Things you didn't know about the early Church – Part 1: Roman witnesses

Over the course of about 7 years I worked on a book called “On This Rock: What People Really Believed about Jesus Christ in the Early Church… and Why it Matters.”


The reason it took so long was that I went back through a number of primary sources from the first few centuries of the New Testament Church, both Christian and non-Christian sources.  My goal was to demonstrate that the early Church always considered Jesus Christ the Son of God who died and rose, and that even non-Christians testified that Christians believed this.  The point being that it wasn’t at the fourth century Council of Nicaea where Christian bishops suddenly decided and decreed that Jesus is God; Christians had always believed this.

At any rate, I thought I’d post some things that you may not know about the early Church.


This is part one about Roman witnesses to Jesus.


1.  The Jewish historian Josephus wrote about Jesus sometime after 70 AD

In his book “Antiquities of the Jews,” Josephus writes: “About this time there arose a source of further troubles in one Jesus, a wise man and a wonder-worker, a teacher of those who gladly welcome strange things.   He led away many Jews, and also many of the Gentiles.   This man was the so-called Christ.   When Pilate, acting on information supplied by the chief men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had attached themselves to him at the first did not abandon their allegiance, and the tribe of Christians, which has taken this name from him, is not extinct even today.”


2.  The Roman pagan philosopher Celsus (2nd century) thought it odd that Jesus would appear to a woman after his resurrection

Since most people of the time discounted the testimony of women, Celsus thought it was odd that Jesus would appear to a woman after his resurrection.  He therefore did not believe in Jesus’ resurrection.  Celsus also believed that Jesus performed his miracles through acts of magic that he had learnt in Egypt.  It’s interesting that Celsus did not deny the miracles that Jesus performed, but instead tried to explain them as simply magical acts.    He also wrote that Christians worshipped Jesus as God.


3.  The Roman emperor Nero had Christians impaled on stakes and used as torches in 64 AD.

Nero did this in response to the rumors that he had started the fire in Rome that burnt most of the city, writes the Roman historian Tacitus.  Tacitus also records that Christ has been executed during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius during the governorship of Pontius Pilate in Judaea.


4.  Pliny the Younger wrote to the Roman Emperor Trajan about Christians about 111 to 113 AD

Pliny was the governor of the Roman province of Bithynia during this time period.  He wrote to the emperor to ask his advice, because he found that more and more people were being turned in for prosecution for being Christians.  He wrote that under interrogation he found out from them that they worshipped Christ as God.  He also makes references to what appears to be the Lord’s Supper as well as other worship practices.


5.  The Roman historian Seutonius wrote about an ancient prediction that the ruler of the world would come out of Judaea

Seutonius concludes that this prediction referred to the Roman emperor Vespasian, who left his army in Judaea in 69 AD in order to go to Rome to become emperor.  Jesus Christ, though, is the true ruler of the world since he is its Creator (see John 1:1 and following).


If you’re interested in learning more, check out: