Can We Trust the New Testament?

Can We Trust the New Testament?

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

In this article, we consider whether the New Testament can be trusted as a witness for Jesus’ existence. After all, it is considered the chief primary source for Jesus’ life. Some people wonder: “How can an ancient text, which is almost 2,000 years old, be considered reliable?”

In the first two articles of this series, we looked over the ancient historians that testify to the existence of Jesus and/or his followers (click here to read article 1 and click here to read article 2). To my knowledge, none of them are questioned as to their historical value. These sources are considered reliable. I learned about them in grade school and college; we were taught from these texts. Below, I have listed the approximate dates for the oldest complete manuscripts of these works.

Josephus – 9th or 10th century

Tacitus – 11th century

Pliny the Younger – Late 5th century

Suetonius – 9th through 12th centuries

Lucian – 9th century

The oldest complete manuscript for four out of these five works is about 700 to 900 years after the time in which the author lived. Why is this? From the ninth century onwards, kings and monks engaged in a rigorous campaign to copy older manuscripts of the classical writers, especially as it relates to Roman history. The content from these works has been cross checked with other manuscripts of writers from a similar time. There are also scattered fragments of these works which date earlier. Archaeological findings have been used to corroborate the content. These works have each been critically examined over the centuries. This explains why their content remains to be taught and disseminated in Academia today.

If these texts can be trusted for historical content, though their manuscript history is distant to the events they report, what about the New Testament? The original New Testament describes events that occur mostly in the first century AD. What is the agreed upon date for its oldest complete manuscript?

The oldest complete text is the Codex Sinaiticus (350 AD), which is within 320 years of the life of Jesus. There are also two others that date near it: Codex Vaticanus (fourth century AD), and Codex Alexandrinus (450 AD). Moreover, thousands of fragments or manuscripts of the New Testament that date to the same time and earlier. This includes manuscripts from earlier dates with large portions of the New Testament, such as: Beatty Biblical Papyrus I (which contains the gospels and Acts and dates to the third century), Beatty Biblical Papyrus II (a codex of most of Paul’s letters and dates to the early or mid third century), Papyrus Bodmer II (which includes nearly all of John’s Gospel and dates to before 200 AD), and others that contain significant portions of the New Testament.

Below, we have a picture of papyrus 52, which is considered the earliest known fragment of John’s Gospel. It dates to about 125 AD, and contains John 18:31-33 on one side and John 18:37-38 on the other side.

Papyrus of John 18:31-33
Public Domain, copyright tag: PD-US



Another ancient witness of these writings includes the second century writers of Christianity, including Polycarp (a disciple of the early Apostles), Irenaeus (who was a hearer of Polycarp), Justin the Martyr, and other writers who attest to the writings of the first disciples. In about 150 AD, Tatian composed the Diatessaron, which was a compilation of all four gospels into one seamless story structured around the narrative found in the Gospel of John. It was the most widely used gospel narrative in Syria until the fifth century and was used elsewhere. There is one fragment that dates to before the mid-third century and it is quoted and referenced in numerous other early Church writings. Furthermore, the work was translated into other languages over time (some of which have survived into modern times). The details have led to its acceptance as a legitimate writing from the early Church.

Some early church writers mentioned a list of accepted writings from the early disciples. The Muratorian canon is among them. It contains a list of accepted books of the first disciples and dates to the mid to late second century.

We would have even more New Testament manuscripts from earlier times, but warfare, weather, and other factors such as persecution caused older manuscripts to be lost. For instance, the Roman Emperor Diocletian initiated a persecution which lasted approximately 10 years (303-313 AD). During it, the persecutors tried to burn Christian manuscripts. The church historian, Eusebius was a contemporary to these events. He wrote the following account:

“All these things were fulfilled in us, when we saw with our own eyes the houses of prayer thrown down to the very foundations, and the Divine and Sacred Scriptures committed to the flames in the midst of the market-places, and the shepherds of the churches basely hidden here and there, and some of them captured ignominiously, and mocked by their enemies…It was in the nineteenth year of the reign of Diocletian, in the month Dystrus, called March by the Romans, when the feast of the Saviour’s passion was near at hand, that royal edicts were published everywhere, commanding that the churches be leveled to the ground and the Scriptures be destroyed by fire, and ordering that those who held places of honor be degraded, and that the household servants, if they persisted in the profession of Christianity, be deprived of freedom” (Eusebius, Church History, 8.2.1,4).

Despite this attempt to terminate Christian documents, many fragments of the New Testament survived. This includes the source documents for the codices we described earlier. They were based upon earlier documents which scribes before them had copied from even earlier compilations.

In summation, complete manuscripts of the New Testament date much closer to the events it describes than its other counterparts. Fragments or portions of the text exist to even earlier dates. There are sections of it quoted by numerous early Church writers. All of these details put together adds to its reliability as a document of ancient events, people, and places.

Altogether, the evidence reviewed in the historical documents about Jesus and Archaeology relating to the life of Jesus (Click here to read an article about archaeology pertaining to Jesus) articles confirms over 25% of the New Testament! To learn more about the history and archaeology pertaining to the life of Jesus, CLICK HERE to download out free e-book: “How Do We Know Jesus Really Lived?”

Below, we have listed a summary of approximately 2,589 verses confirmed by the historical and archaeological evidence we have reviewed. Enjoy!

For each entry I list the detail from the evidence and then list the number of verses that mention that piece of evidence. I approximate the total number of verses referenced to be about 2,000 because some subjects overlap and thus a verse might count more than one time. This is a sample and a more thorough study could certainly be done on this subject. Most of the time, the greater context of the verse is not included, which would certain add more verse references.

Jesus [943 verses]: the examples are so numerous that it would take pages to list them all.

Jesus was called Christ [over 200 verses; I have only mentioned a few examples]: Matthew 1:1, 1:16, 1:18, 16:16, 20; Mark 1:1, 8:29,14:61; Luke 2:11, 26, 4:41; John 1:17, 4:42, 6:69; Acts 2:36; Romans 1:6.

Specifically, the phrase “Jesus who is called Christ” [4 verses]: Matthew 1:16, 27:17, 27:22; John 4:25.

Nazareth [29 verses]: Matthew 2:23, 4:13, 21:11, 26:71; Mark 1:9,24, 10:47, 14:67, 16:6, Luke 1:26, 2:4,39,51, 4:16,34, 18:37, 24:19; John 1:45-46, 18:5-7, 19:19; Acts 2:22, 3:6, 4:10, 6:14, 10:38, 22:8, 26:9.

Tiberius Caesar—direct references [1 verse]: Luke 3:1.

Tiberius Caesar—indirect references to him as Caesar [10 verses]: Matthew 22:17, 21; Mark 12:14, 17; Luke 20:22,25, 23:2, John 19:12, 15.

Pilate [54 verses, most of which are contained in passages]: Matthew 27:2-65; Mark 15:1-44; Luke 3:1, 13:1, 23:1-52; John 18:29-38, 19:1-38; Acts 3:13, 4:27, 13:28; I Timothy 6:13.

Jewish authorities made accusations against Jesus [well over 20 verses, some examples mentioned multiple times in a passage]: Matthew 20:18, 21:15,23, 26:3-59, 27:1-41; Mark 11:18, 14:1,10,43-55, 15:1-31; Luke 9:22, 19:47, 22:2-4, 22:52-66, 23:4-20; John 7:32-45, 18:3,35, 19:6-15,21.

