from John 9:7, Jacob's well from John 4:12, the probable location of the Stone Pavement near Jaffa Gate where Jesus appeared before Pilate, even Pilate's own identity - all of which have lent historical credibility to John's gospel."

"So this challenges the allegation that the gospel of John was written so long after Jesus that it can't possibly be accurate," I said.

"Most definitely," he replied. (Strobel, The Case for Christ - A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus [Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1998; ISBN: 0-310-20930-7], p. 99)

Finally, John Elder states emphatically, "Nowhere has archaeological evidence refuted the Bible as history." (Elder, Prophets, Idols And Diggers, p. 16)

The Internal Evidence

The evidence within the NT documents also affirms the early composition of the New Testament.

The Authors Claimed That They Were Recording Eyewitness Testimony:

The writers claimed that they were either eyewitnesses or personally knew the eyewitnesses.

For instance, Luke claims to have carefully investigated everything handed down to him from the eyewitnesses:

"Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught." Luke 1:1-4

Luke also was Paul’s traveling companion who had also met James the brother of the Lord and the elders of the Jerusalem Church:

"After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Cos. The next day we went to Rhodes and from there to Patara. We found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, went on board and set sail. After sighting Cyprus and passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria. We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo. Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. But when our time was up, we left and continued on our way. All the disciples and their wives and children accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray. After saying good-by to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home. We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and stayed with them for a day. Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied. After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul's belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, "The Holy Spirit says, `In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.'" When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, "Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, "The Lord's will be done." After this, we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and brought us to the home of Mnason, where we were to stay. He was a man from Cyprus and one of the early disciples. When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly. The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: "You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law." Acts 21:1-20

Luke also knew Mark:

"When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying." Acts 12:12

In fact, Luke also records that Mark caused a rift between Paul and Barnabas due to the fact that Mark had left them on one missionary journey to go back home. (cf. Acts 13:5, 13; 15:36-41)

Paul in his epistles mentions not only Luke, but Mark as well:

"My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.)… Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings." Colossians 4:10, 14

Incidentally, Paul supplies additional information as to why Barnabas would want Mark to go with them on their missionary journey even after the latter had abandoned them. Barnabas and Mark were cousins! Paul also mentions that both Mark and Luke were with him at the same time, implying that the two knew each other.

"Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry." 2 Timothy 4:11

The Apostle Peter mentions both Mark and Paul in his writings:

"She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark." 1 Peter 5:13

"Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, JUST AS OUR DEAR BROTHER PAUL ALSO WROTE YOU WITH THE WISDOM THAT GOD GAVE HIM. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, AS THEY DO OTHER SCRIPTURES, to their own destruction." 2 Peter 3:15-16

Whether one accepts Petrine authorship or not, this is evidence of the early acceptance of some, if not all, of Paul's writings as Scripture. Being conservatives, we affirm Petrine authorship and hence believe that Peter spoke highly of Paul and considered the latter’s writings to be inspired by God. In fact, Peter personally testifies in this very same epistle that he had seen Jesus glorified before his very eyes:

"We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain." 2 Peter 1:16-18

Another disciple, John, opens up his first epistle with the claim of being an eyewitness to the life of the historical Jesus:

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched - this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete." 1 John 1:1-4

The Apostles also appealed to hostile eyewitnesses for verification of their claims:

"Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him." Acts 2:22-24

"Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead? I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them. "On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. About noon, O king, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, [1] `Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' "Then I asked, `Who are you, Lord?' "`I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,' the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.' "So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. But I have had God's help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen- that the Christ [2] would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles." At this point Festus interrupted Paul's defense. "You are out of your mind, Paul!" he shouted. "Your great learning is driving you insane." "I am not insane, most excellent Festus," Paul replied. "What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do." Then Agrippa said to Paul, "Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?" Paul replied, "Short time or long-I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains." Acts 26:8-29

It would have been impossible for the Apostles to appeal to hostile Jews and Roman authorities for the verification of the resurrection and get away with it had the resurrection not occurred.

