RESPONDblog: Are Jesus’ Miracles confirmed outside of the Bible?

resurrection.power

Earlier today, someone said this to me:

“There is historical evidence for Jesus crucifixion…but not any of his miracles.”

As those words hit me, I groaned inside. Why? Because I think this guy is just expressing something that is mistakenly assumed by so many skeptics of Christianity. And it saddens me because it is so NOT true!

 

I try to reach a skeptical audience with this blog – i’m not always successful. Having said that…it strikes me that, if I’m a Biblical skeptic, i’m not going to be too impressed by evidence of Jesus miracles from the pages of the Bible itself. So…what about evidence of Jesus miracles OUTSIDE the pages of the Bible? Does any of this corroborating evidence exist…evidence that supports the evidence in the Bible?

Yep.

Are you willing to lay aside your pre-conceived notions…and begin to consider it?

 

Alexamenos-Graffiti

First – the earliest portrayal of Jesus Christ we are aware of is a piece of graffiti that is drawn with the intention of insulting Jesus and Christians in general. It shows a man with a donkey’s head being crucified…and another man standing to the side with one hand outstretched. Beneath this is written in Greek, “Alexamenos worships [his] God.”

Weird, eh? But actually, the early Christian claims of a crucified God were viewed as ridiculous. This graffiti qualifies as ancient satire and it corroborates an important fact to my skeptical friend. Early Christians – strict monotheists – worshiped Jesus. What would cause them to do that?

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Second – two inscriptions found on ossuaries (jars containing skeletal remains) dated around AD 50 – are actually prayers addressed to Jesus…asking for his help. Mark Mittleberg asks a penetrating question. “How is it that Jesus – if he never lived or never rose from the dead – is invoked in prayer a mere twenty years after his death?”

 

josephus

Third – historical sources like the Roman historian Josephus, Tacitucs and Pliny the Younger were no friends of early Christianity. Yet they mention facts about Jesus and his followers that line up with the New Testament accounts. Scholar Gary Habermas (in his book The Historical Jesus) provides over 100 extra Biblical facts about Jesus life, his death, his resurrection and his teaching. Jesus credentials are solidly historical. there’s no getting away from this.

Where does this leave us? Well – if we are willing to look at the available evidence, it gives us corroborating evidence that supports the text of the New Testament. Specifically – that Jesus lived, he died, he rose from the dead and as his followers worshipped him as God; they genuinely and honestly initiated the spread of Christianity in the light of the historical Jesus.

If the history is right…and Jesus rose from the dead as the New Testament Gospels affirm…then it confirms His recorded claims to be God Himself. Why? Because the thing that eventually masters each and every one of us – death – has no power over Him. In the light of that…wouldn’t it make sense to bring our lives under His love and care?

 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29, NIV

 

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stuartgrayuk

I live in the UK, I'm married to Janet and I'm passionate about proposing a case for the historic Christian faith. You can find me on Twitter at @stuhgray.

13 thoughts on “RESPONDblog: Are Jesus’ Miracles confirmed outside of the Bible?”

  1. As a skeptic, I am quite pleased that you take the time to try to think about things from an extra-Biblical perspective. Too many people– on both sides of the argument, in fact– do not do that.

    That said, I’m a little confused by the things which you have listed, as none of them seems to be extra-Biblical evidence of Jesus’ miracles, at all. In fact, the only thing you listed which even mentions any of Jesus’ miracles is Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews, in a passage which is universally recognized to have been emended to a large degree– if not wholly interpolated– by a Christian scribe.

    Still, I had not been aware of the Ossuaries you mentioned until reading about them in your article, and I am very interested. Do you have a source where I could learn more about them?

    1. Hello there –

      Thanks so much for taking the time to reply to my blog post.

      “none of them seems to be extra-Biblical evidence of Jesus’ miracles, at all.”
      It’s interesting. As I study ancient history…I discover more and more that written documentation is incredibly rare. Archaeologists and historians find important corroborative evidences – gorilla fashion – in all sorts of places. And I’m quoting some of these ancient evidences which corroborate the staggering historical riches which comprise the New testament accounts (even tho very ancient texts are rare, we’ve got lots of ancient NT copies).

      So…my aim in this blog post is to point toward corroborative archaeological evidences – completely extra-Biblical – which support the Biblical account.

