By Erick Erickson
He had been adopted by his father-in-law, Caesar Augustus. It was under Tiberius’s rule that Jesus walked through Judea, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, was buried, descended into hell, and on the third day rose again.
We know Tiberius existed through the historic record and writings of men like Tacitus. But all we know about Tiberius comes from men removed from his reign by about 100 years. We would have no knowledge of Tacitus’s rule but for these men.
Ironically, the earliest historic reference about Tacitus’s reign comes from the Bible.
But as we approach the Christmas season we will not be subjected to “Tiberius is a myth” stories like those peddled by the new atheists about Jesus. We will instead be subjected to “Jesus is a myth.”
This omits the fact that we have six direct eye witnesses writing in the Bible. Matthew, Mark (Peter), Luke, John, James, and Jude were all contemporaries of Jesus. Two of them were either half-brothers or first cousins (James and Jude). Luke, additionally, diligently interviewed eye witnesses. Paul, to an extent, can be considered an eye witness too, but it is clear that Paul was writing at a time when eye witnesses were still alive and could be interviewed.
None of that exists for Tiberius, though, as the picture above shows, we do have physical evidence for Tiberius’s reign, but we have no documentation of that reign within the first 50 years after his death except for the Bible. It is worth noting that many of the same new atheists have for years rejected the Israelite dynasty of King David due to a lack of physical evidence, but more and more of that keeps cropping up too.
The new atheists who are about to take to mainstream newspapers are going to tell you that none of these eyewitnesses really were eyewitnesses, the witness of others as to their veracity like Polycarp for John cannot be trusted, and because we are claiming divinity for Jesus he must be held to a higher standard. Many people will be written out of history or placed at different times in history to make Jesus a myth, which seems like a whole lot of trouble to go through to avoid having to deal with whether or not he is God.
The new atheists pull the sleight of hand of claiming we need more evidence for Jesus since he claimed to be the son of God. It is a sleight of hand because we haven’t gotten to that point yet. We’re just dealing with whether or not Jesus existed historically. What the new atheists want to do is reject historic standards of proof for the existence of men like Socrates, Tiberius, and even Alexander the Great when it comes to the historic Jesus. They refuse to allow the same standards of evidence.
Back in 2014, the Washington Post ran this Christmas time piece “debunking” the existence of Jesus. As that author’s professor explained, the “Jesus didn’t exist” crowd is the historiography equivalent of “vaccines cause autism.” They’ve got a few Ph.D. folks, but otherwise a lot of conspiracies and “don’t believe your lying eyes” stuff.
Christians believe in Jesus “by faith.” But we do not need faith to recognize he existed. We have eyewitness accounts, we have accounts of Jesus written within his generation, we have significant oral history, and we have a well documented religious movement where people were willing to die for him. We have all the same things used to establish others in history existed, whose existence we do not doubt. There is, therefore, no reason to doubt Jesus’s existence.
As western society becomes increasingly secularized, every Christmas the political left wants to sow more doubts about the authentic life of Jesus. Every year, Christians have an obligation to point out the weight of historic evidence is on our side.
It really tells you how incapable of dealing with Jesus as Lord the new atheists are that they would prefer to write Jesus out of history than deal with the guy who actually existed.