Historical Sources of our Knowledge of Jesus Christ


Philip Vollmer



We have secular, Jewish and Christian sources for our knowledge of the Life of Christ.


The secular sources are as follows:

(1) The Roman historian Tacitus, in his Annals, Chapter XV, 44, writes that the Christians "derived their name and origin from one Christ, who in the reign of Tiberius had suffered death by the sentence of the procurator, Pontius Pilate."

(2) Suetonius, in his "Vita Claudii," c. 25, says that Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome "because of constant tumults under the leadership of Chrestus," which is generally taken as a reference to Christ, concerning whose Messiahship heated controversies arose in the Roman Synagogue.

(3) The younger Pliny, in his "Epistles" X, 96, speaks of the Christians in Bithynia as followers of one Christ who "bind themselves with an oath not to enter into any wickedness, or commit thefts, robberies, or adulteries, or falsify their word, or repudiate trusts committed to them."

Jewish Sources:

(1) Josephus has very little to say. When speaking of the martyrdom of James, he calls him "the brother of Jesus who is called the Christ" (Ant. XX, 9,1). This is surprising, the more so, as he has in Ant. 18, 5, 2 a very appreciative notice of John the Baptist. His reticence is usually explained by saying that he really approved of Jesusí life and teaching, but was too cowardly to say so. The famous passage in Josephus Ant. 18, 3, 3 is an interpolation. It reads, "At this time (Pilateís) appeared (a certain) Jesus, a wise man, if indeed he may be called a man; for he was a worker of miracles, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with joy and he drew to himself many Jews, and many also of the Hellens. This was the Christ, and when at the instigation of our chief men, Pilate condemned him to the cross, those who at first loved him, did not fall away, for he appeared to them alive again on the third day, according as the holy Prophets had declared thus, and a thousand other wonderful things of him. To this day the sect of Christians called after him, still exists." No one but a Christian could have written thus.

(2) Indirectly the whole of the Old Testament literature, the Old Testament Apocrypha, the Apocalyptic books, and the Talmud contain valuable material, especially for our knowledge of the teaching of Christ.

(3) The Talmud contains many notices of the parents and teachers of Christ but these are intentional, malicious slanders, and not sources.

Christian Sources:

Only the books of the New Testament are of decisive importance.


The Modern Studentís Life of Christ. Philip Vollmer. Fleming H. Revell Co. Old Tappan, NJ. 1912. Pages 36-37.