      The first point – the donkey head graffiti – has to do with satirical evidence that assumes Jesus was worshiped as a crucified God. Now – there’s alot wrapped up in that statement i’ve just made. The people who were worshipping Jesus in AD50 were mainly mono-theistic Jews. What was it that caused the change…the switch from traditional Judaism to worship of the crucified Christ? Well – it would seem reasonable to assume that – the crucified Jesus is also the risen Jesus. Something as mind blowing as his resurrection would cause this transition, as the NT claims. His resurrection counts as his most significant miracle – unique victory over death. This leads eventually to my quoted mocking, satirical graffiti which assumes this generally accepted truth at the time…rather than challenging it. Working backwards…if God can raise Jesus from the dead…his other miracles are similarly just as reasonable.

      Bear in mind that – the historicity of the New Testament is primary here – its the primary source. But – like a detective looking to strengthen a case by gathering corroborative evidence from other witnesses to support the core of the case…I am pointing to these archaeological, historical evidences which are completely extra-Biblical. But to me…they help to frame the context of the Gospels. What do you think? Am I making sense here? If not…I need to work harder! 🙂

      The second point – the ossuaries – is also a piece of archaeological corroborative evidence. Again – pointing to Jesus as the God who they are worshipping and placing their hope in…in the face of death. The reference I’m using is…

      “The Questions Christians Hope Noone will Ask”, Mark Mittleberg 2010, ISBN-978-1-4143-4941-1, chapter 3 (page 77)
      Mark is citing…
      “The Historical Jesus”, Gary Habermas, 1996, College Press, Chapters 9-11

      “Antiquities of the Jews, in a passage which is universally recognized to have been ammended…by a Christian scribe.”
      Yes – you are absolutely right. We have definitive proof that someone modified words to the Josephus historical account of Jesus. BUT – we also still have the original unchanged Josephus text as it was originally written…and when you compare the two versions…the all important original unmodified version says essentially the same thing. I reviewed this myself recently…and once I can remember where I read it (!) I can share with you so you can judge this for yourself 🙂

      But bear in mind its not just Josephus. We have extra-Biblical accounts of Jesus from the enemies of Christianity in Rome and also the Talmud…and they are incredibly valuable in confirming the events recorded in the New Testament, miracles and all. The Jewish Talmud describes him as a sorceror…again assuming the miraculous…but giving a negative spin to it. Bear in mind they dont deny the miracles…they say he had evil intent in performing them…again this is building a mass of corroborative evidence to support the claims of the New Testament

      Hope this helps? I’ve got some more extra biblical evidences coming in my next blog too which i feel are quite interesting also!

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read my blog and engage with me on this important topic 🙂

      Stu

      1. Thank you for your reply! I’m always up for an interesting discussion on history, and the first century Roman Empire has always borne a special fascination for me!

        Bear in mind that – the historicity of the New Testament is primary here – its the primary source. But – like a detective looking to strengthen a case by gathering corroborative evidence from other witnesses to support the core of the case

        I’m actually very much in agreement with you, here. If one wants to study the history of first century Christianity, the documents of the New Testament are most certainly our primary sources. I am actually quite enamored by NT research.

        I’ll certainly agree that the Alexamenos graffito, the ossuaries, and some of the writings stand as quite good corroborative evidence that Christians worshiped Christ as a god, but the point I was trying to make is that they don’t really say anything about his miracles, specifically. The emperor Domitian was worshiped as a god, as well, but I’m sure you’ll agree that the archaeological confirmations of this fact do not imply that he performed any miracles.

        The reference I’m using is…

        “The Questions Christians Hope Noone will Ask”, Mark Mittleberg 2010, ISBN-978-1-4143-4941-1, chapter 3 (page 77)
        Mark is citing…
        “The Historical Jesus”, Gary Habermas, 1996, College Press, Chapters 9-11

        Thanks! I’ll add these to my ever-growing reading queue! Those ossuaries certainly sound quite interesting, and I’ll enjoy learning more about them.

        Yes – you are absolutely right. We have definitive proof that someone modified words to the Josephus historical account of Jesus. BUT – we also still have the original unchanged Josephus text as it was originally written

        I’m unaware of any Greek manuscripts of Antiquities which contain text of the Testimonium Flavianum which scholars believe to have been original to Josephus. Are you perhaps referring to the reduced version of the TF which was found in an Arabic translation of the text?