Finally, the NT documents indicate that there were eyewitnesses present for nearly every moment of Jesus’ final hours and eventual resurrection:

·       There were eyewitnesses present at Jesus’ arrest. (cf. Mt. 26:47-56; Luke 22:44-54; John 18:1-13)

·       There were eyewitnesses present at Jesus’ trial. (cf. John 18:15-28; Luke 22:61-62)

·       There were eyewitnesses at the cross. (cf. Mark 15:40-41; John 19:25-27)

·       There were eyewitnesses to his burial. (cf. John 19:38-42)

·       There were eyewitnesses who saw the empty tomb. (cf. Matthew 28:11-15; John 20:1-7)

·       Finally, there were eyewitnesses who testified that they had seen Jesus alive from the dead, and who were willing to die for their claim. (cf. Luke 24:36-46; Acts 1:1-5; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8- more on this passage later)

Evidence for Early Dating:

The Gospels furnish evidence that attests to the fact that some of the books were definitely written before the year A.D. 70.


Mark mentions the high priest without naming him. (cf. Mark 14:60-63) According to the other writers, the high priest at the time of Jesus’ public ministry was Caiaphas. (cf. Matthew 26:57) Caiaphas was high priest from A.D. 18-37. This presumes that Mark’s audience would have automatically known to which high priest he was alluding to, affirming that the tradition underlying this gospel is very early, possibly no later than A.D. 40.

Mark also mentions Alexander and Rufus and presumes that his audience would have known who these gentlemen were:

"A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross." Mark 15:21

Church Tradition indicates that Mark composed his Gospel in Rome. Interestingly, Paul in his letter to the Romans dated approximately at A.D. 57 mentions a person named Rufus:

"Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too." Romans 16:13

This is possibly the same Rufus mentioned by Mark.


The consensus of NT scholarship agree that Luke-Acts were authored by the same person. A great portion of the book of Acts centers on Jerusalem, the Temple, Paul’s conversion and his missionary activities. The author also mentions the deaths of Stephen (Acts 7:51-8:1) and James, the brother of John (Acts 12:2).

Interestingly, the author does not mention the deaths of James the brother of the Lord (A.D. 62), Peter (A.D. 65-68), and Paul (A.D. 67-68). He also does not mention the burning of Rome and the persecution of Christians there (A.D. 64) or the destruction of the Temple (A.D. 70) but ends at Paul’s imprisonment at Rome (A.D. 63).

It seems rather stranger that the author would choose to omit such information had he in fact been writing after these events had already taken place. This seems to strongly support the fact that the book must have been written no later than A.D. 63.

In fact, the apostle Paul actually quotes from the Gospel of Luke:

"For the SCRIPTURE says, 'Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,' and 'The worker deserves his wages.'" 1 Timothy 5:18

Paul quotes Deuteronomy 25:4. The second quote is from Luke 10:7:

"Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for THE WORKER DESERVES HIS WAGES. Do not move around from house to house."

Paul quotes Luke and places it on the same level of authority of Moses’ writings! The consensus of scholars agree that Luke was the last of the synoptic gospels to be written, implying that all three were in circulation at the time of Paul's writing, which some scholars date at approximately 61-65 AD. This argues the fact that Luke must have been written between 55-60 A.D. with Acts shortly following.


The Gospel of John provides several lines of evidence supporting its early dating. The first is John 5:2

"Now there IS in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades."

John doesn’t say that there "was" a pool, but that there still "is." This suggests that John’s Gospel was written before the destruction of the Temple, and hence the destruction of the pool itself, or that the material underlying John's Gospel is quite early.

John also records an incident, which seemingly has no historical value other than a recollection, which only an eyewitness would know:

"So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed." John 20:3-8

How would the author have known these pieces of incidental information if he were not an eyewitness or at least recording the testimony of an eyewitness?

The NIV Study Bible furnishes additional evidence for the early dating of the Gospel of John:

"The author is the apostle John…'the disciple whom Jesus loved' (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20, 24). He was prominent in the early church but is not mentioned by name in this Gospel - which would be natural if he wrote it, but hard to explain otherwise. The author knew Jewish life well, as seen from references to popular Messianic speculations (e.g., 1:20-21; 7:40-42), to the hostility between Jews and Samaritans (4:9), and to Jewish customs, such as the duty of circumcision on the eighth day taking precedence over the prohibition of working on the Sabbath ... He knew the geography of Palestine, locating Bethany about 15 stadia (about two miles) from Jerusalem (11:18) and Cana, a village not referred to in any earlier writing known to us (2:1; 21:2). The gospel of John has many touches that were obviously based on the recollections of an eyewitness- such as the house at Bethany being filled with the fragrance of the broken perfume jar (12:3). Early writers such as Irenaeus and Tertullian say that John wrote this Gospel, and all the evidence agrees ..."

