SOME CRITICS HAVE contended that for sixteen centuries Christians have merely taken for granted that their Scriptures are authentic, but that we have no proof that the Gospels, or The Acts, or the Epistles, or Revelation were even in existence until long after all the apostles had fallen asleep; and that for all anyone knows, all these writings may be rank forgeries.

We challenge this argument. History proves that all the books of the New Testament not only were in existence but were actually accepted by the Christian congregations within the lifetime of the apostles.

We are aware that Christianity originated in the same period, same place, and same manner that the New Testament writers attest. Some of the incidents narrated in the Gospels and The Acts are confirmed by pagan Roman writers of that time such as Seutonius, Tacitus, Pliny, and others, including, as we have noted, Pontius Pilate, whose own report of the death and resurrection of Jesus was once filed in the official archives at Rome.

Now we shall consider some convincing data, not merely from secular sources, but from various Christian writers of that early period, exclusive of the writers of the New Testament itself. These Early Christians quote from the various New Testament books, and thereby prove that such books were in existence and also were accepted as inspired as early as the latter half of the first century, and while some of the apostles were still alive.

The Authenticity of the New Testament

LET US FOCUS our attention upon the New Testament, and see if we can trace its contents back to the days of the apostles. If these New Testament writings are not authentic, then we have no authoritative basis for our Christian faith. If the Gospel narratives of Jesus’ life—his miracles, his death and resurrection—are mythical in character (as some claim) and not actual historical accounts, then a study of them would be of no profit other than to detect and reveal fraud by which a credulous public has been hoaxed for these many centuries.

If, on the other hand, these writings are genuine, then their historical character should be capable of proof. It should be of prime importance to Bible students to ascertain the historical facts which furnish a rational basis for our belief that all the writings of the New Testament are precisely what they claim to be. They are an authoritative and inspired record of what Jesus did and what he taught, and what his apostles were divinely directed to proclaim unto the churches in his name.

First Century a Brilliant Era

In approaching this subject let us have in mind that the age in which Jesus appeared on earth was by no means a period of historical obscurity, but was an era of unusual brilliance. Indeed, it was the extraordinary age of Roman literature under the greatest of the Caesars—Julius, Augustus and Tiberius. It was that remarkable century which produced such notable writers as Cicero, Virgil, Strabo, Philo, Senecca, Ovid, Livy, Tacitus, Plutarch, Pliny, and Seutonius. The first three of these died shortly before Jesus was born, but most of the others were either contemporary with him, or with some of his apostles.

It is not surprising, of course, that most of these notable Roman writers of that period should so generally have ignored the lowly preacher of Israel, and the little ‘sect’ which he established. But it should be possible to find at least some historical data that would silence the critical claim that the New Testament Gospels and epistles were produced subsequent to the day in which they claim to have been written, and that they are fictions which merely record the fertile imaginations of pious enthusiasts, or else wicked deceivers. This task of disproving such claims will be undertaken in this article.

It may help the reader to gain a cursory historical view of this period if we list the names of all the Roman emperors who reigned during the days of Jesus and the Early Church. When Julius Caesar, the mighty warrior, was assassinated in 44 B.C., (only three years after he finally became the undisputed ruler at Rome) his nephew, Octavian, and his secretary, Mark Antony, each sought to succeed him because he left no son. Finally the former prevailed. Antony committed suicide in Egypt in 30 B.C. Then Octavian, who really had been ruler at Rome since 43 B.C., came to be known as Augustus—meaning ‘distinguished’. We will list the emperors of this period, as follows:

The Caesar Dynasty
Julius Caesar46 B.C. – 44 B.C.
Augustus44 B.C. – 14 A.D.
Tiberius14 A.D. – 37 A.D.
Caligula (insane)37 A.D. – 41 A.D.
Claudius41 A.D. – 54 A.D.
Nero54 A.D. – 68 A.D.
The Galban Dynasty
Galba68 A.D. – 69 A.D.
The Flavian Dynasty
Vespasian (Flavius)     69 A.D. – 79 A.D.
Titus79 A.D. – 81 A.D.
Domitian81 A.D. – 96 A.D.
The Antonine Dynasty
Nerva96 A.D. – 98 A.D.
Trajan98 A.D. – 117 A.D.
Hadrian117 A.D. – 138 A.D.
Antoninus Pius138 A.D. – 161 A.D.
Marcus Aurilius161 A.D. – 180 A.D.
Cornmodus180 A.D. – 193 A.D.