        We have extra-Biblical accounts of Jesus from the enemies of Christianity in Rome and also the Talmud…and they are incredibly valuable in confirming the events recorded in the New Testament, miracles and all. The Jewish Talmud describes him as a sorceror

        Suetonius mentions a Jewish leader called “Chrestus,” which is generally believed to be a reference to Jesus of Nazareth, but he does not mention anything about miracles. Tacitus makes a clearer reference to a “Christus” who was executed by Pontius Pilate, and from whom the Christians received their name, but still makes no mentions of any miracles.

        The Talmud is a murky area, for scholarship, due to the complex and tortured history of textual transmission and censorship of these works, but I tend to agree with the scholarship that regards the Talmudic references as being far too late to provide any reliable information as regards the historical Jesus.

        Hope this helps? I’ve got some more extra biblical evidences coming in my next blog too which i feel are quite interesting also!

        I’ll look forward to it! Thank you, again, for engaging in this conversation with me!

      2. Hi mate –

        Do you know what its like when you are hunting for a reference that you have read before…and you just cannot find it again? 🙂 Frustrating!

        Coming back on the Josephus question – yes, I am basically referring to the very late – 10th century (?) Arabic version of Testimonium Flavianum. It appears to lack the apparent scribal interpolations that were made. I’ve found an interesting blog post that discusses the issues. And he makes an interesting point in the blog. Church Father Origen in the 2nd century apparently stated clearly that Josephus did not believe Jesus was the Messiah…his comments probably formed part of the damning evidence that revealed the scribal tampering of the Josephus TF text; Josephus would never have said “he was the Christ”…which is clearly a claim a Christian would have made. It seems that Origen could have been aware of the original untampered Josephus text during his lifetime…and the late Arabic copy has a good chance of representing what that text looked like (certainly the Testimonium Flavianum portion)

        http://streetapologist.wordpress.com/2013/09/08/josephus-jesus-from-a-series-on-early-non-biblical-references-to-jesus/

        The point I am making in my blog is – simply – that the untampered version of the text makes reference to the first Christian’s belief in Jesus’ Resurrection within the cultural context of who we now refer to as the Old Testament Prophets. It is an extra Biblical source that provides corroborative evidence supporting the New Testaments miraculous core and earliest message – namely “that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time…” 1 Cor 15:4-6

        That was my thinking there. Sorry if I went on a bit!

        Turning to the other ancient Roman texts…I wonder whether Suetonius hints towards the miraculous claims of the early Christians in his use of the words “mysterious superstition”? I think Tacitus also uses the word “superstition” to describe the Christian belief.
        Vita Nero (De Vita Caesarum – Nero)16.11-13 (c.110 C.E.)
        “Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.”

        Also – notice too that Pliney the Younger records that the early Christians worshipped Christ as God. Again – for a monotheistic culture – thats a massive deal for these first Christian believers. Jesus demonstrated this convincingly for them in a very real and tangible way…I would contend that it was his miraculous power over death itself that did this

        Pliny the Younger on Christians
        Letter to Trajan 10.96 – (c.111-117 C.E.)
        “they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before sunrise and reciting an antiphonal hymn to Christ as God,”

        “The emperor Domitian was worshiped as a god, as well, but I’m sure you’ll agree that the archaeological confirmations of this fact do not imply that he performed any miracles.”
        Right – i’m sure Emperor Domitian was worshipped and viewed as a God by the average Roman at the time as confirmed by archaeology. But the people who are originally worshipping Jesus are originally Jews (altho the Gentiles quickly got in on the act as we hear about in Acts). Judaism is a strict Monotheistic religion – to this day. And so is Christianity…yet amazingly the first believers moved the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday…and paradoxically the first Christians began to include Jesus Christ as God…and we see trinitarian teaching on the character of God emerging in the New Testament.

        Plus – Emperor Domitian never rose from the dead. But – there is documented historical evidence – and circumstantial supporting evidence that we are looking at – that claims Jesus Christ DID raise bodily from the dead. Why bodily? Because its how the Jewish mindset worked. It wouldn’t have been enough for him to appear as a vision…hallucination…their understanding of resurrection is that it would happen once at the end of time. Yet inspite of this traditional belief…something massive happened to change their thinking to claim that Jesus Christ rose from the dead following his crucifixion…and they began worshipping him as God within a Jewish context. An empty tomb and the Jesus bodily resurrection appearances would qualify as massive enough? Fascinating!