The Dictionary of the Bible by John L. McKenzie continues to say in relation to the evidence furnished by the Dead Sea Scrolls and its effect on the dating of John:

The question is now affected by the relations of Jn with Qumran* documents; these have more affinities with Jn than any other NT book, and this seriously questions the authorship of Jn. Many critics have questioned the authorship of Jn because they thought the Gospel was the product of Hellenistic thought rather than Jewish thought; specifically, elements of Hellenistic-Oriental mysticism or mystery* religion, or Syrian or Iranian Gnosticism were proposed. Even before the discovery of the Qumran documents many studies had shown that the roots of the thought of Jn are satisfactorily shown in the OT; cf separate articles on theological topics. The affinities of Jn with Qumran go far to exclude anything but a Palestinian origin of the Gospel. If this be accepted, the question of the date becomes urgent once more.

If Jn is the most Jewish rather than the least Jewish of the Gospels, it becomes doubtful that it is the latest. If it is to be dated at the latest before 70. It is probably earlier than both Lk and Gk Mt, and possibly early as Mk ..." (McKenzie, Dictionary of the Bible [Touchstone Book; New York, NY 1995], p. 449)


The Gospel of Matthew gives us some hints that it is an eyewitness document. One such hint comes from Matthew 27:3-8:

"When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. ‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’ ‘What is that to us?’ they replied. ‘That's your responsibility.’ Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. The chief priests picked up the coins and said, ‘It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.’ So they decided to use the money to buy the potter's field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood TO THIS DAY."

The fact that the field was still known to Matthew’s readers presumes that Matthew was writing to eyewitnesses who could have gone to the site themselves and personally verified whether such a place existed.

Matthew records another tradition that had also been circulating during his time:

"While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, "You are to say, `His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.' If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble." So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day." Matthew 28:11-15

If the results on the early dating of the Magdelene Papyrus are accepted, this affirms that Matthew was originally written in the early fifties. Even if we accept the later dating of the liberal scholars which places the Gospel sometime after A.D. 70 the tradition itself definitely precedes the composition of Matthew. This implies that within forty years of Jesus’ death and resurrection, a rumor had been circulating that the Apostles had stolen the body. This indirectly affirms that the tomb was in fact empty! The claim that the body had been stolen presumes that there was no corpse lying in Jesus’ grave.


Writing to the Corinthian Church in A.D. 55, Paul appeals to a tradition that he had previously received and had passed down orally to the Corinthians when visiting them for the first time:

"For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born." 1 Corinthians 15:3-8

Paul not only passes on a tradition that he had previously received before A.D. 55, but also appeals to nearly 500 eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus that were still alive at the time of his writing!

The preceding lines of evidence led men like John A.T. Robinson in his book, Redating the New Testament, to affirm that all the NT books were completed before 70 A.D. The late William F. Albright, considered to be one of the world's foremost archaeologists, commented on the composition of the New Testament:

We can already say emphatically that there is no longer any solid basis for dating any book of the New Testament after about A.D. 80, two full generations before the date between 130 and 150 given by the more radical New Testament critics of today. (Josh McDowell & Bill Wilson, He Walked Among Us- Evidence For The Historical Jesus [Thomas Nelson Publishers; Nashville, TN, 1993], p. 110 emphasis ours)

Albright also went on to say:

In my opinion, every book of the New Testament was written by a baptized Jew in the forties and eighties of the first century A.D. (very probably sometime between about A.D. 50 and 75)." (Ibid.)

Critics who concur that the books of the New Testament, including John, are historically accurate include Tübingen's Dr. Peter Stuhlmacher. "As a Western Scripture scholar," stated Dr. Stuhlmacher, "I am inclined to doubt these [gospel] stories, but as a historian I am obliged to take them as reliable." (Ibid.)

He also says, "The biblical texts as they stand are the best hypothesis we have until now to explain what really happened." (Ibid.)

