Christianity’s Non-Christian Witnesses
CHRISTIANITY has its own foundation, unshakable and enduring! It does not lean for support on the writings or testimony of worldly historians. However, you who may question Christian authority, consider carefully what your own profane historians have written in support of the Bible testimony. Christians will also do well to read the testimonies of the heathen, for therein is revealed what a tremendous impact Christianity had on the ancient Greek and Roman world 1900 years ago. The remarks and comments made by non-Christian writers are added proof that the account found in the Bible is not of human invention, is not a fanciful fairy story, is not the product of a fertile imagination. No, the events recorded in the Bible actually happened. Their historicity and authenticity are well established, and even the contemptuous notices of ancient antagonists only give further evidence that such events occurred.
Some persons may conclude that there are comparatively few references to Christ and his followers found in the extant writings of the first two centuries. But remember, even if Christians had made up the majority of society back there, few enemies would have recorded their history in minute detail. The facts, however, show that Christianity in its youth was looked down upon by profane historians as a small and obscure sect, a split off of the despised Jews, and a ‘new and pernicious superstition’, aimed at overthrowing the popular idolatry of the day.
“There is, therefore, but little reason to expect that a heathen historian, writing of his own time, and having no personal interest in Christians, should make very frequent allusions to them, or be very minute or accurate in his description. And we should have still less reason to anticipate that literary men of the same period, whose themes are not necessarily related to Christianity, should go out of their way to make mention of it. Nevertheless we shall find, upon examination, that a fair proportion of Pagan writers have in some way recognized the existence and spread of Christianity during the first two centuries.”—The Critical Handbook of the Greek New Testament, by Edward C. Mitchell, 1896, Chapter III.
The historians Appian and Pausanias among the Greeks, and Livy, Paterculus, Valerius, Justin, and Florus among the Latins, all wrote of a period earlier than the reign of Tiberius, hence, it is not surprising that they fail to mention Christianity. Tacitus, said to stand in the front ranks among all the secular historians of antiquity when it comes to accuracy and fair judgment, was born about A.D. 54. In his Annals, Book 15, in telling how a rumor reported that Nero was the one guilty of burning Rome, Tacitus says in paragraph 44:
“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 [Christ], from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.”—Translated by A. J. Church and W. J. Brodribb.
The Roman satirist and poet, Juvenal (c. A.D. 60-140), makes an allusion to Tacitus’ description of the Christian persecution. (Sat. i. 155-157). The highly esteemed statesman and philosopher, Seneca (c. 4 B.C.-A.D. 65), who was Nero’s tutor, makes a slight reference to Christianity. (Epist. xiv.) So does Dio Chrysostom (c. A.D. 40-115), the “golden mouthed” Greek sophist. (Orat. Corinthiac. xxxvii. p. 463) Likewise, the Greek historian and philosopher Arrian, who was born about A.D. 96. (Dissertat. iv. 7. ¶ 5, 6) Suetonius, the Roman historian who was born toward the end of the first century, in sketching the life of Claudius Caesar, says: “[Claudius] expelled from Rome the Jews, who were continually exciting disturbances, at the instigation of Chrestus [Christ].” (Vit. Claud. cap. 25.) And again, in telling of the cruel persecution under Nero, Suetonius says: “The Christians were punished, a set of men of a new and mischievous superstition.”—Vit. Nero. cap. 16.
TESTIMONY OF PLINY AND TRAJAN
Pliny the Younger, as governor of Bithynia, wrote to Emperor Trajan inquiring how best to deal with the early Christians. This occurred not more than forty years after the death of the apostle Paul, and therefore his letter is a classic document compelling all who refuse to place confidence in the Biblical record of Christ to admit that he did live, that he was a great teacher, that he gained devoted disciples who lived a life so different from the pagans as to cause even the Roman emperors to sit up and take notice.
After confessing in this letter that he had not personally attended the “trials concerning those who profess Christianity”, Pliny says: “The method I have observed towards those who have been brought before me as Christians is this: I ask them whether they were Christians.” If they admitted it they were punished. However, others, “upon examination denied they were Christians, or had ever been so.” These, when put to the test, not only offered up pagan sacrifices, they “even reviled the name of Christ: whereas there is no forcing, it is said, those who are really Christians into any of these compliances”. Still others, Pliny says, admitted that, at one time they were Christians and even “addressed a form of prayer to Christ, as to a divinity”, but for some time now they no longer claimed to be Christians.—Harvard Classics, vol. 9, pp. 425-428.
