Do we Christians interpret the Bible consistently?

When I hear Christians debate Jews, I hear it implied that Old Testament passages can have more than one meaning: the original meaning in its context and its Messianic interpretation.

However, when I hear Christians debate Muslims, they seem to insist that a New Testament passage can only be interpreted one way in its context. They give no room for the possibility that a passage in question can also have hidden Islamic meaning.

The best examples that come to my mind are Psalm 22 an Acts 3:22. Is Psalm 22 both a description of David’s trials and a Messianic prophecy, or just the former? We all know what the Christian and Jewish answers are. Now, is Acts 3:22 just a prophecy of Jesus, or is it also a hidden prophecy of Muhammad? We all know what the Christian and Muslim answers are.

So, unless I’m missing something, consistent Bible interpretation would force me to give either Jews or Muslims some more apologetic ground.


Wasn’t Moses talking to the twelve tribes of Israell?

Yes, that too. Not sure what the Jewish interpretation of that verse is. If I have to guess, it’s Joshua. Either way, that makes three possible interpretations of Acts 3:22.

It’s called biblical hermeneutics which is the study of the principles of interpretation concerning the books of the Bible. While Jewish and Christian Biblical hermeneutics have some overlap and dialogue, they have distinctly separate interpretative traditions.

Methods by which the Talmud explores the meaning of scripture:

grammar and exegesis
the interpretation of certain words and letters and apparently superfluous and/or missing words or letters, and prefixes and suffixes
the interpretation of those letters which, in certain words, are provided with points
the interpretation of the letters in a word according to their numerical value (see Gemaṭria)
the interpretation of a word by dividing it into two or more words (see Noṭariḳon)
the interpretation of a word according to its consonantal form or according to its vocalization
the interpretation of a word by transposing its letters or by changing its vowels
the logical deduction of a halakah from a Scriptural text or from another law

"The Catholic Church asserts the “capital importance of biblical interpretation” and Catholic scholars recognize some “diversity in the Bible.” This allows for an “openness” of interpretation as long as it stays within the Catholic Church’s theological Tradition. So it is that “theological factors set the parameters” for interpreting the Scripture that Catholics believe to be the “word of God.” Such parameters disallow the “widely differening interpretations” that make it possible for Protestants to prove “almost anything” by the Bible.

The Catholic Encyclopedia lists a number of principles guiding Roman Catholic hermeneutics in the article on Exegesis (note: the Catholic Encyclopedia was written in 1917 and does not reflect the changes set forth by the encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu published by Pius XII in 1943, which opened modern Catholic Biblical scholarship) :

Historico-grammatical interpretation - The meaning of the literary expression of the Bible is best learned by a thorough knowledge of the languages in which the original text of Scripture was written, and by acquaintance with the Scriptural way of speaking, including the various customs, laws, habits and national prejudices which influenced the inspired writers as they composed their respective books. John Paul II said that: "A second conclusion is that the very nature of biblical texts means that interpreting them will require continued use of the historical-critical method, at least in its principal procedures. The Bible, in effect, does not present itself as a direct revelation of timeless truths but as the written testimony to a series of interventions in which God reveals himself in human history. In a way that differs from tenets of other religions [such as Islam, for instance], the message of the Bible is solidly grounded in history.

Catholic interpretation - Because the Catholic Church is, according to Catholics, the official custodian and interpreter of the Bible, Catholicism’s teaching concerning the Sacred Scriptures and their genuine sense must be the supreme guide of the commentator. The Catholic commentator is bound to adhere to the interpretation of texts which the Church has defined either expressly or implicitly.

Reverence - Since the Bible is God’s own book, its study must be begun and prosecuted with a spirit of reverence and prayer.