Crucifixion [49 verses total, some of which are contained in passages]: Matthew 20:19, 23:34, 26:2, 27:22-44, 28:5; Mark 15:13-32; Lk. 23:21-33, 24:7, 24:26; John 19:6-41; Acts 2:23, 26, 4:10; I Cor. 1:23, 2:2, 2:8; 2 Cor. 13:4; Gal 2:20, 3:1; Heb. 6:6; Rev. 11:8.

Jesus was called wise [4 verses]:  Matthew 13:54; Mark 6:2; Luke 2:40, 52.

Jesus was teacher [many verses, but 21 are listed here]: Matthew 4:23, 9:35, 11:1, 21:23, 22:16, 26:55; Mark 4:1, 6:2, 6:6, 34, 12:14, 14:49; Luke 5:17, 11:1, 13:10,22, 20:21, 21:37, 23:5; John 3:2; Acts 1:1.

Jesus and James had an earthly father named Joseph: Matthew 1:16,

Jesus had Jewish and Greek followers [about 60 verse references listed, but more are available. I also included references to Gentile followers after his death]: Matthew 4:25, 8:1,18, 9:8-10, 33-36, 11:7,12:15,21, 13:2, 34-36, 14:14-23, 15:10, 30, 20:29, 21:8-9, 21:11, 46, 22:33, 23:1; Mark 1:34, 2:2-13, 15, 3:7-9, 30-32, 6:31, 55-56, 15:41; Luke 2:32, 7:11; John 2:23, 4:39-41, 7:31, 8:30, 10:42, 11:45, 12:11, 20-25, 42; Acts 2:41, 4:4, 8:7-8, 9:42, 13:43, 14:21, 15:35, 17:12, 18:8, 19:18-19, 21:20, 28:23-31. All of the early followers were Jewish, but some were Gentiles.

Jesus was considered a prophet [14 verses]: Matthew 21:46; Mark 8:28; Luke 1:76, 7:16, 9:8,19, 24:19; John 4:19,44, 6:14, 7:40, 9:17; Acts 3:22-23, 7:37.

Jesus was considered a teacher of Truth [3 verses]: Matthew 22:16; Mark 12:14; Luke 20:21.

The Jesus movement started in Judea [43 verses mention Judaea or Judea]: The gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all confirm this as Jesus taught throughout Judea; see also Acts 1:8.

Jesus performed miracles and did good [many examples exist, but I have listed 29 verses]: Matthew 4:23, 8:7-13,14-15, 9:35, 12:15, 14:14, 15:30; Luke 7:3, 9:42, 13:14, 14:3, 22:51, John 2:11, 23, 3:2, 4:47,54, 5:13, 6:2, 11:47; Acts 2:22, 10:38.

Jesus was worshipped [9 verses]: Matthew 8:2, 9:18, 14:33, 15:25, 20:20, 28:9, 17; Mark, 5:6; Luke 24:52.

Jesus had a brother names James; in Hebrew his name was Jacob [9 verses – we listed both indirect references to Jesus’ brothers and specific references to James]: Matthew 13:55, Mk. 6:3, John 7:5, Acts 1:14, 12:17, 15:13, I Cor. 15:7, Gal. 1:19, Book of James was written by him – see James 1:1.

Jesus’ followers were called Christians [3 verses]: Acts 11:26, 26:28; I Peter 4:16.

Jesus’ disciples prayed to Him and in His name [3 verses]: Acts 1:24; James 5:14; I Peter 3:12.

Christians lived by Christ’s Words [again, many examples, but 27 verses listed]: Matthew 28:16-20, John 13:34-35; I Cor. 11:1; Eph. 5:1-2; Col. 3:13-16; I Peter 2:21-25; I John 2:1-6, 3:15-16.

Christians considered each other brothers [approx. 245 examples in the New Testament, but we have a sample of 12 verses]: Matthew 12:50; Mark 3:35; Acts 20:32; Romans 1:13, 16:7; I Cor. 1:10-11; Hebrews 3:1; James 1:2; I Peter 1:22; 2 Peter 1:10; I John 2:7; Rev. 6:11, 22:9.

The first leaders of Christianity were in Judea [Jerusalem was the headquarters for early Christianity; we have 19 verses listed]: Acts 1:4-8, 11:1-2, 11:19-22, 11:26-27, 12:24-25, 15:2, 16:4, Gal. 2:1-2.

Christians met regularly on a fixed day [many examples in the gospels, but 5 specific examples listed here]: Acts 13:13-48, Acts 15:21, Acts 16:11-20, Acts 17:1-4, 18:1-6.

Christians were taught not to curse Christ [1 verse]: I Cor. 12:3.

Christians lived morally upright and shunned evil [at least 538 verses, all referenced]: Romans 6:1-22, 8:1-8, 12:9-21, 13:1-14; I Cor. 3:16-17, 5:1-13, 6:9-20, 10:1-13, chapter 13; Gal. 5:19-26; Eph. 4:17-32, 5:1-20; Phil. 2:12-16; Col. 3:1-17; I Thess. 4:1-12; 2 Thess. 2:11-12; I Tim. 3:1-13, 4:1-13, 5:1-16, 6:3-10; 2 Tim. 3:1-9; Titus 1:5-16; 2:1-14, 3:1-8; James 1:19-27, 2:1-26, 3:1-11, 4:1-12; I Peter 1:13-22, 2:1-3, 13-17, 3:8-18, 4:1-11; 2 Peter chapter 2, 3:11-13, I john 2:9-17, 3:1-24, 4:7-21, 5:1-5,13-21, Jude 3-22, Rev. chapters 2 and 3.

Christians were taught to shun idols [30 verses]: Acts 15:20, 15:29, 21:25; I Cor. 5:10-11, 6:9, 8:1-10; I Cor. 10:7,14,19; 2 Cor. 6:16; Gal. 5:20; Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5; I Thess. 1:9; I Peter 4:3; I John 5:21; Rev. 2:14, 20, 21:8, 22:15.

Christians were persecuted and told that they would suffer for the faith [over 40 verses, but sample listed]: Matthew 10:34-38, 24:9-13; Luke 21:16; Acts 5:41, 7:54-60, 8:1, 9:16, 11:19, 13:50, 14:22; Romans 5:3, 8:17-18; Eph. 3:13; Phil. 1:29, 3:10; Col. 1:24; I Thess. 1:6, 2:2, 2:14; 2 Thess. 1:5; 2 Tim. 1:8-12, 2:3-9, 3:11; Hebrews 10:32-34, 13:3; James 5:10; I Peter 1:6-7, 2:19-21, 3:14-17, 4:15-19, 5:9-10; Rev. 2:10.

There were early believers in Rome [several verses]: Acts 28:14-18; Romans 1:1-15 (the entire letter of Romans was written to these believers).

Females had important roles in early Christianity [at least 16 verse references]: Acts 18:2,18, 24-26, 21:9; Romans 16:1-16; I Cor. 16:19; Phil. 4:2-3; Col. 4:15; 2 Tim. 4:19. 

Christians believed in immortality [over 36 verses]: Matthew 25:31-46; Mark 10:30; Luke 20:34-36; John 3:15-16, 4:36, 5:36, 6:54, 6:68, 10:28, 11:24-26, 12:25; Acts 13:48, 24:15; Romans 2:7, 5:21, 6:5,22-23; I Cor. 15:20-55; Phil. 3:10-11; I Thess. 4:11-18; I Tim. 6:12,19; 2 Tim. 1:10; Titus 1:2, 3:7; I John 1:2, 2:25, 5:11-13, 5:20; Jude 1:21; Hebrews 6:2; Rev. 20:4-5.

