1. That Christ is the founder of the sect of the Christians.
2. That Christ was put to death as a criminal.
3. That he was put to death by Pontius Pilate.
4. That Tiberius was then Emperor of Rome. Hence —
5. The Messiah was born in the reign of Augustus.
6. This “pernicious superstition” was then checked for a time.
7. This “pernicious superstition” broke out again and spread not only over Judea, but reached the city of Rome.
8. That Christians were persecuted in Rome as early as the year 64, about thirty years after the death of Christ.
9. A vast number was discovered and condemned, not only because they were accused of burning the city, but because of their hatred for mankind.
10. They were hated as the offscourings of the earth, and as the filth of all things; their executions were so contrived as to expose them to derision and contempt.
11. They were destroyed, not out of regard to the public welfare, but to gratify the cruelty of one man.
Tacitus hated the Christians, because they refused to worship his idol gods, and thus disparaged the national religion which, as a Roman statesman, he delighted to honor. There is no crime charged against the disciples of Jesus in all the volumes of this great writer.
If the New Testament had failed to come down to our age, these statements alone would have furnished an account of the origin, progress, and sufferings of the church, practically as found in the New Testament which we have.
This testimony, independent and even hostile, according to Canon 4, enhances the probability of the facts themselves.
The next Roman writer is Pliny, “the younger,” to distinguish him from an uncle bearing the same name and a man of some repute. Pliny was born in Milan, Italy, in the year 61 AD.
He was an elegant writer of the epistolary type. He witnessed the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the year 79, as it buried the cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii thirty feet beneath the surface, and he has written the best account of that event. He was made consul of Rome in the year 100, and was proconsul of Bithynian under Trajan in the years 106-108.
Upon entering Bithynia he found a great persecution waged by government authority in progress. For a while he continued it, but finally wrote a letter to Trajan, the emperor, in which he stated the facts he found and asked for instructions of procedure. From his letter the following point of information are gathered.
1. A vast number of Christians were then in Bithynia, of every age and rank, of both sexes, and in all parts of the country. Such was the influence of their teaching, that the heathen temples were almost deserted, and the victims for the heathen sacrifices could hardly find a purchaser.
2. None who were really Christians could, by any means, be compelled to make supplication to the image of Caesar, or to the statue of the gods.
3. After the most searching inquiry, including the torture of certain Christians to force confessions from them, he had found no vices among them.
4. They suffered for the name of being Christians, without the charge of any crime.
5. They were accustomed, on stated days, to hold two meetings, one for singing “in concert” hymns to Christ, and for making vows to live righteously; the other for eating a “harmless meal.”
6. Those who were Roman citizens were sent to Rome for trial.
This testimony comes from an independent source and is prompted by an anxiety to know how to handle this sect. It is in perfect harmony with the New Testament narrative. The sending of those who were Romans to Rome is parallel with the experience of the Apostle Paul.
“If any suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this name.”
The most skeptical of earth are forced to accept the evidence that comes from Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny, and other classic writers. But should there be any discrepancy between these and those of the New Testament, the preference would be with the latter because they were much better informed on the subject.[For much of this sermon I have quoted and copied statements made by brethren A. Campbell and J. W. McGarvey.]
This lesson was edited in the scripture quotations provided from the KJV to the NKJV.
From Hardeman’s Tabernacle Sermons – Volume 3, lessons delivered at the Ryman Auditorium, Nashville Tennessee between March 18th and April 1st 1928