Jesus a Wise Man, If It Be Lawful to Call Him a Man

I was doing some light reading (not ;-)) and came upon today’s quote about Jesus. When we read the Bible we are reading third person accounts of Jesus, in other words, we are reading what others have written about Him. So what is written of Him is entirely dependent upon the perspective of the writer.

“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man.” – Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews

This description of Jesus sounds like one of those third-party references to Him we may find in the Bible, and it was even written around the same time period as the New Testament, but it was not written by a disciple of Jesus. The reference we read here about Jesus was written by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus around 93 A.D. To put that in perspective with the New Testament, the Book of Revelation is estimated to have been written by the Apostle John around 95 A.D.

So what is the significance of the writings of the historian Jospehus? If you’re a Christian you already accept the fact that Jesus is real, and walked the face of the earth 2000 or so years ago. If you’re not, you may or may not accept the historical Jesus. The writings of Josephus, whose objective was to write the history of the Jewish nation during this period of time, give independent confirmation that the accounts we find in the Gospels are true. So for the believer, this can bolster your faith, and for the unbeliever it makes it difficult to deny that Jesus was a real man.

Not only does Josephus make reference to Jesus, but he also makes reference to His brother James and to John the Baptist. While the history was originally written in Greek, it has been translated into English and many other languages. As you read below, note the objective and unapologetic, reporter-like perspective of Josephus.

Flavius Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews
Reference to Jesus
In Book 18, Chapter 3, 3

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

Flavius Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews
Reference to John the Baptist
In Book 18, Chapter 5, 2

Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. 

Flavius Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews
Reference to James the Brother of Jesus
In Book 20, Chapter 9, 1

But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa].

If you’d like to learn more, you can read the biography of Josephus and the complete text of the Antiquities of the Jews.


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