Category: Does History Match the Bible?


What is being called the “largest gathering of the secular movement in world history” is taking place in Washington, DC, on March 24, 2012. New Atheists like Richard Dawkins are gathering in Washington on this date by droves to participate in the Reason Rally (www.ReasonRally.com) to contend that atheism and secular humanism are the most reasonable worldviews. There are now more atheists/agnostics/humanists in America than Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists combined, and they want to make their voice heard that “Atheism is reasonable.” Only atheism is a worldview of reason. Are they right?

Christians will also be attending the Reason Rally. This coordinated effort purposes to show that secularism is not the vessel of reason and Christianity is. The Christians are responding with an alternative website (www.TrueReason.org) and a direct response to the Reason Rally through a book to be published in early March.

Clearly this rally is a battle in a larger conflict for the mind and heart of every person in the world. Who has the upper edge on reason? Surely whatever view is true must be the most reasonable. We use reasoning capacities in everything from examining evidence in court to deciding what tires to buy, and thus our view of the world and what lies beyond can hardly be the exception to reason’s critiques. The Reason Rally’s argument that atheism is the only reasonable worldview is already believed by many who hold that religion equals irrationality and atheism equals the only choice for modern, educated men and women.

But is atheism truly reasonable? Let’s examine atheism on its own claimed turf, Reason. From the origins of the universe and the world of microscopic life to the reliability of an ancient document and the occurrence of an event two thousand years ago, we’ll check out atheism against its own standard.

In the Beginning

Atheism maintains that the universe is all there is and there are no supernatural forces involved. Yet modern scientific theory and discovery have shown superbly strong evidence that the universe had a beginning. These discoveries give atheism a problem, stated best in logic:

Whatever has a beginning had a cause to begin it.

The universe had a beginning.

Thus, the universe had a cause.

The first two statements are logical premises, and the last statement is the conclusion inferred from the previous statements. If the two premises are true and the logical argument is valid, then the conclusion is true also. This conclusion is not what atheism wants, because a cause of the universe would be separate from the universe – not a part of the universe. And since the universe contains all nature and is synonymous with nature, nature would be caused by the supernatural – that which is beyond nature.

So are the first two logical statements correct? The first, “whatever has a beginning has a cause,” is quite obviously true. A baby begins crying because of the cause of hunger. A war begins because of the cause of conflicting ideologies. A car begins existing because of the cause of the machinations of a factory and human engineering. This basic principle is the basis for all scientific study: Every effect has a sufficient cause. Rocks roll down hills because of gravity and lightweight bugs can walk on water because of surface tension. Nothing “pops” into existence all by itself – if something could, we could never be sure of the cause of anything. If something began existing sometime in the past, then some other person or thing caused it to be. Everyone, from children to doctors of philosophy, know intuitively that every effect has a cause.

So what about the second premise, “the universe had a beginning”? Vast amounts of scientific data and virtually all scientists support this statement, based on many reasonable evidences:

1. Second Law of Thermodynamics. One of the most proven scientific laws, this principle basically states that the universe is running out of usable energy and going from order to disorder. Useful work, such as the swing of an arm or the combustion in an engine, are not one hundred percent efficient and thus lose usable energy through friction or heat. Everything runs down over the course of time. Intelligent, directed activity can halt the tendency towards disorder, such as the growth of living organisms or the building of structures by intelligent humans or animals; but these upward activities eventually give way to the increase of disorder. Buildings collapse; we get old.

This move from order to disorder implies that the universe had once been “started” with a high degree of order. If the universe is “winding down,” then it makes sense that it once was “wound up.” If the universe was eternal in age, this tendency to disorder would have decomposed everything into a useless state by now. In fact, if there is no interruption from a creative source, scientists predict that the universe will decay and die in a “heat death” as a result of the second law of thermodynamics. Thus, since we have not yet experienced this heat death, the universe has not grown old enough to die. Since it has not gone through enough time to die, it must have begun life in the past. Thus, the universe had a beginning which was highly ordered.

A high degree of order is exactly what Christianity states how the universe began – “very good” in God’s sight. Atheism, on the other hand, says the universe formed randomly with no plan and moved upwards in complexity – quite the opposite of the order-to-disorder tendency of the second law of thermodynamics. Thus, which view is more reasonably true when we look at the evidence from the second law of thermodynamics?

