Evangelical families in Mexico lose access to water, services for refusing to deny their faith

Two evangelical families in central Mexico have been threatened with being cut off from essential services or expelled from the community if they continue to refuse to deny their faith and pay a fine illegally levied against them, according to a report.

The families of Nemesio Cruz Hernández and Eligio Santiago Hernández, who are from the First Baptist Church in the La Mesa Limantitla area in Hidalgo state’s Huejutla de los Reyes Municipality, were threatened during a community meeting on Monday, the U.K.-based group Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported.

At the meeting, the evangelical families were forbidden to even speak as they were threatened.

On Aug. 3, community leaders, identified as Jose Marcos Martínez and Julio Alvarado Hernández, had made similar threats and instructed them to stop holding worship services in the home of Bartolo Martínez Hernández, who was also fined for allowing services in his house.

In January 2019, many evangelical families were forced to sign an agreement renouncing their faith. While eight families signed it, the families of Cruz Hernández and Santiago Hernández refused to do so.

The community leaders then blocked the two families’ access to water, sewer services, government benefit programs and the community mill for over a year until they were forced to sign an extra-legal agreement on Jan. 15, 2020, in which they renounced their right to hold religious services.

The agreement said each family would be ordered to pay an illegal fine of $3,000 ($57,700 Mexican pesos). State authorities paid part of the fine, but the families have continued to be threatened with forced displacement in several follow-up meetings throughout 2020 and this year, CSW said, adding that the amount of the fine is based on the costs incurred by community leaders in their efforts to halt any investigation into crimes or human rights violations associated with the case.

In Mexico, such extra-legal agreements are often used in lieu of appropriate justice mechanisms when the rights of religious minorities are violated.

The state officials must intervene “as a matter of urgency,” CSW’s Head of Advocacy, Anna-Lee Stangl, said. “If the state government refuses to protect the rights of religious minorities, the federal government must intervene.” Stangl added: “The government, at both state and federal levels, must address the culture of impunity which has allowed violations like these to go unchecked for far too long, ensuring that families like those of Mr. Cruz Hernández and Mr. Santiago Hernández are free to practice any religion or belief of their choosing without being forced to pay illegal fines or facing pressure to renounce their beliefs under threat of criminal actions including the cutting of basic services and forced displacement.”

This is not a one-off incident of Christian persecution in Mexico, which has risen due to drug cartel violence, persecution by traditionalist Catholics and violent discrimination by anti-Christian left-wing groups, Open Doors USA previously reported.

“Last year, Mexico was [No. 52 on Open Doors USA’s World Watch List]. It’s jumped up a bunch,” Open Doors USA President and CEO David Curry told The Christian Post in an earlier interview. “That would most certainly be around the issues of violence and drug cartels.”

Traditionalist Catholics often persecute Mexican Christians, too, he said. In this way, they resemble many small, rural groups of people practicing ancient folk religions around the world. Open Doors calls this kind of persecution “clan violence.”

“These rural indigenous groups see Christian churches as an outside force. They can harass and bother churches and believers who might be in the community,” Curry said. “It’s within these four states in Mexico: Chiapas, Hidalgo, Guerero, Oaxaca. It’s very localized.”

Source: Christian Post

Going The Extra Mile

“Throughout the years of brutal suppression, the Christians in Henan often asked the Lord to give them an attitude that would enable them to embrace suffering as a gift from God. With that outlook, they were willing to go the extra mile, and there was little that evil human beings or the world could do to destroy them.”

Henan – Inside the Greatest Christian Revival in History – Paul Hattaway – describing the Chinese Church during the 1960s and 70s

There is much the Christian Church can learn from the suffering Chinese Church. They have endured much and not only survived but multiplied. So much so, that the Communist Chinese consider them a great threat to their goals and aspirations. But the truth is that righteous people are a blessing to any nation and the truths of Christianity should be encouraged, not hindered.

We need to be listening and learning and praying for our Chinese brothers and sisters.

Why don’t you say a prayer for them right now. Thanks and God bless you.

Carl

Chinese authorities paying citizens to spy on neighbors, report ‘illegal’ Christian activities

China’s communist regime has ordered citizens in the country’s northeastern region to spy on Christians and report any “illegal religious activities,” including preaching and religious house gatherings. Informants will be rewarded with $150 for each tip, according to a report.

The administration of the Meilisi Daur District in Heilongjiang Province’s Qiqihar city released a document titled, “The Reward System For Reporting Illegal Religious Activities Offences,” saying informants would be paid up to 1,000 yuan ($150), China Christian Daily reported.

Officials, it says, are looking for any information — through a phone call, email or letter — on unqualified religious personnel, unauthorized trans-regional activities, preaching and distribution of printed religious literature, audio-visual products outside places of worship, unauthorized donations or private house gatherings.

The objective, it adds, is to “strengthen the control of illegal religious activities in the district, prevent any COVID-19 cluster resulting from religious gatherings, mobilize the public to engage in preventing, suppressing illegal religious activities, and ensure a harmonious and stable religious landscape.”

The document was released this month by the Meilisi Daur District United Front Work Department of Qiqihar.

Similar reward systems were later introduced in Zibo city’s Boshan District and Weihai City’s Shandong area.

Previously, such rewards have been offered in Fujian, Guangxi, Henan, Hebei and Liaoning.

“While they do not specify which religion they are targeting, it is self-evident that house churches are being suppressed,” the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern commented.

Open Doors USA, which monitors persecution in over 60 countries, estimates that there are about 97 million Christians in China, a large percentage of whom worship in what China considers to be “illegal” and unregistered underground house churches.

According to recently-released reports, religious persecution in China intensified in 2020, with thousands of Christians affected by church closures and other human rights abuses.

Under the direction of President Xi Jinping, officials from the Chinese Communist Party, or CCP, have been enforcing strict controls on religion, according to a report released in March by the U.S.-based group China Aid.

Authorities in China are also cracking down on Christianity by removing Bible apps and Christian WeChat public accounts as new highly restrictive administrative measures on religious staff went into effect this year.

China is ranked on Open Doors USA’s World Watch List as one of the worst countries in the world when it comes to the persecution of Christians. 

The U.S. State Department has also labeled China as a “country of particular concern” for “continuing to engage in particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”

Source: Christian Post-August 23, 2012

Please pause what you are doing and ask the Father to send extra grace to the church in Communist China so they can remain faithful during this horrible time of Communist persecution. God bless, Carl

Watch What Your Heart Goes After

“One thing I must warn you of, Beware of Antichrist. Tis ill done of you to fall in love with Walls. Tis ill done of you to reverence the Church of God in Buildings and Edifices. You do ill to rest in such things. Or, can you question, that it is on these Antichrist will fix his throne?”

Hilarius, Bishop of Rome from 461-468 AD, quoted in History of the Crusades Against the Albigenses by J.C.L. Simonde De Sismondi – 1826

Origin of Song “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”

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For more than 20 years we have supported Garo evangelists from northeast India through our Asian Workers’ Fund, as they have taken the Gospel to unreached people groups in their part of the world.

Often, Christians are unaware of the origins of many of the songs we love to sing. In this brief email we would like to share the little-known background of one famous song: “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.”

In the hills of northeast India live the Garo tribe, who number more than one million people. For centuries they were feared as a primitive head-hunting tribe, but in the most recent Indian census, over 95 percent of the Garo declared themselves to be Christians. Here is one reason why…

In the late 1800s, many missionaries came to Assam in northeast India to spread the Gospel. They succeeded in converting a man named Nokseng, his wife, and his two children. Nokseng’s faith proved contagious, and many villagers began to accept Jesus.

The village chief, angry at the prospect of losing control, summoned all the villagers. He demanded Nokseng’s family to publicly renounce their faith or face execution. Moved by the Holy Spirit, Nokseng said: “I have decided to follow Jesus.”

Enraged at his refusal to deny Christ, the chief ordered his archers to shoot the two children. As both boys lay twitching on the ground, the chief asked, “Will you deny your faith? You have lost both your children. You will lose your wife also.”

But Nokseng replied: “Though no one joins me, still I will follow.”

The chief was beside himself with fury and ordered Nokseng’s wife to be shot with arrows. In a moment she joined her children in death. Now the chief said for the last time: “I will give you one more opportunity to deny your faith and live.” In the face of death, Nokseng did not waver, and made his final memorable statement:

“The cross before me, the world behind me. No turning back.”

He was killed like the rest of his family, but a miracle took place. The chief was moved by Nokseng’s faith and he wondered, “Why would Nokseng and his family die for a Man who lived in a far-away land some 2,000 years ago? This God must have remarkable power, and I too want to taste that faith.”

In a spontaneous confession, the chief declared, “I too belong to Jesus Christ!” When the crowd heard this from the mouth of their chief, the whole village accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior. Later, Nokseng’s words became a beloved song of the Garo Christians, and was later translated into English and sung around the world.

May the Lord Jesus bless you as together we serve the Church in Asia,

The team at Asia Harvest
www.asiaharvest.org

Remember in your prayers our brother and sisters in foreign lands who face persecution everyday.

God bless you and yours,

Carl

Creating Hate: A Commentary by a Former Communist

LTRP Note: The following article is from Manning Johnson’s 1958 book, Color, Communism, and Common Sense (taken from the 2021 Lighthouse Trails special edition). The reason our editors re-published this book is because Mr. Johnson’s words are so relevant they could have been written today. While some of his terminology would not be politically or culturally correct today (such as his use of the word “Negro” which was considered a respectful word in the 50s), we have maintained the language of the original book and do so with respect and dignity in mind for people of all colors of skin.

Background: Manning Johnson (1907-1959) was at one time in his life a member of the USA Communist Party (from 1930-1939) but left it when he realized the truth of how Communism and socialism actually were hurting the black people rather than helping them.

“Creating Hate”

By Manning Johnson

The Red [Communist] propagandists distort the facts concerning racial differences for ulterior motives. All the right is not on the Negro side. Neither is all the wrong. The same holds true with regard to the white man’s side. The repository of good or evil is not to be found in any particular race. Black men are just as good or as bad as white men. Yellow men are just as good or as bad as brown or red. It ill behooves anyone to speak about the other.

White men sold white men as slaves. Black men sold black men as slaves. Black rulers are no more humane than yellow, red, or white rulers. Neither are they less brutal.

The placing of the repository of everything right and just among the darker races is a dastardly Communist trick to use race as a means of grabbing and enslaving the whole of humanity.

Moscow’s Negro tools in the incitement of racial warfare place all the ills of the Negro at the door of the white leaders of America. Capitalism and imperialism are made symbols of oppressive white rule in keeping with instructions from the Kremlin.

To one familiar with Red trickery, it is obvious that placing the blame for all the Negroes’ ills at the door of the white leaders in America is to remove all responsibility from the Negro. This tends to make the Negro: 1. feel sorry for himself, 2. blame others for his failures, 3. ignore the countless opportunities around him. 4. feel jealous of the progress of other racial and national groups, 5. expect the white man to do everything for him, and 6. look for easy and quick solutions as a substitute for the harsh realities of competitive struggle to get ahead.

The result is a persecution complex—a warped belief that the white man’s prejudices, the white man’s system, the white man’s government is responsible for everything. Such a belief is the way the Reds plan it, for the next logical step is hate that can be used by the Reds to accomplish their ends.

In their campaign against the white leaders in America, the Reds are careful to point out that this does not apply to the white leaders of Russia and their counterparts in America. This creates the illusion that the white Communists are different; that they are the friends and champions of the Negroes. This is the same sucker bait the Reds used to win and use millions of white peoples now under the whiplash of Soviet tyranny. They took the Soviet road to freedom only to find it a snare and a delusion.

The fact that the Reds have never contributed anything tangible to the progress of the Negro is overlooked though the Reds have collected millions of dollars as a result of race incitement.

Like the Communist Party, the N.A.A.C.P. has collected millions of dollars through exploitation of race issues. The bigger the race issue, the bigger the appeal and the bigger the contributions. Last year, according to Roy Wilkins, the N.A.A.C.P. had the “greatest financial year in its history.”

Yet one cannot find any report of any of this money being spent for factories and shops to provide jobs, land, and home construction, specialized training for talented youth, hospitals, convalescent homes, classes in sanitation and personal hygiene, care and upkeep of property, combatting crime and juvenile delinquency, centers to aid Negro youth in preparing to meet stiff employment competition in science and industry.

It is then no accident that the N.A.A.C.P. is dubbed “The National Association for the Agitation of Colored People.” The record speaks for itself. Millions for agitation; not one cent for those things that win the respect and acclaim of other races and national groups.

The N.A.A.C.P. set up the situation that erupted into racial violence at Little Rock, Arkansas. Reds all over the world dramatized the racial incidents created in Little Rock as examples of how white Americans resort to extremes of racial violence to deny Negroes an education. Every Communist Party in Asia and Africa, it seems, was alerted to “do a job” on America. At the same time here at home, they were screaming about the damage to our prestige abroad. Any way you look at it, it is a two-way pincer movement against Uncle Sam.

Therefore, we may readily assume that any damage done to our prestige abroad should be at the feet of the N.A.A.C.P. and the Reds who started the trouble. What is significant is that those who spread the lie that violence erupted because Negro children are denied an education have not repudiated it.

Any confusion or misunderstanding created abroad has not been cleared up by the N.A.A.C.P. leadership. At no time have they admitted that no Negro in the United States is denied an education. And, too, they have not admitted that not every Negro wants an education, for reasons better known to himself. That accounts for many Negroes not being able to read or write. Moreover, there are free schools open both day and night for all those who want an education.
There are Negro institutions of higher learning and integrated ones, based upon geographical lines that make available the highest type of training for those Negroes who seek it. There are special scholarships and funds created by white philanthropists that enable Negroes to attend the finest universities and colleges in the country. What is ironic is that most of the Negro leaders responsible for the incitement of racial violence have been the recipients of these scholarships and grants. They possibly would have been cotton pickers or bootblacks were it not for this aid, because only this aid gave them the free time to plot the destruction of America.

