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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Existence of Jesus Christ

Don Stewart :: Why Don't We Have More Early Sources Referring to Jesus?

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Why Don’t We Have More Early Sources Referring to Jesus?

The Existence of Jesus Christ – Question 8

While the secular sources do tell us that Jesus Christ existed, there are some common objections that arise when this subject is brought up. They include the following.

First, it is asked why Jesus wasn’t more noticed by historians of the time. If He was such a great figure, why don’t we have more written about Him? If Jesus did what the New Testament says that He did, then why didn’t other writers living at the time mention it?

In addition, why do the references we do have contain so little detail? If He did the sort of the things which the New Testament said He did then shouldn’t we expect more specific things to have been written?

How do we respond to questions like these? There are several observations that should be made.

1. We Have Limited Knowledge of That Period

First, we must realize that our knowledge of the first century A.D. is limited. The majority of books that were written in the ancient world have not survived. For example, the Roman Emperor Claudius wrote thirty-seven books, but not one of them survives. We only know the existence of his works, as well as other lost books, through references and quotations from them found in other works. Therefore, our knowledge of any historical figure or event in the ancient world is limited by the lack of existing sources.

Furthermore, the very few writings that have survived are only fragmentary. Therefore we should not expect to find much information about any figure living at that time. The information is just not there. Consequently the shortage of ancient testimony about Jesus should not surprise us.

2. Religious Figures Were Not the Main Subject of Ancient Writers

We should also note that most of the figures who received any notice in ancient writings were political and military figures, not religious leaders. They were not really noticed by the writers of their day. This being the case, we certainly should not expect the writers to have written anything about Jesus and the claims which were made for Him.

For example, it is often wondered why John the Baptist is mentioned by first-century Jewish historian Josephus, more than he mentions Jesus. The answer lies in the purpose of Josephus. Josephus is mainly interested in writing about the political history of the Jews. John would have figured more important because he spoke out against King Herod. In fact, the gospels tell us this is the reason Herod put John into prison.

On the other hand, Jesus did not engage in political speech. We find that He would not be drawn into a discussion about paying taxes to Caesar.

In addition, He agreed to pay the poll tax. The movement of Jesus was not a political movement. Hence, we do not have more than a passing mention to Him.

3. The Writers Would Not Have Immediately Foreseen His Impact

There is more. We should not expect these ancient writers to have foreseen the influence that Jesus would have had on the world. There is no way in which they could have known the impact that He would have made.

Therefore, we should not expect them to carefully document the life and ministry of Jesus seeing they had no idea of how Christianity would develop. Many new religions sprung up in the Roman Empire and to them Christianity was just another one of the many.

4. Jesus Lived in a Remote Area of the Roman Empire

There is another thing to keep in mind. Judea was in a remote part of the eastern Empire. This particular geographical region held little importance for Rome. The fact that some religious figure was executed would not have been that exceptional.

Indeed, first century writer Flavius Josephus tells us that about two thousand Jewish insurgents were put to death after disturbances following the death of Herod the Great in approximately 4-2 B.C. Therefore, the death of a single religious figure in this remote area of the Empire would not have been a cause for much notice in Rome no matter what had been claimed about Him.

What we would expect is that the growth of the Christian movement outside of Judea would have attracted the attention of ancient writers. This is exactly what we find. As Christianity grew in number, it began to be noticed by those writing of the events of the time.

5. Many Did Not Believe in Him during His Lifetime

There is something else. The gospels tell us that many people who heard Jesus, including members of His own family, did not believe in Him. John records that during His public ministry, the brothers of Jesus did not believe in Him:

For even His brothers did not believe in Him. (John 7:5 NKJV)

Since they did not believe in Jesus during His public ministry, we should not expect others to take notice.

The Key Issue: How Reliable Are the Sources?

The real issue concerns the reliability of the source, not necessarily how close the source was to the event under consideration. The key question is, “How accurate is the information that the historian gives us?” The fact that Jesus is not mentioned in any contemporary non-Christian source does not prove He did not exist.

Given what we know about ancient writers, and the fact that very few writings from the ancient world has survived, it is not surprising we find such little information about Jesus from secular sources.

We Have Sufficient Testimony about Jesus

We must emphasize that there are non-Christian sources that mention Jesus life and ministry. They are sufficient to testify that Jesus Himself did exist. Not only do we have the firsthand eyewitnesses’ testimony of the New Testament, there are also these secular sources that confirm many of the events recorded in the New Testament.

Consequently, we conclude that Jesus was an historical figure whose existence is beyond all doubt. Both the secular sources, and the New Testament, give evidence of His existence.

Therefore the objections—that the non-Christian evidence about Jesus is too little and too late—do not hold any weight. Jesus of Nazareth did exist and there are many things that we can know about His life and ministry.

Summary – Question 8
Why Don’t We Have More Early Sources Referring to Jesus?

One issue which often comes up with respect with Jesus Christ and His ministry concerns the lack of written sources from people of His own era. Indeed, we do not find Jesus Christ mentioned by contemporary historians. At least, nothing survived, that was written about Jesus by ancient historians living at His time. Given what the New Testament says that He did, shouldn’t we expect to see more references? Furthermore, why don’t the few references we do have about Him give us more details? Why is there so little written about Him? Why don’t we find more?

This is really not surprising. In fact, the non-Christian evidence is what we would expect to find from the sources that we have. It is wrong to expect them to say more about Jesus. A number of points need to be made.

For one thing, there are few sources that still exist from His time. Consequently, there is very little from that time period that we can examine. The great majority of the written records have been lost.

In addition, at that time in history, those people who were written about were more political and military figures rather than religious figure. This is another reason for the lack of information; the religious leaders were not given much exposure.

Furthermore, they would not have known the impact that His life was going to make. Indeed, who at that time could have foreseen the impact that Jesus would have made? This being the case, it is understandable why His life and ministry would have been overlooked.

There is also the geographical problem. Jesus would have not attracted that much attention living and ministering in far off Israel. Consequently the location of His life and ministry tended to not make Him a topic of discussion among current writers.

Add to this the fact that these secular people would not have believed in Him. Most writers would have probably considered Jesus as another religious leader in which great claims were made about. This is a further reason why we find nothing written from these historians.

The important point is that we do have accurate testimony about the life and ministry of Jesus from firsthand sources. This is found in the New Testament. They are sufficient to give us a correct portrait of who Jesus is, as well as what He accomplished during His time on the earth.

The fact that secular writers, for the most part, tended to ignore Him is not really relevant. Indeed, what we do have is the testimony of the eyewitnesses. They are the ones who tell us what Jesus said and did. Furthermore, their testimony is trustworthy.

What Do the Dead Sea Scrolls Tell Us about Jesus' Existence? ← Prior Section
What Year Was Jesus Born? Next Section →
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