My final extra-Biblical witness to the historical Jesus will be Pliny the Younger. He was the nephew of Pliny the Elder, a famous encyclopedist, who died in a volcanic eruption A.D. 79. Pliny the Younger became governor of Bithynia in northwestern Turkey. His writings to Emperor Trajan have been preserved from the second century to the present time. He was also a friend of Tacitus. The following is an extended explanation to his supervisor.
“I have asked them if they are Christians, and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and third time, with a warning of the punishment awaiting them. If they persist, I order them to be led away for execution; for, whatever the nature of the admission, I am convinced that their stubbornness and unshakable obstinacy ought not to go unpunished…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 verse a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft, adultery, never to falsify their word, not to deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up.”
Pliny later described how Christians received their punishments. So what do we learn about Jesus and/or Christianity from these ancient writings?
- Jesus was worshipped by His followers.
- He explained several aspects of worship that corresponded with the New Testament. The followers of Christ worshipped on a fixed day, believed Jesus was God, and maintained high ethical standards. Pliny writes, “…bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft, adultery, never to falsify their word, not to deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up.”
- They were not easily swayed from their beliefs. Pliny would ask the believers three times to deny their faith and they declined.
- Christians were executed for refusing to deny their beliefs.
In summary we find Josephus, Tacitus, and Pliny the Younger give us incredible information about Jesus with very little words. They give a fairly clear picture of the historical Jesus. Remember historians didn’t spend much time recording the life of Jesus because he wasn’t a political activist or powerful enough to draw their attention. We cannot judge the lack of ancient historian writings about Jesus by our standards today. It’s not fair to be armchair quarterbacks and second guess those writers.
Do you see how much we can know about the historical Jesus without even opening the Bible? All we have to do is go back and look over the main points of each quote and we find an incredible amount of information about Jesus. Even the Jewish Talmud, written about A.D. 500 talks about Jesus being a “false Messiah.” There are additional writers that reference Jesus but these three are probably the best non-Biblical sources. They give us solid rational support for believing in the historical accuracy of the Biblical Jesus.
 Holdings, J.P. “Pliny to Trajan, Help,” http://www.tektonics.org/jesusexist/pliny.html