One can very well question the sincerity of the Reds and the N.A.A.C.P. when they try to create the impression that America in general and the South in particular is a hell hole of despotism where the Negro is concerned. This is so since the whole issue boils down to taking Negro children out of one school and transferring them to another so that they can be seated with white children on the assumption that only in this way will the Negro child get an education.
What really is being implied is that the 113,000 Negro teachers in Southern schools are inferior, incompetent, and unable to properly teach the children of their own race. Since it is no longer made a question of better schools, better facilities, and equal pay, it is a question of liquidation of the Negro school and the Negro teacher under the guise of integration.

Naturally, white parents are going to resist any attempt to force them to send their children to school on an integrated basis when Negro teachers are considered unfit by members of their own race.

Maybe this is the reason why hundreds of Negro teachers were fired in the border and Southern states where there was token integration.1

It is also implied that a Negro child is handicapped in his studies unless he is sitting beside a white child. What could be more nonsensical or ridiculous? It is a sad commentary on the ability of the Negro child to say that he cannot properly study or that he will develop harmful complexes if he does not sit beside a white child. By what quirk of reasoning does one conclude that sitting beside a white child will help a Negro child make the grade? Experience shows that a student’s success is determined by how much attention, time, and effort he is willing to put into his studies.

In New York, for example, many Negro junior high and high school graduates are outrageously poor in spelling, writing, reading, and mathematics. Yet, they attended integrated schools.

Even the report of the Public Education Association in 1955 admitted that Southern Negro children moving to New York City are on a level two grades higher than those in New York City schools.

What is also important to remember is that the late Dr. George W. Carver, the outstanding Negro scientist, was born of slave parentage. He did not learn to read and write until he was twenty. He worked his way through school to become one of the world’s greatest scientists. He didn’t have the opportunities of young Negroes today. Every difficulty was a challenge, so he had no time to develop complexes.

The main danger and handicap to the Negro is not the Southern school but the persecution and hate complex the N.A.A.C.P. and the Reds are trying to create.


Endnote:

  1. In the Daily Worker, official Communist daily, Oct. 15, 1956, p. 3, quotes the N. Y. Times as stating: “That 500 Negro teachers lost their jobs in Southern and the border States due to integration.” The Pittsburgh Courier, the largest black newspaper in America at the time, April 19, 1958, carried the headline “Integration Leaves 300 Okla. Teachers Jobless.”

Related Articles:

Manning Johnson—A Voice From the Past Eerily Describes Today’s Social Unrest

Critical Race Theory, Southern Baptist Convention, and a Marxist “Solution” That Will Not Work

Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Admits: “We Are Trained Marxists”

How the Tragic Killing of George Floyd Has Been Exploited: Bob Woodson

The Socialist Trojan Horse within the U.S. Christian Church

In recent years, the number of Christians identifying as “Christian Socialists” or “Christian Communists” has skyrocketed in a way not seen in over 40 years. Sarah Ngu, in her 2020 article “Why These Young American Christians Embrace Socialism” wrote the following: “Over the past three years, some American Christians have rediscovered this tradition and found themselves gravitating to socialism—in all its varieties, from democratic socialism to full-fledged communism.” Gary Dorrien, a professor of social ethics at Union Theological Seminary, writes “The revival (of Christian socialism) is a Christian flank of the current upsurge for democratic socialist”. For the most part, the orthodox Christian community has remained silent about this growing trend, seemingly oblivious to the dangers. It’s time we acknowledged how the Trojan Horse of Socialism entered the Church, and fight back.

First, doctrine and history make clear that Biblical Christianity and Socialism and/or Communism are in opposition on fundamental levels. The intellectual forefather of Socialism, Karl Marx, taught this about Christianity: “The social principle of Christianity preaches cowardice, self-contempt, abasement, submission, humility….” Marx further asserted “The more of himself that man gives to God, the less he has left of himself”. Like all future communist and socialist leaders who follow Marx, he believed: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of the heartless world, and the soul of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opiate of the people.” (Communist Manifesto, the Bible of Communism).

The history of the socialist war against Christianity is instructive. “The League of the Militant Godless” was developed by early Soviet leaders like Leon Trotsky and Lenin. Its slogan tells volumes: “The struggle against religion is the struggle for socialism”. In just over 15 years, the League boasted 3.5 million members and included a hundred ethnicities. This was while Soviets in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) were executing tens of thousands of Priests, millions of Christians, demolishing churches and ruthlessly suppressing Christianity. The official literature of the Comintern (International Communist Front), stated “One of the most important tasks of the cultural revolution affecting the wide masses is the task of systematically and unswervingly combating religion – the opiate of the people.”

Ben Gitlow was a top figure in the early Communist Party (USA), and twice ran as Vice President of the US on the Communist Party ticket in 1924 and 1928. He left the Communist Party in 1929, and began hearings before Congress about Communist infiltration in America starting in 1939. According to Gitlow in answering Congress about the Communist “united front” technique of infiltrating America: “the tactic of the united front adopted by the Communists in 1922 after they realized that their militant policy for instigating a revolution in Germany and then throughout Europe and the world had failed…….. The united front tactic enabled the Communists to greatly increase the effectiveness of their infiltration activities.” The aims were to first build pro-Soviet sentiment in America. Second, to set conditions for Communists to capture trade unions. Third to “Spread Communist propaganda, incite discontent amount the people, undermine the loyalty of the American people and to divide them on religion, national, racial, and economic lines.”

Importantly, Gitlow said this about infiltration of the Christian Church in America: “the united front policy enabled the Communists to widely expand their infiltration activities on the religious field because instead of using the Communist Party directly (on Christian organizations)”, they used united-front organizations not directly connected to the Communist Party. Communist Party USA leader Manning Johnson told Congress that “deceit” about the anti-Christian nature was “a major policy of the Communist Propaganda”. According to Johnson: “(Communists) made fine gestures and honeyed words to the church people which could be will likened unto the sea nymphs luring millions to moral decay, spiritual death, and spiritual slavery. An illustration of this treachery, I might point out, is smiling, sneaky Earl Browder, for example, who was vice chairman of the American League Against War and Fascism, greeting and praising ministers and other church workers participating with him in the united front anti-war activities, while secretly harboring in his heart only contempt for them and for the religion that they represented.”

The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and no longer commands the worldwide Comintern. However, Communism as a worldwide movement continues. The ideology spawned during those decades made substantial inroads into the Church and academia (an estimated 18% of American Professors today identify as Marxist). United Methodist Reverend Lindsey Joyce provides a window into the modern infiltration: “Socialism gave me a politics that finally provided clarity….. It wasn’t about my individualistic faith or spiritual gifts.” Christianity centers around individual spiritual redemption, while socialism is about the collective and material. Communist “Christian” Dean Dettloff is indicative of the fraud being promulgated to soften and revive Communism within the Church. Dettloff claims “the worst abuses in history have actually been committed by people who are devoted to Jesus Christ”. This glosses over the upwards of 100 million people who died under 20th century communism, a number that dwarfs almost 2000 years of alleged Christian “abuses”.

The Church can no longer remain silent. The Trojan Horse of Socialism and Communism, wheeled in to the US in the 1920s, is a growing “enemy within”. Neither Communism, nor Socialism can be reconciled with Christianity, and it’s time to voice that truth boldly and loudly. We fight back with spiritual weapons and in Christian love, but against this threat we must fight back.

Bill Connor, a retired Army Infantry colonel, author and Orangeburg attorney, has deployed multiple times to the Middle East. Connor was the senior U.S. military adviser to Afghan forces in Helmand Province, where he received the Bronze Star. A Citadel graduate with a JD from USC, he is also a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Army War College, earning his master of strategic studies. He is the author of the book Articles from War.

Source: The Christian Post

How Marxism Started In These United States

A CASE STUDY IN CHANGING A NATION’S CULTURE

On September 12, 1903, approximately 100 people met in a loft over Peck’s restaurant, at 140 Fulton Street in lower Manhattan. The purpose of the meeting was to strategize the overthrow of the Christian worldview that still pervaded much of American culture and to replace it with the ideas of a then rather unknown writer by the name of Karl Marx. They called the organization they formed that day the Intercollegiate Socialist Society.

The godfather of the organization was a twenty-seven-year-old author named Upton Sinclair. The first president chosen was the author Jack London, age twenty-nine. Also present was Clarence Darrow, the attorney.

The strategy of the organization was to infiltrate their ideas into academia by organizing chapters in as many colleges and universities as possible. And organize they did. Walter Lippmann, later author and director of the Council on Foreign Relations, was the president of the Harvard chapter. Walter Reuther, the future president of the United Auto Workers, headed the Wayne State chapter; and Eugene Debs, who went on to become the five times Socialist candidate for president, was a leader at Columbia.

The society grew. The first annual convention was held in 1910, and by 1917 they were active on sixty-one campuses and a dozen graduate schools. Other early activists included W. E. B. DuBois, who would become an official of the NAACP and later a Communist Party member, and Victor L. Berger of Wisconsin, who became the first Socialist elected to Congress

In 1921 the Intercollegiate Socialist Society took its next organizational step, changing its name to the League for Industrial Democracy. Its purpose was “education for a new social order based on production for use and not for profit”.  Norman Thomas, another perennial Socialist candidate for president, was the leader behind the scenes. The renamed organization’s first president was Robert Lovett, editor of the New Republic, and the field secretary was Paul Blanshard, who later became an author.

The college chapters of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society now became the Student League for Industrial Democracy. As members graduated from college, some entered the pulpit, others the classroom, some wrote textbooks while others entered the labor movement and both political parties. When the new deal began in 1933, they were prepared. At the time the league had only 5,652 members, but they were in positions of leadership everywhere.

By 1941 John Dewey, the founder of progressive education and the league vice president in the 1930s, was its honorary president, and Reinhold Niebuhr, the theologian, its treasurer. Dewey had already organized the Progressive Education Association and the American Association of University Professors.

The League for Industrial Democracy was so successful that those who held membership in the movement or were cooperating with it could have been a list for Who’s Who in America: Robert N. Baldwin, founder of the American Civil Liberties Union; Charles Beard, the historian; Carroll Binder, editor of the Minneapolis Tribune; Helen Gahagan Douglas, the congresswoman who was defeated by Richard Nixon for the U.S. Senate; Felix Frankfurter, Supreme Court Justice; Sidney Hook, the educational social philosopher; Edna St. Vincent Millay, the poet; Henry Morgenthau Jr., one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s most trusted economic advisors; Walter and Victor Reuther, United Auto Workers; Will Rogers Jr., humorist; Franklin Roosevelt Jr., the president’s son; and Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the historian.

The obscure loft in Manhattan where they organize has long been forgotten, but what began there that night permeates American’s institutions and culture, having replaced the Bible based values of the 19th century with a liberalism based on Marxism.

REFLECTION

To what extent do you feel that you have been influenced by the anti-Christian forces of modern culture? Do you think you have picked up any of the values of the League for Industrial Democracy? Unfortunately, all of us are the products of our own backgrounds. Even after we become Christians, we still are influenced by our culture. We need to evaluate our presumptions against the truth revealed in God’s Word.

Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learn from me and heard from me and saw me doing, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4: 8-9

Source: The One Year Christian History – A Daily Glimpse Into God’s Powerful Work – E. Michael and Sharon Rusten  (I highly recommend this devotional)

Now we can understand how certain forces in our country came to be and, how through their coordinated actions, we now stand on the threshold of a new era in the United States. An era, I am afraid, that does not hold good tidings for the disciples of Jesus Christ. This is why Christians must be like Wilberforce and take your Christianity to the political arena and stand for biblical values. Let your Congressmen or Congresswoman hear your voice.

Keep your eyes on Jesus for He is still Lord and King over all the earthly rulers and presidents. May His kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Bless His name, now and forever more!

May God bless you as you stand for the truth of His Word in your culture.

Carl

From Persecutor to Pastor: A Life Transformed by God’s Love

A Life Transformed by God’s Love

“My name is Ramesh, and I was born into a middle-class family. Despite having Christian parents, I always protested their faith and cursed them for leaving our ancestral religion. I was anti-Christ.

Whenever I saw a Christian, intense anger welled up in my heart. I beat many believers, threatened them, burned down their homes, dragged them out of the village, and spat on them. I even used to sit and wait for Christians on their way home from church so I could rob them.

Over time I led a gang of anti-Christian thugs, who did evil activities each day. Because of our violent acts, many persecuted believers moved away from our village.

No matter how much I mistreated the Christians, my parents continued to pray for my soul, asking God to humble me so I would accept Jesus Christ. One day I had to travel to Kathmandu, and on my way out the door my mother said she would pray for my safety. I angrily scolded her and told her to stop praying. On my way home, the bus I was riding in collided with a truck, and our vehicle plunged over a cliff. There were 43 passengers on the bus, and 42 died. I was the lone survivor.

I knew that God had spared my life thanks to my mother’s prayers, and I realized the power of Jesus Christ is real. When I returned home, I immediately thanked my mother and repented of my sins. I cried out to the Lord Jesus and submitted the rest of my life to serve Him.

Today, I minister among many of the believers I once persecuted. They forgave me and accepted me as a member of God’s family, and after I had learned more of the Bible, they asked me to become their pastor.

The Living God has greatly blessed me. My wife and I adopted a beautiful daughter, and we want to win as many souls as possible into the kingdom of heaven. We are now reaching out to several mountain tribes with the Good News of salvation.

Thank you for supporting me. No matter what hardships may occur in the future, I know that my second chance in life is a gift from God, and I owe everything to Him.” Source: Asia Harvest

For ‘Peace and Safety’ – The Foolish Trade Off

For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.”

I Thessalonians 5:2-3

A friend recently gave me a copy of Rod Dreher’s book entitled Live Not by Lies – A Manual for Christian Dissidents. In chapter four he discusses how we are naively giving up our hard won liberties and privacy for perceived conveniences and safety.  The “we” are United States Christians, but the same thought applies to Christians in other countries also.

This helped me understand what our opening Scripture states about “Peace and safety!”.  The “they” in verse three are religious people who have been deceived by governmental rulers and false religious leaders in the end times. They have traded the true gospel and its responsibilities for the perceived benefit of peace and safety.  The benefit is a false benefit because there is not true peace and safety outside of a personal relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ.

For instance, today we are naively giving up our right to privacy for the convenience of smartphones, the internet, email, smart TVs, smart cars, smart watches, computers, lower car insurance rates, personal assistances, credit cards, etc.  All which are or can be monitored by outside parties and data harvested for sale to advertisers and unknown others. We mind but we don’t really mind, because we keep using the devices and allow it to happen. Deep down inside we love the convenience and safety it provides.

