Apollonius of Tyana (a city south of Turkey) is sometimes offered as a challenge to the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. It is said that Apollonius, who lived in the first century, also performed miracles, had disciples, died, and appeared after his death the same as Jesus. Therefore, critics conclude, what Jesus did isn't unique. Some even say that this is evidence that the Christian account of Christ's healings, miracles, and post death appearances were merely copied from the accounts of Apollonius. Are these accusations supportable? No, they aren't.
First of all, the accounts of Apollonius were written well after he is supposed to have lived by a man named Philostratus (170 - 245 A.D.). This is long after the New Testament was written. Therefore the written accounts of Apollonius were not written by eyewitnesses as were the gospels. If critics want to maintain that the New Testament is full of myth and must be discredited, then so must the accounts of Apollonius since the writings are written several generations after the fact. By contrast the New Testament was written by the eyewitnesses of Jesus' life. Logically, it is the New Testament accounts that are far more reliable than those of Apollonius. Also, this would mean that if any borrowing was done, it was done by Philostratus, not by the gospel writers.
Second, the eyewitness accounts of the New Testament writers were written before the close of the first century. For example, we know that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts do not contain the account of the fall of Jerusalem which occurred in 70 A.D. This fall included the destruction of the Jerusalem temple which was prophesied by Jesus in Matt. 24:1, Mark 13:1, and Luke 21:5. Such an incredibly major event in Jewish history would surely have been included in Acts and the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) if they were written after 70 A.D. since they would verify Jesus' predictive abilities. But, it is not included. Therefore, it is safe to say that they were written by the eyewitnesses of Jesus' life, unlike the accounts of Apollonius.
Third, Philostratus is the only source for the accounts of Apollonius where the Bible is multi-sourced. In other words, we have different writers writing about Jesus. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, etc., are different writers who's epistles were gathered by the Church and assembled into the Bible. That means that there is no verification for Apollonius other than the single writing of Philostratus.
Fourth, Philostratus was commissioned by an empress to write a biography of Apollonius in order to dedicate a temple to him. This means that there was a motive for Philostratus to embellish the accounts in order satisfy the requirement of the empress.1
It is not likely in the slightest that the gospels borrowed from Apollonius. It is most probably the other way around, especially since Philostratus had a motive to satisfy the empress who had commissioned him to write a biography of the man for whom a temple had been constructed.
- 1. Strobel, Lee, The Case for Christ, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998, p. 120.