Christians believed in giving [there are many references, but 18 specific verses and two whole chapters on this subject, which include 39 verses]:  Matthew 6:1-4; Acts 2:44-45, 4:32-34; I Cor. 16:1-3; 2 Cor. chapters 8-9; Phil. 4:15; Eph. 4:28; I Tim. 6:17-19; Heb. 13:16.

Claudius removed Jews from Rome [1 verse]: Acts 18:2.

People of all ranks and ages were Christians [61 total verses, including passages about how the younger and older believers should interact with each other. More verses on this could be included, but this gives us a good sample]: People in royal households (Luke 8:3, Phil. 4:22); Priests (Acts 6:7); Chief Rulers (John 12:42); A Eunuch (Acts 8:26-38); A Weaver (Acts 16:11-15); Chief Women in a city (Acts 17:4); Fishermen (Matthew 4:18-19); Tax Collectors (Matthew 10:3); Ruler of synagogue (Acts 18:8); Erastus, a city chamberlain (Romans 16:23); People from all sorts of backgrounds famous or infamous who repented of their sins joined the early community (see I Cor. 1:26-28). The old and the young were part of this community (Acts 20:9, I Tim. 4:12, 5:1-18, Titus 2:4-6, I Peter 5:5, I John 2:13-14). Entire households joined the faith together (Acts 16:30-34, 18:8, I Cor. 1:16, 2 Tim. 4:19). They early Christian leaders taught in the Temple and in homes (Acts 5:42).


Kelly McDonald, Jr.
BSA President – www.biblesabbath.org

Bibliography
Davis, H. Grady , Faherty, Robert L. , Sander, Emilie T. , Sarna, Nahum M. , Stendahl, Krister , Rylaarsdam, J. Coert , Cain, Seymour , Bruce, Frederick Fyvie , Fredericksen, Linwood , Grant, Robert M. and Flusser, David. “biblical literature”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 26 Feb. 2021, https://www.britannica.com/topic/biblical-literature. Accessed 28 November 2021.

Eusebius, Church History, 8.2.1, 4. Translated by Arthur Cushman McGiffert. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 1. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1890. pp 324-325.

Hurtado, Larry W. “Archaeological Views: Early Christian Dilemma: Codex or Scroll?” Biblical Archaeology Review 44.6 (2018): 54, 56, 66.

Josephus. Jewish Antiquities. Translated by Ralph Marcus, vol. 6, Harvard University Press, 1958, pp vii-ix. 

Lucian. The Passing of Peregrinus. Translated by A.M. Harmon, vol. 1, Harvard University Press, 1961. pp ix-xiv.

Mendell, C.W. Tacitus: The Man and His Work. Yale University Press/Oxford University Press, 1957.

Nongbri, Brent. “How Old Are the Oldest Christian Manuscripts?” Biblical Archaeology Review 46.3 (2020): 38–45.

Reynolds, L.D. Texts and Transmission: A Survey of the Latin Classics. Clarendon Press, Oxford (1983). pp 316-322, 406-411.

Rolfe, John C. Suetonius and His Biographies. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (April 1913). pp 206-225.

Tacitus. The Histories translated by Clifford H Moore. The Annals translated by John Jackson, vol. 1, Harvard University Press, 1962. pp xiv-xvi.

“Who Owns the Codex Sinaiticus?” Biblical Archaeology Review 33.6 (2007): 32–43.

Archaeological Evidence for the Life of Jesus

Archaeological Evidence for the Life of Jesus

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

In the first two parts of this series, we looked at historical documentation for the life of Jesus (CLICK HERE to read part 1 and CLICK HERE to read part 2).

In this article, we will examine the archaeological evidence that relates to the life of Jesus. Archaeological evidence includes concrete findings from the time Jesus lived including pottery, coins, or other physical findings. Our focus will be on four main subjects: Pontius Pilate, Crucifixion, Nazareth, and the James Ossuary.

Pontius Pilate
The Pilate Stone
In June 1961, an inscription was discovered on an expedition at Caesarea Maritima. This was the administrative capital of Judea during the early first century AD. While excavating a theater, an inscription was found on one of the steps. The inscription was written in Latin on a block that is 82 cm high, 68 cm wide, and 20 cm in thickness.

Some of the letters are missing, but a rough transcription is listed below (letters in brackets are either most likely or certainly part of the inscription).

[…]S TIBERIÉUM
…PON]TIVS PILATVS
…PRAEF]ECTVS IVDA[EA]E
[…FECIT D]E[DICAVIT]

The confirmed translation of the text is “Tiberius, Pontius Pilatus, Praefectus of Judea” (there was no J in Latin). The letter E is the only letter legible on the last line. Some historians and archeologists think it is proper that the word DEDICAVIT, meaning dedicated, would have been included in the original inscription. This word implies that Pilate dedicated the building to Tiberius.

The finding confirms the official title of Pontius Pilate, which was Prefect. This means that he was mainly a military magistrate. In our first article on the historical evidence for Jesus, we examined Tacitus’ account Pilate where he used the term “proconsul.” This term was an anachronism on Tacitus’ part and started to be used during the reign of Claudius (about 44 AD). Tacitus simply used the term that was common in his day rather than the older term Prefect. A picture of the Pilate Stone is found below:

Other findings confirm Pontius Pilate’s name, including coins made during this time and the famous ‘Pilato Ring’. To read more about these findings, download our free booklet: “How Do We Know Jesus Really Lived?”

The Crucifixion
In the historical accounts discussed in the last two articles, we learned that Jesus was put to death through a form of execution called crucifixion. This cruel punishment existed for approximately 1,000 years before the time of Christ, so it was already in use by the first century. It was practiced by the Persians and even the Greeks. The Romans utilized it as well. Ancient literature provides many examples of how this method of punishment was carried out. This includes such as they fact that they mostly took place outside of a city.

Until modern times, no archaeological evidence had been found providing specific concrete examples of this execution method. This cannot be surprising since most people who were crucified were criminals or enemies of the state. This means they were buried in the graves of the infamous or poor, which were often in the ground.

In fact, to call for someone to be crucified may have been a common form of cursing. An inscription from the time of Pompeii reads: “May you be nailed to the cross!” Other ancient writings attest to this usage.

In 1968, Vassilios Tzaferis was exploring burial chambers not far from Jerusalem.  In the burial chamber were ossuaries (a small box containing the bones of a deceased person). This was a practice typically used by prominent people due to its cost. In Jerusalem they found the remains of a man whose heel had a 4.5 inch iron nail driven through it. A small piece of wood was still attached to the nail. In the 1980s, Joseph Zias and Eliezer Sekeles resumed examination of this finding and provided clarification to it.

The site dates to the first century before the destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD). This means the man was crucified at a time remarkably close to Jesus’ time. Further analysis brought forth a fuller picture of how he was crucified. The arms of this particular man were tied to the cross rather than nailed to them. The right heel was nailed to the right side of the cross and the left heel nailed to the left side.

The name of the man was also inscribed on the ossuary: “Yehohanan, the son of Hagakol.” Most people who were crucified would not have been wealthy enough to afford an ossuary. On another ossuary in the same chamber, we learn that one of his family members worked on Herod’s Temple. This family may have been well known in their time.

