This article is a continuation of Part I
Tacitus, was born around A.D. 52-53. Because he was a respected orator he became a Roman senator when Vespasian was Emperor, and around A.D. 112-113, was the governor of Asia. In his Annals (116, therein) he described the actions, work, and attitude of Emperor Nero, and here makes reference to Christ.
In August of A.D. 64, a fire raged through imperial Rome, killing thousands. Nero, in order to remove suspicion from himself, blamed the fire on Christians, and then he started a blood-thirsty campaign to purge Christians from the empire. Tacitus speaks of Nero’s actions to cut off the rumor that he was the one who set Rome on fire:
". . . Nero substituted as culprits, and punished with the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men, loathed for their vices, whom the crowd styled Christians. Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate, and the pernicious superstition was checked for a moment, only to break out once more, not merely by Judea, the home of the disease, but in the capital itself, where all things horrible or shameful in the world collect and find a vogue. First, then, the confessed members of the sect were arrested, next, on their disclosure, vast numbers were convicted, not so much on the count of arson, as for hatred of the human race. And derision accomplished their end: they were covered with wild beasts skins and torn to death by dogs; or they were fastened on crosses, and when daylight failed were burned to serve as lamps by night.
Nero had offered his gardens for the spectacle, and gave an exhibition in his Circus, mixing with the crowd in the habit pf a charioteer, or mounted on his car. Hence, in spite of a guilt which had earned the most exemplary punishment, there arose a sentiment of pity, due to the impression that they were being sacrificed for the welfare of the state but to the ferocity of a single man."11
Here we have explicit non-Christian testimony to the origin of Christ, His death, and the spread of His teachings through His followers—Christians. Even more important, this report of Tacitus provides historical evidence that the followers of Christ—Christians were in Rome, only thirty years after the death and resurrection of Christ; were killed for their conviction that Jesus Christ—the Messiah of the living God, lived, was put to death, and rose from the dead on their behalf.
Several things are to be observed from Tacitus’ passage: (i) He gave Pilate a title, "procurator," which was current only from the second half of the first century onward. Tacitus was using the current terms of his day to make clear for the readers of his day what positions the various individuals held, and (ii) Tacitus used the name "Christus," because it was common knowledge that the Jews had "ancient oracles that a conquering Messiah would arise."
Pliny The Young
Pliny the Young (Plinius Secundus) was the nephew and adopted son of the elder Pliny, the natural historian who died in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Ten volumes of Pliny’s writings have survived to the present. In his tenth volume he wrote to Emperor Trajan concerning the Christians of the province. It was written when Pliny was serving as governor of Bithynia in Asia around A. D. 112. He gave accurate information regarding early Christianity from a non-Christian viewpoint. He writes:
"It is a rule, Sir, I invariably observe, to refer myself to you in all my doubts; for who is more capable of guiding my uncertainty of informing my ignorance? Having never been present at any trials of the Christians, I am acquainted with the method and limits to be observed either in examining or punishing them, whether the difference is to be on account of age or on distinction allowed between the younger and the adult; whether repentance admits to a pardon, or if a man has been once a Christian it avails him nothing to recant; whether the mere profession of Christianity, albeit without commission of crimes, or only changes associated therewith are punishable-on all these points I am in considerable perplexity. In the meantime the method I have observed toward those who have denounced to me as Christians is this: I interrogated them whether they were in fact Christians; if they confessed it, I repeated the question twice, adding the threat of capital punishment; if they still perseveered, I ordered them to be executed. . . There were others also possessed with the same infatuation, but being Citizens of Rome, I directed them to be taken to Rome for trial.
These accusations spread (as is usually the case) from the mere fact of the matter being investigated, and several forms of the mischief came to light. A placard was put up without any signature, accusing large numbers of persons by name. Those who denied they were, or had even been, Christian, and repeated after me an invocation to the gods, and offered formal worship with libation and frankincense, before your statue, which I had ordered to be brought into Court for that purpose, together with these of the gods, and who finally curse Christ—none of which acts, it is said, those who are really Christians can be forced into performing—these I thought it proper to discharge. Others who were named by the anonymous informer at first confessed themselves Christians, and then denied it; they said, they had been of that profession but they had quitted it, some here years age, others many years, and a few as much as twenty-five previously. They all worshipped your statute and the image of the gods, and cursed Christ.