Four Additional Lines of Evidence Supporting the Historicity of the Resurrection

There are essentially four established facts which the consensus of NT scholars universally accept that affirms the empty tomb, and hence the resurrection. They are:

Fact 1: After the crucifixion, Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in his own personal tomb.

NT researchers have established this fact on the basis of the following evidence:

·       The oldest Christian traditions attest that Jesus was buried. (cf. 1 Cor. 15:4; the tradition underlying Mark)

·       It seems highly unlikely that Christians would have invented the story of Joseph of Arimathea, especially since the Gospels purport that Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, which had earlier condemned Jesus to death. It would have been highly improbable for the Gospel traditions to pass off Joseph as an actual member of the Jewish ruling council in light of the fact that these traditions were circulating at the same time the ruling council was still in existence.

·       The burial story lacks any traces of legendary development which were commonly used in narrating mythical events.

·       No competing burial story exists which would serve to challenge the credibility of the Gospel traditions. The earliest evidence suggests that the only burial story in circulation amongst the Christians is that of Joseph of Arimathea.

John A.T. Robinson, himself a liberal, admits that the burial of Jesus is one of the best-attested facts on the historical Jesus. In refutation of those who denied the entombment of Jesus, Robinson stated that the burial of Jesus "is one of the earliest and best-attested facts about Jesus." (The Human Face of God [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1973], p. 131)

Fact 2: On that first Easter Sunday, a group of women found the tomb of Jesus empty.

There are a number of reasons why most scholars accept this fact.

·       The empty tomb story is found in the oldest Christian traditions (the source material used by Mark; the allusion to the empty tomb by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:3-5).

·       The discovery of the empty tomb lacks any legendary embellishments. The Gospels do not record how Christ rose from the dead, but simply state that the tomb was found empty.

·       The curious fact that it was a group of women who found the empty tomb strongly argues for authenticity. This is due to the fact that in first century Palestine, a woman’s testimony was considered useless. Why would the Evangelists have women discovering the empty tomb if they wanted to convince their audience of the historicity of the resurrection? This is perhaps one of the reasons why Paul does not include the women in his list of eyewitnesses to the resurrection in 1 Cor. 15:3-8.

·       As we had indicated earlier, the early Jewish allegation that the disciples had stolen the body presupposes that the body was missing from the tomb.

Jacob Kremer, an Austrian specialist in the resurrection, states that "by far, most scholars hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements concerning the empty tomb." (Die Osterevangelien: Geschichten um Geschichte [Stuttgart Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1977], pp. 49-50)

Fact 3: On multiple occasions and under different circumstances various individuals and groups experienced appearances of Jesus being alive after his death.

Three specific reasons universally accepted by NT Scholars support the fact that these appearances did occur.

·       The list of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ postresurrection appearances as quoted by Paul guarantees that these appearances occurred. (cf. 1 Cor. 15:5-7) This is based on the fact that the great majority of these eyewitnesses, nearly 500 individuals, were still alive when Paul wrote this down.

·       The Gospel traditions provide multiple, independent attestation for the appearances of Christ.

·       Researchers have discovered certain signs of historical credibility in specific appearances - i.e., the unexpected activity of the disciples fishing prior to Jesus’ appearance by the Lake of Tiberias, and the conversion of James and Paul, two skeptics.

The late Norm Perrin, former New Testament scholar at the University of Chicago, summed up the view of the consensus of NT scholarship:

"The more we study the tradition with regard to the appearances, the firmer the rock begins to appear upon which they are based." (Perrin, The Resurrection according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977], p. 80)

Fact 4: The first followers believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead despite the fact that they had no reason to believe this.

The reason for the disciples not having any reason to believe that their Messiah had been raised include:

·       Their leader was dead. The Jews had no belief in a dying and rising Messiah since they believed that the Messiah would reign forever.

·       According to the Law, Jesus’ execution was an indication that he was a criminal and a blasphemer who had fallen under the curse of God. To believe that Jesus was the Messiah in light of his shameful death would have been something impossible for the disciples to accept.

·       Finally, the Jews had no prior belief that a single individual would be raised from the dead to an immortal life, especially on the third day. The Jews believed in a general resurrection where the entire nation would be raised to life.