 We are being conditioned.

Communist China TODAY is using it citizen’s personal data to form a “social score”.  Those that follow the Communist Party script develop a high score and reap certain benefits by being allowed to do certain activities: go to college, get a good jobs, etc.  The person not following the rules will receive a lower score and not be allowed to participate in certain benefits: no college education, no good job, etc. Being a Christian trying to faithfully practice your faith will surely lower your grade or maybe zero you out. 

And this is the danger for us in the U.S. We naively trust in our Constitution and Courts that we will be protected from these abuses and resultant control.  But if you have your eyes open, you see the same spirit that is working in Communist China is working now in our government at the highest levels.  Hitler, Stalin, and Mao would of loved this ability to spy on their people.   They would not have to spend so much time and money torturing people for personal contacts when they have the ability to download their smartphone or email contacts. These past mass murders would have loved it!

We are already seeing the principals of “Peace and safety!” being expounded in certain areas of the world today.  When it is bought into by the U.S. government and judicial system, the faithful Christians may receive a letter like the one following:  

“Dear Mr. William J. Christian:

Data (Voice Data 17845.exe.4589) indicates that you on March 17, 2021 in a phone discussion (Cell Data: 24082 3/17/2021 spool 17) with a Mr. Rex A. Johnson (Social Security No. 798-43-0211) stated that there is only one way to the true God and that Jesus Christ is that Way.  Per our previous discussions with you at headquarters, you are in violation of the United Nations Religious Toleration Act (12/12/20), Section 102, subparagraph cc, which states that all signees will require that religious toleration and harmony be practiced by its citizens for the sake of global peace and safety of all inhabitants of Mother Earth. The U.S. federal government is a signee of said Act.

The Toleration Act acknowledges and affirms that all global religions are seeking the same God. Even Pope Alex II, the Christian Global Representative and Moral Authority, acknowledges and agrees that good Buddhist, Hindus, Islamicist and members of other global faiths are in right relationship with God and on the way to God, just on a different path.  You stating that Jesus is the only way to God is offending the members of these global faiths and are creating potential security problems; therefore you are ordered to stop spreading this racist lie.  

If you do not stop and desist immediately, the Governmental and Religious Committee of the state of Georgia will take action immediately to maintain harmony within the global brotherhood of man. If you do not appear before the local office of this Committee within seven days to recant your statements to said Johnson the Committee will implement the following restrictions: 1) immediately you will not be able to buy, sell or trade in any economic form or fashion; 2) you will be transferred to a re-education facility for specialized training in global religion and global reharmonization; 3) should these steps fail, to maintain peace and safety of the global community, you will be eliminated in a humane matter.

There will be no need to bring an attorney or witnesses to the local office of the Committee since the accusation has been confirmed by our AI department and data previously mentioned at the beginning of this correspondence.  Your legal rights are superseded by the need for peace and safety and are therefore null and void.

Consider this a final warning.   For the “peace and safety” of mankind, we pray you will make the intelligent decision and join with us in reaching our global goals.   

The Government and Religious Committee of Georgia

You get the point.

For Grace and Peace in Jesus Christ Alone

Carl

Christian Church Growth in China

An article by Jessica Lea, “‘Leaders are scared’ of How Fast the Church in China Is Growing” is both encouraging and raises other concerns.

It is exciting that they are growing: “The number of Christians in China is growing so quickly that it could reach 300 million by 2030, says Dr. Ron Boyd-MacMillan. He believes the rapid growth of the church in China is why the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is targeting believers so aggressively. 

“We think the evidence as to why the Chinese Church is so targeted, is that the leaders are scared of the size of the Church, and the growth of the Church,” said Boyd-MacMillan, who oversees global strategy and research for Open Doors International.

Speaking to the Daily Express on Jan. 24, Boyd-MacMillan said, “And if it grows, at the rate that it has done, since 1980 and that’s about between seven and eight percent a year, then you’re looking at a group of people that will be 300 million strong, nearly by 2030. And, you know, the Chinese leadership, they really do long-term planning, I mean, their economic plan goes to 2049, so this bothers them.”

It also may well be as our government continues implementing Marxism into our nation they will tap into their technology of: “tracking the biometric data of church attendees, as well as developing a way of giving everyone in the country a social score based on how well they comply with the government.”

Big Brother will indeed be watching, rewarding and punishing obedience.

https://mailchi.mp/671aa29f4143/the-naked-spiritual-rhythms-for-the-enneagram?e=169825fd77

Source: Berean Call
   

Chants and incantations to Aztec gods of human sacrifice in California’s public schools?

I have told my seminary students for years that a society or culture is never in a state of stasis.  It is just the nature of human societies – they are constantly in flux, heading in one direction or the other, getting worse or getting better, depending on your perspective.

(Photo: The Christian Post/Katherine T. Phan)

I have never been more depressed to have been proven right about American society’s increasing volatility.  Current news stories contain harrowing reports of ever more radical “woke” philosophies being imprinted on the impressionable minds of our nation’s youth – in this case the six million primary and secondary students attending California’s public schools.

If you were concerned about the cultural divisiveness of the centrifugal forces generated by Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality and Black Lives Matter, wait until you see what the formerly “Golden” State of California is contemplating inflicting on the unsuspecting youth of their state.

Christopher Rufo reports that next week the California Department of Education will decide whether to approve a statewide “ethnic studies” curriculum with the goal of “decolonizing” American society of its biased “Eurocentric” white “hegemony” over the indigenous peoples which allowed white settlers to establish a “regime of coloniality, dehumanization, and genocide.” 

As Rod Dreher reports on Rufo’s research “the ultimate goal is to “decolonize” America and replace it with a new social order of “countergenocide” and “counterhegemony” which will overthrow the dominant Christian culture and result in the “regeneration of indigenous songs, chants and affirmations” culminating in teachers leading students in chants to Aztec gods, seeking empowerment to be “warriors” for “social justice” and importuning the Aztec God of war and human sacrifice, Xipe Totec known as “Our Lord the Flayed One” because typically victims of human sacrifice, before they were disemboweled, dismembered and eaten, were skinned alive (Wikepedia, “Human sacrifice in Aztec culture”).

The curriculum asserts that “white Christians committed ‘theocide’ against indigenous tribes, killing their gods and replacing them with Christianity.”  This all culminates, according to Dreher and Rufo, with students shouting “Panche beh!  Panche beh!”  seeking ultimate “critical consciousness.”

This is all so comprehensively evil and destructive it is hard to know where to begin criticism of this dangerous, divisive, retrograde cultural vandalism.  The idea that a tax supported public school system would, or could, be used to unleash this vicious cultural and spiritual poison into out young people’s consciousness is both extremely offensive and quite possibly illegal. 

How does this curriculum not violate the First Amendment’s “establishment clause?”  If public schools are not allowed to sponsor Christian prayers, why would they be allowed to sponsor prayers to an Aztec pagan idol to whom human sacrifices were offered routinely?

If California’s authorities approve this curriculum, they should be challenged in court.  Approval of this curriculum would also reveal that California is indeed a state surrounded on all sides by reality. 

Thank God for Christopher Rufo and Rod Dreher for having the courage to warn Americans about this looming, highly flammable fuel for a cultural apocalypse.  They are like modern, cultural Paul Reveres sounding the warning, “The Barbarians are coming! The Barbarians are coming!”

Rod Dreher titles his column “The Re-Barbarization of California”  and asked this rhetorical question:

Social-justice Marxists who want to teach millions of children in the state’s public schools to achieve liberation against the descendants of European colonists  of 500 years ago by teaching them to chant to Aztec gods who required human sacrifice.   How do you think this is going to end?

Dreher then closes with this line “Wake up folks, and read the signs of the times.”

Dr. Richard Land, BA (magna cum laude), Princeton; D.Phil. Oxford; and Th.M., New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, was president of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (1988-2013) and has served since 2013 as president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, NC. Dr. Land has been teaching, writing, and speaking on moral and ethical issues for the last half century in addition to pastoring several churches. He is the author of The Divided States of AmericaImagine! A God Blessed AmericaReal Homeland SecurityFor Faith & Family and Send a Message to Mickey.

Source: Christian Post

Evolution a Replacement Religion

Chances are you may not have heard of renowned writer and Yale University professor David Gelernter (School of Engineering and Applied Science). He has been making waves since acknowledging that he now rejects Darwinian evolution. In an interview organized in 2019 by the prestigious Hoover Institution (Stanford University, California), Gelernter lamented the obstruction of free speech experienced by anyone trying to voice alternatives to evolution, such as Intelligent Design. Worse still, he said, some pro-Darwinian academics actually seek to destroy the careers of dissenters:

  “It’s a bitter rejection … a sort of bitter, fundamental, angry, outraged, violent rejection, which comes nowhere near scientific or intellectual discussion. I’ve seen that happen again and again. ‘I’m a Darwinist, don’t you say a word against it, or, I don’t wanna hear it, period.’”  

Elsewhere, in his review of Stephen Meyer’s excellent book Darwin’s Doubt (see our review here), Gelernter makes this interesting remark about the passionate defenders of evolution:

  “They remind us of the extent to which Darwinism is no longer just a scientific theory but the basis of a worldview, and an emergency replacement religion for the many troubled souls who need one.”  

Christians are often despised … for their faith-based acceptance of biblical miracles because these cannot be scientifically tested. Yet these same antagonists get very frustrated if their own beliefs are subjected to the same scrutiny!  

Everyone knows, of course, that the displaced religion referred to by the good professor is Christianity, more specifically, that which has a high view of Scripture as the inspired, inerrant Word of God—including the belief in supernatural Creation, resting upon a grammatical-historical understanding of Genesis.  

Gelernter has many predecessors (including secular humanists) who have admitted the religious and philosophical nature of Darwinian evolution. But surely evolution is science, not “an emergency religion” as Gelernter claims? According to the OED, the word ‘religion’ includes “a pursuit, interest, or movement, followed with great devotion”, and “action or conduct indicating belief in, obedience to, and reverence for god, gods, or similar superhuman power”. If you substitute ‘god’ for the alleged power of Darwin’s theory (in any of its modern forms) and factor in the zeal and fervour of its adherents, these definitions fit perfectly.  

Christians are often despised by secular writers and commentators for their faith-based acceptance of biblical miracles because these cannot be scientifically tested. Yet these same antagonists get very frustrated if their own beliefs are subjected to the same scrutiny! They want an exemption, expecting their own unsupported beliefs (their non-scientific assertions) to be accepted without question or criticism.

  Far too often, popular science is reported in a way that portrays evolution as hard science—whether radio, news outlets, social media or magazines. Refreshingly honest admissions among evolutionary writers are few and far between, but there are some. Writing about human racial origins Angela Saini acknowledges:

  “It’s impossible to escape our beliefs, our upbringing, our environment, even the pressure of wanting to be correct, when it comes to interpreting the facts. Our stories get in the way.”   Evolutionists seldom question the narrative because it is their substitute origins story. It permits the secular ‘faithful’ to ignore the claims of the Creator.  

Quite right, and we have seen supporting examples of just how true this is for many who tenaciously hold onto evolution. They seldom question the narrative because it is their substitute origins story. It permits the secular ‘faithful’ to ignore the claims of the Creator (see also Getting behind the evolution facade).

  But does this replacement religion offer its devotees answers to the big questions of life:
  • Questions of origins—Where did we come from?
• Questions of meaning—Why am I here? •
 Questions of destiny—What happens after I die?

Many claim that evolution does answer these questions. While it is fundamentally an alternative theory of origins it is far more than that, as a re-reading of David Gelernter’s earlier-quoted words confirms. For example, British physicist and TV personality Brian Cox (a confessed humanist) admits: “… there is self-evidently meaning in the universe because my own existence, the existence of those I love, and the existence of the entire human race means something to me. I think this because I have had the remarkable luxury of spending time in education.”

  Sadly, he rejects the existence of his Creator, the One from whom life emanates and whose revealed scriptures give the only reliable answers about the meaning of human existence and destiny. David Gelernter is surely right in his opinion that “Darwinism is … an emergency replacement religion for the many troubled souls who need one.” But that spiritual craving in human beings can only be satisfied by embracing the undiluted truth of the Creation/Fall/Gospel message of the Bible. Compromises like ‘God used evolution’ will not do.    https://creation.com/evolution-replacement-religion
From Berean Call

Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible

Lawrence Mykytiuk’s feature article from the January/February 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review with voluminous endnotes

(Blog note: Excellent article, plenty scholarly documentation. Complete article on blog to prevent additional linking. Enjoy! Carl)

After two decades toiling in the quiet groves of academe, I published an article in BAR titled “Archaeology Confirms 50 Real People in the Bible.”a The enormous interest this article generated was a complete surprise to me. Nearly 40 websites in six languages, reflecting a wide spectrum of secular and religious orientations, linked to BAR’s supplementary web page.b Some even posted translations.
I thought about following up with a similar article on people in the New Testament, but I soon realized that this would be so dominated by the question of Jesus’ existence that I needed to consider this question separately. This is that article:1

Did Jesus of Nazareth, who was called Christ, exist as a real human being, “the man Christ Jesus” according to 1 Timothy 2:5?

The sources normally discussed fall into three main categories: (1) classical (that is, Greco-Roman), (2) Jewish and (3) Christian. But when people ask whether it is possible to prove that Jesus of Nazareth actually existed, as John P. Meier pointed out decades ago, “The implication is that the Biblical evidence for Jesus is biased because it is encased in a theological text written by committed believers.2 What they really want to know is: Is there extra-Biblical evidence … for Jesus’ existence?”c

Therefore, this article will cover classical and Jewish writings almost exclusively.3



Tacitus—or more formally, Caius/Gaius (or Publius) Cornelius Tacitus (55/56–c. 118 C.E.)—was a Roman senator, orator and ethnographer, and arguably the best of Roman historians. His name is based on the Latin word tacitus, “silent,” from which we get the English word tacit. Interestingly, his compact prose uses silence and implications in a masterful way. One argument for the authenticity of the quotation below is that it is written in true Tacitean Latin.4 But first a short introduction.