Crucifixion Inscriptions
The revolutionary finding of an actual tomb is incredible evidence to help us understand more about the practice of crucifixion among the Romans in the first century AD. Another source of information on this punishment is found among graffiti depicting someone being crucified. We have two examples from this time.

One is called the Alexamenos graffito. It was found on a wall in Rome. It depicts the backside of a crucified person with the head of a donkey. The cross was a capital T shape. The inscription on it reads “Alexamenos worships god.” Of course, the inscription was intended to mock Alexamenos. The dating ranges from between the late first century and mid-third century. It is also important that the Romans typically thought of the Jewish people and some early Christians as worshipping the head of a donkey (see Josephus, Against Appion, 2.7-8; Tacitus, The Histories, 5.4-5; Tertullian, Apology, 16 and Against the Nations, 1.11, 1.14). This archaeological finding connects historical accounts of the death of Jesus and common Roman thought about Jews and Christians.

A second graffito finding was discovered in Puteoli (Pozzuli), Italy and likely dates to the second century. It shows the backside of a person being crucified. The back of the person has marks on it, which signify the flogging that he took before being put on the cross. Both heels are nailed into the cross in a similar manner to Yehohanan (discussed above). The cross is also a capital T shape.

These examples provide us with more details involved with Jesus’ crucifixion and corroborates with the New Testament account that he was flogged first (Matthew 27:26, Mark 15:15, Luke 23:22, John 19:1).

Nazareth
In the New Testament, Nazareth is mentioned about 29 times. It is described where Jesus was brought up or nourished (Luke 4:16). It must have been a humble little town because some people questioned whether anyone like Jesus could come from such a place (John 1:45-46). Major archaeological breakthroughs have occurred in this small town within the last fifteen years.


In 2009, a first-century courtyard house was discovered by archaeologist Yardenna Alexandre. The initial digs included water sources and burial sites. At that time, archaeologists estimated that about fifty houses or so were in this small village in the first century. 

Ken Dark, who has worked the site since 2006, found another first century AD courtyard house near Yardenna’s discovery. In 2020, he released a book with his findings entitled The Sisters of Nazareth-Convent: A Roman-period, Byzantine, and Crusader site in central Nazareth.

Today, the Sisters of Nazareth Convent is situated in central Nazareth. It was built on top of a Byzantine-era church that dates to about the fifth century AD. A cave church was discovered under that church, which dates to the prior century. Near this cave church was found a courtyard house of the first century which was very similar to the one Yardenna found.

The Byzantines were known for building churches near important religious sites. What is fascinating and particularly different about this situation is that the Byzantines only built churches over two houses. This house in Nazareth is one and the other site is the house believed to have belonged to the Apostle Peter.

This courtyard house was carved out of rock and the work had to be done by someone who was skilled at stone working. Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, is described as a carpenter. However, the Greek word is tekton (Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:55). In ancient times, it referred to a person skilled in several areas including stone working. A Jewish burial site was found nearby, but it was separated from the house by some quarrying. This means that the house was abandoned or in disuse by the time the burial site was utilized. Jewish people do not inhabit areas this close to burial sites. 

Limestone vessels were used, which indicate that it was once inhabited by Jewish people. Other indications, such as cooking pottery, also reflect its former occupation. No pottery from before the early Roman period or after it was found. This indicates that it was not occupied after this time and it was well preserved by those who built on top of the site. Some of the original flooring has survived as well.

The pottery and other findings do not reflect Roman cultural influence in Nazareth. The city of Sepphoris, which is about five miles away, was an administrative center in the Roman period. Communities nearer to Sepphoris embraced Roman culture, which is evident from the findings there.

According to Dark, this particular courtyard house was inhabited starting in the late BC or early first century AD time period. This is consistent with the New Testament accounts of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus dwelling in Nazareth after a time of living in Egypt (Matthew 2:19-23). The findings of Nazareth reflect the simple Jewish life that we would expect from the background of Jesus.

Dark’s findings confirm the occupation of the city by Jewish inhabitants during the time of Jesus. Specifically, the house he found was either the early home of Jesus or a home Jesus would have been familiar with during life.

The James Ossuary
The last archaeological finding we will examine in this article is the James Ossuary. In 2002, an ossuary was released to the public with the Aramaic inscription “Ya‘aqob son of Yosef brother of Yeshua” or “James, Son of Joseph, Brother of Jesus.” It was acclaimed at the time as the most important archaeological discovery in history.  It was not without controversy.

Not long after the discovery was displayed to the public, the owner of the ossuary, Oded Golan, was accused of forging at least some of this inscription. After a trial of seven years, which involved over 100 witnesses and 12,000 pages of testimony, Oded was found not guilty of forgery.

Not only was he found not guilty, but the trial resulted in experts verifying the authenticity of the object! This included the inscription, which was verified by world-renowned paleographers André Lemaire and Ada Yardeni. A paleographer is someone who examines inscriptions for their authenticity. To date, no paleographer has presented evidence against its’ authenticity. A picture of the ossuary is located below:

Subsequent studies, such as that by Rosenfeld, Feldman, Krumbein found that the mineral content of the ossuary (including the inscription) are authentic (see Bibliography for full reference on this study). The ossuary dates to the first century AD before the destruction of the Temple.

Is it the Ossuary for the brother of Jesus?
What are the chances that an inscription which reads “Jacob, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” could belong to more than one person? First of all, we must understand that ossuaries typically did not list any other family members other than the father of the deceased. So, the finding is extremely rare. To date, only one other ossuary has been found which mentioned another family member. This indicates the brother of James was an important person. Was it Jesus?

In 2005, Camil Fuchs released a study which analyzed the statistical chances of how many people in first century (pre-70 AD) Jerusalem could have been named Jacob with a father named Joseph and brother named Jesus. He found to a 95% statistical probability that there were 1.71 males that fit such a description in first century Jerusalem. Josephus mentioned James and that he was put to death by the Jewish authorities in about 62 AD.

Once we compare the location of the ossuary, its age, the rarity of mentioning the brother of the deceased, and the statistical chances of how many people named Jacob had a father named Joseph and brother named Jesus, it appears most likely to belong to the Biblical James.

As we consider the archaeological and historical evidence for the life of Jesus, it becomes very clear that He really lived on earth. The evidence we have reviewed in the last few weeks confirms much of the New Testament record.

Next week, we will look at whether or not we can trust the New Testament record.

To read more about this subject, download our free booklet: “How Do We Know Jesus Really Lived?”


Kelly McDonald, Jr.
BSA President – www.biblesabbath.org


Bibliography
Blondy, Brian. “Archeologists uncover house in Nazareth dating to time of Jesus.” Jerusalem Post, 22 December 2009, https://www.jpost.com/israel/archeologists-uncover-house-in-nazareth-dating-to-time-of-jesus. Accessed. 24 March 2021.

Chadwick, Jonathan. “Is this the childhood home of Jesus Christ? British archaeologist excavates domestic dwelling under ruins of the Sisters of Nazareth Convent.” UK Daily Mail, 23 November 2020. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-8977437/British-researcher-details-childhood-home-Jesus-Christ.html. Accessed March 23, 2021.

Dark, Ken. “Has Jesus’ Nazareth House Been Found?” Biblical Archaeology Review 41.2 (2015): 54–63.

Shanks, Hershel. “Scholars’ Corner: New Analysis of the Crucified Man,” Biblical Archaeology Review 11.6 (1985): 20–21.

Shanks, Hershel. “‘Brother of Jesus’ Inscription Is Authentic!” Biblical Archaeology Review 38.4 (2012): 26–33, 62–64.

