What is the first ancient document composed by a non-Christian denying the resurrection of Jesus that we have access to?

I am specifically looking for a document actually penned by a non-Christian, so references to people denying the resurrection in a Christian document do not count. Further, Christian documents quoting non-Christian documents do not count.

  • How ancient is "ancient"? Most written documents referring to Christianity for the first several hundred years AD were written by Christians. Those that I can think of that were written by non-Christians didn't go into any specific Christian beliefs. Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 18:07
  • If a Christian quotes or paraphrases the non-surviving text of a non-Christian who denies the resurrection, does that count? Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 18:22
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    @Nathaniel No that doesn’t count. I’ll update the question to clarify. Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 19:09
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    @JosephHinkle Yeah – the tricky thing is that for some writers, the only reason we know what they wrote is because their opponents quoted them (like Marcion). But the line you're drawing here makes sense; it just may push the date out a little. Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 19:16
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    @Nathaniel Exactly. I mainly asked with this in mind because I am wondering to what extent we’ve lost early documentation of this sort. I hope that makes sense. Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 20:29

2 Answers 2


Tacitus a Roman historian and Senator wrote an account to help explain the fire at Rome circa CE 116. He references Christ, His death, but nothing about a resurrection, unless that is to what the "mischievous superstition" points.

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. -Annals

In other words the Christian belief was that Messiah would suffer and rise again on the third day. That is a "package" belief. Tacitus denies it all as a superstition and merely points to its "fallen leader".

  • great find! I'm going to assume this is the earliest one and award you the answer. Thank you. Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 22:52

This question requires some clarification in that there were (and still are) those who denied a resurrection of/in the flesh/body, while perhaps still admitting to a resurrection of something. This argument resurfaced about CE 200. Tertullian deals with it in many places against teachings sourced some 50 years earlier to Marcion, Vallentinus, and others.

Those heretical teachings (no resurrection of the flesh) arose for various reasons having to do with answering the question about the nature of who Christ Jesus is and thus the type of resurrection (flesh or otherwise).

They who are so anxious to shake that belief in the resurrection which was firmly settled before the appearance of our modern Sadducees, as even to deny that the expectation thereof has any relation whatever to the flesh, have great cause for besetting the flesh of Christ also with doubtful questions, as if it either had no existence at all, or possessed a nature altogether different from human flesh. For they cannot but be apprehensive that, if it be once determined that Christ’s flesh was human, a presumption would immediately arise in opposition to them, that that flesh must by all means rise again, which has already risen in Christ. Therefore we shall have to guard our belief in the resurrection from the same armoury, whence they get their weapons of destruction. -Tertullian-

As well, there's this.

Thus, then, you have the Lord affirming against the Jewish heretics what is now encountering the denial of the Christian Sadducees—the resurrection of the entire man. -source-

So, at least one answer to the OP question about denying the (flesh) resurrection is it sources very early in Christian history to those who denied that Jesus is the Christ, Son of the Living God.

PS. Although not asking for it, in turn the source of that teaching (resurrection of something, but not of the flesh) relates to the teaching about the nature of the birth of Christ. Those in the church, like Marcion and others, believed in the virgin conception, but denied a natural human birth, unlike Tertulllian. From that as noted, they believed in some resurrection, but not to one of "evil" flesh.

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