Tacitus’s last major work, titled Annals, written c. 116–117 C.E., includes a biography of Nero. In 64 C.E., during a fire in Rome, Nero was suspected of secretly ordering the burning of a part of town where he wanted to carry out a building project, so he tried to shift the blame to Christians. This was the occasion for Tacitus to mention Christians, whom he despised. This is what he wrote—the following excerpt is translated from Latin by Robert Van Voorst:

TACIT CONFIRMATION. Roman historian Tacitus’s last major work, Annals, mentions a “Christus” who was executed by Pontius Pilate and from whom the Christians derived their name. Tacitus’s brief reference corroborates historical details of Jesus’ death from the New Testament.

[N]either human effort nor the emperor’s generosity nor the placating of the gods ended the scandalous belief that the fire had been ordered [by Nero]. Therefore, to put down the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits and punished in the most unusual ways those hated for their shameful acts … whom the crowd called “Chrestians.” The founder of this name, Christ [Christus in Latin], had been executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate … Suppressed for a time, the deadly superstition erupted again not only in Judea, the origin of this evil, but also in the city [Rome], where all things horrible and shameful from everywhere come together and become popular.5

Tacitus’s terse statement about “Christus” clearly corroborates the New Testament on certain historical details of Jesus’ death. Tacitus presents four pieces of accurate knowledge about Jesus: (1) Christus, used by Tacitus to refer to Jesus, was one distinctive way by which some referred to him, even though Tacitus mistakenly took it for a personal name rather than an epithet or title; (2) this Christus was associated with the beginning of the movement of Christians, whose name originated from his; (3) he was executed by the Roman governor of Judea; and (4) the time of his death was during Pontius Pilate’s governorship of Judea, during the reign of Tiberius. (Many New Testament scholars date Jesus’ death to c. 29 C.E.; Pilate governed Judea in 26–36 C.E., while Tiberius was emperor 14–37 C.E.6)

Tacitus, like classical authors in general, does not reveal the source(s) he used. But this should not detract from our confidence in Tacitus’s assertions. Scholars generally disagree about what his sources were. Tacitus was certainly among Rome’s best historians—arguably the best of all—at the top of his game as a historian and never given to careless writing.

Earlier in his career, when Tacitus was Proconsul of Asia,7 he likely supervised trials, questioned people accused of being Christians and judged and punished those whom he found guilty, as his friend Pliny the Younger had done when he too was a provincial governor. Thus Tacitus stood a very good chance of becoming aware of information that he characteristically would have wanted to verify before accepting it as true.8

The other strong evidence that speaks directly about Jesus as a real person comes from Josephus, a Jewish priest who grew up as an aristocrat in first-century Palestine and ended up living in Rome, supported by the patronage of three successive emperors. In the early days of the first Jewish Revolt against Rome (66–70 C.E.), Josephus was a commander in Galilee but soon surrendered and became a prisoner of war. He then prophesied that his conqueror, the Roman commander Vespasian, would become emperor, and when this actually happened, Vespasian freed him. “From then on Josephus lived in Rome under the protection of the Flavians and there composed his historical and apologetic writings” (Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz).9 He even took the name Flavius, after the family name of his patron, the emperor Vespasian, and set it before his birth name, becoming, in true Roman style, Flavius Josephus. Most Jews viewed him as a despicable traitor. It was by command of Vespasian’s son Titus that a Roman army in 70 C.E. destroyed Jerusalem and burned the Temple, stealing its contents as spoils of war, which are partly portrayed in the imagery of their gloating triumph on the Arch of Titus in Rome.10 After Titus succeeded his father as emperor, Josephus accepted the son’s imperial patronage, as he did of Titus’s brother and successor, Domitian.

Yet in his own mind, Josephus remained a Jew both in his outlook and in his writings that extol Judaism. At the same time, by aligning himself with Roman emperors who were at that time the worst enemies of the Jewish people, he chose to ignore Jewish popular opinion.



Josephus stood in a unique position as a Jew who was secure in Roman imperial patronage and protection, eager to express pride in his Jewish heritage and yet personally independent of the Jewish community at large. Thus, in introducing Romans to Judaism, he felt free to write historical views for Roman consumption that were strongly at variance with rabbinic views.

Jewish historian Josephus is pictured in the ninth-century medieval manuscript Burgerbibliothek Bern Codex under the Greek caption “Josippos Historiographer.” Photo: Burgerbibliothek Bern Cod. 50, f.2r.

In his two great works, The Jewish War and Jewish Antiquities, both written in Greek for educated people, Josephus tried to appeal to aristocrats in the Roman world, presenting Judaism as a religion to be admired for its moral and philosophical depth. The Jewish War doesn’t mention Jesus except in some versions in likely later additions by others, but Jewish Antiquities does mention Jesus—twice.

The shorter of these two references to Jesus (in Book 20)11 is incidental to identifying Jesus’ brother James,12 the leader of the church in Jerusalem. In the temporary absence of a Roman governor between Festus’s death and governor Albinus’s arrival in 62 C.E., the high priest Ananus instigated James’s execution. Josephus described it:

Being therefore this kind of person [i.e., a heartless Sadducee], Ananus, thinking that he had a favorable opportunity because Festus had died and Albinus was still on his way, called a meeting [literally, “sanhedrin”] of judges and brought into it the brother of Jesus-who-is-called-Messiah … James by name, and some others. He made the accusation that they had transgressed the law, and he handed them over to be stoned.13

James is otherwise a barely noticed, minor figure in Josephus’s lengthy tome. The sole reason for referring to James at all was that his death resulted in Ananus losing his position as high priest. James (Jacob) was a common Jewish name at this time. Many men named James are mentioned in Josephus’s works, so Josephus needed to specify which one he meant. The common custom of simply giving the father’s name (James, son of Joseph) would not work here, because James’s father’s name was also very common. Therefore Josephus identified this James by reference to his famous brother Jesus. But James’s brother Jesus (Yehoshua) also had a very common name. Josephus mentions at least 12 other men named Jesus.14 Therefore Josephus specified which Jesus he was referring to by adding the phrase “who is called Messiah,” or, since he was writing in Greek, Christos.15 This phrase was necessary to identify clearly first Jesus and, via Jesus, James, the subject of the discussion. This extraneous reference to Jesus would have made no sense if Jesus had not been a real person.


Visit the historical Jesus study page in Bible History Daily to read more free articles on Jesus.


JAMES, BROTHER OF JESUS. In Jewish Antiquities, parts of which are included in this mid-17th-century book of translations, Josephus refers to a James, who is described as “the brother of Jesus-who-is-called-Messiah.” Josephus’s mention of Jesus to specify which James was being executed by the high priest Ananus in 62 C.E. affirms the existence of the historical Jesus. Photo: Josephus, Famovs and Memorable Works of Josephvs, trans. by Thomas Lodge (London: J. L. for Andrew Hebb, 1640).

Few scholars have ever doubted the authenticity of this short account. On the contrary, the huge majority accepts it as genuine.16 The phrase intended to specify which Jesus, translated “who is called Christ,” signifies either that he was mentioned earlier in the book or that readers knew him well enough to grasp the reference to him in identifying James. The latter is unlikely. First-century Romans generally had little or no idea who Christus was. It is much more likely that he was mentioned earlier in Jewish Antiquities. Also, the fact that the term “Messiah”/“Christ” is not defined here suggests that an earlier passage in Jewish Antiquities has already mentioned something of its significance.17 This phrase is also appropriate for a Jewish historian like Josephus because the reference to Jesus is a noncommittal, neutral statement about what some people called Jesus and not a confession of faith that actually asserts that he was Christ.

This phrase—“who is called Christ”—is very unlikely to have been added by a Christian for two reasons. First, in the New Testament and in the early Church Fathers of the first two centuries C.E., Christians consistently refer to James as “the brother of the Lord” or “of the Savior” and similar terms, not “the brother of Jesus,” presumably because the name Jesus was very common and did not necessarily refer to their Lord. Second, Josephus’s description in Jewish Antiquities of how and when James was executed disagrees with Christian tradition, likewise implying a non-Christian author.18

This short identification of James by the title that some people used in order to specify his brother gains credibility as an affirmation of Jesus’ existence because the passage is not about Jesus. Rather, his name appears in a functional phrase that is called for by the sense of the passage. It can only be useful for the identification of James if it is a reference to a real person, namely, “Jesus who is called Christ.”

This clear reference to Jesus is sometimes overlooked in debates about Josephus’s other, longer reference to Jesus (to be treated next). Quite a few people are aware of the questions and doubts regarding the longer mention of Jesus, but often this other clear, simple reference and its strength as evidence for Jesus’ existence does not receive due attention.

The longer passage in Josephus’s Jewish Antiquities (Book 18)19 that refers to Jesus is known as the Testimonium Flavianum.

If it has any value in relation to the question of Jesus’ existence, it counts as additional evidence for Jesus’ existence. The Testimonium Flavianum reads as follows; the parts that are especially suspicious because they sound Christian are in italics:20

Around this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man.21 For he was one who did surprising deeds, and a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who in the first place came to love him did not give up their affection for him, for on the third day, he appeared to them restored to life. The prophets of God had prophesied this and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, have still to this day not died out.22

All surviving manuscripts of the Testimonium Flavianum that are in Greek, like the original, contain the same version of this passage, with no significant differences.

The main question is: Did Flavius Josephus write this entire report about Jesus and his followers, or did a forger or forgers alter it or possibly insert the whole report?23 There are three ways to answer this question:24Alternative 1: The whole passage is authentic, written by Josephus.Alternative 2: The whole passage is a forgery, inserted into Jewish Antiquities.Alternative 3: It is only partly authentic, containing some material from Josephus, but also some later additions by another hand(s).

Regarding Alternative 1, today almost no scholar accepts the authenticity of the entire standard Greek Testimonium Flavianum. In contrast to the obviously Christian statement “He was the Messiah” in the Testimonium, Josephus elsewhere “writes as a passionate advocate of Judaism,” says Josephus expert Steve Mason. “Everywhere Josephus praises the excellent constitution of the Jews, codified by Moses, and declares its peerless, comprehensive qualities … Josephus rejoices over converts to Judaism. In all this, there is not the slightest hint of any belief in Jesus”25 as seems to be reflected in the Testimonium.

The bold affirmation of Jesus as Messiah reads as a resounding Christian confession that echoes St. Peter himself!26 It cannot be Josephus. Alternative 1 is clearly out.

Regarding Alternative 2—the whole Testimonium Flavianum is a forgery—this is very unlikely. What is said, and the expressions in Greek that are used to say it, despite a few words that don’t seem characteristic of Josephus, generally fit much better with Josephus’s writings than with Christian writings.27 It is hypothetically possible that a forger could have learned to imitate Josephus’s style or that a reviser adjusted the passage to that style, but such a deep level of attention, based on an extensive, detailed reading of Josephus’s works and such a meticulous adoption of his vocabulary and style, goes far beyond what a forger or a reviser would need to do.

Even more important, the short passage (treated above) that mentions Jesus in order to identify James appears in a later section of the book (Book 20) and implies that Jesus was mentioned previously.



THE TESTIMONY OF JOSEPHUS. This 15th-century manuscript, now in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, contains the portion of Josephus’s Testimonium Flavianum that refers to Jesus (highlighted in blue). The first sentence of the manuscript, highlighted in green, reads, from the Greek, “Around this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man.” The majority of scholars believe this passage of the Testimonium is based on the original writings of Josephus but contains later additions, likely made by Christian scribes. Photo: Codex Parisinus gr. 2075, 45v. Courtesy Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

The best-informed among the Romans understood Christus to be nothing more than a man’s personal name, on the level of Publius and Marcus. First-century Romans generally had no idea that calling someone “Christus” was an exalted reference, implying belief that he was the chosen one, God’s anointed. The Testimonium, in Book 18, appropriately found in the section that deals with Pilate’s time as governor of Judea,28 is apparently one of Josephus’s characteristic digressions, this time occasioned by mention of Pilate. It provides background for Josephus’s only other written mention of Jesus (in Book 20), and it connects the name Jesus with his Christian followers. The short reference to Jesus in the later book depends on the longer one in the earlier (Book 18). If the longer one is not genuine, this passage lacks its essential background. Alternative 2 should be rejected.

Alternative 3—that the Testimonium Flavianum is based on an original report by Josephus29 that has been modified by others, probably Christian scribes, seems most likely. After extracting what appear to be Christian additions, the remaining text appears to be pure Josephus. As a Romanized Jew, Josephus would not have presented these beliefs as his own. Interestingly, in three openly Christian, non-Greek versions of the Testimonium Flavianum analyzed by Steve Mason, variations indicate changes were made by others besides Josephus.30 The Latin version says Jesus “was believed to be the Messiah.” The Syriac version is best translated, “He was thought to be the Messiah.” And the Arabic version with open coyness suggests, “He was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.” Alternative 3 has the support of the overwhelming majority of scholars.

We can learn quite a bit about Jesus from Tacitus and Josephus, two famous historians who were not Christian. Almost all the following statements about Jesus, which are asserted in the New Testament, are corroborated or confirmed by the relevant passages in Tacitus and Josephus. These independent historical sources—one a non-Christian Roman and the other Jewish—confirm what we are told in the Gospels:311. He existed as a man. The historian Josephus grew up in a priestly family in first-century Palestine and wrote only decades after Jesus’ death. Jesus’ known associates, such as Jesus’ brother James, were his contemporaries. The historical and cultural context was second nature to Josephus. “If any Jewish writer were ever in a position to know about the non-existence of Jesus, it would have been Josephus. His implicit affirmation of the existence of Jesus has been, and still is, the most significant obstacle for those who argue that the extra-Biblical evidence is not probative on this point,” Robert Van Voorst observes.32 And Tacitus was careful enough not to report real executions of nonexistent people.2. His personal name was Jesus, as Josephus informs us.3. He was called Christos in Greek, which is a translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, both of which mean “anointed” or “(the) anointed one,” as Josephus states and Tacitus implies, unaware, by reporting, as Romans thought, that his name was Christus.4. He had a brother named James (Jacob), as Josephus reports.5. He won over both Jews and “Greeks” (i.e., Gentiles of Hellenistic culture), according to Josephus, although it is anachronistic to say that they were “many” at the end of his life. Large growth in the number of Jesus’ actual followers came only after his death.6. Jewish leaders of the day expressed unfavorable opinions about him, at least according to some versions of the Testimonium Flavianum.7. Pilate rendered the decision that he should be executed, as both Tacitus and Josephus state.8. His execution was specifically by crucifixion, according to Josephus.9. He was executed during Pontius Pilate’s governorship over Judea (26–36 C.E.), as Josephus implies and Tacitus states, adding that it was during Tiberius’s reign.