Shanks, Hershel. “Predilections—Is the ‘Brother of Jesus’ Inscription a Forgery?” Biblical Archaeology Review 41.5 (2015): 54–58.

Rosenfeld, Amnon, Howard R. Feldma and Wolfgang E. Krumbein. “The Authenticity of the James Ossuary.” Open Journal of Geology, 2014, 4, 69-78. http://www.scirp.org/journal/ojg http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ojg.2014.43007. Last Accessed on 29 March, 2021.

Shisley, Steven. “Jesus and the Cross.” Biblical Archaeology Review. 17 January 2021. https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/crucifixion/jesus-and-the-cross/. Accessed 24 March 2021.

Tzaferis, Vassilios. “Crucifixion—The Archaeological Evidence,” Biblical Archaeology Review 11.1 (1985): 44–53.

Vardaman, Jerry. “A New Inscription Which Mentions Pilate as ‘Prefect.’” Journal of Biblical Literature. Vol. 81, No. 1 (Mar., 1962), pp. 70-71.

Witherington, Ben. “Biblical Views: Images of Crucifixion: Fresh Evidence,” Biblical Archaeology Review 39.2 (2013): 28, 66–67.

The Bible and the Life We’re Supposed to Live

The Bible and the Life We’re Supposed to Live

By Bryan Knowles

“In our time, it’s becoming ever more difficult to know how to be an authentic, Bible-advised, Christian. Just about every aspect of the Christian faith is under attack by someone. Satan is launching broadside after broadside against the Church. As the Church continues to take hits parts of it are crumbling.

As a Christian writer, it’s hard to know what to write about anything. Virtually every word penned is controversial to someone. For example, some will take exception to the idea I presented in the first paragraph above: that Satan is launching broadsides against the Church. Many Christians no longer believe that Satan is a literal being. To them, he is just “the personification of evil” – or a literary symbol or figure of speech.

Writing about Israel is another minefield. Hatred for Israel, or Jews, seems a near-universal phenomenon, even within parts of the Church. To write anything supportive of Israel instantly brings the anti-Semites and Israel-haters out of the woodwork….”

(this article is an excerpt from the May-June 2015 edition of the Sabbath Sentinel)To read the rest of this article, which starts on page 9, click this link: https://biblesabbath.org/media/Sabbath_MayJune15_reduced_file_size.pdf

Historical Documentation for Jesus (Part 2)

Historical Documentation for Jesus (Part 2)

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

In the first part of this series (CLICK HERE to read part 1), we looked at the writings of Josephus and Tacitus, who both attested to the existence of Jesus and His followers. In this article, we will look at three other authors: Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, and Lucian. At the end of this article, we will summarize our findings from these ancient authors!

Pliny the Younger

The third ancient writer we will review is Pliny the Younger. He was a magistrate in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) during the reign of the Emperor Trajan, who ruled from 98-117 AD. He was a contemporary of Tacitus. In 110/111 AD, Pliny wrote a letter to Trajan asking him how he should handle accusations and trials against Christians. Letters 97-98 reveal this exchange.

“From Pliny the Younger to Trajan the Emperor: ‘It is my invariable rule, Sir, to refer to you in all matters where I feel doubtful; for who is more capable of removing my scruples or informing my ignorance? Having never been present at any trials concerning those who profess Christianity I am unacquainted not only with the nature of their crimes, or the measure of their punishment, but how far it is proper to enter into an examination concerning them. Whether, therefore, any difference is usually made with respect to ages, or no distinction is to be observed between the young and adult; whether repentance entitles them to a pardon; or if a man has been once a Christian, it avails nothing to desist from his error; whether the very profession of Christianity, unattended with any criminal act, or only the crimes themselves inherent in the profession are punishable; on all these points I am in great doubt…”


“In the meanwhile, the method I have observed towards those who have been brought before me as Christians is this: I asked them whether they were Christians; if they admitted it, I repeated the question twice, and threatened them with punishment; if they persisted, I ordered them to be at once punished…There were others also brought before me possessed with the same infatuation, but, being Roman citizens, I directed them to be sent to Rome…”

“But this crime spreading (as is usually the case) while it was actually under prosecution, several instances of the same nature occurred. An anonymous information was laid before me containing a charge against several persons, who upon examination denied they were Christians, or had ever been so. They repeated after me an invocation to the gods, and offered religious rites with wine and incense before your statue (which for that purpose I had ordered to be brought, together with those of the gods), and even reviled [cursing] the name of Christ: whereas there is no forcing, it is said, those who are really Christians into any of these compliances: I thought it proper, therefore, to discharge them…”

“Some among those who were accused by a witness in person at first confessed themselves Christians, but immediately after denied it; the rest owned indeed that they had been of that number formerly, but had now (some above three, others more, and a few above twenty years ago) renounced that error. They all worshipped your statue and the images of the gods, uttering imprecations at the same time against the name of Christ…”

“They affirmed the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they met on a stated (fixed) day before it was light, and addressed a form of prayer to Christ, as to a divinity, binding themselves by a solemn oath, not for the purposes of any wicked design, but never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble, to eat in common a harmless meal. From this custom, however, they desisted after the publication of my edict, by which, according to your commands, I forbade the meeting of any assemblies. After receiving this account, I judged it so much the more necessary to endeavor to extort the real truth, by putting two female slaves to the torture, who were said to officiate in their religious rites; but all I could discover was evidence of an absurd and extravagant superstition…”

“I deemed it expedient, therefore, to adjourn all further proceedings, in other to consult you. For it appears to be a matter highly deserving your consideration, more especially as great numbers must be involved in the danger of these prosecutions, which have already extended, and are still likely to extend, to persons of all ranks and ages, and even of both sexes. In fact, this contagious superstition is not confined to the cities only, but has spread its infection among the neighbouring villages and country. Nevertheless, it still seems possible to restrain its progress. The temples, at least, which were once almost deserted, begin now to be frequented; and the sacred rites, after a long intermission, are again revived; while there is a general demand for the victims, which till lately found very few purchasers. From all this it is easy to conjecture what numbers might be reclaimed if a general pardon were granted to those who shall repent of their error…”

Trajan’s reply to Pliny: “You have adopted the right course, my dearest Secundus, in investigating the charges against Christians who were brought before you. It is not possible to lay down any general rule for all such cases. Do not go out of your way to look for them. If indeed they should be brought before you, and the crime is proved, they must be punished; with the restriction, however, that where the party denies he is a Christian, and shall make it evident that he is not, but invoking our gods, let him (notwithstanding any former suspicion) be pardoned upon his repentance. Anonymous information ought not to be received in any sort of prosecution. It is introducing a dangerous precedent, and is quite foreign to the spirit of our age.”

In the exchange, Trajan congratulates Pliny on his handling of the situation. He informed Pliny not to purposefully track down those who are Christians, but only prosecute those who were reported to belong to that group. Anonymous accusations were not allowed, but specific accusations were investigated. Those brought forth upon such charges were asked that they honor images of the emperor and the Roman gods or be punished.

What do we learn?

– We learn that Christians lived in early second century Asia Minor (about 110/111 AD).

– We learn that large numbers of people were influenced by Christianity in both city and country areas. Pliny said that the pagan Temples were nearly empty before the accusations started; after they were initiated the temples were visited again. This also testifies to the length of time that Christianity was in the area. It was not an overnight phenomenon.

– Accusations were made of people from all walks of society and of all ages. This also attests to Christianity’s prevalence and appeal to all people.

