“History became legend; legend became myth; and for two and a half thousand years the ring passed out of all knowledge.” – from the first film of The Lord of the Rings
In the first article of this special edition, I’ve discussed the first way to test a historical record. Evidently, we have seen how biblical documents have become reliable when it comes to the Bibliographical Test or the trustworthiness of the gap between the original manuscripts (MSS) and the copies.
Unlike the 2,500-year period in “The Lord of the Rings,” the short time span of the writing of the Four Gospels would make them far from being a myth or legend.
Today, we will be tackling the Internal and External Evidence Test.
Internal Evidence Test
The focused of this test is to measure the credibility of the written records, especially on how factual the contents are and how credible the writer is pertaining to history. Let’s take a verse from the Four Gospels as an example.
In Luke chapter 3 verse 1 it says, “Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene.”
Obviously, that verse alone contains a lot of facts. But, are those facts historically proven? For that verse to be historically reliable, every single detail must be examined. It should be found out that there is a Tiberius Caesar in history who was already reigning for 15 years during that time. The same must be done for the existence of Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, and Lysanias in history.
According to John W. Montgomery, “One must listen to the claims of the document under analysis, and not assume fraud or error unless the author disqualified himself by contradictions or known factual inaccuracies.” That is the dilemma of the internal evidence test.
The known archeologist Sir William Ramsay has uttered, “Luke is a historian of the first rank… this author should be placed along with the very greatest historians.” Luke, a known physician of the Apostle Paul, has written both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts which contain a lot of verifiable historical facts concerning the existence of Jesus in history.
And this is how doctor Luke has started his writing of the Book of Acts: “The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God (Acts 1:1-3).” You can read the two books of Luke if you want to know more.
So far, we’ve been dealing with biblical records which as what I have said will be a circular argument from the secular point of view if not founded with facts first. And now, we’ll go out of the scriptural passages.
The external evidence test always excites me because critics and skeptics alike will say, “Well, that’s Bible so it will really talk about Jesus. But how about other books during that time, were they able to talk about the existence of such a person called Jesus Christ?”
Before showing you some evidence outside the New Testament, I just want to emphasize that biblical records are considered factual containing historical facts, not just religious facts but universal experiences of the past as well.
Here are some of the known 1st-century historians who are not biblically related but rather critics and enemies of the Christian faith.
A. Titus Flavius Josephus (37 – c. 100 AD)
Josephus is a Romano-Jewish historian and scholar. He became an interpreter of Roman Emperor Vespasian, and he also became an advisor and friend of Vespasian’s son Titus, the one who burned Jerusalem in 70 AD. Josephus has written two of the most notable history books: “The War of the Jews” and the “Antiquities of the Jews.”
A part of his Antiquities writing, he says:
As therefore Ananus was of such a disposition, he thought he had now a good opportunity, as Festus was now dead, and Albinus was still on the road; so he assembled a council of judges, and brought it before the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as law-breakers, he delivered them over to be stoned.
B. Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus (c. 56 – c. 120 AD)
Tacitus is a renowned Roman Empire historian and a Roman senator who lived in the half part of the 1st century and early 2nd century. His major history books are the Annals and the Histories.
When he wrote about the great fire in Rome in 64 AD, he said:
But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus (Christ in English), from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a deadly superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but also in the City.
As you can see, Tacitus is writing against Christians, but his writings show proof that Christ really existed in the 1st century. He also wrote about Tiberius and Pontius Pilate which are also mentioned in the writings of Luke.
C. Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus (61 – c. 113 AD)
Gaius Caecilius, also known as Pliny the Younger, was a Roman lawyer, author, and politician who wrote the encyclopedic Naturalis Historia (Natural History). In one of his letters known as Epistulae which was addressed to Emperor Trajan, he asserts:
They (the Christians) were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft, adultery, never to falsify their word, not to deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake a meal – but ordinary and innocent food.
The above quotations come from influential and powerful critics of the Christian faith in the 1st century have proven the existence of Christ and His followers who are called Christians. Now, that’s evidence outside the Bible. If secular historians will deny the facts, they should also deny all the classical history books from the past.