        Thanks again for this exchange of ideas mate…I do appreciate your time 🙂

        Stu

      3. Thanks for taking the time to look back and find that information! I figured that you were referring to the Arabic text of Antiquities, but I wanted to be sure. I think that will actually help us to narrow the scope of our discussion, quite a bit.

        The point I am making in my blog is – simply – that the untampered version of the text makes reference to the first Christian’s belief in Jesus’ Resurrection

        The Arabic translation and the hypothetical original of the TF absolutely make reference to the early Christians’ belief in the Resurrection, but even if legitimate, that is not independent corroboration of the Resurrection, itself. A history of the LDS Church which states “Joseph Smith reported receiving the Golden Plates,” we would certainly not consider that a corroboration of Smith’s claim.

        Also – notice too that Pliney the Younger records that the early Christians worshipped Christ as God. Again – for a monotheistic culture – thats a massive deal for these first Christian believers. Jesus demonstrated this convincingly for them in a very real and tangible way…I would contend that it was his miraculous power over death itself that did this

        Again, I certainly agree that the early Christians worshiped Jesus as a god, and I would even agree that they likely believed that Jesus had performed miracles in his earthly ministry. However, reporting on the beliefs of a cult is most certainly not the same as corroborating the historicity of those beliefs.

      4. Interesting that you mention the LDS Church claims around those golden plates. So my question would be – why are Joseph Smith’s claims comparable to the reports of Jesus Resurrection? As I remember the Joseph Smith story…there were no witnesses to his claims. Would you contend that there were no eyewitnesses to Jesus resurrection?

        Cut to the chase on this – I’m not aware of any extra-Biblical eye witness reports to jesus bodily resurrection. But my contention would be that the extra-Biblical data we do have…supports the New Testament eye witness reports we also have.

        Cards on the table – I am a Christian. And I believe that a case can be made that there are good theological reasons why Jesus would only reveal himself to his followers…that may be straying off the point for us tho.

        cheers

        Stu

      5. Interesting that you mention the LDS Church claims around those golden plates. So my question would be – why are Joseph Smith’s claims comparable to the reports of Jesus Resurrection? As I remember the Joseph Smith story…there were no witnesses to his claims. Would you contend that there were no eyewitnesses to Jesus resurrection?

        I would contend that Smith, himself, was (allegedly) a witness to the event, but the particular purported supernatural event was not the point of the claim. I could just as easily have made reference to Alexander the Great, before whom a multitude witnessed the Cilician sea draw back in homage; or Honi the Circle Drawer, whose weather miracle was reportedly witnessed by many people; or the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima, which was reportedly witnessed by thousands of people. The point is that the mention of miraculous claims in a history does not count as corroboration of those claims.

        As to Jesus’ Resurrection, I would certainly accept that there were people who claimed to have witnessed the risen Jesus.

        Cut to the chase on this – I’m not aware of any extra-Biblical eye witness reports to jesus bodily resurrection. But my contention would be that the extra-Biblical data we do have…supports the New Testament eye witness reports we also have.

        I think that the extra-Biblical data certainly supports the fact that the early Christians were sincere in their beliefs, but I don’t think that data offers good support to the most of the specific claims of the NT documents.

        Cards on the table – I am a Christian. And I believe that a case can be made that there are good theological reasons why Jesus would only reveal himself to his followers…that may be straying off the point for us tho.

        In the interest of honest reciprocation, I self-identify as an atheist and a naturalist. I am certainly enjoying this dialogue, and I am pleased to be able to have such a discussion!

  2. I don’t think “early Christians believed in the resurrection” counts as evidence that the resurrection actually happened. EVERY religion’s followers believe in what the religion claims (though with complex religions like Christianity a lot of them cherry pick); the fact that people believe it is in the definition of religion.

    “Mark Mittleberg asks a penetrating question. “How is it that Jesus – if he never lived or never rose from the dead – is invoked in prayer a mere twenty years after his death?”
    The world’s largest Christian sect (Catholicism) actually HAS a tradition of invoking saints that Catholics themselves don’t believe to be demigods in prayer, so I’d call that question more “baffling” than “penetrating”.

    1. Hi mate –

      How are you doing?