– There was a difference between a real Christian, who refused to worship the image of the emperor and make sacrifices, and those who confessed the name of Jesus in public but denied Him in private.

– Christians met on a specific day every week; this would have been the Sabbath (Friday sunset to Saturday sunset). I have discussed this in other works (see Prevalence of the Sabbath in the Early Roman Empire, Appendix B, CLICK HERE to read this booklet).

– Christians directed prayers to Christ.

– They received the name Christian from this Christ.

– They met before sunrise (in context this was to avoid being captured or reported as a believer).

– They were committed to live morally upright: “binding themselves by a solemn oath, not for the purposes of any wicked design, but never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up”

– Their assemblies were forbidden by the magistrate.

– Females officiated at Christian services. This detail testifies to the active role of women in the early church.

– Their beliefs were called an “extravagant superstition.”

Pliny’s account provides more information about the early disciples rather than Jesus. However, Jesus is mentioned as the focus of their religious practice. The fact that they prayed to Christ likely reflects their view of Jesus’ divinity. This would have contributed to the separation of synagogue and early disciples.

Suetonius
Suetonius was a Roman historian who lived in the early second century. His writings include one possible reference to Christians and another certain reference.

Speaking of the Emperor Claudius, he wrote that: “He banished from Rome all the Jews, who were continually making disturbances at the instigation of one Chrestus” (Life of Claudius, 25.4).

The Latin word translated as Chrestus is Chresto. It can be used in a generic or specific sense. Chresto simply means “good.” This quote does corroborate with Acts 18:2. It is entirely possible and very likely that disputes about Jesus caused conflict among Jewish people in Rome. The book of Acts records many conflicts between Jewish people and early Christians. Does that mean Suetonius is referring to Jesus’ followers? Some scholars affirm this quote is a reference to Jesus while others are not so sure. It is entirely possible that Suetonius meant to write “Christus” instead of “Chresto”, but we cannot be totally certain.

Suetonius also described the suffering of Christians under Nero, but in a much briefer account than Tacitus. “He likewise inflicted punishments on the Christians*, a sort of people who held a new and impious superstition” (Life of Nero, 16.2). *Latin word is Christiani.

Suetonius does not add much more to the discussion of this topic than what we have already learned.

Lucian
Lucian was a satirist who lived from 115-200 AD. He wrote a work called “the Passing of Peregrinus.” Peregrinus was a former Christian who later became a cynic and revolutionary. He died in 165 AD. As we look at the quote from Lucian, we must keep in mind that he is a satirist, so he mocks Christians and other groups. However, we can still glean some important information from his quotes.   

“It was then that he learned the wondrous lore of the Christians*, by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine. And – how else could it be? In a trice he made them all look like children; for he was a prophet, cult-leader, head of the synagogue, and everything, all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books and even composed many, and they revered him as a god, made use of him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector, next after that other, to be sure, whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world” (Passing of Peregrinus, 11).

*The Greek word used for Christian is Christianon.

“Then at length Proteus was apprehended for this and thrown into prison, which itself gave him no little reputation as an asset for his future career and the charlatanism and notoriety-seeking that he was enamoured of. Well, when he had been imprisoned, the Christians, regarding the incident as a calamity, left nothing undone in the effort to rescue him…” (ibid, 12).

“Indeed, people came even from the cities in Asia, sent by the Christians at their common expense, to succor and defend and encourage the hero (Peregrinus). They show incredible speed whenever any such public action is taken; for in no time they lavish their all. So it was then in the case of Peregrinus; much money came to him from them by reason of his imprisonment, and he procured not a little revenue from it. The poor wretches have convinced themselves first and foremost, that they are going to be immortal and live for all time, in consequence of which they despise death and even willingly give themselves into custody, most of them. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshiping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws” (ibid, 13).

What do we learn?

– Those who followed Christ were called Christians.

– They had religious leaders in Judea (called Palestine at that time).

– Christ was thought of as a prophet and worshipped.

– Jesus explained their books and composed many Himself (this is likely a reference to the New Testament and possibly the Old Testament).

– Christ was crucified in Judea (Palestine).

– Christians thought they would receive immortality.

– They were not afraid of death.

– They considered each other brothers.

– They refused to worship Greek gods.

– They lived by Christ’s words.

– They were known for their generosity.

Lucian’s focus is more on the followers of Jesus, but he does reiterate some details we learned from earlier writers such as Josephus and Tacitus.

To conclude this two-part series, let’s put together the total of all these details to see what kind of picture we receive about Jesus and His followers.

“Jesus was considered a wise man who did extraordinary deeds. He was known as a teacher of truth. He was also considered a prophet and worshiped. He won over many Jews and Greeks. He taught out of their books and even composed many Himself. During the reign of Tiberius Caesar, a regional ruler named Pilate heard accusations against Him by the highest Jewish authorities. Due to these accusations, Jesus was crucified. Those who loved him formed a group known as Christians, who were named after him. They still existed during the time Josephus composed his work (93 AD). Some people called Jesus the Christ; he had a brother named James.

The group started in Judea and eventually became established in Rome where it found a significant following. They may have contributed to the expulsion of Jews from Rome during the reign of Claudius. During the reign of Nero, they were blamed for setting fire to the city. They were tortured terribly during that time.

During the reign of the Emperor Trajan (early second century AD), large numbers of Christians dwelt in Asia Minor. There was a difference between a real Christian, who refused to worship the image of the emperor and make sacrifices, and those who only confessed the name of Jesus. Christians met on a specific day every week (Sabbath). They met before sunrise (in context this was to avoid being captured or reported as a believer). Christians directed prayers to Christ and committed their lives to moral principles such as those found in the Ten Commandments. Females officiated at Christian services.

Christians were not afraid of death and believed in immortality. They considered each other brothers (family). They did not worship idols or pagan deities. They lived by Christ’s words and were know for their generosity. There were books composed about Jesus. They were witnessed as an active group in the days of Lucian, who wrote about 165.

These few historical accounts provide us with significant historical information about Jesus and His early followers.

Next week, we will look at Archaeology and the life of Jesus!

To read more about this subject, download our free booklet: How Do We Know Jesus Really Lived? (CLICK HERE to download)

Kelly McDonald, Jr.
BSA President – www.biblesabbath.org


Bibliography
Lucian. The Passing of Peregrinus, 11-13. Translated by A.M. Harmon, vol. 5, Harvard University Press, 1962. pp 11-15.
McDonald Jr., Kelly. Prevalence of the Sabbath in the Early Roman Empire. Bible Sabbath Association. 2020. pp 40-42.
Pliny the Younger. Letters 97, 98. Translated by Melmoth. Revised by Rev. F. C. T. Bosanquet, London: George Bell and Sons, 1905. pp 393-397.
Suetonius. The Life of Claudius, 25.4; The Life of Nero, 16.2. Translated by Alexander Thomson. Revised by T. Forester, London: G. Bell and Sons, LTD, 1911.  pp 318, 347.

Historical Documentation for Jesus (Part 1)

Historical Documentation for Jesus (Part 1)

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

Imagine for a moment that you did not have a Bible to learn about Jesus. How would you know that He ever lived on earth? Would it be possible to prove His existence? In modern times, there has been skepticism about the historical validity of Jesus’ existence.

In this multi-part series, we will review non-Biblical historical sources concerning the existence of Jesus of Nazareth and His earliest followers.

