This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Thank you for your work Mr Craig. Because of your work I have begin to believe in the existence of God. For my next step I am researching and reading up on lots of information on the existence of Jesus including your writings titled "Rediscovering the historical Jesus: The evidence for Jesus". I have also researched on people mentioning Jesus such as Josephus and Thallus in Wikipedia. In your writings and I quote "He’s referred to in pagan, Jewish, and Christian writings outside the New Testament. The Jewish historian Josephus is especially interesting. In the pages of his works you can read about New Testament people like the high priests Annas and Caiaphas,"
In your writings you wrote that Josephus mentioned Jesus and other people referred to in the new testament. I have a few questions regarding this. 1) If I gathered my information on the writings of Josephus through Wikipedia, how can I trust the wikipedia and where did wikipedia get their source from and can I trust that source they used? 2) When you mentioned that in the writings of Josephus, he mentioned Jesus and other new testament figures. Where did you get the source from and can it be trusted? Did you read the original text written by Josephus himself? 3) Do you think it's reasonable to say that I cannot trust the works of people who claim to say that Josephus wrote on Jesus unless I see the original text written by Josephus? I do not know how or where to get started on my journey to research on the existence of Jesus and Christianity but I begin my journey here in your website. I hope you can help me to answer those questions and guide me in better understanding how I can research better on existence of Jesus.
Dr. William Lane Craig's Response
I’m glad you’re looking into Jesus, Ben. I’m sure your quest will be fruitful. Your question is of interest because Wikipedia is so widely turned to by inquirers. While the Wikipedia article on Josephus looks to be very responsible, I do want to make some general admonitions.
1. “How can I trust the wikipedia and where did wikipedia get their source from and can I trust that source they used?” Wikipedia is the encyclopedia that anyone (including yourself!) can edit. While Wikipedia has some standards in place so that articles cannot be changed willy-nilly, the fact remains that the articles are written by anonymous readers who may not be expert in the subject or who may be biased. The latter is especially a concern when it comes to religious topics. I know from personal experience that the Wikipedia article on me, for instance, has in the past been edited by some person or persons bent on including spurious criticisms (which have since been cleaned up). Wikipedia tries to control changes by giving preference to edits that are well-documented with footnotes; but obviously just citing footnotes is not going to make an article trustworthy. At least the footnotes do give you the means of tracking down the sources and seeing if they have been misused (as I have sometimes discovered).
Wikipedia is, then, most useful when you are looking for non-controversial information like geographical information. But when it comes to topics such as those you’re pursuing, it should not be simply trusted. It requires confirmation. Its usefulness will be chiefly in giving a general orientation and some bibliographical sources to pursue.
2. “Where did you get the source from and can it be trusted? Did you read the original text written by Josephus himself?” While I can no longer remember where I first read of Josephus’ well-known references to Jesus, I can recommend R. T. France’s The Evidence for Jesus (1986) and Robert E. Van Voorst’s Jesus outside the New Testament (2000). These are both sober, objective accounts of the extra-biblical references to Jesus, including Josephus’. On the shelf of my personal library is the Complete Works of Josephus, where I can verify the relevant passages myself (Antiquities of the Jews Bk. 18. Ch. 2. Sec. 2; Bk. 18. Ch. 3. Sec. 3; Bk. 20. Ch. 9. Sec. 1).
3. “Do you think it's reasonable to say that I cannot trust the works of people who claim to say that Josephus wrote on Jesus unless I see the original text written by Josephus?” No, I don’t think that it’s unreasonable to trust secondary sources written by experts who agree on the information. If you had to track down every reference, you’d never get done! But in the case of Josephus, it’s easy to read the relevant passages yourself, and this can boost your confidence that you are on the path to truth.
This Q&A and other resources are available on Dr. William Lane Craig's website.