In Defense of the Faith: A Testimony Too Good to Be True? |

TBC Staff

Question: The Antiquities of the Jews, by Flavius Josephus, is often cited by Christians as proof that Jesus Christ actually lived, did miracles, was crucified, and rose from the dead as the New Testament declares. However, I’ve been told that all of the real scholars agree that the section in Josephus referring to Christ is a forgery that was introduced later, probably by Eusebius, who was the first writer to cite it. This passage is not found in any of the older manuscripts. That such a forgery was necessary would indicate that legitimate supportive records did not exist. Isn’t this an almost fatal blow to Christian apologetics?

Response: We have already shown that there was more than sufficient corroborative evidence of various kinds, including other contemporary writings, so there was no need for a forgery. Critics love to say that “all of the real scholars agree” to this or that when they really mean certain scholars of a particular bias. The fact is that the passage to which you refer is found in all ancient copies of the works of Josephus. It is accepted by most scholars and referred to as authentic by other ancient writers besides Eusebius. For that reason alone it could not have been added later as the critics want to believe and have unsuccessfully tried to establish.

Those who dispute this section in Josephus do not do so on the basis of any evidence but because what it says is so favorable to the cause of Jesus Christ. Here is the passage:

“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.”

No wonder anti-Christians don’t want to admit that the above is authentic! If they face the evidence, however, they have no choice. In fact, there are two passages about Christ in Josephus. The authenticity of the second (which is also cited in ancient works) has never been disputed, yet it makes little sense unless the author had mentioned Jesus Christ previously in more detail. The second passage reads:

“Ananus [Ananias] assembled the Jewish Sanhedrin, and brought before it James the brother of Jesus who is called Christ, with some others, whom he delivered over to be stoned as infractors of the law.” (Whiston, “Josephus,” 598)

It is quite clear that Josephus has already mentioned and made some explanatory remarks about Jesus. Otherwise it would be unreasonable for him to make such a superficial reference to such a major figure, whom this passage itself admits was at least “called Christ.” This is especially true inasmuch as Josephus mentions elsewhere in some detail several pretenders who claimed to be the Messiah. Thus his “silence” about Jesus in this brief passage would have been highly suspect had he not explained something about Him previously.

Verification of Josephus by His Contemporaries

At the end of his translation of The Life and Works of Flavius Josephus, published in 1737, William Whiston includes “Seven Dissertations [appendices] concerning Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, James the Just…etc.” In these he cites numerous secular and Christian writers from AD 110 to the end of the fifteenth century who quoted Josephus as authoritative concerning what he said about Jesus, John the Baptist, and other persons and events named in the New Testament.

One further comment by Professor Hopkins is in order. He explains why it would have been impossible for the contested passage to have been forged by Eusebius or anyone else:

“Had such a forgery been attempted, it would unquestionably have been detected by some of the acute and inveterate enemies of Christianity; for both Josephus and his works were so well received among the Romans that he was enrolled a citizen of Rome, and had a statue erected to his memory. His writings were also admitted into the Imperial Library.

“The Romans may further be considered as the guardians of the integrity of his text; and the Jews, we may be assured, would use all diligence to prevent any interpolation in favor of the Christian cause. Yet it cannot be discovered that any objection was ever made to this passage by any of the opposers of the Christian faith in the early ages; their silence therefore concerning such a charge is a decisive proof that the passage is not a forgery. Indeed, the Christian cause is so far from needing any fraud to support it that nothing could be more destructive to its interest than a fraud so palpable and obtrusive.”

There is at least one suspicious attestation to Jesus attributed to Josephus. This is found in Josephus—The Jewish War, translated and with an introduction by G. A. Williamson (Penguin Books, 1959). Unfortunately, this bogus account has been promoted by overzealous Christians because it is longer than the above and seems to more fully testify to the divinity, miracles, and resurrection of Jesus, even claiming that His tomb was guarded by 30 Roman soldiers and 1000 Jews! The latter claim is obviously not true, since Jews would not stand guard on a Sabbath, especially the high Sabbath of Passover. Moreover, the spurious passage contains other embellishments that conflict with the New Testament, whereas the authentic account quoted above agrees with the accounts in the four Gospels.