Published by Worldview Publications
October 2006 


His Existence

Some people claim that Jesus Christ never existed. Allegedly the life of Jesus and the Gospel are merely myths fabricated by the Church. This claim rests mainly upon their belief that there is no historical record of Jesus. . . .

Non-Christian Sources

“Even though early secular reports on Jesus may have been rare, there are still a few surviving references to Him. Not too surprisingly, the earliest non-Christian reports were made by the Jews. Flavius Josephus, who lived until 98 A.D., was a Romanized Jewish historian. He wrote books on Jewish history for the Roman people. In his book, Jewish Antiquities, he made references to Jesus. In one reference he wrote:

“About this time arose Jesus, a wise man, who did good deeds and whose virtues were recognized. . . .

“Elsewhere in this book, Josephus also reported the execution of St. John the Baptist [XVIII 5.2] and St. James the Just [XX 9.1], even referring to James as ‘the brother of Jesus who was called Christ.’ . . . ”

“Another Jewish source, the Talmud, makes several historical references to Jesus. . . . The Talmud makes note of Jesus’ miracles. No attempt is made to deny them, but it ascribes them to magical arts from Egypt. Also His crucifixion is dated as ‘on the eve of the Feast of the Passover’ in agreement with the Gospel (Luke 22:1ff; John 19:31ff). Similar again to the Gospel (Matt. 27:51), the Talmud records the earthquake and the tearing in two of the Temple curtain during the time of Jesus’ death.”1

“Thallus, a Samaritan historian (ca 52 A.D.), wrote attempting to give a natural explanation for the darkness which occurred at the crucifixion of Jesus . . . He did not deny the existence of Jesus but only tried to explain away the strange circumstances surrounding his death.”2

In a letter that Mara-Serapion wrote to his son (ca. AD 73), “he tells of the deaths of Socrates, Pythagoras, and of Jesus[, saying,] ‘What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king?’”3

“By the beginning of the 2nd century, Romans were writing about Christians and Jesus. Pliny the Younger, proconsul in Asia Minor, in 111 A.D. wrote to Emperor Trajan in a letter:

“. . . it was their habit on a fixed day to assemble before daylight and recite by turns a form of words to Christ as a god. . . . [Pliny, Epistle 97]

“Next the Roman historian Tacitus, who is respected by modern scholars for historical accuracy, wrote in 115 A.D. about Christ and His Church:

“The author of the denomination was Christ[us], who had been executed in Tiberius’ time by the Procurator Pontius Pilate. . . . [Tacitus, Annals, XV 44]”4

“Lucian of Samosata (c. A.D. 115-200) was called the ‘Voltaire of Grecian literature.’ He wrote against Christianity more with patronizing contempt than volatile hostility. He said Christians worshipped the well-known ‘sophist’ Who was crucified in Palestine because He introduced new mysteries. He never denied the existence of Jesus.”5

“Porphyry of Tyre was born about A.D. 233, studied philosophy in Greece, and lived in Sicily, where he wrote fifteen books against the Christian faith. In one of his books, Life of Pythagoras, he contended that magicians of the pagan world exhibited greater powers than Christ. His argument was an inadvertent concession of Jesus’ existence and power.”6

“Other secular witnesses to the historical Jesus include Suetonius in his biography of Claudius, Phlegan recording the eclipse of the sun during Jesus’ death, and even Celsus, a pagan philosopher. It must be kept in mind that most of these sources were not only secular but anti-Christian. . . .

. . . [Thus, t]he claim that Jesus never existed and His life is a myth compromises the reliability of ancient history.”7

Family Information

Confirmation of the historicity of Jesus Christ is not limited to secular witnesses who refer directly to him. Substantial additional information exists that relates to his family and to his familial descendants.

“Teaching at the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus amazes his fellow congregants. ‘Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary?’ his astonished listeners ask. ‘And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us?’ (Matthew 13:55-56). The story of Mary and Joseph is, of course, known by everyone. But who are these brothers and sisters of Jesus? . . . [The story of Jesus’ closest relatives] is not just a family history, but an account of the earliest days of the Christian Church. . . .

“Matthew and Mark both list four brothers of Jesus, with slight variations: Matthew 13:55 names ‘James and Joseph and Simon and Judas,’ whereas Mark 6:3 gives ‘James and Joses [Joseph] and Judas [Jude] and Simon.’ . . .

“The New Testament does not tell us the names of Jesus’ sisters, nor does it mention how many there were . . . Later Christian literature gives the names Mary and Salome to Jesus’ sisters. . . .

. . . [W]hether Jesus’ brothers and sisters were half siblings or stepbrothers and stepsisters, children of Joseph by a previous marriage, we can be sure they all belonged to the family household of Joseph and Mary in Nazareth. . . .

