Answers to the Critics’ Favorite Lie
Question: If the Bible is true and Christianity was founded by Christ as it states, then shouldn’t there be at least some confirmation in the writings of non-Christian contemporaries? In fact, there is none. How do you account for that? How could Christianity have the impact that the New Testament claims for it and have been completely overlooked by all the writers of those times?
Response: On the contrary, there is overwhelming corroboration of the New Testament in the surviving non-Christian writings of that period, including even some of those of Christianity’s sworn enemies. This false accusation of no evidence outside the New Testament is repeated authoritatively by atheists, who even boast that this charge has never been answered. In fact, it has been answered by many Christian writers for at least a hundred years.
To show how long the evidence refuting this irresponsible allegation has been published, let me quote from one of the most brilliant educators and thinkers of a century ago, Mark Hopkins. President James A. Garfield declared that his idea of a college would be “a log with a student on one end and Mark Hopkins on the other.” Hopkins was not only a remarkable educator but an earnest and effective apologist for the Christian faith. In his 371-page book Evidences Hopkins writes:
“The Talmud [compilation of oral rabbinic tradition dating to about AD 200]…speaks of Christ, and of several of the disciples, by name…of His crucifixion…that He performed many and great miracles, but imputes His power to…the magic arts which He [allegedly] learned in Egypt….
“[Flavius] Josephus [Jewish historian c AD 37-100] lived at the time many of these events…happened and was present at the destruction of Jerusalem…[and] he confirms the accuracy of our books [New Testament writings]. Everything said in relation to the sects of the Jews, and the Herods, and Pilate, and the division of Provinces, and Felix, and Drusilla, and Bernice had just that agreement with our accounts which we should expect in independent historians.
“The account given by Josephus of the [strange] death of Herod is strikingly similar to that of Luke [Acts:12:21-23]….Josephus confirms all that is said [in the New Testament]…of Pharisees and Sadducees and Herodians…[and much about Christ himself].
“[Cornelius] Tacitus [Roman historian c AD 55-117, governed Asia as proconsul 112-113] tells us that Christ was put to death by Pontius Pilate…under Tiberius, as a malefactor; that the people called Christians derived their name from him; that this superstition arose in Judea, and spread to Rome, where…only about thirty years after the death of Christ, the Christians were very numerous…[and] that the Christians were subjected to contempt and the most dreadful sufferings…some were crucified; while others, being daubed over with combustible materials, were set up as lights in the night-time, and were thus burnt to death. This account is confirmed by Suetonius, and by Martial and Juvenal….
“Pliny [the younger] was propraetor of Pontus and Bithynia [AD 112]….Many [Christians] were brought before him for their faith in Christ. If they remained steadfast, refusing to offer incense to the idols, he condemned them to death for their “inflexible obstinacy.” [Some, to escape death] said they had once been Christians but had abandoned that religion…some even twenty years before…that they were wont to meet together on a stated day before it was light, and to sing among themselves…hymn[s] to Christ as God and to bind themselves by an oath not to commit any wickedness, nor to be guilty of theft, or robbery, or adultery, never to falsify their word…[and] to come together to a meal, which they ate in common….
“How strong must have been that primitive evidence for Christianity, which could induce persons of good sense, in every walk of life, to abandon the religion of their ancestors, and thus, in the face of imperial power, to persist in their adherence to one who had suffered the death of a slave!
“We might also refer to Celsus, and Lucian, and Epictetus, and the Emperor Marcus Antoninus, and Porphyry – who all throw light on the early history of Christianity, and all confirm, so far as they go, the accounts in [the New Testament]…as do coins, medals, inscriptions” (Collier’s Encyclopedia (F.P. Collier & Son Corporation, 1959), Volume 10, p. 155).
One becomes a bit weary of the propaganda that is taught in universities and even in many seminaries and is promoted in books and the media by “experts” who pronounce falsehoods against the Bible with an air of indisputable authority. Unfortunately, the average person never takes the time (or many not have the resources) to check the accuracy of such derogatory statements and repeats these falsehoods trustingly. Just the small amount of data given in the quote above should be enough to show that Christ and Christianity were indeed mentioned and the New Testament record supported by secular writings of the same time or very shortly thereafter.
Abundant Intriguing Verification
Furthermore, some of these writers, supported by archaeological discoveries, provide additional evidence of a most interesting nature for the authenticity of the New Testament. Once again, more than a hundred years ago this evidence was well-known, and Mark Hopkins presented much of it in his Evidences. Here is a brief extract:
“Luke gives to Sergius Paulus a title belonging only to a man of proconsular dignity [anthupatos – Acts:13:7,8,12], and it had been doubted whether the governor of Cyprus had that dignity. A coin, however, has been found struck in the reign of Claudius Caesar (the very reign in which Paul visited Cyprus), and under Proclus, who succeeded Sergius Paulus, on which the very title applied by Luke is given to Proclus.
“Luke speaks of Philippi as a colony [kolonia – Acts:16:12], and the word implies that it was a Roman colony. It was mentioned as such by no other historian, and hence the authority of Luke was questioned. But a medal has been discovered which shows that this dignity was conferred upon that city by Julius Caesar….
“There have also been found, in the catacombs of Rome, inscriptions which show, in a touching manner, in opposition to the insinuations of Gibbon and of some later writers, the cruelty of the early persecutions, and the number of those who suffered martyrdom. Much evidence of this kind might be added” (Mark Hopkins, Evidences, cited in Linton, Lawyer, pp. 165-69).
Limited spaces prevents us from presenting the great amount of additional evidence that could be cited. The truth is that there is far more substantiation of the Bible’s authenticity and accuracy to be found in early secular sources than we need. And in addition to supporting the biblical account, the secular writings of the time provide intriguing supplemental insights that prove that it was impossible for the New Testament to have been fabricated years after the events.
There is no way that a forger, putting together a counterfeit record that purported to be written by eyewitnesses of events that occurred centuries earlier, could have had the knowledge to put into the narrative the tidbits of information necessary to authenticate it. It makes far better sense to believe that Luke was indeed an eyewitness traveling with Paul at the time than to try to imagine that some forger centuries later just happened by chance to use the exact words to properly identify the unusual designations held by Sergius Paulus and the city of Philippi. —Dave Hunt