2. An Expanded Universe. When Mr. Hubble looked through his Hubble telescope in California, he made a discovery that shocked the twentieth century scientific world: the universe has expanded. The light from all the galaxies were redshifted, which meant that they were flying away from earth and each other in all directions. Galaxies flying away from each other meant that the universe expanded and/or is expanding. Conversely, if the galaxies’ light was blueshifted, the galaxies would be converging and thus the universe would be collapsing.

This universal expansion, in which space itself is stretching and bringing the galaxies with it, means that the universe once was smaller than it is today. Keep rewinding the universe back in time, and the universe shrinks into an infinitely small point. Thus, such an expanding universe could not have been expanding forever, but it must have begun its existence in a moment in time.

Some atheists try getting around this problem of an expanding universe by speculating that the universe goes through a cycle of expanding and contracting; this idea is called the oscillating universe hypothesis. It’s not much more than a guess, since it hardly has any evidence, and much against it. First, the second law of thermodynamics stated above would drain the usable energy from each expansion/contraction cycle until there was no more energy to do either. Second, there is not enough gravity in the universe to pull the universe into a “Big Crunch.” Third, there is no physical mechanism known that can initiate a new “Big Bang” from the hypothetical Big Crunch. Thus, rather than following the reasonable conclusion of an expanding universe, the oscillating universe idea clutches to little more than speculation in order to escape the conclusions of reason.

3. Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. Even before Mr. Hubble discovered the expanding universe in his telescope, Mr. Einstein was puzzled over his mathematical equations, which showed him that the universe – all space, matter, and even time – began from nothing. Einstein, preferring to believe in an eternal universe (which was in scientific vogue back then in the 1920s), did what no third-grader is allowed to do: divide by zero. By employing this mathematical crime in his equations, Einstein managed to avoid a universe that started from nothing. But when Hubble made his discovery, Einstein visited Hubble’s telescope himself to see what his equations had told him all along: the universe had a beginning. Einstein reversed his convictions in favor of his original equations. His theory of general relativity is one of the most evidenced theories of the universe, respected by all scientists and created by one of the most brilliant minds in history. It would be quite unreasonable to reject it.

Thus, scientific evidence is clear that the universe had a beginning.

Since whatever has a beginning has a cause, and the universe has a beginning, then the universe also has a cause. Remember in Einstein’s equations that the beginning of the universe brought forth the existence of not just all matter, but also space and time themselves. Thus, whatever caused the universe into being must itself be

  • immaterial

  • spaceless

  • timeless

Sounds like a spiritual cause, doesn’t it? In fact, these are some of the precise characteristics of the Christian God. Reason’s implications don’t stop there though: Since the universe is not eternal, but began at a finite time in the past, this cause of the universe must have made a conscious choice to bring the universe into existence. After all, if this cause was an impersonal force like gravity, it could not choose to create, but would either be always creating or never creating. Such an impersonal force cause would create an eternal universe, which has already been disproven. Thus, it would make more sense that this Cause is

  • a personal Being

And since the whole universe began from nothing, this Being must be “outside” the universe and be beyond the universe and nature:

  • supernatural – beyond nature

Thus, reasoning from effect to cause and cause to effect, we see that the universe is not all there is out there and that there is a supernatural world. Thus, these two basic tenets of atheism are found to be unreasonable, ignoring key evidences and logic accepted by scientists and everyday experience.

The Watch on the Seashore

If you strolled down a pebbled beach and found a Rolex watch straddled among the stones, would you think it formed from the wind and surf like the other round objects? Not likely, especially if you’re a reasonable man/woman. Yet atheism would have you believe otherwise.

In The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins states, “All appearance to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way. A true watchmaker has foresight: he designs his cogs and springs, and plans their interconnections, with future purpose in his mind’s eye. Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind … . It has no mind … . It does not plan for the future … it is the blind watchmaker” (p. 5).

Natural Selection

So, despite “all appearance to the contrary,” the complexities of nature that exceed even the intricacies of a watch have, according to atheism, come about through random natural processes. Darwin’s evolutionary natural selection has been hailed as the key to this blind watchmaking, transforming over millions of years non-living matter into the first cell into the first fish into the first mammal and into the first human. But is this really reasonable?

When we think about it, natural selection can only “select” from preexisting materials, i.e. from genetic material already in the gene pool. One of the most famous examples of natural selection is the English case of the white moth versus the black moth: The black moths were easy for predator birds to see on white tree trunks until the Industrial Revolution blackened those tree trunks with soot, making the black moths better hidden than the now-conspicuous white moths. Thus, natural selection happened as the black moths increased in population relative to the white moths as birds ate the non-camouflaged moths.