“To learn more of Jesus’ collateral relatives, we must turn to the writer Hegesippus, who lived in Palestine in the mid-second century and recorded some local traditions concerning Jesus and his relatives. . . . According to Hegesippus, Jesus’ putative father, Joseph, had a brother named Clopas [Cleopas] . . . According to John 19:25, three women stood by the cross while the Roman soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ clothes: Jesus’ mother Mary, Mary Magdalene and a woman named ‘Mary of Clopas [Cleopas]’. . . .

“According to the Gospel of Luke, after the discovery of the empty tomb on the first Easter, two of Jesus’ disciples walked to Emmaus . . . On the way Jesus appeared to them. One of the two is identified as Cleopas (Luke 24:18) . . . His unnamed companion may have been his wife, Mary.”8, 9

After the Christ event itself, the brothers of Jesus assumed prominent roles in the early Christian movement. James became the leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:13; 21:18; Galatians 1:19). “The first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus records James’s martyrdom in 62 C.E. at the hands of the high priest Ananus II (son of Annas and brother-in-law to Caiaphas).”10 It appears that Jesus’ other brothers — Joseph, Simon and Judas [Jude] — were traveling missionaries (1 Corinthians 9:5).

“Following James’s martyrdom, Simeon [Simon], the son of Clopas and Mary, succeeded his first cousin as ‘bishop of Jerusalem.’ . . . [Simeon] was doubtless the most important figure in Jewish Christianity for at least 40 years — until he, too, was martyred, during the reign of Trajan (98-117 C.E.). . . .

“Hegesippus’s account traces the work of Jesus’ family into a third generation. The historian relates that, in the late first century, two grandsons of Jesus’ brother Jude, called Zoker and James, came under suspicion of the Roman authorities. . . . [T]he brothers were brought before the emperor Domitian for trial . . . To prove that they were hardworking peasant farmers, these nephews of Jesus displayed their tough bodies and the hardened skin of their hands. They also explained that the kingdom of Christ was not an earthly one . . . but one that would come at the end of history. Having been convinced that they were harmless and despising them as mere peasants, Domitian [81-96 CE] released them and ordered the persecution of Christians to cease.”11

Other Sources

Other sources support the historical existence of Jesus. They include such early church fathers as Clement of Rome (ca. 30-100 CE), Ignatius of Antioch (ca. 30-107 CE), and Polycarp (ca. 65-100-155 CE).

“Further evidence of the influence of Jesus’ family . . . comes from a medieval chronicle that lists the early bishops of Ctesiphon-Seleucia, a metropolitan center on the Tigris River, in central Mesopotamia. Following the name of the first-century founder of the church, the next three bishops are Abris, who is said to have been ‘of the family and race of Joseph [the husband of Mary]’; Abraham, ‘of the kin of James called the brother of the Lord’; and Ya’qub, Abraham’s son.”12

Finally, there is the account of “a local martyr named Conon, who died far from his home during the persecution of Christians under Emperor Decius in 250-251 C.E. According to the account of his martyrdom, Conon was employed as a gardener on the imperial estate at Magydos, in Pamphylia, Asia Minor. When court authorities questioned Conon as to his place of origin and ancestry, he replied: ‘I am of the city of Nazareth in Galilee. I am of the family of Christ, whose worship I have inherited from my ancestors.’ ”13

With the death of Conon, the recorded history of Jesus’ family disappears. However, another fascinating development is related to the fact that, in the time of Jesus, the bones of deceased persons were eventually placed in an ossuary or bone box. Recently, an antiquities dealer in Israel secured an ossuary that had been excavated from a burial site in Jerusalem. On the side of the box were the words engraved in Aramaic, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” This discovery has sparked enormous interest and controversy.14


Therefore, despite claims to the contrary, the existing sources profoundly confirm the historicity of “him which is, and which was, and which is to come . . . ” (Revelation 1:4).


  1. “The Real Jesus Christ,” at (go back)
  2. Mark A. Copeland, “Christian Apologetics,” at (go back)
  3. Ibid. (go back)
  4. “The Real Jesus Christ.” (go back)
  5. Wayne Jackson, “The Historicity of Jesus Christ,” at (go back)
  6. Ibid. (go back)
  7. “The Real Jesus Christ.” (go back)
  8. Richard Bauckham, “All in the Family: Identifying Jesus’ Relatives,” Bible Review 16, no. 2 (April 2000): 20-31. (go back)
  9. The historian, Hegesippus, was a second-century Jewish Christian. While his original writings have been lost, the fourth-century historian, Eusebius, quoted or referred to a number of his statements. (go back)
  10. Bauckham, “All in the Family.” (go back)
  11. Ibid. (go back)
  12. Ibid. (go back)
  13. Ibid. (go back)
  14. Andre Lemaire, “Burial Box of James the Brother of Jesus,” Biblical Archaeology Review 28, no. 6 (November/December 2002): 24-33, 70. (go back)

Copyright © 2006 Worldview Publications