Pliny wanted to know if Trajan approved of these methods and tactics. In answer, the emperor commended Pliny on the way he was handling the matter. “You have adopted the right course,” Trajan wrote, “in investigating the charges against the Christians who were brought before you.” Trajan’s nephew, who succeeded him as emperor (A.D. 117-138), in writing to the proconsul of Asia regarding Christians, declared: “If, therefore, in accusations of this sort, the people of the province can clearly affirm any thing against the Christians, so as to bring the case before the tribunal, to this only let them have recourse, and not to informal accusations and mere clamors.”—Ap. Euseb. Hist. Eccles., iv. 9.
OTHER OPPOSERS TAKE WITNESS STAND
The Greek rhetorician by the name of Lucian, born toward the end of Trajan’s reign, attacked the teachings of Christians and ridiculed their form of worship. Writing to Cronius concerning the death of Peregrinus Proteus, a famous Cynic, Lucian says, among other things, that the Christians “spoke of him [Christ] as a god, and took him for a lawgiver, and honored him with the title of Master. They therefore still worship that great man who was crucified [impaled on a crux simplex] in Palestine, because he introduced into the world this new religion”.
Origen, one of the most notable “Church Fathers” (A.D. 185-254), has preserved the testimony of several additional non-Christians of ancient times. For example, a Greek philosopher named Numenius, who lived in the latter half of the second century, Origen says, “quotes a fragment from the history of Jesus Christ, of which he seeks the hidden interpretation.” (McClintock & Strong, Cyclopedia, vol. 7, p. 225) Origen also speaks of Phlegon, who lived about the middle of the second century, as mentioning the fulfillment of certain prophecies pertaining to Christ.—Contra. Cels. lib. ii., ¶ 14.
Celsus, a rabid enemy of Christianity who lived about 130 years after the death of Jesus, made many quotations from the Christian Greek Scriptures, explaining: “We take these things from your writings, to wound you with your own weapons.” The original works of Celsus are lost, but Origen has preserved for us nearly 80 of his quotations from the Scriptures. Jesus, Celsus says, was represented as the Word of God; was called the Son of God; was from Nazareth, the son of a carpenter; claimed to have had a miraculous conception. Celsus makes allusion to Jesus’ being carried down to Egypt, to his baptism in the Jordan, to the voice declaring him to be God’s son, to the temptations in the wilderness, to the choosing of the 12 apostles. He admits that Jesus performed great miracles: fed multitudes, opened blind eyes, healed the lame, cured the sick, raised the dead. He also makes reference to many points of doctrine in the teachings of Christ. And in the end, he refers to the betrayal by Judas, Peter’s denial, the scourging, crowning, and mockery heaped upon Jesus, as well as the darkness and earthquake that came at Jesus’ death, and then the resurrection that followed. Thus this heathen writer unwittingly proved that such things were written down and were universally believed by Christians at that time.—Mitchell’s Critical Handbook of the Greek New Testament.
One more non-Christian witness is now called to the stand, the celebrated Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus. A passage in his Antiquities of the Jews (Book XVIII, chapter iii, ¶3), though challenged as, but not proved, spurious, reads: “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be 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 amongst 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 the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day [about A.D. 93].” Again, Josephus (Book XX, chapter ix., ¶1) tells how the high priest Ananus “assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James”.—Translated by William Whiston.
Thus, the testimony of many witnesses confirms the fact that Christianity is not an invention of recent times, but has deep roots in ancient secular history. Let all nonbelievers, therefore, who imagine the Bible has no foundation in provable facts, lay aside their false ideas and misconceptions and properly evaluate the Bible for what it is—Jehovah God’s Word of truth, unassailable and indestructible! The days of men are like grass, but “the word of our God shall stand for ever”!—John 17:17; Ps. 103:15; Isa. 40:8; 1 Pet. 1:25.