Inerrancy - Since God is the principal Author of Sacred Scripture, it can be claimed to contain no error, no self-contradiction, nothing contrary to scientific or historical truth (when the original authors intended historical or scientific truth to be portrayed). Minor contradictions are due to copyist errors in the codex or the translation. Catholics believe the Scripture is God’s message put in words by men, with the imperfections this very fact necessarily implies. Catholic hermeneutics strongly supports inerrancy when it comes to principles but not, for example, when dealing with Evangelists’ orthographic mistakes. According to Pope John Paul II, "Addressing men and women, from the beginnings of the Old Testament onward, God made use of all the possibilities of human language, while at the same time accepting that his word be subject to the constraints caused by the limitations of this language. Proper respect for inspired Scripture requires undertaking all the labors necessary to gain a thorough grasp of its meaning.

Patristics - The Holy Fathers are of supreme authority whenever they all interpret in one and the same manner any text of the Bible, as pertaining to the doctrine of faith or morals; for their unanimity clearly evinces that such interpretation has come down from the Apostles as a matter of Catholic faith.’

I haven’t addressed Muslim biblical hermeneutics because I am not familiar with it.

A Catholic will tell you that what all of the fancy language above boils down to is authority. :smiley: Who has authority given to them by Christ to interpret Sacred Scripture?

Who do you believe has the authority?

Only the Catholic Church has the authority to interpret the Bible; it was written by Catholics, for Catholics.


Why would this be about Muhammad?

St. Paul warned about someone bringing another gospel.
St. John warned about someone bringing another doctrine.

If you look at the verses surrounding Acts 3:22 you see they were talking about Jesus.

Given that Jesus had more authority to interpret the Law over Jewish hieracrchy, one would be justified in asking:

Who has more authority, God or the Catholic Church?


We are talking about ‘authority’ in terms of interpreting the Bible. The Holy Spirit cannot be the author of confusion. Are all biblical interpretations correct simply because the pastor/rabbi/imam/individual says God told him it was correct? Of course not.

So whose interpretation can you trust? You then have to defer to authority. Who has the authority to interpret Scripture. Catholics believe that authority lies with the Catholic Church only.

On earth the Catholic Church is Christ’s representative. God speaks through the Church.

The Church has two pillars, Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture.

Before anything was written down, Jesus established Sacred Tradition for the Apostles and early christians to follow e.g. baptism, breaking bread etc.

Christ promised to protect the teaching of the Church: “He who hears you, hears me; he who rejects you rejects me, he who rejects me, rejects Him who sent me” (Luke 10. 16).

MattCh16 - [16] Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. [17] And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. [18] And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. [19] And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven. [20] Then he commanded his disciples, that they should tell no one that he was Jesus the Christ.

Hi Savingrace,

Are you familiar with the Jewish authorization process known as “semikhah” or smicha or smichut?


No but I looked it up on Jewish

"A ceremony obligatory on one who offered an animal sacrifice. The regulations governing its observance were as follows: The owner of the sacrificial victim (Sifra, Wayiḳra, v. [ed. Weiss, 6d-7a]) was required to lay both his hands with all his might between the horns of the animal just before it was killed (Maimonides, “Yad,” Ma’ase ha-Ḳorbanot, iii. 13). The act of imposition, which took place in the court of the Temple where the victim was slain (Men. 93a, b; Zeb. 32b-33a; Maimonides, l.c. iii. 11-12), was to be performed with bare hands, and there might be nothing between them and the head of the animal (Maimonides, l.c. iii. 13; Men. 93b). During this ceremony the sacrificer, in case he brought a sin-offering or an offering of atonement, confessed his sins, saying: “I have done thus and so, but have repented; may this sacrifice bring me forgiveness and be an atonement for me” (Yoma 35b; Maimonides, l.c. iii. 14). In the case of a thank-offering or a meal-offering at which sins were not confessed, the sacrificer recited hymns and prayers of thanksgiving during the act (Maimonides, ib.).