They affirmed, however, that the whole of their guilt, or their error, was that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, a god, and bound themselves by solemn oath not to perform any wicked deed, never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor, to deny a trust when they should called upon to make it good; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food-but food of an ordinary and innocent kind. Even this practice, however, they had abandoned after the publication of my edict, by which, according to your orders, I had forbidden political associations. I, therefore, judged it so much the more necessary to extract the real truth, with the assistance of torture, from two female slaves, who were styled deaconesses: but I could discover nothing more than depraved and excessive superstition. . .
For this contagious superstition is not confined to the cities only, but had spread through the villages and rural districts. It seems possible, however, to check and cure it. It is certain at least that the temples, which had been almost deserted, being now to be frequented; and the sacred festivals, after a long intermission, and again revived; while there is a general demand for sacrificial meat, which for some time had met with but few purchasers. From hence it is easy to imagine what multitudes may be reclaimed from this error, if a door be left open to repentance."12
In his response, Emperor Trajan agreed that being a Christian was a crime worthy of punishment:
"My dear Secundus: You have acted with perfect correctness in deciding the cases of the those who have been charged before you with being Christians. . . They must not be ferreted out; if they were charged and convicted, they must be punished, provided that anyone who denies that he is a Christian and gives practical proof of that by invocating our gods is to be pardoned on the strength of this repudiation, no matter what grounds for suspicion may have existed against him in the past."
These two letters confirm a number of details of early Christianity which are found, or implied in the New Testament. For example: (i) Christians who were citizens of Rome were sent there to be tried, as in the case of Paul; (ii) Some [Christians] recanted of being Christians as Jesus predicted in the Parable of the Soils; (iii) They held Christ to be God; (iv) They possessed exemplary moral character; (v) Some women in the church held the office of deaconess; (vi) A large number were being added to the church; and (vii) The spread of Christianity had heavy financial repercussions for those whose trades were related to various pagan temples and religions (see Acts 19, Alexander the silversmith).
This Roman historian wrote about the Life of Claudius, in approximately A. D. 120. This writer alluded to the ‘expelling’ of the Jews from Rome. This expelling of the Jews from the roman capital is mentioned in the New Testament book of Acts: "Now, when Paul left Athens and came to Corinth, and found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately came from Italy, with his wife Priscilla, [because that Claudius had commanded (expelled) all Jews to depart from Rome], and came unto them" (Acts 18:2).
It seems that Aquila and Priscilla had been Christians already while in Rome prior to A. D. 49. This is the date when Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome. But why were they expelled from Rome? Is it because they believed in, and followed Christ? The Jews were accused of making constant disturbances (the Christian Jews’ hostilities which led to the expulsion at the instigation of Chrestus. Chrestus, was a misspelling of "Christ;" the Greek spelling for Christ is "Christus").
Once again, a non-Christian, secular source verified that there were men and women in the Roman Empire who believed in the existence, the life, the works, the death, and the resurrection of Christ—with this conviction in the risen and living Christ—the Jews were expelled from Rome. Were these writers in fact witnesses to the Christians? Were they in their right minds? Were they capable of judging? Were their testimonies credible and, upon examination, either corroborated or exposed? What can we say about these Roman leaders—can we, and must we, question their historical accuracy?
It was C. S. Lewis, arguably, the most influential Christian writer of his day; who was a Fellow and Tutor in English literature at Oxford University until 1954, when he was unanimously elected to the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance literature at Cambridge University, who said:
"A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic-on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool; you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us."13
11 Tacitus, Annals, Lebo, ed., 15. 44.
12 Pliny, Epistle,Vol. 10. 96 .
13 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Harper Large Print, pages, 88-89.
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