Yet, the disciples both believed and were willing to die for the fact that Jesus had been raised from the dead. C. F. D. Moule of Cambridge rightly concluded that we have a belief for which no prior historical influence can account. The only explanation that makes sense in light of the data is that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. (Moule and Don Cupitt, "The Resurrection: A Disagreement," Theology, p. 75 [1972]: 507-19; Moule, The Phenomenon of the New Testament, Studies in Biblical Theology, 2 series, no. 1 [Naperville, Ill.: Alec R. Allenson, 1967], pp. 3, 13)

The Early Church on the Inspiration of the New Testament:

As we have already noted, we have in our possession the writings of the Apostles’ disciples and their followers. It is interesting to read that not only did they quote extensively from the NT documents, but they also viewed the writings on the same level of authority and inspiration as that of the OT books. Let us proceed to the Church Fathers:

"For as there are four quarters of the world in which we live, and four universal winds [these two comments refer to N, S, E, W], and as the Church is dispersed over all the earth, and the gospel is the pillar and base of the Church and breath of life, so it is natural that it should have FOUR PILLARS ... [God] has given us the gospel in FOURFOLD FORM, BUT HELD TOGETHER BY ONE SPIRIT." Irenaeus, d. 180 A.D. [follower of Polycarp disciple of the Apostle John]. (Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands A Verdict, Vol. I [San Bernardino, CA: Here's Life, 1972], pp. 63-64)

"Take up the epistle of the blessed apostle Paul. What did he write to you Corinthians) at the time when the Gospel first began to be preached? Truly, he wrote to you UNDER THE INSPIRATION OF THE SPIRIT." Clement of Rome 96 A.D. (David W. Bercot, ed., A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs [Hendrickson Publishers, Massachusetts, 1998], p. 601)

"The apostle has used the same word in writing. For he was guided, of course, BY THE SAME SPIRIT BY WHOM THE BOOK OF GENESIS WAS DRAWN UP- AS WERE ALL THE DIVINE SCRIPTURES." Tertullian, 198 A.D. (Ibid., p. 602)

"Although different matters are taught us in the various books of the Gospels, there is not difference as regards the faith of believers. For in all of them, all things are related UNDER ONE IMPERIAL SPIRIT." Muratorian Fragment, 200 A.D. (Ibid.)

"In addition for the proof of our statements, we take the testimonies from that which is called the Old Testament and that which is called the New- WHICH WE BELIEVE TO BE DIVINE WRITINGS." Origen, 225 A.D.

This clearly indicates that from the inception of the writings one can find support for the Church's view of both the authority and inspiration of most, if not all, of the NT books.

Early Non-Christian References to Jesus

Thallus (c. A. D. 50-75):

A third-century Christian historian, Julius Africanus, composed a History of the World down to around ad. 220 in five volumes. In one of the surviving fragments, Julius discussed the three-hour darkness which occurred at the crucifixion of Jesus (cf. Matthew 27:45) and makes this comment:

In the third book of his history, Thallus calls this darkness an eclipse of the sun - wrongly in my opinion. (5.50)

(NOTE: For a more detailed outline on the authenticity of Thallus and Africanus we recommend the following articles at the Christian Thinktank: [1] and [2])

Pliny the Younger (c. A.D. 62-113):

Governor of Bithynia in northwestern Turkey, writing a letter to the emperor Trajan about the Christian movement, dated A.D. 111:

"I have never been present at an examination of Christians. Consequently, I do not know the nature of the extent of the punishments usually meted out to them, nor the grounds of starting an investigation and how far it should be pressed ... I have asked them if they are Christians, and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and third time, with a warning of the punishment awaiting them. If they persist, I order them to be led away for execution; for, whatever the nature of their admission, I am convinced that their stubbornness and unshakable obstinacy ought not to go unpunished ... They also declared that the sum total of their guilt or error to be no more than this: they had met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately amongst themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god, and also bind themselves by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery, and adultery ... This made me decide that it was all the more necessary to extract the truth by torture from two slave-women whom they call deaconesses. I found nothing but a degenerate sort of cult carried to extravagant lengths."