Semikah was observed only when sacrifices were offered by Jews, not when brought by Gentiles (Men. 93a; Maimonides, l.c. iii. 5). The ceremony was not observed, however, when the sacrifice was a fowl (Giṭ. 28b; Maimonides, l.c. iii. 6), nor was it performed,except in two cases, at communal sacrifices (Men. 92a, b; Maimonides, l.c. iii. 10). It was observed, on the other hand, at all sacrifices offered by an individual, except that of the paschal lamb, that of the first-born, and that of the tithes of cattle (Men. ib.; Maimonides, l.c. iii. 6). Only the owner of the sacrificial animal might observe the ceremony, and it might not be performed by proxy (Men. 93b; Maimonides, l.c. iii. 8). In case, therefore, several persons made an offering in common, it was necessary that they should lay their hands in succession on the head of the victim (Maimonides, l.c. iii. 9). When, however, one dedicated a thank-offering or a meal-offering and died before he could fulfil his vow, his male heir might offer it and observe semikah (Men. 92a, in opposition to R. Judah; Maimonides, l.c. iii. 9). Even when the semikah was omitted a sacrifice was still acceptable; but the forgiveness obtained through it was not as complete as if the ceremony had been performed (Men. 93b; Maimonides, l.c. iii. 12).

Its Meaning.

The symbolism of this custom has been variously explained. According to Philo (“De Victimis,” § 4 [ed. Mangey, p. 240]), the sacrificer intended his act to imply that “these hands have done no wrong, but have performed good and useful deeds.” This, however, applies only to thank-offerings and meal-offerings, and not to sin-offerings or to offerings of atonement. Some rabbinical authorities, followed by certain Church Fathers, interpreted “semikah” as meaning that the sacrificer, by laying his hands upon the victim, transferred his sins to it, and imposed upon it the punishment which his conduct had merited (Sforno on Lev. i. 5; Levi b. Gershon on Lev. i. 4). This explanation is based on the ritual associated with the scapegoat, upon which Aaron laid the sins of the children of Israel, who were thereby freed from their iniquity (Lev. xvi. 21 et seq.). This interpretation, however, is not well founded, since there is no evidence that the sins of Israel were conceived of as being transferred to the goat through the laying on of hands, although they may have been considered as being so transferred by the confession that formed part of the semikah ceremony, in which case the real factor was the liturgical formula rather than the ritual act.

This explanation of semikah, moreover, does not apply in the case of meal-offerings and thank-offerings, for they had nothing to do with a transference of sins. Since semikah was prescribed for sin-offerings and for offerings of atonement, as well as for meal-offerings and thank-offerings, it must have had a meaning which applied to all these various sacrifices, and must therefore have had some connection with the basal concept of sacrifice. Such a connection is established by the theory, advanced by Bähr and accepted by many modern scholars, that semikah was analogous to the Roman manumission. The hands, the members with which one holds and gives, were laid upon the victim’s head as implying on the part of the sacrificer the words: “This is my property, which I dedicate to God.”

Halakic Controversy.

The Talmud throws no light on the origin of semikah; but justification for the inference that the ceremony was connected with the transfer of property may be drawn from such Talmudic regulations as the requirement that only the owner of the sacrificial animal or the owner’s heir might perform the semikah. The necessity of observing semikah, even when the sacrifice was offered on a feast-day, was a moot question for five generations. One member of each of the five pairs (“zugot”), who were considered the foremost teachers of the Law, favored semikah, while his colleague decided against it (Ḥag. ii. 2; comp. the Talmudic explanation, ib. Gem. 16a, b). This difference of opinion was the first halakic controversy, according to Tosef., Ḥag. ii. 8 and Yer. Ḥag. ii. 77. Weiss, Frankel, and Levi offer various explanations of the meaning and importance of the controversy, but there are also notes on Ḥag. ii. 2 which state that the difference of opinion did not refer to the semikah ceremony during the sacrifice, or to its necessity or admissibility on a feast-day (comp. Sidon, “Die Controverse der Synhedrialhäupter,” in “Kaufmann Gedenkbuch,” pp. 355-364, Breslau, 1900; Schwarz, in “Monatsschrift,” xxxvii. 164-169, 201-206)."

