The majority of historians believe that one of the best attested facts about Jesus Christ’s life is that he died by crucifixion. This article only presents the evidence in its most simplified form, and should readers wish for a more detailed examination they can go here.
According to James Dunn the crucifixion commands “almost universal assent” and that it “rank[s] so high on the ‘almost impossible to doubt or deny’ scale of historical facts” (1). New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman agrees that “The crucifixion of Jesus by the Romans is one of the most secure facts we have about his life” (2).
One finds that it is an event to which several independent sources attest. It is found within all the biographical gospels sources some of which use earlier information. Mark, the earliest gospel, utilized a Pre-Markan passion narrative source on Christ’s last week and his subsequent crucifixion. A source such as this, which may be based upon eyewitness testimony, allows the historian to go back much earlier than the earliest gospel biography. This means that the historian has in his or her possession early attestation to the crucifixion. Attestation is also found in Q, which is another early material dating prior to the gospels and to around the 40s or 50s AD.
The Apostle Paul throughout his undisputed epistles, which also date earlier than the gospels, frequently refers to the crucifixion. Paul’s first hand testimony is given further credibility since he had met with Christ’s brother James and Christ’s disciple Peter of whom he discovered held to the same beliefs concerning the major events in Christ’s final week.
The crucifixion is also found within the book of Acts. Acts is the historian’s most comprehensive account on the historical movements of the early church subsequent to Christ’s death and resurrection appearances. According to Acts, “When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in the tomb” and “When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in the tomb.”
The 1st century historian Josephus Flavius provides the most important extra-biblical attestation to Christ’s crucifixion which is accepted as an authentic reference. Cornelius Tacitus, a Roman historian of the early 2nd century, also mentions the crucifixion which is also accepted as authentic (3).
Further worth noting are the early Church fathers Papias, Ignatius, and 1 Clement of whom all believed that Christ was crucified on a cross. These three early church fathers of the late 1st and early 2nd centuries had ties to Christ’s original apostles, which gives their testimony a certain level of credibility.
Taken together there is a substantial amount of testimonial evidence attesting to Christ’s death by crucifixion. It is independently attested to in the Pre-Mark Passion Narrative, Q, John, Paul, Hebrews, 1 Peter 2:24, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Martyr, Josephus Flavius, and Cornelius Tacitus. This totals to at least 11 independent sources affirming the mode of crucifixion. Of those three are early and independent (pre-Mark, Q, and Paul). This is quite impressive given that historians view just two independent sources in a favourable light,
1. Dunn, J. 2003. Jesus Remembered. p. 339.
2. Ehrman, B. Why Was Jesus Killed? Available.
3. Eddy, P., & Boyd, G. 2007. The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition. p. 127.