Lucian of Samosata, Second-century Satirist:

Lucian speaks scornfully of Christ and the Christians, connecting them with the synagogues of Palestine alluding to Christ as,

"the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world... Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they were all brothers one of another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods and worshipping the crucified sophist Himself and living under His laws."

Cornelius Tacitus (c. A. D. 55-117):

Roman historian writing in A.D. 115 on Emperor Nero’s persecution of Christians in the year A.D. 64:

"But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiation of the gods did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, 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 its procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular ..."

The only superstition that had broken out from Judea to Rome was the Christian claim that on the third day the crucified Christ had been resurrected from the dead.

Flavius Josephus (b. A. D. 37):

A first-century historian became a Pharisee at the age of 19 and at the age of 29 was commander of the Jewish forces in Galilee. Being captured by the Romans, he was attached to their headquarters. Josephus wrote several works in Greek: an autobiographical Life; Contra Gekum, an apologetic treatise on Judaism; an eyewitness account of the revolt against Rome (A. D. 66-74), titled The Jewish War and a history of the Jewish people from Adam to his time, called the Antiquities.

It comes as no surprise to find Josephus writing on the ministry of Jesus Christ, called the Testimonium Flavianum:

"Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it is lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned Him to the cross, those that loved Him at the first did not forsake Him; For He appeared to them alive again in the third day; and the divine prophets had foretold these and countless other wonderful things concerning Him. And the tribe of Christians so named from Him are not extinct at this day." (Antiquities, xviii. 33.)

The following is a tenth-century Arabic version of the Testimonium:

"At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And His conduct was good, and [He] was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became His disciples. Pilate condemned Him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become His disciples did not abandon His discipleship. They reported that He had appeared to them three days after His crucifixion and that He was alive; accordingly, He was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders."

Many scholars attacked this passage as nothing more than a Christian forgery due its pro-Christian statements. Others, however, agree that the reference has an authentic core to it, despite its seemingly pro-Christian insertions. New Testament scholar Edwin M. Yamauchi explains that although there is obvious Christian terminology used throughout, there are a number of factors that point to a Josephan style of writing:

1.        Jesus is called a "wise man." Though the phrase is complimentary, it is less than one would expect from Christians.

2.        "For he was one who wrought surprising feats." This is not necessarily a statement that could only have come from a Christian.

3.        "He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks" is simply an observation.

4.        "Those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him," confirms to Josephus’ characteristic style.

5.        "and the tribe of the Christians, so-called after him, has till this day not disappeared." Most scholars would agree that the word phylon "tribe", is not a typically Christian expression. (Michael J. Wilkins and J.P. Moreland, Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus, p. 213)

Renowned Jewish scholar Geza Vermes also believes that the Testimonium originates from Josephus, albeit with Christian additions. Vermes demonstrates that the expressions ‘wise man’ and a ‘performer of astonishing deeds’ are thoroughly Josephan in style:

(1) The form of the description of Jesus as sophos aner and paradoxon ergon poietes, when compared with the presentation of other personalities, biblical and post-biblical, strikes me as genuinely Josephan. King Solomon is referred to as ‘a wise man possessing every virtue’ (andri sopho kai pasan arêten echonti) (Ant. viii 53). The prophet Elisha was ‘a man renowned for righteousness’ (aner epi dikaiosune diaboetos) who performed paradoxa erga (Ant. ix 182). Daniel, in turn, is portrayed as ‘a wise man and skilful in discovering things beyond man’s power’ (sophos aner kai deinos heurein ta anechana) (Ant. x 237). A little later he appears as ‘a good and just man’ (aner agathos kai dikaios) (Ant. x 246). Ezra is said to have been ‘a just man who enjoyed the good opinion of the masses’ (dikaios aner kai doxes apolauon agathes para to plethei) (Ant. xi 121). Among post-biblical personalities, Honi-Onias is called ‘a just man and beloved of God’ (dikaios aner kai theophiles) (Ant. xiv 22), and Samaias ‘a just man’ (dikaios aner) (Ant. xiv 172). John the Baptist is introduced as ‘a good man’ (agathos aner) who ‘exhorted the Jews to lead righteous lives, to practice justice towards their fellows and piety towards God’ (Ant. xviii 117). As for the leading Pharisee at the time of the outbreak of the first revolution, Simeon ben Gamaliel, he is presented as ‘a man highly gifted with intelligence and judgment’ (aner pleres suneseos kai logismou) (Vita 192) ...