Consider for a moment: millions of people lived in the Middle East during the first century AD. We do not know much if anything about most of them. They lived their lives, died, and became lost to time. Archeologists occasionally dig up some artifact with a name on it from that time, but we rarely learn anything about these people.

Of the people we learn about in ancient records and archaeological finds, many of them either did something famous or infamous or they held some position of importance in a kingdom or empire. Said another way, the people mentioned in history did something significant enough to be remembered by others who lived in that time period.

To ascertain whether Jesus lived on earth, we will begin by examining the historical record to see if He is mentioned and what these records say about Him. Documentation about His followers are also important, as they may contain helpful information.

Josephus
Josephus lived from about 37-100 AD. He belonged to the Jewish priestly lineage and through a series of events came to serve the Romans. He wrote some of the most valuable works on Jewish history in existence, including one called Antiquities of the Jews (likely composed about 93 AD). It provides us with two references to Jesus, which are listed below:

“Now about this time lived Jesus, a wise man. For he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of men who receive truth with pleasure; and drew over to him many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. And When Pilate, at the information of the leading men among us, had him condemned to the cross, those who had loved him at first did not cease to do so. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day” (idem, 18.3).*

*In my quote I have removed the parts of Josephus that are considered later additions to the original text (called interpolations).

“…as Festus was not dead, and Albinus was still on the road, so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, and having accused them as breakers of the law, he delivered them over to be stoned” (ibid, 20.9).

What do we learn from these quotes?

– Jesus was considered a wise man who did surprising deeds, and was known as a teacher of truth.

– He won over many Jews and Greeks.

– A ruler named Pilate heard accusations against Jesus by the highest Jewish authorities.

– Jesus was condemned to be crucified.

– Those who loved him formed a group known as Christians, who were named after him (implying that Jesus was called Christ by them). They still existed during the time Josephus composed his work (later first century AD).

– Jesus had a brother named James.

– Some people called Jesus the Christ.

Tacitus
The next author we will review is the Roman historian Tacitus, who lived from approximately 55-118 AD. The Annals is an historical work he composed that chronicled events from 14 AD through 68 AD. This included the reigns of various Emperors, including Nero.

In book 15, we learn that Nero wanted to build a city named Neronia (named after himself). One problem is that a section of the old city of Rome stood in the way of this plan. Perhaps not surprisingly, part of the old city of Rome burned down.

The Roman people demanded that the source of this crime be revealed. In their minds, someone had to pay the price for this damage. Nero tried offering sacrifices to the Roman gods and even giving gifts to the people, but these actions did not appease them. People still suspected that Nero intentionally burned the city to make room for new project. Somehow Christians were blamed for the disaster and subsequently punished. Tacitus wrote the following:

“But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiation 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 (that he started the fire), Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, 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 Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred of mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths.  Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed by the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car.  Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed” (idem, 15.44).

What do we learn from this text?

– Christians were a religious sect existing in Rome during the reign of Nero. This was about 64 AD or a little over 30 years from the time Jesus is believed to have died.

– They were hated by the populace for their abominations. (Side note: This is similar language that Tacitus uses of Jewish people; the concept of an abominable religion likely came from the rejection of the Roman pantheon – see The Histories, 5.4-5). Because they are mentioned as a separate class of people, they had distinctive beliefs from pagan Romans (so they could be identified as different).

– They were named Christians after their founder Christus. This is the Latin term for Christ.

– Christus suffered the extreme penalty (crucifixion) during the reign of Emperor Tiberius Caesar.

– When this occurred, Pontius Pilate was the regional ruler in Judea (called procurator by Tacitus, which is a detail we will review in a future article).

– The movement of Christus started in Judea and eventually came to Rome.

– Tacitus mentions that “an immense multitude was convicted” of being a Christian. This means Christianity had spread considerably in Rome and the surrounding areas. The movement could not be considered insignificant nor was it new in the city of Rome. In other words, it existed for some time prior to Nero’s persecution.

– Christians suffered terribly in this persecution.

Next week, we will look at three more historical sources and summarize their collective findings about the life of Jesus! (CLICK HERE to read Part 2 of this series)

To read more about this subject, download our free booklet: How Do We Know Jesus Really Lived? (CLICK HERE to download)

Kelly McDonald, Jr.
BSA President – www.biblesabbath.org


Bibliography
Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews, 18.3, 20.9. Whiston’s Translation revised by Rev. A.R. Shilleto, Vol. 3, London: George Bell and Sons, York Street, 1889. pp 274-275, 405.
Tacitus. Annals, 15.44. Translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb, MacMillan and Co., 1894, pp 304-305.

Sabbath Meditation #34 – The Mystery of Lawlessness

Sabbath Meditation #34 – The Mystery of Lawlessness

“For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way” (2 Thess. 2:7).

“Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest: that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed” (Exo 23:12).

“Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight” (Psalm 119:35).

“If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight…” (Isa. 58:13).

There are many mysteries discussed in the New Testament. One of them is the mystery of lawlessness. The underlying Greek word translated as lawlessness or iniquity in I Thess. 2:7 is anomias, which means “without God’s law” or “transgression of God’s law”.


Why is lawlessness considered a mystery? The commandments of God, especially the Sabbath, were given by God for our benefit. The commandments are supposed to bring us joy/happiness as we obey them. In particular, the Sabbath is a delight because it gives us freedom from work and other labor. In Exodus 23:12, God promised that we would be refreshed when we rest on the seventh day. In our busy go-go world, who does not need that? There is a special spiritual connection to God available to us on this day (CLICK HERE to read more).

The verses mentioned at the beginning of this article help explain why lawlessness is a mystery. Why would we not want to do them and honor God? Why would we want to miss out on all these blessings? “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he” (Prov. 29:18). In the last meditation, we reviewed thirteen precious promises available to us through the Sabbath (CLICK HERE to read the last month’s meditation).

Jesus said: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10b). With Jesus as our Savior and the indwelling of His Holy Spirit, observance of the Sabbath has an even greater fulfillment than it did in the Old Covenant. We must set aside ourselves to receive it. The Sabbath is a day of life, and it provides spiritual satisfaction for us.

“Then said Jesus unto them, ‘I will ask you one thing; is it lawful on the Sabbath days to do good, or do to evil? To save life, or to destroy it?’” (Luke 6:9)

For those of us who have “tasted and seen that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8) on Sabbath, the attitude of lawlessness will always be a mystery. It certainly is to the God who gave it.

Selah.

Kelly McDonald, Jr.

BSA President – www.biblesabbath.org

New Book for Free Download!

The BSA has a new book for Free Download!

The Passagini: Sabbatarians of the Middle Ages


In the Middle Ages, several non-conformist groups arose to challenge the traditions and authority of the Roman
Church. Among them were the Italian Passagini, who were particularly known for keeping the seventh-day Sabbath. In this
work, you will learn about this group and the difficulties that existed for groups like them.

Click on the picture below to download this book for FREE!

Dispute in a Grainfield: The Responses of Jesus in their First Century Context

Dispute in a Grainfield: The Responses of Jesus in their First Century Context

By R. Herbert

“Although all of the four Gospels record the teachings of Jesus, the Gospel of Matthew is unique in giving us insight into the way Jesus often taught. Because Matthew appears to have been written (probably first in Hebrew) for a primarily Jewish audience, it includes many details that would have been readily understandable to his 1st Century Jewish readers, though we may not notice or easily grasp them today. An important example is found in Matthew’s story of Jesus’ argument with the Pharisees over the matter of his disciples “harvesting” grain on the Sabbath day. The account is found in Matthew 12:

“At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, ‘Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath’” (Matthew 12:1-2).

