David Couchman
David Couchman is the Director of Focus and the producer of the 'God: new evidence,' 'God and the Big Bang,' 'After Life?' and 'Jesus Myths' video series. More...

Digital Evangelism blog

Written sources for Christianity outside the Bible

Clearly, something unusual happened in western Asia about two thousand years ago. How else are we to account for the origin and explosive growth of the new religious movement called Christianity - a movement that, in less than four centuries grew from its obscure origins to become the official religion of the Roman empire?  How else are we to account for the origins of the documents that today we call the New Testament? So what is the evidence?

People sometimes give you the impression that the only evidence we have for the origins of Christianity comes from the Bible itself (and other Christian sources). The implication is that we cannot trust this evidence, because the writers are biased in favor of the Christian message.

It is true that there are not many references to Christian origins outside of the Bible and the Church. This should not surprise us - the documents available to us today must only be a tiny fraction of all those written at the time, and a fairly random selection at that.(By comparison, R T France cites the case of Tacitus, the Roman historian, for which we only have two manuscripts, covering only half of what he is believed to have written.) Not only that, but the earliest stages of the Christian movement were obscure and 'low profile'. They took place in an unimportant province on the eastern edge of the Roman Empire.

However, there are at least half a dozen non-Christian (that is to say Roman or Jewish) sources that refer to Christian origins. These are sufficient to provide some confirmation of the historical picture that is painted by the Bible. Some of the most important of these sources are: Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, The Babylonian Talmud, Josephus, and the letter of Mara Bar-Serapion.