John was a man of history

In recent posts we have called attention to Luke’s account of the events surrounding the birth of John the Baptist. Some readers may treat Zacharias, Elizabeth, John, and even Jesus, as fictional. Luke deals with the characters and events as historical.

Notice especially how Luke deals with the beginning of the ministry of John.

Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene,  in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.  (Luke 3:1-2 NAU)

Luke treats John as a man of history by placing him at a specific place (“the district around the Jordan” – v. 3), and a specific time, in the reign of specific political and religious leaders.

  • In the 15th year of reign of Tiberius Caesar
  • Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea
  • Herod [Antipas] was tetrarch of Galilee
  • Herod Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis
  • Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene
  • High priesthood of Annas & Caiaphas

In the absence of a calendar such as the one we use, one could hardly be more precise. All of these are historical characters. They are known in other written records, by coins bearing their image, by inscriptions, by statues, and one is know by his ossuary (burial bone box).

There is too much here for us to deal with each of these characters at this time. Let’s look at Pontius Pilate. Pilate is known in written records aside from the New Testament (more than 50 times), and Josephus (more than 20 times). Tacitus, the Roman historian, says that “…Christ, was put to death by the procurator Pontius Pilate…” (Annals XV.44.2).

Use our search box to locate other posts we have written about Pilate. Begin with this one. The photo below shows the replica of the inscription bearing Pilate’s name that was found at Caesarea Maritima in 1961. The original is in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

Replical of inscription bearing the name of Pontius Pilate.Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Replica of inscription bearing the name of Pontius Pilate.Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

For accounts in which Pilate played an important role, read Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, and John 18.

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