Some of Jesus’ followers did not abandon their personal loyalty to him even after his crucifixion but submitted to his teaching. They believed that Jesus later appeared to them alive in accordance with prophecies, most likely those found in the Hebrew Bible. A well-attested link between Jesus and Christians is that Christ, as a term used to identify Jesus, became the basis of the term used to identify his followers: Christians. The Christian movement began in Judea, according to Tacitus. Josephus observes that it continued during the first century. Tacitus deplores the fact that during the second century it had spread as far as Rome.

As far as we know, no ancient person ever seriously argued that Jesus did not exist.33 Referring to the first several centuries C.E., even a scholar as cautious and thorough as Robert Van Voorst freely observes, “… [N]o pagans and Jews who opposed Christianity denied Jesus’ historicity or even questioned it.”34

Nondenial of Jesus’ existence is particularly notable in rabbinic writings of those first several centuries C.E.: “… [I]f anyone in the ancient world had a reason to dislike the Christian faith, it was the rabbis. To argue successfully that Jesus never existed but was a creation of early Christians would have been the most effective polemic against Christianity … [Yet] all Jewish sources treated Jesus as a fully historical person … [T]he rabbis … used the real events of Jesus’ life against him” (Van Voorst).35

Thus his birth, ministry and death occasioned claims that his birth was illegitimate and that he performed miracles by evil magic, encouraged apostasy and was justly executed for his own sins. But they do not deny his existence.36



Lucian of Samosata (c. 115–200 C.E.) was a Greek satirist who wrote The Passing of Peregrinus, about a former Christian who later became a famous Cynic and revolutionary and died in 165 C.E. In two sections of Peregrinus—here translated by Craig A. Evans—Lucian, while discussing Peregrinus’s career, without naming Jesus, clearly refers to him, albeit with contempt in the midst of satire:

It was then that he learned the marvelous wisdom of the Christians, by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine. And—what else?—in short order he made them look like children, for he was a prophet, cult leader, head of the congregation and everything, all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books, and wrote many himself. They revered him as a god, used him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector—to be sure, after that other whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.37

For having convinced themselves that they are going to be immortal and live forever, the poor wretches despise death and most even willingly give themselves up. 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 according to his laws.38

Although Lucian was aware of the Christians’ “books” (some of which might have been parts of the New Testament), his many bits of misinformation make it seem very likely that he did not read them. The compound term “priests and scribes,” for example, seems to have been borrowed from Judaism, and indeed, Christianity and Judaism were sometimes confused among classical authors.

Lucian seems to have gathered all of his information from sources independent of the New Testament and other Christian writings. For this reason, this writing of his is usually valued as independent evidence for the existence of Jesus.

This is true despite his ridicule and contempt for Christians and their “crucified sophist.” “Sophist” was a derisive term used for cheats or for teachers who only taught for money. Lucian despised Christians for worshiping someone thought to be a criminal worthy of death and especially despised “the man who was crucified.”

▸ Celsus, the Platonist philosopher, considered Jesus to be a magician who made exorbitant claims.39

▸ Pliny the Younger, a Roman governor and friend of Tacitus, wrote about early Christian worship of Christ “as to a god.”40

▸ Suetonius, a Roman writer, lawyer and historian, wrote of riots in 49 C.E. among Jews in Rome which might have been about Christus but which he thought were incited by “the instigator Chrestus,” whose identification with Jesus is not completely certain.41

▸ Mara bar Serapion, a prisoner of war held by the Romans, wrote a letter to his son that described “the wise Jewish king” in a way that seems to indicate Jesus but does not specify his identity.42

Other documentary sources are doubtful or irrelevant.43

One can label the evidence treated above as documentary (sometimes called literary) or as archaeological. Almost all sources covered above exist in the form of documents that have been copied and preserved over the course of many centuries, rather than excavated in archaeological digs. Therefore, although some writers call them archaeological evidence, I prefer to say that these truly ancient texts are ancient documentary sources, rather than archaeological discoveries.

Some ossuaries (bone boxes) have come to light that are inscribed simply with the name Jesus (Yeshu or Yeshua‘ in Hebrew), but no one suggests that this was Jesus of Nazareth. The name Jesus was very common at this time, as was Joseph. So as far as we know, these ordinary ossuaries have nothing to do with the New Testament Jesus. Even the ossuary from the East Talpiot district of Jerusalem, whose inscription is translated “Yeshua‘, son of Joseph,” does not refer to him.44

As for the famous James ossuary first published in 2002,d whose inscription is translated “Jacob, son of Joseph, brother of Yeshua‘,” more smoothly rendered, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” it is unprovenanced, and it will likely take decades to settle the matter of whether it is authentic. Following well established, sound methodology, I do not base conclusions on materials whose authenticity is uncertain, because they might be forged.45 Therefore the James ossuary, which is treated in many other publications, is not included here.46

As a final observation: In New Testament scholarship generally, a number of specialists consider the question of whether Jesus existed to have been finally and conclusively settled in the affirmative. A few vocal scholars, however, still deny that he ever lived.47


“Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible” by Lawrence Mykytiuk originally appeared in the January/February 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. The article was first republished in Bible History Daily on December 8, 2014.


lawrence-mykytiuk

Lawrence Mykytiuk is associate professor of library science and the history librarian at Purdue University. He holds a Ph.D. in Hebrew and Semitic Studies and is the author of the book Identifying Biblical Persons in Northwest Semitic Inscriptions of 1200–539 B.C.E. (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2004).


Notes:

a. Lawrence Mykytiuk, “Archaeology Confirms 50 Real People in the Bible,” BAR, March/April 2014.

b. See biblicalarchaeology.org/50.

c. John P. Meier, “The Testimonium,” Bible Review, June 1991.

d. See André Lemaire, “Burial Box of James the Brother of Jesus,” BAR, November/December 2002; Hershel Shanks, “‘Brother of Jesus’ Inscription Is Authentic!” BAR, July/August 2012.

1. I gratefully dedicate this article to my brother, Thomas S. Mykytiuk, to the memory of his wife, Nancy E. Mykytiuk, and to their growing tribe of descendants. I wish to thank Dr. Stuart D. Robertson of Purdue University, a Josephus scholar who studied under the great Louis H. Feldman, for kindly offering his comments on an early draft of this article. As the sole author, I alone am responsible for all of this article’s errors and shortcomings.

The previous BAR article is supplemented by two more persons, officials of Nebuchadnezzar II, mentioned in the “Queries and Comments” section, BAR, July/August 2014, bringing the actual total to 52. That previous article is based on my own research, because few other researchers had worked toward the twin goals I sought: first, developing the necessary methodology, and second, applying that methodology comprehensively to archaeological materials that relate to the Hebrew Bible. In contrast, this article treats an area that has already been thoroughly researched, so I have gleaned material from the best results previously obtained (may the reader pardon the many quotations).

Another contrast is that the challenge in the research that led to the previous article was to determine whether the inscriptions (down to 400 B.C.E.) actually referred to the Biblical figure. In the present article, most of the documents very clearly refer to the Jesus of the New Testament. Only in relatively few instances, such as some rabbinic texts, is the reference very unclear. The challenge in this article has been to evaluate the relative strength of the documents about Jesus as evidence, while keeping in mind whether they are independent of the New Testament.

2. Of course, the New Testament is actually a small library of texts, as is the Hebrew Bible.

3. Because Meier only covered writings of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, his article stays within the first century. This article covers writings that originated in the first several centuries C.E. These non-Christian sources deserve to be welcomed and examined by anyone interested in the historical aspect of Scripture. At the same time, Christian sources found in the New Testament and outside of it have great value as historical evidence and are not to be discounted or dismissed.

The Gospels, for example, are loosely parallel to writings by members of a Prime Minister’s or President’s cabinet, in that they are valuable for the firsthand information they provide from inner circles (F. F. Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament, Knowing Christianity [London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1974], pp. 14–15). While allowance must be made for human limitations (at least lack of omniscience) and bias (such as loyalty to a particular person or deity), no good historian would completely discard them.

An example that is more to the point is Bart D. Ehrman’s strong affirmation of Jesus’ existence in his Did Jesus Exist? (New York: HarperOne, 2012), pp. 142–174. It is based on New Testament data and is noteworthy for its down-to-earth perception. Ehrman bases his conclusion that Jesus existed on two facts: first, that the apostle Paul was personally acquainted with Jesus’ brother James and with the apostle Peter; and second, that, contrary to Jewish messianic expectation of the day, Jesus was crucified (Did Jesus Exist?, p. 173).

In the last analysis, all evidence from all sources must be considered. Both Biblical and non-Biblical sources “are in principle of equal value in the study of Jesus” (Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz, The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998], p. 23). An excellent, up-to-date resource on both Christian and non-Christian sources is Craig A. Evans, ed., Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus (New York: Routledge, 2008).

4. “As Norma Miller delightfully remarks, ‘The well-intentioned pagan glossers of ancient texts do not normally express themselves in Tacitean Latin,’ and the same could be said of Christian interpolators” (Norma P. Miller, Tacitus: Annals XV [London: Macmillan, 1971], p. xxviii, quoted in Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000], p. 43).

5. Annals XV.44, as translated in Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, pp. 42–43. Instead of the better-documented reading, “Chrestians,” the word “Christians” appears in a more traditional translation by Alfred J. Church and William J. Brodribb, Annals of Tacitus (London: Macmillan, 1882), pp. 304–305, and in an even earlier edition, which appears at www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Tacitus_on_Christ.html.

6. Along with these corroborations, Tacitus’s statement also contains difficulties that might cause concern. Three that I consider the most important are treated in this note. Although debates will continue, proper use of historical background offers reasonable, tenable solutions that we may hold with confidence while remaining open to new evidence and new interpretations if they are better. Every approach has difficulties to explain. I prefer those that come with this article’s approach, because I consider them smaller and more easily resolved than the problems of other approaches.

First, it is common for scholars to observe that Pontius Pilate’s official title when he governed Judaea (26/27–36 C.E.) was not procurator, as in the quotation from Tacitus above, but praefectus (in Latin, literally, “placed in charge”; in English, prefect), as stated on the “Pilate stone” discovered in 1961. This stone was lying in the ruins of the theater in the ancient city of Caesarea Maritima, on Israel’s northern seacoast. The stone had been trimmed down to be re-used twice, so the first part of the title is broken off, but the title is not in doubt. With square brackets marking missing letters that scholars have filled in, two of its four lines read “[Po]ntius Pilate . . . [Pref]ect of Juda[ea]”:

line 2 […PO]NTIUS PILATUS
line 3 […PRAEF]ECTUS IUDA[EA]E

The inscription could potentially be dated to any time in Pilate’s career, but a date between 31 and 36 C.E. seems most likely. See Clayton Miles Lehmann and Kenneth G. Holum, The Greek and Latin Inscriptions of Caesarea Maritima, Joint Expedition to Caesarea Excavation Reports V (Boston: American Schools of Oriental Research, 2000), pp. 67–70, no. 43, p. 249 Pl. XXVI.

The family name Pontius was common in some parts of Italy during that era, but the name Pilatus was “extremely rare” (A. N. Sherwin-White, “Pilate, Pontius,” in International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 3 [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986], p. 867). Because of the rarity of the name Pilatus and because only one Pontius Pilatus was ever the Roman governor of Judea, this identification should be regarded as completely certain.

It is possible that “procurator” in the quotation above is a simple error, but the historical background reveals that it is not so much an error as it is an anachronism—something placed out of its proper time, whether intentionally or by accident. As emperor until 14 C.E., Augustus gave governors of western and southern Judea the title praefectus. But later, Claudius (r. 41–54 C.E.) began conferring the title procurator pro legato, “procurator acting as legate” on new provincial governors. A procurator, literally, “caretaker,” was a steward who managed financial affairs on behalf of the owner. Roman governmental procurators managed taxes and estates on behalf of the emperor and had administrative duties. The English verb to procure is derived from the same root.

From then on, the title procurator replaced praefectus in many Roman provinces, including Judea. “So the early governors of western and southern Judea, after it became a Roman province in A.D. 6, were officially entitled praefecti. Later writers, however, usually referred to them anachronistically as procurators or the Greek equivalent …” (A. N. Sherwin-White, “Procurator,” in International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, p. 979.)

Writing in 116 or 117 C.E., Tacitus, who was above all a careful writer, might have intentionally chosen to use the then-current title procurator in keeping with the anachronistic way of speaking that was common in his day. Even today, we accept titles used anachronistically. One might read comparable statements about “U.S. Secretaries of Defense from Henry Stimson during World War II to Chuck Hagel,” even though Stimson’s actual title was Secretary of War, and the current title is Secretary of Defense. Readers who are unfamiliar with Stimson’s title would nevertheless understand which position he held in the government.

Whether procurator was used intentionally or not, in effect this anachronistic term helped readers quickly understand Pilate’s official position and avoided confusing people who were not familiar with the older title.

The second difficulty is that Tacitus’s word for “Christians” is spelled two different ways in existing Latin manuscripts of Annals: both Christianoi and Chrestianoi. The name Chrestus, meaning “good, kind, useful, beneficent,” was commonly given to slaves who served Roman masters. In spoken conversation, people in Rome could easily have mistakenly heard the Latinized foreign word Christus as the familiar name ChrestusChrestianoi, “good, kind, useful ones,” is found in the oldest surviving manuscript of this passage in Tacitus.

