What did other people say about him?
A. Other Bible References
1. How his birth shows his divinity
One of the central doctrines about Christ is the Virgin Birth. This is important because Hebrew theology states that original sin is passed on through the father's "seed" (Greek "sperma"). It is also important because of the prophecy that the Messiah would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14
). At his birth, many people understood what this meant, including Herod, the figurehead King of Israel, who tried to kill the infant Jesus because he saw him as a threat. Since Mary was a virgin, the father was the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20
). In other words, Jesus had divinity in his DNA.
2. How his life shows his divinity
He was sinless in life. A fact attested to by no less than 9 Biblical characters:
Judas (Matthew 27:3-4
Pilate's Wife (Matthew 27:19
Pilate (Matthew 27:24
The thief on the cross (Luke 23:41
A Roman centurion (Luke 23:47
Paul (2 Corinthians 5:21
Peter (1 Peter 1:19
John (1 John 3:5
The author of Hebrews (Hebrews 4:15
He had power over nature, demons, sickness, and even death. His miracles prompted his followers to acknowledge his divinity (Mark 4:35-41
). His knowledge of what no one could have known led Nathanael to acknowledge his divinity (John 1:47-49
3. How his death shows his divinity
Jesus was put to death for blasphemy (Luke 22:66-71
). So even his enemies recognized his claims.
Other Biblical authors point out that Jesus' divinity was necessary for his death to mean anything. His death paid the penalty for our sins (Romans 5:8
), something no human's death could accomplish.
His death means that there is no more atonement, sacrifice, or works necessary for salvation (Hebrews 9:24-28
). Such a payment covers an infinite price, only payable by God himself.
His death was enough to pay for all sin: past, present, and future, and also fulfilled God's necessary justice (1 Peter 3:18
4. How his resurrection shows his divinity
This is a bit of a no brainer. If he really did rise from the dead, then he must be more than a mere human. And of course, the resurrection is all over the New Testament. Paul put it best, however, when he said that if the resurrection didn't actually happen, then our faith is "useless" (1 Corinthians 15:12-28
). But the good news is that Jesus did conquer death, and that is the basis not only of the proof of his divinity, but of all of Christianity.
5. Other claims
Where was Jesus before Christmas? Both Paul and John say that he was present at creation (John 1:1-3
and Colossians 1:15-20
We also have further witness that Jesus has the authority to forgive sin (1 John 1:9
) and judge our lives (Revelation 21:27
6. The John 1 Proof
One of the boldest claims to Christ's divinity comes in John chapter 1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In these verses, John sets up 2 categories: Things made and things not made. Anything that is in the second group qualifies as God (i.e. an un-created being). John says that Jesus is the one responsible for everything that was made. Logically, he can't be in the first group. Therefore, he is in the second group. An eternal being, not a created one.
B. Other non-Biblical, non-Christian references
1. Josephus (93 AD)
Josephus was a Jewish historian who sought refuge with Rome following the Roman massacre of Jews in 70 AD. In The Antiquities
, he wrote, "Ananias convened a meeting of the Sanhedrin and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus, who was called the Christ."
He also wrote that Jesus "was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people who accept the truth gladly."
And that, Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified."
2. Tacitus (115 AD)
Tacitus was a Roman historian whose Annals
describing the 1st century is invaluable in helping modern historians piece together Roman times. He wrote that, "Nero...inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christ, 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 most mischievous superstition broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome."
3. Pliny the Younger (111 AD)
Pliny was a Roman governor in what is now Turkey. He arrested Christians and tortured them for sport, and often wrote to his friends about them. One such letter included the following: "These Christians met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately amongst themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god, and also to bind themselves by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery, and adultery."
4. Phlegon (137 AD)
Phlegon was a Greek historian who wrote about 1st century events (and had an unfortunate name). One document he wrote stated that, "In the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad [33 AD], there was the greatest eclipse of the sun...it became night in the sixth hour of the day [noon] so that the stars even appeared in the heavens. There was a great earthquake in Bithynia, and many things were overturned in Nicaea."
This coincides with the Gospel account of Jesus' death.
7 things we can conclude about Jesus from ancient sources outside the Bible and outside the church:
1. He was a Jewish teacher
2. Many people believed he performed miracles
3. Some people believed he was the Messiah
4. He was rejected by Jewish leaders
5. He was crucified under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius
6. His followers believed he rose from the dead and spread so quickly that there were multitudes in Rome by 64 AD
7. All kinds of people- men & women, slave & free- met regularly to worship him as God
C. Early church references
1. Ignatius (martyred in 117 AD)
Ignatius was the leader of the church in Antioch. His writings emphasize both the deity and humanity of Jesus. He often wrote to challenge the heresy that Jesus wasn't really human, but only appeared that way. Similar to how Zeus was believed to take human form.
2. Papias (wrote c. 130 AD)
Papias was a disciple of John, and knew the original Apostle very well. His writings verify that Matthew & Mark were indeed the authors of the Gospels that bear their names. He also wrote that John told him that Peter was the source of information for Mark.
3. Polycarp (martyred c. 110 AD)
Polycarp was another disciple of John's who went to his death in the colosseium. His writings verify that John wrote the letters attributed to him. Also that Jesus was fully God, and his resurrection was a physical one.
The point of this post is to show that there is a wealth of information, both in the Bible and outside of the Bible (but still within 100 years of Jesus' death), that confirms the claim of the church: that Jesus is God.
Now, you can conclude that Jesus & his early followers were simply wrong, and that Jesus is not God. But what you cannot conclude is that the doctrine of the divinity of Christ was tacked on 300 years later by a committee. Or that someone can claim to follow Christ and his teachings without affirming that he is God. It is THE teaching.