Okay there’s more. Apparently “semikhah” can be used in two senses. :smiley:

"Of Judges, Elders, and Rabbis

All Jewish religious leaders had to be ordained before they were permitted to perform certain judicial functions and to decide practical questions in Jewish law. The Bible relates that Moses ordained Joshua by placing his hands on him, thereby transferring a portion of his spirit to Joshua (Num. 27:22, 23; Deut. 34:9). Moses also ordained the 70 elders who assisted him in governing the people (Num. 11:16–17, 24–25). The elders ordained by Moses ordained their successors, who in turn ordained others, so that there existed an unbroken chain of ordination from Moses down to the time of the Second Temple (Maim. Yad, Sanh. 4:2). For some centuries the tradition of ordaining by the laying of the hands was continued, but the rabbis later decided to ordain by merely conferring the title “rabbi” either orally or in writing (ibid., 4:2).

Ordination was required both for membership in the Great Sanhedrin, and the smaller Sanhedrins and regular colleges of judges empowered to decide legal cases. Three rows of scholars always sat before the Sanhedrin, and whenever it became necessary to choose a new member, a scholar from the first row was chosen and ordained (Sanh. 4:4). During the time of Judah ha-Nasi it was decreed that any religio-legal decision, including decisions relating to purely ceremonial law, could only be given by those properly authorized (Sanh. 5b). While any qualified Jewish person could serve as a judge in civil cases, only Jews of pure descent were eligible to adjudicate in criminal matters involving capital punishment (Sanh. 4:2). Ordination was also required to judge in cases involving corporal punishment and fines, to intercalate months and years, to release the firstborn animals for profane use by reason of disqualifying blemishes, to annul vows, and to pass the ban of excommunication (*ḥerem). Only a transfer of the Divine Spirit which originally rested on Moses empowered the ordained person to make decisions in these crucial areas. Ordination could be limited to only one or some of these various functions. The lowest degree of ordination entitled the rabbi to decide only religious questions, while the highest degree entitled him to inspect firstlings, in addition to deciding religious questions and judging criminal cases (Sanh. 5a; Maim. loc. cit. 4:8). The complete formula of ordination was “Yoreh Yoreh Yaddin Yaddin. Yattir Yattir” (“May he decide? He may decide. May he judge? He may judge. May he permit? He may permit”). Rav, the founder of the academy of Sura in Babylonia, was authorized to exercise only the first two of these three functions since it was feared that his excessive knowledge of blemishes might enable him to declare a blemish permanent and the animal thus be permitted for profane use, where to the bystanders it appeared transitory (Sanh. 5b). The privileges of ordination could also be limited to a specific period. R. Johanan only ordained R. Shaman for the duration of his Babylonian visit (ibid.).

The ordination itself, which required the presence of three elders, one of whom was himself ordained, was originally performed by every ordained teacher upon his pupils (Sanh. 1:3; tj, Sanh. 1:3, 19a). Nevertheless, as the influence of the Babylonian exilarch increased, it became necessary for the ordinants to obtain his authorization before serving as judges in Babylonia (Sanh. 5a). In Ereẓ Israel it also became necessary for individual scholars to obtain the consent of the patriarch before ordaining their pupils. On account of the high regard entertained for the patriarchs of the house of Hillel, who were the recognized heads of the Jewish community of the Holy Land during the centuries subsequent to the demise of Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai, no ordination was considered valid without the patriarch’s consent. The patriarch himself was at first permitted to confer it without consulting the Sanhedrin. Later the patriarch could only grant the degree in cooperation with the court (tj, Sanh. 1:3, 19a). The term used in the Holy Land in the days of the Jerusalem Talmud for ordination was minnui (literally “appointment” to the office of judge). In Babylonia the designation of semikhah (semikhuta in Aramaic) was retained (ibid.). On the day of ordination, the candidate wore a special garment (Lev. R. 2:4). After the ceremony, the scholars present praised in rhythmic sentences the person ordained. At the ordination of R. Ze’ira it was sung: “No powder, no paint, no waving of the hair, and still a graceful gazelle”; at the ordinations of Ammi and Assi: “Such as these, such as these ordain unto us”