In brief, there seems to be no stylistic or historical argument that might be marshaled against the authenticity of the two phrases in question. In fact, the clause that follows ‘wise man’, viz. ‘if indeed one might call him a man’ (eige andra auton legein chre), which is generally recognized as an interpolation, seems to support - as Paul Winter has aptly pointed out - the originality of sophos aner, an idiom which in the mind of a later Christian editor required further qualification.

(2) In addition to appearing prima facie to be Josephan, closer analysis of sophos aner and paradoxon ergon poeites points to the improbability of their later Christian provenance. To begin with, the title ‘wise man’ has no New Testament roots, and in the absence of such an authoritative backing it is, I think, totally unfit to express the kind of elevated theological notion that a forger would have intended to introduce into Josephus’ text. It would have been meaningless to invent a testimony that did not support the belief of the interpolator. But not only does it fail to convey the idea of the divine Christ of the church; it actually conflicts in a sense with New Testament terminology. Jesus is admittedly twice identified by Paul in I Cor. 1:24 and 30 with the abstract ‘wisdom of God’, but the adjective sophos as applied to men in the same chapter (1:18-31) carries a pejorative connotation. Furthermore, on the only occasion where the Gospels put this word into the mouth of Jesus, ‘the wise’ are unfavourably compared to ‘babes’ (nepioi) (Matt. 11:25; Luke 10:21). In the few instances where the term sophos is employed positively, it relates to Christian teachers, but never to Jesus himself. (Vermes, Jesus In His Jewish Context [Fortress Press Minneapolis, 2003], pp. 92-93; bold emphasis ours)

Even the radical liberal NT scholar and Jesus Seminar co-founder and member, John Dominic Crossan, believes that both the Testimonium and Tacitus’ statement are basically authentic early witnesses to Jesus. Crossan writes:

Jesus’ death by execution under Pontius Pilate is as sure as anything historical can ever be. For, if no follower of Jesus had written anything for one hundred years after his crucifixion, we would still know about him from two authors not among supporters. Their names are Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus ... We have, in other words, not just Christian witnesses but one major Jewish and one major pagan historian who both agree on three points concerning Jesus: there was a movement, there was an execution because of that movement, but, despite that execution, there was a continuation of the movement.

In describing civil disturbances during Pontius Pilate’s rule over the Jewish homeland’s southern half between 26 and 36 C.E., Josephus mentions Jesus and followers called Christians. His text was later preserved under Christian control, and I give their delicate but deliberate improvements italicized within brackets so that you can ignore them:

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise [if indeed one ought to call him a man]. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was 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. (Jewish Antiquities 18.63) (Crossan, Who Killed Jesus? Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of The Death of Jesus [HarperSan Francisco, paperback edition 1996], p. 5)

Josephus also mentions John the Baptist’s ministry and beheading at the request of Salome during the birthday feast of Herod Antipas. (Antiquities, xviii. 116-119) Furthermore, he mentions James, the Lord’s brother, and the fate which befell him at the hands of the High Priest Ananus:

"But the younger Ananus who, as we said, received the high priesthood, was a bold disposition and exceptionally daring; he followed the party of the Sadducees, who were severe in judgment above all the Jews, as we have already shown. As therefore Ananus was of such a disposition, he thought he had now a good opportunity, as Festus was now dead, and Albinus was still on the road; so he assembled a council of judges, and brought before it the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as law-breakers, he delivered them over to be stoned. (Antiquities, xx 9:1)

From the preceding non-Christian sources we discover:

·       Jesus Christ was worshipped as God.

·       Christ performed wonderful deeds.

·       Christ was sentenced to die on a cross by the orders of Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius.

·       Christ’s followers claimed that he had appeared alive to them after his death, affirming that he had been resurrected, something considered to be nothing more than a superstition.

·       Those who were devoted to him refused to recant their faith, opting instead to die horrible deaths for the sake of the one they had come to love and adore.

·       Jesus’ brother was well known even by non-Christians, having been put to death presumably for his belief that his brother was in fact the Messiah.

In light of the preceding factors, we find that the non-Christian sources are in agreement with the New Testament portrayal of Jesus Christ. This serves to further establish the authenticity of the New Testament beyond a shadow of a doubt.