      I think one of the challenges of history is – understanding what was actually going on at that time – and in that culture – from a time + culture distance of two millenia. The easy thing to do would be to read modern western skepticism back into the past. And many people do. The harder thing would be to ask questions like – What was actually claimed to have occurred and is there any written evidence? What social, economic, political – not to mention religious – affect did these events cause? How were real lives affected then?

      You know, we aren’t talking about a claim that, “Hey – an image of Jesus appeared on my toast this morning. It’s a miracle!” We are asking the question – what really happened to transform the lives of so many mono-theistic people around AD 33…and why has it had such a trans formative effect on human history since? When we say that the early Christians believed it – we don’t mean they went, “Hey. That’s cool. Next?” We are saying that accepting this truth and the implications it had on their lives completely changed the tragectory of their lives and eventually their culture forever. And it has done the same for countless individuals in the centuries since.

      I’m reminded of the following quote about Jesus of Nazareth…
      “All the armies that have ever marched, all the navies that have ever sailed, all the parliaments that have ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned put together have not affected the life of mankind on earth as powerfully as that one solitary life.” — James Allan Francis, http://www.changinglivesonline.org/solitary-life.html

      The irony of your comment about Catholicism is that – rightly or wrongly – Catholic prayer to the Saints rests first on the hope held out by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It all starts with him – that’s the point of the Ossuary archaeological evidence. The good, the bad and the ugly of Church history since…must be measured against Jesus Christ…not the other way around.

      What do you think?

      Stuart

      1. I think that was barely a reply to anything I actually said…

        ““All the armies that have ever marched, all the navies that have ever sailed, all the parliaments that have ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned put together have not affected the life of mankind on earth as powerfully as that one solitary life.””
        There are actually quite a few people that could be said about. Most of them are people who discovered or invented something world-changing, of course, but also at least two other founders of religions.
        (And Shakespeare.)

        I don’t think any political or military leader would even made the top 20 in a truly honest “most important people who ever lived” list.

      2. I was pointing out that the work of history is understanding the past in its ancient context. That’s very relevant to our discussion whether you recognise it or not.

        You don’t think much of Jesus of Nazareth – hearing it loud and clear mate. You are allowed to have an opinion – lol

        Cheers

        Stu

    2. Hi again

      Apologies if I am sounding obscure as I respond to you – i value your feedback to my blog.

      > I don’t think “early Christians believed in the resurrection” counts as evidence that the resurrection actually happened
      This is where my challenge around the work of investigating history – rather than bringing our 21st century skepticism to bear on the historical reports.

      > the fact that people believe it is in the definition of religion.
      Christianity stands or falls on historical evidence. If Jesus did not rise from the dead physically, literally, leaving an empty tomb behind…and appearing to his friends for 40 days afterwards (for a purpose)…if this is not actually true then you can discount Christianity completely. I propose that the historical credentials of the Gospels are unmatched in antiquity. We have way more ancient copies than any other work, we have lots of extra-biblical corroborative evidence and we have 2000 years of lives changed for the better by the christian church (tho the church has also had a destructive effect on lives too…which is a tragedy)

      > The world’s largest Christian sect (Catholicism) actually HAS a tradition of invoking saints that Catholics themselves
      Whether Catholics are right or wrong in praying to saints (I would suggest there is no good reason to do so myself) they do this because of the promise held out by the historical resurrection of the head of the church – Jesus Christ. Because he lives – and i follow him – i will know hope in the face of death.

      cheers for now mate

      Stu

      1. “This is where my challenge around the work of investigating history – rather than bringing our 21st century skepticism to bear on the historical reports.”
        But evidence that people historically believed something isn’t ANY kind of report (reliable or otherwise) of the event itself.
        A lot of different people have believed a lot of different things. Including mutually exclusive things.

        “Christianity stands or falls on historical evidence.”
        Then it falls.
        Jesus being resurrected is less historical than myths like the apple hitting Newton in the head or George Washington chopping down the cherry tree; at least those other events could be true without requiring the existence of magic.
        Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and when you’re talking about something this unlikely, and seem to think that sources that don’t even mention the event at all are sufficient, you’re in the same company as Roswell conspiracists and ghost hunters.

        “we have 2000 years of lives changed for the better by the christian church (tho the church has also had a destructive effect on lives too…which is a tragedy)”
        It’s done FAR more harm than good.

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