Corroborating Christ

      "Don't talk to me about the authority of the Bible," one of my neighbors told me flatly. "Now, if other ancient writers could document the life of Jesus, then I might believe it. But you can't expect me to believe a bunch of stories written by his friends." What this man wanted was corroborating evidence, and I can understand why people ask for that. Most of us, when we hear something unusual, are a bit skeptical. We withhold judgment until the story is confirmed by a source we trust. In the gospels, we have many eyewitness accounts of the life of Christ. But as former journalist Lee Strobel asks in his book, The Case for Christ, "Are there writings outside the gospels that affirm or support any of the essentials about Jesus?" For the answer, Strobel went to Edwin Yamauchi, former president of the Institute for Biblical Research. Let's be honest, Strobel told him. Is there really much corroboration of the events in Jesus's life outside the Bible? Absolutely, Yamauchi replied. "We do have very, very important references to Jesus in Josephus and Tacitus. Josephus was a first-century Jewish historian who, because of his collaboration with the Romans, was hated by his fellow Jews. In the Testimonium Flavianum, Josephus writes of Jesus' life, miracles, death, and resurrection. Josephus wrote, "On the third day [after his crucifixion] he appeared to them restored to life." As Yamauchi explained, "Josephus corroborates important information about Jesus: that he was the martyred leader of the church in Jerusalem . . . who had established a wide and lasting following, despite the fact that he had been crucified." Tacitus, the most important Roman historian of the first century, was an unsympathetic witness to the spread of Christianity. So, his testimony is especially credible. Tacitus wrote that an "immense multitude" held so strongly to their beliefs that they were willing to die rather than recant. And the Jewish Talmud, Yamauchi notes, finished in AD 500, also mentions Jesus. Although it calls him a "false messiah," the fact that it mentions him at all is a corroboration of his life in ancient Israel. Finally, we have the writings of the apostolic fathers," the earliest Christian writers after the New Testament. Among them was Ignatius, who went to his execution claiming that Jesus rose from the dead, and that those who believe in him would be raised, too, Yamauchi said. Put together the writings of Josephus, the Roman historians, Jewish writings, and the apostolic fathers, "and you've got persuasive evidence that corroborates all the essentials found in the biographies of Jesus." And, he added, "Even if you were to throw away every last copy of the gospels, you'd still have a picture of Jesus that's extremely compelling -- in fact, it's a portrait of the unique Son of God." In the Information Age, it's hard sometimes to separate truth from falsehood. So it's not surprising that people like my neighbor are skeptical. We need to make sure people like this understand that there's plenty of corroborating evidence of what the gospels have to say. Evidence that points to the fact that Jesus is exactly who he said he is: the Son of God -- and our Savior.


Chuck Colson



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