SavingGrace, if I were an outsider trying to decide between Judaism and Christianity, I would question whether the Apostles made up facts about Jesus, including His claim to be God, in order to justify their discontinuity from traditional Judaism at the time. So if I were such person, how can I know whether God transferred authority from the Jewish hierarchy to the Catholic Church? Remember, for all an outsider knows, the New Testament, including Matthew 16:18-19, could be an inaccurate account of Jesus.

The Old Testament was written by Catholics?

Wouldn’t Muhammed trace his lines back to Ishmael, not Isaac and through the tribes of Israel?

And this presupposes that Jesus is God and gave the Church such authority. That argument, all by itself, would not fly to a non-Christian. He/she can just as well claim that either God preserved His truth through the Jewish tradition or revealed more of His truth through the Muslim tradition. He could use the problem I proposed in my OP as “proof” that Christianity is false because it apparently interprets the Bible wherever they see fit, no matter how arbitrary it seems. When I look at the Old Testament verses that the Apostle’s quoted, it seems clear that the original verse did not mean what the Apostles meant in its original context. So they may see the “multiple meaning approach” as just a dodge tactic that frees the Church from scrutiny in Scriptural hermetics. For example, if one has never read the New Testament, can he infer from Old Testament and Jewish tradition alone that Psalm 22 is Messianic?

Of course you would and people do. Only you can decide if Apostles spoke the truth, we can’t convince you of that and I’m not interested in converting you. I can only provide what we believe and the historical, theological and philosophical arguments that support the Church and it’s teachings. It has to be rational informed decision as well as a leap of faith on your part. In the end the decision is up to you. It’s your responsibility to research, compare notes etc.

"January 11, 49 B.C. is one of the most famous dates in the history of ancient Rome, even of the ancient world. On that date Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River, committing himself and his followers to civil war. Few, if any, historians doubt that the event happened. On the other hand, numerous skeptics claim that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are myth and have no basis in historical fact. Yet, as historian Paul Merkley pointed out two decades ago in his article, “The Gospels as Historical Testimony,” far less historical evidence exists for the crossing of the Rubicon than does for the events depicted in the Gospels:

There are no firsthand testimonies to Caesar’s having crossed the Rubicon (wherever it was). Caesar himself makes no mention in his memoirs of crossing any river. Four historians belonging to the next two or three generations do mention a Rubicon River, and claim that Caesar crossed it. They are: Velleius Paterculus (c.19 B.C.–c.A.D. 30); Plutarch (c.A.D. 46–120); Suetonius (75–160); and Appian (second century). All of these evidently depended on the one published eyewitness account, that of Asinius Pollio (76 B.C.–c. A.D. 4)—which account has disappeared without a trace. No manuscript copies for any of these secondary sources is to be found earlier than several hundred years after their composition. (The Evangelical Quarterly 58, 319-336)

Merkley observed that those skeptics who either scoff at the historical reliability of the Gospels or reject them outright as “myth” do so without much, if any, regard for the nature of history in general and the contents of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in particular.


