Is there evidence, apart from the Bible, that Jesus really lived? Actually, the accounts in the Bible, which are God’s inspired revelation to humanity, are proof enough. But extrabiblical sources also amply attest that Jesus lived, that He was born of a young virgin, preached the Gospel, performed miracles, and was condemned to execution.
Justin Martyr, a second-century theologian, wrote: “Now there is a village in the land of the Jews, 35 stadia from Jerusalem, in which Christ was born, as you can ascertain also from the registries of the taxing under Cyrenius your first procurator in Judea” (“First Apology,” Chapter 34).
Justin Martyr was referring to public records that existed in his day to demonstrate that Jesus was born in Judea. Of course, one would expect that a religionist such as Justin Martyr would naturally support Jesus’ authenticity as a historical person. But what about a historian who despised Christians?
Cornelius Tacitus, Roman historian, senator, consul, and governor of the province of Asia, wrote this concerning Jesus and His followers: “Nero … punished with every refinement the notoriously depraved Christians (as they were popularly called). Their originator, Christ, had been executed in Tiberius’ reign by the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate. But in spite of this temporary setback, the deadly superstition had broken out afresh, not only in Judea (where the mischief had started) but even in Rome” (“The Annals of Imperial Rome,” XV, 44).
The fourth-century Roman emperor Julian the Apostate (named this because he turned from Christianity after being brought up in it) wrote a major work against Christianity in which he said this: “Jesus, whom you celebrate, was one of Caesar’s subjects. If you dispute it, I will prove it by and by; but it may be as well done now. For yourselves allow, that he was enrolled with his father and mother in the time of Cyrenius …. But Jesus having persuaded a few among you, and those the worst of men, has now been celebrated about 300 years; having done nothing in his lifetime worthy of remembrance; unless anyone thinks it a mighty matter to heal lame and blind people, and exorcise demoniacs in the villages of Bethsaida and Bethany”(“Cyril Contra Julian,” VI, pages 213, 191).
These are reports from pagan Romans who despised Christianity. They had access to government records, and, if they could have disproved Jesus’ authenticity, they would have done so. But, they could not. Their writings are additional proof of Christ’s life.
What about the Jews? If Jesus did not exist, the Jews would have had no reason to reject Him! The Jewish historian Josephus admitted that Jesus, His disciples, and John the Baptist lived. He called John the Baptist “the good man” (“Antiquities of the Jews,” XVIII, 5, 2). Scholars recognize as genuine his account of the death of James, “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ” (Ibid., XX, 9, 1).
According to “The Jewish Encyclopedia” (1907 edition) and other sources, Jesus is also mentioned in the “Talmud,” the collection of Jewish tradition consisting of the Mishnah and the Gemara. The sections of the “Talmud” which are said to be references to Jesus are Shabbath 104b and 116b; Sanhedrin 43a, 67a, and 107b; and Sotah 47a. You may also wish to read the article “Jesus of Nazareth” in “The Jewish Encyclopedia” (1907 edition), the article “Jesus” in the “Encyclopedia Judaica,” the articles “Jesus Christ” and “Talmud and Midrash,” which shows how the “Talmud” (Mishna) is organized, in “The New Encyclopaedia Britannica” (1981 edition), and the book titled “Jesus Christ in the Talmud, Midrash, Zohar, and the Liturgy of the Synagogue,” by Gustaf Dalman (1973).
These facts, all from sources outside the Bible, clearly substantiate the existence of Jesus Christ. Jesus was not a myth. The Bible record is true.