The Mosaic law specifically provided for individuals to pluck grain as they walked through a field (Deuteronomy 23:25), so for the Pharisees the problem with the disciples’ actions was not taking the grain, but taking it on the Sabbath. Jesus responded to this accusation by giving a number of examples showing why the disciples were not breaking the Sabbath…”

(this article is an excerpt from the Nov-Dec 2016 edition of the Sabbath Sentinel)

To read the rest of this article, which starts on page 7, click this link: https://biblesabbath.org/media/Nov-Dec_2016_WEB.pdf

Post-Flood Archaeological Evidence of the Seven-Day Week

Post-Flood Archaeological Evidence of the Seven-Day Week

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

In the very beginning of Genesis, God established the seven-day weekly cycle. He worked the first six days, fashioning and forming the face of the earth. On the seventh day He rested and thus established the Sabbath as a memorial of Creation. This continuous seven-day cycle was understood in the early days of mankind. Archaeological evidence supports that humanity was aware of it even after the flood!

In Genesis chapters 6 through 8, we learn about the world-wide flood that happened in the days of Noah. He was instructed to take his family along with some of all animals, including seven pairs of clean animals and two pairs of unclean animals, onto an Ark or large boat. God gave him the instructions to construct this boat so that it would house them all. Noah also understood the concept of the original seven-day week. This is evident in the flood story.

We have some examples below: “For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights…And it came to pass after the seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth” (Genesis 7:4, 10, KJV).

“6 and it came to pass at the end of the forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made: and he sent forth a raven, and it went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth. 8 and he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground; 9 but the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him to the ark; for the waters were on the face of the whole earth; and brought her in unto him in the ark 10 And he stayed yet other seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark; 11 and the dove came in to him at eventide; and, lo, in her mouth an olive-leaf plucked off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth. 12 And he stayed yet other seven days, and sent forth the dove; and she returned not again unto him any more” (Gen 8:6-12, KJV).

After the flood, there were only three families that started the process of repopulating the earth: the three sons of Noah (Shem, Ham, and Japheth) and their wives. The first immediate generations of these three families would have also been familiar with the seven-day cycle.

The Biblical account informs us that people were scattered from a central location in the Middle East (Genesis chapter 11; other cultures have similar stories about this event as well). This means that they started traveling in other directions and developed their own language. Moreover, they developed stories about Creation and the flood. Many ancient cultures had some form of a flood story. These were deviations from the original one that occurred in the days of Noah.

There is archaeological evidence that the immediate post-world flood knew something of the seven-day cycle. We will look at two findings that discuss the seven-day weekly cycle in a manner similar to the account of Noah and the flood. They both date to a time not long after the flood (between 2100-1900 BC).

The first account comes from Sumer, which was an ancient civilization between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in Iraq. In their account, the flood lasted seven days and nights.

“All the windstorms, exceedingly powerful, attacked as one, At the same time, the flood sweeps over the cult-centers. After, for seven days (and) seven nights, The flood had swept over the land…” (Pritchard, p 44).

The next ancient reference comes from the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is the oldest recorded epic in history. It tells the story of a man named Gilgamesh. He was on a quest to find Utnapishtim, who survived the great flood by boarding a ship. Gilgamesh wanted to learn the key to eternal life.

In the story, there are three references to the seven-day cycle. In the first reference, the flood subsided on the seventh day. In the second reference, Utnapishtim released a dove on the seventh day (just like in the story of Noah). In the third reference, Utnapishtim asked Gilgamesh to stay awake for seven days. On Tablet 11, we read the following:

“Six days and [six] nights Blows the flood wind, as the south-storm sweeps the land. When the seventh day arrived, The flood (-carrying) south-storm subsided in the battle… On Mount Nisir the ship came to a halt.  Mount Nisir held the ship fast, Allowing no motion. One day, a second day, Mount Nisir held the ship fast, Allowing no motion. A third day, a fourth day, Mount Nisir held the ship fast, Allowing no motion. A fifth, and a sixth (day), Mount Nisir held the ship fast, Allowing no motion. When the seventh day arrived, I sent forth and set free a dove…The dove went forth, but came back; Since no resting-place for it was visible, she turned round. Then I sent forth and set free a swallow. The swallow went forth, but came back; Since no resting-place for it was visible, she turned round. Then I sent forth and set free a raven. The raven went forth and, seeing that the waters had diminished, He eats, circles, caws, and turns not round. Then I let out (all) to the four winds And offered a sacrifice….That the life which thou sleekest thou mayest find? Up, lie not down to sleep For six days and seven nights.”…Up, bake for him wafers, put (them) at his head, And mark on the wall the days he sleeps.” She baked for him wafers, put (them) at his head, and marked on the wall the days he slept. His first wafer is dried out, the second is gone bad, the third is soggy; the crust of the fourth has turned  while the fifth has a moldy cast, the sixth (still) is fresh-colored; the seventh—just as he touched him the man awoke” (ibid, pp 94-95).

These two ancient findings illustrate how the seven-day week at one time had universal exposure after the global flood. They are located in a region many historians call “the cradle of civilization.” It was among the first places that the descendants of Ham, Shem, and Japheth settled. Indeed, all humans would have been near each other for a time immediately after the flood. They were all closely related! The uses of the seven-day cycle in these flood stories mirrors the Genesis account (Gen. 7:4,10; 8:10-12).

One major difference is that the Sumerian and Babylonian accounts never connected the seventh day to the deities of their culture. But remember that they also did not worship the God of the Bible. They were polytheists who worshipped multiple gods.

But even in their amended stories about the flood, they bear witness to Biblical truth and the God-established weekly cycle.  

At some point after the flood, ancient cultures tried to establish their own weekly cycles. Some of them were tied to the heavenly bodies. However, they failed to supplant the seven-day weekly cycle. In past articles, we reviewed failed attempts to change the seven-day cycle (click here to read more about this subject).

Kelly McDonald

BSA President – www.biblesabbath.org

CALVIN’S AMAZING COMMENTARY— ACTS 20:7 AND I COR 16:2

CALVIN’S AMAZING COMMENTARY— ACTS 20:7 AND I COR 16:2

By Philip Derstine

“Older commentaries on Acts 20:7 exhibit a general consensus that the meeting described here was the first clear-cut example of Sunday worship in church history. W. J. Conybeare and J. S. Howson state: “This is a passage of the utmost importance, as showing that the observance of Sunday was customary.”

One would expect that a fantastic assertion such as this would warrant more than a footnote in a 1000 page book on the life and epistles of Paul. Another example: Charles John Ellicott, commenting on Acts 20:7, says “This, and the counsel given in I Cor. 16:2 are distinct proofs that the Church had already begun to observe the weekly festival of the Resurrection in place of, or where the disciples were Jews, in addition to, the weekly Sabbath.”

Ellicott believes that Paul remained at Troas for seven days in order to “keep the Lord’s day,” even though it is admitted the term Lord’s Day had not yet come into vogue. Here, according to most theologians, is the precedent-setting, earliest case of the transference of the sanctity of the Sabbath to the first day of the week. Thankfully many modern scholars have exposed the presumptions inherent in such views…”

(this article is an excerpt from the March-April 2016 edition of the Sabbath Sentinel)

To read the rest of this article, which starts on page 7, click this link: https://biblesabbath.org/media/TSS_March_2016.pdf