[T]he original hand of the oldest surviving manuscript, the Second Medicean (eleventh century), which is almost certainly the source of all other surviving manuscripts, reads Chrestianoi, “Chrestians.” A marginal gloss “corrects” it to ChristianoiChrestianoi is to be preferred as the earliest and most difficult reading and is adopted by the three current critical editions and the recent scholarship utilizing them. It also makes better sense in context. Tacitus is correcting, in a way typical of his style of economy, the misunderstanding of the “crowd” (vulgus) by stating that the founder of this name (auctor nominis eius) is Christus, not the name implicitly given by the crowd, Chrestus. Tacitus could have written auctor superstitionis, “the founder of this superstition,” or something similar, but he calls attention by his somewhat unusual phrase to the nomen [name] of the movement in order to link it directly—and correctly—to the name of Christ (Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, pp. 43–44. See also John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, vol. 1: The Roots of the Problem and the Person, Anchor Bible Reference Library [New York: Doubleday, 1991], p. 100, note 7.).

It is very common for ancient classical writings to be represented by manuscripts that were copied many centuries later. For example, the earliest manuscript of the Odyssey is from the 900s C.E., yet it is traditionally ascribed to the blind Greek poet Homer, who is dated variously from about the 800s to the 500s B.C.E., roughly 1,400 to 1,700 years earlier. Similarly, it is not unusual for the earliest surviving manuscripts of various works of the Greek philosopher Plato to date from over 1,000 years after he wrote.

For a technical, critical discussion of Christus and Chrestus in English, see Robert Renahan, “Christus or Chrestus in Tacitus?” Past and Present 23 (1968), pp. 368–370.

The third difficulty is more apparent than real: Why did it take about 85 years for a classical author such as Tacitus to write about Jesus, whose crucifixion occurred c. 29 C.E.? (The A.D. system, devised by the Christian Scythian monk Dionysius Exiguus [“Dennis the Small”] in the 525 C.E. and used in our present-day calendar, was not perfectly set on the exact year of Jesus’ birth, though it was close. As a result, Jesus was born within the years we now refer to as 6 to 4 B.C.E. That would put the beginning of his ministry, around age 30 (Luke 3:23), at c. 25 C.E. In the widely held view that Jesus’ ministry lasted 3.5 years before his death, a reasonable date for the crucifixion is c. 29 C.E.)

The following two observations made by F. F. Bruce are relevant to works by Tacitus and by several other classical writers who mention Jesus:1. Surprisingly few classical writings, comparatively speaking, survive from the period of about the first 50 years of the Christian church (c. 29 to 80 C.E.). (Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins, p. 17.)2. Roman civilization paid almost no attention to obscure religious leaders in faraway places, such as Jesus in Judea—just as today’s Western nations pay almost no attention to religious leaders in remote parts of the world, unless the national interest is involved. Rome became concerned only when Christians grew numerous. (Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins, pp. 17–18. For thorough discussion, see Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, pp. 68–71.)A time factor that affects Tacitus in particular is:3. In the Annals, the reference to Jesus appears only in connection with the cruel treatment of Christians in Rome by Nero, as part of a biography of Nero (d. 68 C.E.). By happenstance, Tacitus did not get around to composing Nero’s biography until the last group of narratives he wrote before he died. A writer for most of his life, Tacitus began with works on oratory, ethnography of German tribes and other subjects. His book Histories, written c. 100–110, which covers the reigns of later Roman emperors after Nero, was actually written before his book Annals, which covers the earlier reigns of Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero. Thus Tacitus wrote his biography of Nero at the end of his career.

7. Asia was the name of a Roman province in what is now western Turkey (Asia Minor).

8. Perhaps he compared it to Roman records, whether in general governmental archives or in records concerning various religions. I have read one analysis by an author who arbitrarily assumes that Tacitus got his information only from Christians—no other source. Then, on the sole basis of the author’s own assumption, the analysis completely dismisses Tacitus’s clear historical statement about “Christus.” This evaluation is based on opinion, not evidence. It also undervalues Tacitus’s very careful writing and his discernment as a historian. He likely had access to some archives through his status, either as Proconsul of Asia, as a senator—or, as is often overlooked, from his connections as a high-ranking priest of Roman religion. In 88 C.E., he became “a member of the Quindecimviri Sacris Faciundis [“The Board of Fifteen for Performing Sacrifices”], the priestly organization charged, among other things, with … supervising the practice of officially tolerated foreign cults in the city … [and facing] the growing necessity to distinguish illicit Christianity from licit Judaism” (Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, p. 52), or, given Jewish resistance to oppressive measures taken by Rome, at least to keep a close watch on developments within Judaism. Indeed, “a Roman archive … is particularly suggested by the note of the temporary suppression of the superstition, which indicates an official perspective” (Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus, p. 83). Membership in this priestly regulatory group very likely gave Tacitus access to at least some of the accurate knowledge he possessed about Christus. With characteristic brevity, he reported the facts as he understood them, quickly dismissing the despised, executed Christus from the Annals (see Meier, Marginal Jew, vol. 1, p. 90).

Tacitus himself tells us … that in 88 [C.E.] both in his capacity as priest of the college of quindecimviri sacris faciundis and as a praetor he had been present at and had paid close attention to the ludi saeculares [“secular games”] celebrated by Domitian in that year… [Annals, XI.11, 3–4]. It rather sounds as if he took his religious office seriously …

Tacitus presents himself as a man concerned to preserve traditional Roman religious practice, convinced that when religious matters are allowed to slide or are completely disregarded, the gods will vent their anger on the Roman people to correct their error. What on his view angers the gods is not so much failure to observe the niceties of ritual practice, as disdain for the moral order that the gods uphold” (Matthew W. Dickie, “Magic in the Roman Historians,” in Richard Lindsay Gordon and Francisco Marco Simón, eds., Magical Practice in the Latin West: Papers from the International Conference Held at the University of Zaragoza, 30 Sept. – 1st Oct. 2005, Religions in the Greco-Roman World, vol. 168 [Leiden: Brill, 2010], pp. 82, 83).

Tacitus was in his twenties in 79 C.E., when an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius annihilated the city of Pompeii. One can reasonably suppose how he might have interpreted this disaster in relation to the Roman gods.

9. Quoted from Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus, p. 64.

10. Titus’s troops captured and treated as war booty the sacred menorah that had stood in the holy place inside the Temple. See articles on the menorah as depicted on the Arch of Titus, in Yeshiva University’s Arch of Titus Digital Restoration Project, etc., at yeshiva.academia.edu/StevenFine/Menorah-Arch-of-Titus-Digital-Restoration-Project.

11. Jewish Antiquities, XX.200 (or, in Whiston’s translation of Jewish Antiquities, XX.9.1).

12. James’s name was actually Jacob. Odd as it may seem, the English name James is ultimately derived from the Hebrew name Jacob.

13. Jewish Antiquities, XX.9.1 in Whiston’s translation (§200 in scholarly editions), as translated by Meier, Marginal Jew, vol. 1, p. 57. Meier’s original passage includes the phrases in square brackets [ ]. The omitted words indicated by the ellipsis (…) are in Greek, to let scholars know what words are translated into English.

14. Winter asserts that Josephus mentions about twelve others named Jesus. Feldman puts that number at 21. See Paul Winter, “Excursus II: Josephus on Jesus and James: Ant. xviii 3, 3 (63–64) and xx 9,1 (200–203),” in Emil Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, 3 vols., rev. and ed. by Geza Vermes, Fergus Millar, Matthew Black and Martin Goodman (Edinburgh: Clark, 1973–1987), vol. 1, p. 431; Louis H. Feldman, “Introduction,” in Louis H. Feldman and Gohei Hata, eds., Josephus, Judaism, and Christianity (Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1987), p. 56.

15. See Meier, Marginal Jew, vol. 1, pp. 57–58. Messiah, the Hebrew term for “anointed (one),” came through Greek translation (Christos) into English as Christ.

16. See Meier, Marginal Jew, vol. 1, p. 59, note 12; pp. 72–73, note 12.

17. Richard T. France, The Evidence for Jesus, The Jesus Library (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1986), p. 26.

18. Josephus says James was executed by stoning before the Jewish War began, but Christian tradition says he was executed during the Jewish War by being thrown from a height of the Temple, then, after an attempt to stone him was prevented, finally being clubbed to death. See Meier, Marginal Jew, vol. 1, p. 58.

19. XVIII.63–64 (in Whiston’s translation: XVIII.3.3).

20. It was modern scholar John P. Meier who put these passages in italics.

21. Christians believe that Jesus was fully human, but also fully Divine, having two natures in one person. To refer to him as “a wise man,” as the earlier part of the sentence does, would seem incomplete to a Christian. This clause seems intended to lead toward the two boldly Christian statements that come later.

22. This straightforward translation from Greek, in which I have italicized three phrases, is by Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus, pp. 65–66.

In his Bible Review article (Meier, “The Testimonium,” Bible Review, June 1991, p. 23), John P. Meier subtracts these three apparently Christian portions from the Testimonium. What remains is a very plausible suggestion, possibly the authentic, smoothly flowing report written by Flavius Josephus—or very close to it. Here is the remainder:

Around this time there lived Jesus, a wise man. For he was one who did surprising deeds, and a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who in the first place came to love him did not give up their affection for him. And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, have still to this day not died out (Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus, pp. 65–66, after deleting the apparent Christian additions as Meier would).

23. Regarding differing religious convictions of readers that have generated disagreements about this passage at least since medieval times, see Alice Whealey, Josephus on Jesus: The Testimonium Flavianum Controversy from Late Antiquity to Modern Times, Studies in Biblical Literature, vol. 36 (New York: Peter Lang, 2003). Whealey’s observations in her conclusion, pp. 203–207, may be summarized as follows:

In the High Middle Ages (c. 1050–1350), Jewish scholars claimed it was a Christian forgery that was inserted into Josephus’s text, and Christians simply claimed it was entirely authentic. The problem was that with few exceptions, both sides argued from a priori assumptions with no critical examination of evidence. In the late 1500s and the 1600s, some Protestant scholars made the public charge of forgery. By the mid-1700s, based on textual evidence, scholarly opinion had rejected the authenticity of the Testimonium Flavianum and the controversy largely ended for over two centuries.

Twentieth-century scholars, however, revived the controversy on the basis of “new” variations of the text and whole works from ancient times that had been overlooked. Instead of the generally Protestant character of the earlier controversy, the controversy that began in the twentieth century is “more academic and less sectarian … marked by the presence of Jewish scholars for the first time as prominent participants on both sides of the question, and in general the attitudes of Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish, and secular scholars towards the text have drawn closer together” (p. 206).

24. Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus, p. 65–69. Meier, “The Testimonium,” Bible Review, June 1991, gives the third answer.

25. Steve Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), p. 229.

26. Matthew 16:16; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20.

27. According to Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus, pp. 66–67, unless otherwise noted, these phrases that are characteristic of Josephus include: 1) Calling Jesus “a wise man” and calling his miracles “surprising deeds”; 2) Use of one of Josephus’s favorite phrases, “accept the truth gladly,” that in the “gladly” part includes the Greek word for “pleasure” which for Christian writers of this era, as a rule, had a bad connotation; 3) The reference to attracting “many of the Greeks” (meaning Hellenistic Gentiles), which fits better with Rome in Josephus’s time than with the references to Gentiles in the Gospels, which are few (such as John 12:20–22). On the style being that of Josephus, see also Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, pp. 89–91; 4) “The execution of Jesus by Pilate on the denunciation of the Jewish authorities shows acquaintance with legal conditions in Judaea and contradicts the tendency of the Christian reports of the trial of Jesus, which incriminate the Jews but play down Pilate’s responsibility” (Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus, p. 67); 5) Calling Christians a “tribe” tends to show a Jewish perspective.

28. On whether the Testimonium Flavianum interrupts the structure of its literary context, see Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus, pp. 67–68, under “The interpolation hypothesis.” They describe E. Norden’s analysis (in German) of the context in Jewish Antiquities. Also see France, Evidence for Jesus, pp. 27–28, which mentions that Josephus’s typical sequencing includes digressions. Josephus’s key vocabulary regarding revolts is absent from the section on Jesus, perhaps removed by a Christian copyist who refused to perpetuate Josephus’s portrayal of Jesus as a real or potential rebel political leader.

29. Various scholars have suggested that Josephus’s original text took a hostile view of Jesus, but others, that it took a neutral to slightly positive view of him. See Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus, pp. 68–71 (hostile views) and pp. 71–74 (neutral to slightly positive views).

30. Josephus scholar Steve Mason observes, “Long after Eusebius, in fact, the text of the testimonium remained fluid. Jerome (342–420), the great scholar who translated the Bible and some of Eusebius into Latin, gives a version that agrees closely with standard text, except that the crucial phrase says of Jesus, ‘He was believed to be the Messiah’” (Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, p. 230, italics his. A decades-long, simmering debate continues about whether Jerome’s translation accurately represents what Josephus wrote.).

Besides Jerome’s Latin version, other examples of variation in manuscripts that are mentioned by Mason include an Arabic rendering and a version in Syriac. The Syriac language developed from Aramaic and is the (or an) official language of some branches of Orthodox Christianity.

A passage in a tenth-century Arabic Christian manuscript written by a man named Agapius appears to be a version of the Testimonium Flavianum. Shlomo Pines gives the following translation from the Arabic:

Similarly Josephus [Yūsīfūs] the Hebrew. For he says that in the treatises that he has written on the governance [?] of the Jews: ‘At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good, and [he] was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.

This is what is said by Josephus and his companions of our Lord the Messiah, may he be glorified (Shlomo Pines, An Arabic Version of the Testimonium Flavianum and Its Implications [Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1971), pp. 8–10).

Feldman thinks that Agapius mixed in source material from writers besides Josephus and provided “a paraphrase, rather than a translation” (Louis H. Feldman, Josephus and Modern Scholarship, 1937–1980 [New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1984], p. 701). John P. Meier tends not to attribute much significance to Agapius’s description of the Testimonium Flavianum; see Meier, Marginal Jew, vol. 1, pp. 78–79, note 37.

Of the three apparently Christian portions that are italicized in the translation of the Greek text above, the first is missing, and the other two are phrased as neutral statements (“they reported” he was alive, “he was perhaps” the Messiah), rather than as affirmations of Christian faith, such as, “He was” the Messiah, “He appeared” alive again.