Following the death of Commodus, who was the last of the Antonines, a Carthagenian named Septimius Severus became emperor of Rome; and he was followed by such emperors as Alexander Severus, Probus, Maxim, Decius, Gamlus, Valerian, Aurelian, Diocletian, and finally the ‘Christian,’ Constantine. (312 A.D.) It should be observed that while Nero was the last of the Caesar family (and he was but an adopted son of Claudius), nevertheless the emperors who followed him continued to apply the name Caesar to themselves as a title. In more recent history this title has been applied to the rulers of certain subdivisions of the old Roman Empire, slightly changed in spelling to Czar or Kaiser.

It will be noted that Tiberius was the emperor during the days of Jesus’ ministry. John the Baptist, who started his ministry a few months before Jesus was baptized by him in the Jordan, is said to have begun his preaching of repentance “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,” while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea. (Luke 3:1) This would have been about 28 or 29 A.D. But it was Caesar Augustus who, in the year of Jesus’ birth, decreed that “all the world should be taxed.” (Luke 2:1) Thus far, at least, we see that the New Testament occupies an historically accurate setting.

Pilate Recorded Christ’s Resurrection

Christian writers of the second and third centuries also make mention of the fact that Pontius Pilate had written a work called “Acta Pilati” (Acts of Pilate), in which he narrated the resurrection as well as the death of Jesus, and that his account was then being preserved in the official archives at Rome. Eusebius, the historian (315 A.D.), refers to the Acta Pilati, and also says, “The Savior’s resurrection being much talked of throughout Palestine, Pilate informed the Emperor of it.” Tertullian (born 160 A.D.) also refers to this, and to other historical evidences then known, which proved the truth of the New Testament writings. He said:

“Come, now, thou who wilt exercise thy curiosity more profitably in the business of thy salvation; run through the apostolic churches, in which the very chairs of the apostles still preside, in which their authentic letters are recited—Corinth … Thessalonica … Rome, from whence also our assertion will be readily confirmed.” Then, after describing Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, Tertullian continues: “Of all these things relating to Christ, Pilate himself, in conscience already a Christian, sent an account to Tiberius, then Emperor.”

Justin, a Christian writer, born about 100 A.D., declares in his Apology, ch. 21, that historical proof then existed that Christ really performed the various miracles described in the apostolic writings. Indeed, some Christians were living in his day who had seen Jesus, and many were then alive whose parents had seen him. Furthermore, he says: “And that he did these things, you may know from the Acts of Pilate (Acta Pilati).” Documents purporting to be extracts from copies of Acta Pilati have appeared from time to time; but proof of their authenticity is admittedly lacking, the authentic original work having long since perished.

Testimony of Roman Historians

Seutonius, a Roman historian born in 70 A.D., wrote a work entitled, “Lives of the Caesars.” In this work he says that during the reign of Claudius (41-54 A.D.) certain Jews at Rome engaged in controversy with certain other Jews who had become Christians, and that as a result of the disturbance the emperor expelled all Jews from the city of Rome. This confirms Acts 18:1, which says that Aquila and his wife, Priscilla, with whom Paul abode in Corinth, were Jews who had come “from Italy … because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome.”

This same early Roman historian, Seutonius, in narrating the life of Nero, also mentions the severe persecutions which this cruel emperor heaped upon the hated Christians. This pagan writer thus shows that by the middle of the first century there was a sect called Christians, sufficiently numerous and active to cause the emperors, from the time of Claudius onward, to take note of them; and he also proves that the Acts of the Apostles, at least in the instance above mentioned, is historically true.