**The Distinctive Sign
So, are the four Gospels “myth”? Can they be trusted as historical records? If Christianity is about “having faith,” do such questions really matter? The latter question is, I hope, easy to answer: Yes, it obviously matters very much if the narratives and discourses recorded by the four evangelists are about real people and historical events. Pope Benedict XVI, in his book Jesus of Nazareth, offers this succinct explanation:

For it is of the very essence of biblical faith to be about real historical events. It does not tell stories symbolizing suprahistorical truths, but is based on history, history that took place here on this earth. The factum historum (historical fact) is not an interchangeable symbolic cipher for biblical faith, but the foundation on which it stands: Et incarnates est —when we say these words, we acknowledge God’s actual entry into real history. (Jesus of Nazareth, xv)

Christianity, more than any other religion, is rooted in history and makes strong—even shocking—claims about historical events, most notably that God became man and dwelt among us. Of course, some Christians of a less-than-orthodox persuasion are content to discard large chunks of the Gospels as unnecessary (or even “offensive”) or to interpret as “mythological” or “metaphorical” nearly each and every event and belief described therein. But such is not the belief of the Catholic Church (or of the Eastern Orthodox churches and most conservative Protestants). As the Catechism of the Catholic Church flatly states: “Belief in the true Incarnation of the Son of God is the distinctive sign of Christian faith” (CCC 463).

It is, ultimately, this distinctive sign—the conviction that Jesus of Nazareth was and is truly God and man—that is the focal point of attacks on the historical credibility of the Gospels and the New Testament. Over the past few centuries many historians and theologians have sought to uncover the “historical Jesus” and to peel away the many layers of what they believed were legend and theological accretion. Many abandoned hope that any historical (never mind theological) fact could be extracted from the Gospels.

Cont 2/3

**The Historical Evidence
Those supernatural elements—especially the miracles of Jesus and his claims to divinity—are, as we’ve noted, why skeptics call the Gospels “myth” while remaining unruffled about anything written about Julius Caesar and the Rubicon by Velleius Paterculus, Plutarch, Suetonius, and Appian. Yes, Suetonius did write in his account (Lives of the Twelve Caesars) about “an apparition of superhuman size and beauty . . . sitting on the river bank, playing a reed pipe” who persuaded Caesar to cross the river, but it has not seemed to undermine the belief that Caesar did indeed cross the Rubicon on January 11, 49 B.C. But, for the sake of argument, let’s set aside the theological claims found in the New Testament and take a brief look at the sort of data a historian might examine in gauging the reliability and accuracy of an ancient manuscript.

"First, there is the sheer number of ancient copies of the New Testament. There are close to 5,700 full or partial Greek New Testament manuscripts in existence. Most of these date from between the second to 16th century, with the oldest, known as Papyrus 52 (which contains John 18), dating from around A.D. 100–150. By comparison, the average work by a classical author—such as Tacitus (c. A.D. 56–c. 120), Pliny the Younger (A.D. 61–113), Livy (59 B.C.–A.D. 17), and Thucydides (460–395 B.C.)—has about 20 extant manuscripts, the earliest copy usually several centuries newer than the original. For example, the earliest copy of works by the prominent Roman historian Suetonius (A.D. 75–130) date to A.D. 950—over 800 years after the original manuscripts had been written.

In addition to the thousands of Greek manuscripts, there are an additional 10,000 Latin manuscripts, and thousands of additional manuscripts in Syriac, Aramaic, and Coptic, for a total of about 24,000 full or partial manuscripts of the New Testament. And then there are the estimated one million quotes from the New Testament in the writings of the Church Fathers (A.D. 150–1300). Obviously, the more manuscripts that are available, the better scholars are able to assess accurately what the original manuscripts contained and to correct errors that may exist in various copies.

When Were They Written?

Closely related is the matter of dating. While debate continues as to the exact dating of the Gospels, few biblical scholars believe that any of the four works were written after the end of the first century. “Liberal New Testament scholars today,” writes Blomberg, “tend to put Mark a few years one side or the other of A.D. 70, Matthew and Luke–Acts sometime in the 80s, and John in the 90s” (Making Sense of the New Testament, 25). Meanwhile, many conservative scholars date the synoptic Gospels (and Acts) in the 60s and John in the 90s. That means, simply, that there exist four accounts of key events in Jesus’ life written within 30 to 60 years after his Crucifixion—and this within a culture that placed a strong emphasis on the role and place of an accurate oral tradition. Anyone who denies that Jesus existed or who claims that the Gospels are filled with historical errors or fabrications will, in good conscience, have to explain why they don’t make the same assessment about the historical works of Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, Julius Caesar, Livy, Josephus, Tacitus, and other classical authors.