Bible Chronology of the New Testament

The following chronological list is adapted from The Chronological Bible.  Its purpose is to help develop an overall understanding of the order of the major people and events of the Bible.  

Jesus is born
Flight to Egypt
Childhood at Nazareth
In Jerusalem at 12
John the Baptist
Jesus' Baptism
Temptation in the wilderness
Turns water into wine
First cleansing of the Temple
Jesus and Nicodemus
Discourse with the woman at the well
Galilean ministry
Miracles by the sea
Visit to Jerusalem

5 B.C. Matt. 1; Luke 2
4 B.C. Matt. 2:13-18
Luke 2:39-40
Luke 2:41-50
Matt. 3; Mark 1; Luke 3
Matt. 3
Matt. 4
John 2
John 2:13-22
John 3:1
John 4
Luke 4:14; John 4:43
Matt. 8
John 7

The life of Jesus

Matthew, Mark,
Luke, John

5 B.C. - A.D. 29.

Jesus anointed by Mary
His triumphal entry
Second cleansing of the Temple
Cursing of the fig tree
Judas agrees to betray Christ
Preparation for Passover
Institution of the Lord's supper
Jesus washes the disciples' feet
Jesus prays at Gethsemane
Jesus is betrayed and arrested

John 12:8-11
Matt. 21
Matt. 21:12
Matt. 21:18,19
Matt. 26:14-16
Mark 14:12-16
Luke 22:14-23
John 13:1-17
Mark 14:26-42
John 18:2-11


Jesus is tried and condemned
Peter denies the Lord
Jesus before Pilate
Jesus before Herod
Barabbas released
Jesus' walk to Golgotha
Jesus is crucified
Darkness at noon
Jesus dies
Jesus' body entombed
Women visit the tomb
Stone rolled away
Message of angels
Christ appears to disciples
The Great Commission given
Jesus' ascension

Matt 26:57-68
Matt 26:58; 69-75
Matt. 27:11-14
Luke 23:6-12
Mark 15:6-15
Matt. 27:32-34
Matt. 27:35
Mark 15:33
Matt. 27:50
John 19:42
Luke 24:1-8
Matt. 28:1
Matt. 28:2-4
Matt. 28:5-8
Mark 16:14
Matt. 28:19-20
John 20:26-29

The Crucifixion
The Ascension

Conversion of Saul (Paul)
Peter imprisoned and delivered
Death of Herod
Paul's first missionary journey
Paul attends council at Jerusalem
Paul's second missionary journey
Paul's third missionary journey
Paul goes from Macedonia to Corinth
Arrest of Paul
Paul's fourth missionary
Paul's first imprisonment
Death of Paul and Peter
Temple at Jerusalem destroyed

Acts 2
Acts 9
Acts 12:1-11
Acts 12:20-23
Acts 13:1-3
Acts 15:1-12
Acts 15
Acts 18
Acts 20
Acts 21
Acts 27
Acts 28:16
A.D. 67-68
A.D. 70

The Ministries
of Paul and Peter
29 - A.D. 67.


Recommended Reading


Index of articles from Sam Shamoun


The following Books are highly recommended for further study on the historicity of the New Testament and the resurrection:

Michael Wilkins & J.P. Moreland, eds.
Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus
Zondervan Publishing House, 256p

Boyd, Gregory A.
Cynic, Sage, or Son of God?
SP Pubs, 1995, ISBN 1-56476-448-6

Gary R Habermas
The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ
Paperback, Published by College Pr Pub Co., June 1996
ISBN: 0899007325 [third revised/enlarged edition of the earlier "The Verdict of History"]

N. Thomas Wright
Jesus and the Victory of God
Augsburg, Fortress Press, 1996, ISBN 0-8006-2682-6

William Lane Craig
Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics
Crossway Books, 350p, ISBN 0-89107-764-2

Paul Copan, ed.
Will The Real Jesus Please Stand Up? A Debate between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan Grand Rapids, MI Baker Books, 1998 ISBN 0-8010-2175-8

John Ankerberg, John Weldon (Contributor)
Ready With an Answer
Harvest House Publishers, Inc., June 1997 ISBN 1565076184