Tacitus, born in 61 A.D., was a brilliant Roman politician and writer who became Consul of Rome in 97 A.D. About three years later, after Trajan had become Emperor, he wrote a work called, “Annals of Tacitus,” in which he also narrated important historical events from the time of Tiberius onward. In this work he tells about the great fire at Rome in Emperor Nero’s 10th year (63 A.D.), and attributes this conflagration—falsely, no doubt—to the Christians then ‘infesting’ Rome, the number of whom he describes as ‘vast’.

Of course it is not likely that there really was a vast number of truly consecrated Christians there at that time, nor since. Doubtless they had a considerable congregation, and perhaps many who were not consecrated gladly came to their meetings, even in the face of persecution. Tacitus also mentions the origin of this ‘sect’. He says it began in Judea in the days of Tiberius; and that its leader, called Christ, was put to death there by crucifixion, during that Emperor’s reign.

Early Christian Persecutions

Pliny the Younger was an associate and personal friend of Tacitus, both being about the same age. Pliny also distinguished himself as a Roman politician and writer, becoming Governor of Bithynia about 103 A.D. While Governor of that Roman province he wrote many letters to his Emperor, Trajan; and these together with their answers he later collected and published with the Emperor’s permission. Some of these letters refer to the persecution of Christians

Some critics have contended that for sixteen centuries Christians have merely taken for granted that their Scriptures are authentic, but that we have no proof that the Gospels, or The Acts, or the Epistles, or Revelation were even in existence until long after all the apostles had fallen asleep; and that for all anyone knows, all these writings may be rank forgeries.

We challenge this argument, not merely on the ground that the contents of these sacred writings ‘ring true’, are harmonious with each other and with the Old Testament, and agree in presenting the great divine plan of the ages which is the acme of sound logic; but we also challenge it specifically on historical grounds. History proves that all the books of the New Testament not only were in existence but were actually accepted by the Christian congregations within the lifetime of the apostles.

Christianity originated in the same period, same place, and same manner that the New Testament writers attest. At least some of the incidents narrated in the Gospels and Acts are confirmed by pagan Roman writers of that time, as we have mentioned earlier in this article, such as Seutonius, Tacitus, Pliny, and others, including, as we have noted, also Pontius Pilate, whose own report of the death and resurrection of Jesus was once in the official archives at Rome.

We shall consider some convincing data, not merely from secular sources but from various Christian writers of that early period, exclusive of the writers of the New Testament itself. These Early Christians quote from the various New Testament books and thereby prove that such books were in existence and also were accepted as inspired as early as the latter half of the first century, and while at least some of the apostles were still alive.

First Century Writers

Ignatius is probably the first such Christian writer to allude to the New Testament Scriptures. He was born in Israel about 40 A.D., only a few years after Christ’s death and resurrection, and became the bishop, or elder, of the church at Antioch in 69 A.D., and in that position was a co-laborer with the Apostle John. At least, so says Eusebius (born 264 A.D.), in his carefully written Ecclesiastical History of those early centuries, and which had been compiled from original data.

Ignatius wrote a number of letters, to various churches and individuals, which have come down to us, and portions of which are cited by Eusebius. We mention a few of his sixty or more quotations, merely to show that he was very familiar with the Gospels, the Acts, and the Pauline Epistles at that early date. Since the apostles were alive in his day, how could such works be forgeries?

The letters of Ignatius are replete with such quotations as these: “Be ye perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect”; “A spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me [Jesus] have”; “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, and thy neighbor as thyself”; “I am the way and the life”; “The Word was made flesh”; “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do”; “Watch, ye, and be sober”; “The disciples were called Christians at Antioch”; “It is hard to kick against the pricks”; “This same Jesus who is taken from you into heaven shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven,” etc. He also referred to Paul as “a chosen vessel.”

Ignatius was an active Christian at Antioch. After the dispersion he continued his activities, and as a result he was cast to wild beasts in the Roman arena in 109 A.D., by order of the Emperor Trajan.