Mason also refers to Pines’s translation of a version in Syriac found in the writings of Michael, the Patriarch of Antioch:

The writer Josephus also says in his work on the institutions of the Jews: In these times there was a wise man named Jesus, if it is fitting for us to call him a man. For he was a worker of glorious deeds and a teacher of truth. Many from among the Jews and the nations became his disciples. He was thought to be the Messiah. But not according to the testimony of the principal [men] of [our] nation. Because of this, Pilate condemned him to the cross, and he died. For those who had loved him did not cease to love him. He appeared to them alive after three days. For the prophets of God had spoken with regard to him of such marvelous [as these]. And the people of the Christians, named after him, has not disappeared till [this] day” (Pines, Arabic Version, pp. 26–27).

Pines adds a note about the Syriac text of the sentence “He was thought to be the Messiah”: “This sentence may also be translated Perhaps he was the Messiah.”

These Latin, Arabic and Syriac versions most likely represent genuine, alternative textual traditions. “The Christian dignitaries who innocently report these versions as if they came from Josephus had no motive, it seems, to weaken their testimony to Jesus” (Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, p. 231). Actually, Christians tended to make references to Jesus more glorious. Nor is there any indication that anti-Christian scribes reduced the references to Jesus from glorious to mundane, which would likely have been accompanied by disparagement. “It seems probable, therefore, that the versions of Josephus’s statement given by Jerome, Agapius and Michael reflect alternative textual traditions of Josephus which did not contain” the bold Christian confessions that appear in the standard Greek version (Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, p. 231). They contain variations that exhibit a degree of the fluidity that Mason emphasizes (Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, pp. 230–231). But these versions are not so different that they are unrecognizable as different versions of the Testimonium Flavianum. They use several similar phrases and refer to the same events, presenting phrases and events in a closely similar order, with few exceptions. Thus, along with enough agreement among the standard Greek text and the non-Greek versions to reveal a noteworthy degree of stability, their differences clearly exhibit the work of other hands after Josephus. (It is by this stability that we may recognize many lengthy additions and disagreements with the manuscript texts of the Testimonium Flavianum that are found in a passage sometimes called the Testimonium Slavianum that was apparently inserted into the Old Russian translation, called the Slavonic version, of Josephus’s other major work, The Jewish War.)

In the process of finding the similarities of phrases and references in extant manuscripts, one can come to recognize that the standard Greek form of the Testimonium Flavianum is simply one textual tradition among several. On balance, the Greek version is not necessarily supreme over all other textual traditions (Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, pp. 234–236). Despite a degree of stability in the text, the fluidity that is evident in various textual traditions is plain evidence that what Josephus wrote was later altered. When viewed from the standpoint of the Latin, Arabic and Syriac versions, the Greek text looks deliberately altered to make Josephus seem to claim that Jesus was the Messiah, possibly by omitting words that indicated that people called him Christos or thought, said, reported or believed that he was. Also, although of course the evidence is the crucial factor, alternative 3 also happens to have the support of the overwhelming majority of scholars, far more than any other view.

31. Almost all of the following points are listed and elaborated in Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, pp. 99–102.

32. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, p. 99.

33. “The non-Christian testimonies to Jesus … show that contemporaries in the first and second century saw no reason to doubt Jesus’ existence” (Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus, p. 63).

34. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, p. 15. His footnote attached to this sentence states, with reference to Justin Martyr:

The only possible attempt at this argument known to me is in Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho, written in the middle of the second century. At the end of chapter 8, Trypho, Justin’s Jewish interlocutor, states, “But [the] Christ—if indeed he has been born and exists anywhere—is unknown, and does not even know himself, and has no power until Elijah comes to anoint him and make him known to all. Accepting a groundless report, you have invented a Christ for yourselves, and for his sake you are unknowingly perishing.” This may be a faint statement of a nonexistence hypothesis, but it is not developed or even mentioned again in the rest of the Dialogue, in which Trypho assumes the existence of Jesus (Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, p. 15, note 35).

Even in this statement, in which Trypho tries to imply that an existing report of Jesus as the Christ is erroneous, his reason is not necessarily that Jesus did not exist. Rather, he might well have wanted to plant the doubt that—although Jesus existed, as Trypho consistently assumes throughout the rest of the dialogue— the “report” that Jesus was the Christ was “groundless,” and that later on, someone else might arise who would prove to be the true Christ. Trypho was attempting to raise hypothetical doubt without here stating any actual grounds for doubt. These suggestions, more likely taunts, from Trypho, which he immediately abandons, cannot be regarded as an argument, let alone a serious argument. They are simply an unsupported doubt, apparently regarding Jesus’ being the Messiah.

35. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, pp. 133–134.

36. The chief difficulty in working with rabbinic writings that might be about Jesus is that

it is not always clear if Jesus (variously called Yeshua or Yeshu, with or without the further designation ha-Noṣri [meaning “the Nazarene”]) is in fact the person to whom reference is being made, especially when certain epithets are employed (e.g. Balaam, Ben Pandira, Ben Stada, etc. … Another serious problem in making use of these traditions is that it is likely that none of it is independent of Christian sources (Craig A. Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” in Bruce Chilton and Craig A. Evans, eds., Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research, 2nd impression, New Testament Tools and Studies, vol. 6 (Boston: Brill, 1998, 1994), pp. 443–444).

Thus Van Voorst finds that “most passages alleged to speak about him in code do not in fact do so, or are so late as to have no value” (Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, p. 129).

From among the numerous rabbinic traditions, many of which seem puzzling in their potential references to Jesus, a fairly clear example is as follows:

And it is tradition: On the eve of the Passover they hanged Yeshu ha-Noṣri. And the herald went forth before him for forty days, “Yeshu ha-Noṣri is to be stoned, because he has practiced magic and enticed and led Israel astray. Anyone who knows anything in his favor, let him come and speak concerning him.” And they found nothing in his favor. And they hanged him on the eve of the Passover. Ulla says, “Would it be supposed that Yeshu ha-Noṣri was one for whom anything in his favor might be said? Was he not a deceiver? And the Merciful has said, ‘Thou shalt not spare, neither shalt thou conceal him’ [Deuteronomy 13:8]. But it was different with Yeshu ha-Noṣri, for he was near to the kingdom’” (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a; compare Sanhedrin 67a).

The following paragraph summarizes Craig A. Evans’s comments on the above quotation from the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a:

According to John 18:28 and 19:14, Jesus’ execution occurred during Passover. The phrase “near to the kingdom” might refer to the Christian tradition that Jesus was a descendant of King David (Matthew 1:1; Mark 10:47, 48), or it could refer to Jesus’ proclamation that the kingdom of God was at hand (Mark 1:15). Deuteronomy 13:1–11 prescribes death by stoning for leading other Israelites astray to serve other gods, giving a sign or wonder, and Deuteronomy 21:21–22 requires that “when a man has committed a sin worthy of death, and he is put to death, you shall hang him on a tree” (compare the Mishnah, Sanhedrin 6:4, “All who have been stoned must be hanged”). When Judea came under Roman rule, which instituted crucifixion as a legal punishment, apart from the question of whether it was just or unjust, Jews roughly equated it with hanging on a tree. (Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” p. 448)

The passage above simultaneously implies the rabbis’ view that Jesus really existed and encapsulates the rabbis’ uniformly negative view of his miracles as magic and his teachings as deceit (Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, p. 120).

37. Passing of Peregrinus, §11, as translated in Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” p. 462.

38. This paragraph is a separate quotation from Passing of Peregrinus, §11, again as translated in Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” p. 462.

39. On Celsus: in c. 176 C.E., Celsus, a Platonist philosopher in Alexandria, wrote The True Word (this title is also translated as The True Doctrine, or The True Discourse, or The True Account, etc.) to lodge his severe criticisms of Judaism and Christianity. Although that work has not survived, it is quoted and paraphrased in Origen’s reply in defense of Christianity, Against Celsus (c. 248 C.E.). Prominent among his many accusations to which Origen replies is as follows:

Next he makes the charge of the savior that it was by magic that he was able to do the miracles which he appeared to have done, and foreseeing that others also, having learned the same lessons and being haughty to act with the power of God, are about to do the same thing, such persons Jesus would drive away from his own society.

For he says, “He was brought up in secret and hired himself out as a workman in Egypt, and having tried his hand at certain magical powers he returned from there, and on account of those powers gave himself the title of God” (Origen, Against Celsus, 1.6, 38, as translated in Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” p. 460).

It is unknown whether Celsus became aware of information about Jesus, including reports of his miracles, from the Gospel tradition(s) or independently of them. Thus it cannot be said that Celsus adds any new historical material about Jesus, though it is clear that in accusing Jesus of using magic for personal gain, Celsus assumed his existence.

Charges that Jesus was a magician are common in ancient writings, and Christian replies have been published even very recently. Evans refers readers to “an assessment of the polemic that charges Jesus with sorcery”: Graham N. Stanton, “Jesus of Nazareth: A Magician and a False Prophet Who Deceived God’s People?” in Joel B. Green and Max Turner, eds., Jesus of Nazareth: Lord and Christ: Essays on the Historical Jesus and New Testament Christology, I. Howard Marshall Festschrift (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), pp. 166–182 (Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” p. 460, note 45).

40. On Pliny the Younger: A friend of Tacitus, and like him the governor of a Roman province (in 110 C.E.), Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus (c. 61–113 C.E.), known as Pliny, seems to have been excessively dependent on the Emperor Trajan for directions on how to govern. In his lengthy correspondence with Trajan, titled Epistles, X.96, along with his inquiries about how to treat people accused of being Christians, Pliny wrote:

They [the Christians] assured me that the sum total of their error consisted in the fact that that they regularly assembled on a certain day before daybreak. They recited a hymn antiphonally to Christus as to a god and bound themselves with an oath not to commit any crime, but to abstain from theft, robbery, adultery, breach of faith, and embezzlement of property entrusted to them. After this, it was their custom to separate, and then to come together again to partake of a meal, but an ordinary and innocent one (Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” p. 459)

The things that Pliny wrote about Christians can be found in or deduced from the New Testament. He reveals nothing new about Jesus himself, nor can his letters be considered evidence for Jesus’ existence, only for Christian belief in his existence. One may note what seems to have been early second century Christian belief in Jesus as deity, as well as the sizable population of Christians worshiping him in Pliny’s province, Bithynia, in Asia Minor, despite Roman prohibition and punishments.

41. On Suetonius: In c. 120 C.E., the Roman writer, lawyer and historian Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (c. 70–140 C.E.), a friend of Pliny, wrote the following in his history, On the Lives of the Caesars, speaking of an event in 49 C.E.: “He [Claudius] expelled the Jews from Rome, because they were always making disturbances because of the instigator Chrestus” (Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, p. 30).

In the first place, the term “the Jews” could refer to Christians, whom Romans viewed as members of a Jewish sect. So the “disturbances” could be understood as riots among Jews, among Christians viewed as Jews, or, most likely, between those whom we would call Jews and Christians.

The use of the name “Chrestus” creates more ambiguity in this passage than the term “Chrestians” did in the passage in Tacitus treated above. Tacitus implicitly corrected the crowd. Here, with Suetonius speaking of events in 49 C.E., we have two options to choose from. The first option is that it’s a spelling of a mispronunciation of Christus, which Romans thought was Jesus’ name. If so, then Suetonius misunderstood Christus, whom he called “Chrestus,” to be an instigator. Suetonius’s key appositive phrase, “impulsore Chresto,” is much more accurately translated “the instigator Chrestus” (Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, p. 31) than the usual “at the instigation of Chrestus” (Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, p. 29). Another logical result would be that the uproarious disputes in 49 C.E. were actually disturbances sparked by disagreement about who Jesus was and/or what he said and did. Considering the two sides, namely, the rabbinic view that he was a magician and deceitful teacher, versus early Christians whose worship was directed to him “as to a god” (as described from the Roman perspective of Pliny the Younger), one can see how synagogues could become deeply divided.

The second option is that it refers to an otherwise unknown “instigator” of disturbances who bore the common name of slaves and freedmen, Chrestus. Actually, among hundreds of Jewish names in the catacombs of Rome, there is not one instance of Chrestus being the name of a Jew (Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, p. 33). For this and other reasons, it seems more likely that Suetonius, who often uncritically repeated errors in his sources, was referring to Christus, that is, Jesus, but misunderstood him to be an agitator who lived in Rome in 49 C.E. (Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, pp. 29–39).

42. On Mara bar Serapion: In the last quarter of the first century C.E., a prisoner of war following the Roman conquest of Samosata (see under Lucian), Mara bar Serapion wrote a letter to his son, Serapion. In Stoic fashion, he wanted his son to seek wisdom in order to handle life’s misfortunes with virtue and composure.

For what advantage did the Athenians gain by the murder of Socrates, the recompense of which they received in famine and pestilence? Or the people of Samos by the burning of Pythagoras, because in one hour their country was entirely covered in sand? Or the Jews by the death of their wise king, because from that same time their kingdom was taken away? God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise king die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given (Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” pp. 455–456)

All we know of the author comes from this letter. Mara does not seem to have been a Christian, because he does not refer to a resurrection of Jesus and because his terminology, such as “wise king,” is not the usual Christian way of referring to Jesus. It is entirely possible that Mara received some knowledge of Jesus from Christians but did not name him for fear of displeasing his own Roman captors. His nameless reference makes the identification of “the wise king” as Jesus, though reasonable, still somewhat uncertain.

43. Doubtful sources contain “second- and third-hand traditions that reflect for the most part vague acquaintance with the Gospel story and controversies with Christians. These sources offer nothing independent” (Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” p. 443). Doubtful sources include the following:

Many rabbinic sources, including the Sepher Toledot Yeshu, “The Book of the Generations of Jesus” (meaning his ancestry or history; compare Matthew 1:1). It might be generally datable to as early as the eighth century C.E. but “may well contain a few oral traditions that go back to the third century.” It is “nothing more than a late collection of traditions, from Christian as well as from Jewish sources … full of fictions assembled for the primary purpose of anti-Christian polemic and propaganda,” and has no historical value regarding the question of Jesus’ existence (Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” p. 450).

The Slavonic (or Old Russian) Version of Josephus’s Jewish War “contains numerous passages … [which] tell of Jesus’ amazing deeds, of the jealousy of the Jewish leaders, of bribing Pilate,” etc. (Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” p. 451). These additions have no demonstrated historical value. The Yosippon (or Josippon) is a medieval source which appears in many versions, often with many additions. Its core is a Hebrew version of portions of Josephus’s writings that offers nothing from before the fourth century C.E. The Dead Sea Scrolls contain no contemporary references to Jesus or his followers. Islamic traditions either depend on the New Testament or are not clearly traceable to the early centuries C.E.