Secondly, historical details are found in the Gospels and the other books of the New Testament. These include numerous mentions of secular rulers and leaders (Caesar Augustus, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Felix, Archelaus, Agrippa, Gallio), as well as Jewish leaders (Caiaphas, Ananias)—the sort of names unlikely to be used inaccurately or even to show up in a “myth.” Anglican scholar Paul Barnett, in Is The New Testament Reliable? , provides several pages’ worth of intersections between biblical and non-biblical sources regarding historical events and persons. “Christian sources contribute, on an equal footing with non-Christian sources,” he observes, “pieces of information that form part of the fabric of known history. In matters of historical detail, the Christian writers are as valuable to the historian as the non-Christian” (167).

Then there are the specifically Jewish details, including references to and descriptions of festivals, religious traditions, farming and fishing equipment, buildings, trades, social structures, and religious hierarchies. As numerous books and articles have shown in recent decades, the beliefs and ideas found in the Gospels accurately reflect a first-century Jewish context. All of this is important in responding to the claim that the Gospels were written by authors who used Greek and Egyptian myths to create a supernatural man-god out of the faint outline of a lowly Jewish carpenter."

cont 3/3

Pay Dirt

Various modern archeological discoveries have validated specific details found in the Gospels:

In 1961 a mosaic from the third century was found in Caesarea Maritima that had the name “Nazareth” in it. This is the first known ancient non-biblical reference to Nazareth.
Coins with the names of the Herod family have been discovered, including the names of Herod the king, Herod the tetrarch of Galilee (who killed John the Baptist), Herod Agrippa I (who killed James Zebedee), and Herod Agrippa II (before whom Paul testified).

In 1990 an ossuary was found inscribed with the Aramaic words, “Joseph son of Caiaphas,” believed to be a reference to the high priest Caiaphas.

In 1968 an ossuary was discovered near Jerusalem bearing the bones of a man who had been executed by crucifixion in the first century. These are the only known remains of a man crucified in Roman Palestine, and verify the descriptions given in the Gospels of Jesus’ Crucifixion.

In June 1961 Italian archaeologists excavating an ancient Roman amphitheatre near Caesarea-on-the-Sea (Maritima) uncovered a limestone block. On its face is an inscription (part of a larger dedication to Tiberius Caesar) that reads: “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judaea.”

Numerous other finds continue to demolish the notion that the Gospels are mythologies filled with fictional names and events.

The External Evidence

Third, there are extra-biblical, ancient references to Jesus and early Christianity. Although the number of non-Christian Roman writings from the first half of the first century is quite small (just a few volumes), there are a couple of significant references.

Writing to the Emperor Trajan around A.D. 112, Pliny the Younger reported on the trials of certain Christians arrested by the Romans. He noted that those who are “really Christians” would never curse Christ:

They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. (Letters, Book 10, Letter 96)

The historian Tacitus, in his Annals —considered by historians to be one the finest works of ancient Roman history—mentioned how the Emperor Nero, following the fire in Rome in A.D. 64, persecuted Christians in order to draw attention away from himself. The passage is noteworthy as an unfriendly source because although Tacitus thought Nero was appalling, he also despised the foreign and, to him, superstitious religion of Christianity:

Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular. (Annals, 15:44)

Robert E. Van Voorst, author of Jesus Outside the New Testament, offers a detailed analysis of scholarly controversies about this passage, and then states, “Of all the Roman authors, Tacitus gives us the most precise information about Christ” (45). This includes Tacitus’s understanding that “Christus”—not Paul or someone else—was the founder of the Christian movement. He notes that Christ was executed under Pilate during the reign of Tiberius, and that Judea was the source of the Christian movement. All of which further confirms the historical reliability of the Gospels."

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