Barnabas, who was a companion of Paul, and who was mentioned by Clement of Alexandria (187 A.D.), wrote a letter which was found preserved in the rear of the Sinaitic Manuscript of the New Testament, as an uninspired appendix of sorts. In that letter, written before the end of the first century, Barnabas alludes reverently to Matthew’s Gospel as sacred scripture, saying: “It is written, ‘Many are called, but few are chosen’.” He also quotes, “He came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Clement became an elder, or bishop, of the ecclesia in Rome toward the end of the first century. In one of his letters we find these familiar quotations: “Be merciful, that ye may obtain mercy”; “Forgive, that it may be forgiven you”; “As ye judge, so shall ye be judged,” etc. Clement makes at least fourteen quotations from the New Testament writings.

Pupils of St. John

Polycarp, born about 80 A.D., became a pupil of St. John; and the latter, before his death, recognized this young man as an elected elder of the church at Smyrna, according to Irenaeus, his pupil. Polycarp also became personally acquainted with Ignatius, before the latter was cast to the lions. After he became bishop at Smyrna he wrote a letter to the brethren at Philippi, in which he quoted from the New Testament several times, of which the following are examples: “The spirit truly is willing, but the flesh is weak”; “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God,” etc. Polycarp also suffered martyrdom like his old friend, Ignatius.

Papias, born near the close of the first century, was another young man who was tutored by the aged St. John, also by Polycarp, and who finally became bishop, or elder, at Hierapolis. Eusebius tells us that Papias wrote five books, entitled, “An Explication of the Oracles of the Lord,” in which he set forth the Christian hopes—especially the coming thousand-year reign of Christ, and claimed therein that the hope of the millennium had been taught to him by the Apostle John personally. Eusebius quotes the following interesting excerpt from the writings of Papias:

“Matthew composed his history in the Hebrew dialect, and everyone translated it as he was able. Mark, being the interpreter of Peter, whatsoever he recorded he wrote with great accuracy, but not, however, in the order in which it was spoken and done by the Lord, but, as before said, he was in company with Peter, who gave him instruction as was necessary.”

Another quotation from Papias reads as follows: “For I have never, like many, delighted to hear those that tell many things, but only those that teach the truth. Neither those that record foreign precepts, but those that are given by the Lord to our faith, and that came from the truth itself. If I met with anyone who had been a follower of the elders (apostles) anywhere, I made it a point to inquire what were the declarations of the elders (apostles)—what was said by Andrew, Peter, or Philip; what by Thomas, James, John, Matthew, or any other disciple of the Lord.”

Papias, remember, lived at the turn of the first century; he knew St. John personally, and came into contact with many other Christians who had known and heard Peter, Andrew, Philip, James, Matthew, and other apostles. And he shows that in his day, not only was Matthew’s Gospel in use, but also Mark’s Gospel had been accepted—although Mark was not an apostle, but had been a companion-secretary of the Apostle Peter and ‘wrote with great accuracy’.

Second Century Witnesses

Quadratus was bishop, or elder, at Athens. He was a little older than Papias. In A.D. 126 he wrote a letter to the Emperor Hadrian, fragments of which have been preserved, in which he mentioned that people were still living when he was born who had been healed by our Lord in Israel, and that his miracles were well established historically, even the raising of certain persons from the dead, “who were seen not only when they were healed or raised, but for a long time afterward.”

Justin, the martyr, was born in Samaria about 103 A.D., and he became a Christian in 133 A.D., exactly one hundred years after Christ’s death and resurrection. He was an evangelist who preached in Ephesus, Alexandria, and elsewhere, and finally in Rome, where he met a martyr’s death in 167 A.D., by order of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Justin wrote two Apologies, the first in 147 A.D., addressed to Emperor Antoninus Pius, and the second in 164 A.D., to his successor, Marcus Aurelius. He also wrote many other works, extracts of which have been preserved by Eusebius and others, and which contain about two hundred citations from the New Testament Scriptures; thus showing their existence and acceptance in his day.

Theophilus, born 100 A.D., later became bishop or elder of the historic church at Antioch. He wrote a book entitled, “The Harmony of the Gospels,” which is mentioned by Jerome.

Melito, who became bishop, or elder, of the church at Sardis about 160 A.D., wrote a number of books, mentioned by Eusebius and Jerome. He not only cited various New Testament Scriptures, but also wrote a “Commentary on the Revelation of St. John.” Melito also gives us a list of all the Old Testament books, which agrees perfectly with our present Bible.