44. Regarding archaeological discoveries, along with many other scholars, I do not find that the group of ossuaries (bone boxes) discovered in the East Talpiot district of Jerusalem can be used as a basis for any conclusions about Jesus of Nazareth or his family. See the variety of views presented in James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Tomb of Jesus and His Family? Exploring Ancient Jewish Tombs Near Jerusalem’s Walls (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), especially the essay by Rachel Hachlili, “What’s in a Name?” pp. 125–149. She concludes, “In light of all the above the East Talpiot tomb is a Jewish family tomb with no connection to the historical Jesus family; it is not the family tomb of Jesus and most of the presented facts for the identification are speculation and guesswork” (p. 143).

45. See Nili S. Fox, In the Service of the King: Officialdom in Ancient Israel and Judah, Monographs of the Hebrew Union College (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College, 2000), pp. 23–32; Christopher A. Rollston, “Non-Provenanced Epigraphs I: Pillaged Antiquities, Northwest Semitic Forgeries, and Protocols for Laboratory Tests,” Maarav 10 (2003), pp. 135–193, and his “Non-Provenanced Epigraphs II: The Status of Non-Provenanced Epigraphs within the Broader Corpus of Northwest Semitic,” Maarav 11 (2004), pp. 57–79.

46. See Craig A. Evans, Jesus and the Ossuaries (Waco, TX: Baylor Univ. Press, Markham Press Fund, 2003), pp. 112–115. Regarding identification of the people named in the James ossuary inscription, even if it is authentic, the question as to whether it refers to Jesus of Nazareth has not been clearly settled. It is worth observing that its last phrase, “the brother of Jesus,” whose authenticity is disputed, is not the characteristic Christian way of referring to Jesus, which would be “the brother of the Lord,” but this observation hardly settles the question.

47. On G. A. Wells and Michael Martin, see Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996), pp. 27–46. On others who deny Jesus’ existence, see Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? , especially pp. 61–64, 177–264.

My God Will Provide

For some believers in restricted nations and hostile areas, following Christ means beatings, torture and even death. For others, the decision to follow Christ means losing jobs, income, homes and relationships. That was the case for a Pakistani man after he placed his faith in Christ.

Asif was a well-liked supervisor at a garment factory in Pakistan. As a Christian, he led 10 coworkers in prayer before work every morning. But the factory owner, a Muslim man, wanted Asif to convert to Islam and told him to stop the prayers. Asif responded by giving the man a Bible so he could learn about the Christian faith.

The factory owner continued to harass Asif. He brought an Islamic cleric in to persuade Asif to accept Islam, and he tried to force Asif to join in Muslim prayers. But Asif refused each of the owner’s efforts to convert him. Finally, the owner gave him an ultimatum: Accept Islam or lose your job.

“My God will provide me with everything,” Asif replied.

Asif’s commitment to Christ cost him his job, and it may be difficult for him to find another source of income. Many Christians in Pakistan are trapped in poverty because they have few job opportunities. “Good jobs are hard to get for Christians in Pakistan,” VOM’s field leader for Pakistan said. “Asif knew exactly what the consequences could be for him, and he chose to remain faithful.”

VOM has been supporting Asif and his family, who are now in hiding after receiving death threats for refusing to convert to Islam.
Source: Voice of the Martyrs

India: Christian Suffering Is Not the Whole Story

As recently as 25 years ago, many parts of India were essentially unreached by the gospel. Since then, VOM has responded to thousands of anti-Christian persecution incidents, which have become more frequent, widespread and severe as the gospel has spread throughout the country.

But Christian suffering is not the whole story! The persecution that our Indian Christian brothers and sisters are facing is the enemy’s reaction to his great failure — a tremendous move of God in which hundreds of thousands of Hindus have come to Christ in India’s most hostile areas. One such region is northern India, which is home to the Ganges River. Millions of Hindus travel there each year in the belief that washing in the river will cleanse them from their sins. Yet independent studies show that more than 300,000 Hindus in northern India have turned to Christ in recent years.

This mighty work of God throughout India has caused a corresponding growth in opposition to Christian faith and witness. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has seen a 20 percent increase in membership. The political-religious ideology of Hindu nationalism is institutionalizing hostility toward Christians and considers them enemies of the state. Former RSS leader M. S. Golwakar explained it this way: “So long as the Christians here indulge in such activities and consider themselves as agents of the international movement for the spread of Christianity, and refuse to offer their first loyalty to the land of their birth and behave as true children of the heritage and culture of their ancestors, they will remain here as hostiles and will have to be treated as such.”

While Hindu nationalists seek to eradicate all Christian witness from India, the gospel cannot be silenced or stopped. Our Christian brothers and sisters in India continue to live boldly for Christ, joyfully paying any price for the sake of the gospel. Remember Them in Prayer
Source: Voice of the Martyrs

Roses Among 1000 Thorns

Crown of Thorns and red Rose. Shallow DOF

When a pastor shared the gospel with a Nepali family, they eagerly placed their faith in Christ and began attending church regularly, walking eight miles each way to attend. But when the owner of the land they leased learned of their newfound faith in Christ, he kicked them off the land. As an extremely poor family struggling to survive, they had leased the land both to live on and to farm, giving half their crops to their landlord in payment. In addition to being evicted from the land, they were denied access to the village water tap.

VOM helped the family with the construction of a water well, and, though isolated and rejected, their faith has blossomed and grown. “The Christian life is like a rose that blooms and spreads aroma in the midst of a thousand thorns,” the family told their pastor. Pray for this family.

Source: Voice of the Martyrs

Mexican Census: Evangelicals at New High, Catholics at New Low

Thanks to migration, missions, and Pentecostal flair, Protestants now make up a 10th of the population.
GRIFFIN PAUL JACKSON|
Mexican Census: Evangelicals at New High, Catholics at New Low

Image: Manuel Velasquez / Getty Images

The Catholic majority in Mexico is slipping, as Protestants surpassed 10 percent of the population in the country for the first time ever.

According to recently released data from Mexico’s 2020 census, the Protestant/evangelical movement increased from 7.5 percent in 2010 to 11.2 percent last year.

The Catholic Church has historically dominated the religious landscape across Latin America, but especially in Mexico, which ranks among the most heavily Catholic countries in the region. Today, though an overwhelming majority of Mexicans still identify as Catholic, declines are accelerating.

It took 50 years—from 1950 to 2000—for the proportion of Catholics in Mexico to drop from 98 percent to 88 percent. Now, only two decades later, that percentage has slipped another 10 points to 77.7 percent.

National church leaders attribute the boom in Protestantism to a range of factors, from the influence of Americans and fellow Latin Americans in the country to effective evangelical outreach in indigenous areas.

Pentecostalism dominates the Protestant landscape, and even many of Mexico’s historical denominations—think Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists—have been “pentecostalized” in some beliefs and practices, embracing energetic worship, healing, and spiritual gifts.

Nearly a million American-born people live in Mexico, as well as tens of thousands of Guatemalans and Venezuelans, and others from Central American countries. Some of them have brought evangelicalism with them, while others encounter it when they arrive in Mexico, according to Rosa A. Duarte de Markham, coordinator of the department of biblical translation at the Missionary Cooperation of Mexico (Comimex).

Markham also believes that the recent Protestant growth reflects how Mexican society longs for the sense of morality and family values upheld in evangelical churches.

“Mexico has been in mourning for several years due to enforced disappearances. Surely this has led to the search for God as a comforter, to value peace and justice,” she said. “On the other hand, the need to rescue the family nucleus has led mothers and fathers to search in the Word of God for values such as fidelity in marriage, harmony, love of children, honesty, and a healthy lifestyle.”

The 77.7 percent Catholic figure from the recent Census resembles ongoing polling on religious affiliation by Latinobarómetro, which found that the Catholic population in Mexico has hovered around 80 percent for at least 25 years.

The most popular Protestant affiliation in Mexico, according to Latinobarómetro, is nondenominational, at 3 percent of the population in 2018. Overall, Protestants are more active in their faith, with 63 percent of nondenominational Mexicans considering themselves practicing, compared to 41 percent of Catholics.

Fifty years ago, there were very few Protestants in Mexico, but missionary efforts were underway. Over the years, the population grew more committed to evangelism—particularly in areas where the Catholic Church didn’t have as prominent a presence—and the expansion over the past decade shows that their efforts have borne fruit.

“The most important thing is that the Catholic Church had a monopoly on belief for many years, and that monopoly broke most particularly after the Second World War,” said Roberto Blancarte, sociologist of religion and professor at El Colegio de México.

According to Blancarte, there were simply not enough priests in Mexico to meet the needs of all the people. At the turn of the century, there was only one priest for every 6,000 Mexicans, a staggering deficit that left a pastoral void in regions poorer and farther afield than major urban centers. Protestants stepped up to fill that void, sending pastors to rural, indigenous areas.

Today, Mexico’s northernmost states have significant Protestant populations thanks to American influence around the border. The far southern Mexican states of Chiapas and Tabasco have populations that are upwards of 35 percent evangelical, the most of any Mexican states. These are also the states with the largest indigenous populations, Blancarte points out.

“The big change was not missionaries themselves, but the translation of the Bible into native languages,” said Blancarte, referencing efforts by evangelical groups including SIL International. “That allowed many people to read the Bible directly and to have local ministers who develop, in their own language, their own services.”

Experts also saw popular Pentecostal-style worship appealing to indigenous believers’ backgrounds in ecstatic spirituality and magic, as well as ritual Catholics who still adhere to syncretistic spiritual beliefs.

For decades, the growth of Protestantism has corresponded with the decline of Catholicism in other Latin American countries, with dramatic changes in places like Honduras, Nicaragua, and Brazil. Even up until several years ago, Mexico was seen as an exception to the trend.

Now, as Protestantism rises in the majority Catholic country, so do the proportion of Mexicans without ties to organized religions. In the 2020 census, those with no religion rose from 4.7 percent to 8.1 percent. Another 2.5 percent consider themselves a believer but don’t have a religious affiliation.

The religious shifts have begun to foster a greater sense of pluralism and, for some, tolerance. They’ve also influenced the political sphere, according to Blancarte, with evangelicals becoming more visible and powerful, despite there being no monolithic evangelical voting bloc.

“We are still a minority, but we are a majority within this minority, and this gives us some force and the government is starting to look at us to see what we think about certain issues,” said Cirilo Cruz, president of CONEMEX, the National Evangelical Fellowship of Mexico.

Cruz also cautioned against the tendency to be seduced by political power for the sake of having influence and prays that evangelical leaders handle their new position in Mexican society carefully and prophetically.

“We need to be careful in regard to how we grow,” said Cruz. “That our DNA will be biblical. That our DNA will hold values, principles, and ethics emanating from the Word of our God.”

There is little data yet on the trajectory of Mexico’s Protestant community during the ongoing coronavirus health crisis, but church leaders have been adamant about continued evangelization in the midst of the pandemic.

“As for Mexican Protestants, in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have understood that our call is to continue preaching the good news of salvation,” said Markham, “to bring love and hope to a world that is collapsing.”

Christianity Today

Second Century Church Services

The following description of a second century church service was written by Justin Martyr (100 AD -167 AD), who was born in Old Testament Shechem about the time that the Apostle John died. He was one of the most able Christian men in that period of time. He wrote a Defense of Christianity that was addressed to the Roman Emperor and died a martyr’s death at Rome. To show how Christianity had spread in the second century he wrote, “there is no race of men where prayers are not offered up in the name of Jesus.”

“On Sunday a meeting is held of all who live in the cities and villages, and a section is read from the Memoirs of the Apostles and the writings of The Prophets, as long as time permits. When the reading is finished, the president, in a discourse, gives the admonition and exhortation to imitate these noble things. After this we all arise and offer a common prayer. At the close of the prayer, as we have before described, bread and wine and thanks for them according to his ability, and the congregation answers, “Amen.” Then the consecrated elements are distributed to each one and partaken of, and are carried by the deacons to the house of the absent. The wealthy and the willing then give contributions according to their freewill; and the collection is deposited with the president, who therewith supplies orphans, widows, prisoners, strangers, and all who are in want.”

Another ancient writer, Pliny The Younger* (61 AD – 112 AD), provides another description of an early Christian church service in his letter to the Roman Emperor Trajan (98 AD – 117 AD) concerning when to put Christians to death. Pliny, as governor of Bithynia (part of modern day Turkey) and an enemy of Christianity wrote the following in the early second century:

“But they affirmed that this was the sum of their fault or error, that they were accustomed, on a stated day, to meet together before day, to sing a hymn to Christ in concert, as to a god, and to bind themselves with a solemn oath not to commit any wickedness —but on the contrary, to abstain from theft, robbery, and adultery —also, never to violate their promise, nor deny a pledge committed to them. These things being performed, it was their custom to separate: and to meet again at a promiscuous [meaning composed of all sorts of persons], innocent meal….”

He also described in the same letter how wide the influence of Jesus was in that region and the effect persecution was having on idol and emperor worship:

“…I have recourse to you for advice; for it has appeared to me that the subject is highly deserving of consideration, especially on account of the great number of persons whose lives are put into jeopardy. Many persons of all ages, sexes, and conditions are accused, and many more will be in the same situation; for the contagion of this superstition has not merely pervaded the cities, but also all villages and country places; yet it seemed to me that it might be restrained and corrected. It is matter of fact, that the temples which were almost deserted begin again to be frequented**; and the sacred solemnities which had been long intermitted are again attended; and the victims for the altars are now readily sold, which, a while ago, were almost without purchasers. Whence it is easy to conjecture what a multitude of men might be reclaimed, if only the door to repentance was left open.”

Bless our Father in Heaven for His early servants who were faithful under persecution and passed down to us the words of the Apostles, Paul and the other New Testament writers so we could know Christ and be saved!

Rejoice and be glad, your Savior is coming again!

Carl

*Pliny, The Elder, his uncle, died attempting to rescue people in Pompeii after the Mount Vesuvius eruption in AD 79.

**Though some had denied Christ and returned to idol and Emperor worship, many chose martyrdom instead of denying Christ and others escaped persecution. In 200 years, Christianity would be a recognized and accepted religion in the Empire though persecution would return later under other Emperors.