The First Christian Historian

Hegesippus, who lived during Melito’s time, was perhaps the first Christian historian. He wrote five historical books (about 170 A.D.) which were available to Eusebius and Jerome, and which greatly aided them in their compilations of their own histories for the first two centuries of the Christian era. Jerome said that Hegesippus “composed a history of the affairs of the church from the passion of our Lord to his own time.” Eusebius also quoted freely from this historian’s works, which shows that the various books of the New Testament were written and in use within the lifetime of the apostles.

Irenaeus, who was a disciple of Polycarp and Papias (both of whom had known the Apostle John), was born in 130 A.D. in Asia Minor. He went west, and finally became leader of the church at Lyons, in Gaul (southeastern France). Pothinus was the leader in Lyons when the young man arrived; but good Pothinus was finally brought to Rome and fed to the wild beasts, in 177 A.D., and Irenaeus then succeeded him as elder—only to meet a similar fate in the arena twenty-five years later. But meanwhile Irenaeus wrote numerous works, in which he quoted from the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, at least twelve of Paul’s epistles, I Peter, II John, and Revelation; and he expressly stated that the latter was written by John, the apostle.

Irenaeus and Polycarp

In one of his letters to a Christian named Florinus, Irenaeus gives this most interesting reminiscence: “I can recall the very place where the blessed Polycarp used to sit and teach, his going out and his coming in, his mode of life, his appearance, the style of his address to the people, the relating of his familiar intercourse with the Apostle John and with the rest of those who had seen the Lord, and how he remembered their sayings. Whatever he had heard from them concerning the Lord—his miracles and mode of teaching—Polycarp, being instructed by those who were eye-witnesses of the Word, recounted in strict agreement with the Scriptures”; that is, in agreement with the New Testament writings which already were in existence and whose truthfulness is thus corroborated.

In another place Irenaeus also said: “Polycarp not only was instructed by apostles, and conversed with many others who had seen Christ, but he was also [recognized] by apostles to be bishop of the church at Smyrna … and when a very old man he suffered martyrdom departing this life, having always taught the things he heard from the apostles, and which the church has handed down, and which alone are true.”

Now Irenaeus, who was instructed by Polycarp, who in turn was taught by the apostles themselves, becomes a most valuable witness concerning the authenticity of the New Testament writings. And not only do we find among the fragments of his writings various quotations from practically every book in the New Testament, but we also find Irenaeus saying this concerning the authorship of each of the four Gospels, and their respective portrayals of Christ:

“John relates His [Jesus’] original, effectual, and glorious generation from the Father, thus declaring: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was [a] God.’

“Luke, taking up His [Christ’s] priestly character, commenced with Zacharias the priest, offering sacrifice to God.

“Matthew again relates His [Jesus’] generation as a man, saying, ‘This book of the generation of Jesus, the son of David, the son of Abraham’.

“Mark, on the other hand, commences with the prophetical spirit from on high, saying, ‘The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is written in Esaias the prophet’.”

Hippolytus, Pupil of Irenaeus

Of scarcely less value as a witness of this same period are the voluminous writings of the learned Hippolytus, who was a pupil of Irenaeus. He was born about 170 A.D. and suffered a martyr’s death in 235 A.D., under the Emperor Maximum. He corroborates Irenaeus and the other witnesses of that century, and shows clearly that the very books of the New Testament which we have in our English Version today were the same writings that had been accepted by the Early Church as sacred Scriptures since the days of Polycarp and the apostles; and that they were regarded then, even as now, as of equal authority with the Old Testament Scriptures. A manuscript was found on Mt. Athos (Greece) in 1842 which proved to be a long-lost work of Hippolytus, entitled, “Against All Heresies.” It has been translated and published at Oxford University.

With all this array of historical evidence concerning the very beginning of Christianity and the authenticity of the New Testament writings, the casual carping of the critics seems quite puerile. It is well, though, that such criticisms have been made, for they stimulate us to reexamine the foundation of our faith, with the result that we find it as secure as the rock of Gibraltar. A look into the past is not only interesting but inspiring. We are convinced that He who fed the Early Church continues to feed us today from the same blessed basket.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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