Is this moth natural selection an example of evolution? No, if by evolution you mean the molecules-to-man variety. Only the percentages of white-to-black moths changed – no new forms evolved. Natural selection only reshuffled the population numbers – nothing new arose.

Even the formation of new varieties results just from the reshuffling of genes in the genetic pool. Imagine the dog breed scenario. The original dog variety was a kind of wolf, not too extreme in any one feature, and from that single kind all the various, even crazy, dog breeds developed. From tiny Chihuahuas to huge Saint Bernard’s, from curly-coated poodles to pug-faced bulldogs – all these dog breeds came from the same original stock, which contained the genetic potential for all these varieties. These kinds can be cross-bred, which gives rise to mongrel forms that more closely reflect the original type.

Because natural selection must work within an organism’s genetic code, it is limited in its abilities. This limitedness is exhibited in artificial breeding, where human ingenuity should at least copy the evolutionary power supposedly held by nature’s chance. But repeatedly in the search for better egg production, milk production, etc., breeders have eventually slammed into walls from where no more change could be mustered (Evolution: Fossils Say No, p. 33). Whether natural or artificial, small changes can’t lead to cell-to-man evolution. Even worse, species adaption can reduce genetic information from its formerly wide variation, which then reduces the ability of the species to survive in varied environments (Refuting Evolution, pp. 35-36). As an example, the survival of a long-haired type of dog, having lost its genes for short hair in the process of adapting to a cold climate, may then be reduced if the climate warmed (Ibid., pp. 34-36). Thus, natural selection fails to generate evolution.

Mutations to the Rescue?

Truly if there was one tenet that atheism must keep in order to survive, it is large-scale evolution. It is the foundation for atheism’s worldview without supernatural intelligence or purpose. So when natural selection does not appear to be able to do the job alone, mutations were considered as the key to providing the new genetic information from which natural selection could “choose.” Through mutations, or random changes in a creature’s genetic code, natural selection weeds out the bad and keeps the strong “innovations” in nature until new kinds arise.

But to work for evolution, mutations must add new information to the gene pool that natural selection can work with. Yet mutations are “mistakes” in the genetic code; they often lose information that the genetic code once had. This loss of information cannot be the mechanism for cell-to-man evolution, which requires new information not previously in the genetic code. Even the common example of modern day evolution, bacterial resistance, often relies on mutations that lose information, such as the disabling of a certain gene. This loss of information can never be used for the rise in complexity required in major evolutionary change.

To say that mutations, which are mostly harmful, are the key to evolving more complexity is like saying that by going 99 miles south, then 1 mile north, then 99 miles south, then 1 mile north, etc., that eventually you will arrive at north before south. A species will die out from mutations before it will ever evolve higher complexity.

Thus, since mutations are mistakes, mostly harmful, and fail to add new information in the gene pool of the creature kind, is it reasonable to consider them the key to the formation of life, one of the most ubiquitous phenomena on earth? How can such an unlikely process, the accumulation of almost always harmful mutations in genes, be the creator of so much life in every corner of the planet? Again, mutations and natural selection do not provide a reasonable mechanism for evolution, and thus evolution in its molecules-to-man form is not reasonable as an explanation for the origin of life.

DNA: Information Cries for a Mind

As if evolution did not have enough problems with harmful mutations and a natural selection that can only choose among already-present genes, undirected Darwinism runs into a gigantic problem with the discovery of DNA. The singular thing about DNA is that it is not only mind-bogglingly complex, but it contains a vast amount of information.

DNA is foundational for life. This double helix is within each of our cells in our body and each cell of every life form. This microscopic code (or instruction manual) is composed of chemicals arranged in specific sequences. These arrangements form the letters of a language that communicates to a cell all the information it needs to manufacture everything for life. Human DNA contains information from our height to our personality. The DNA in a single human cell contains the information equivalent of 4,000 books! How can so much information come to exist?

The Key Is Information

DNA is like a foreign language – it looks random at first, but once you understand the “code” and “rules” of the language, all the arrangement of the letters makes sense in this order. This irregular yet patterned aspect of DNA makes DNA very unique, because it is specified information. And information of this kind is only known to result from an intelligent mind.

Dr. Werner Gitt, Director and Professor at the German Federal Institute of Physics and Technology, states that one thing we have learned from scientific study is that information can only result from greater information that results from a mind and will:

A code system is always the result of a mental process (it requires an intelligent origin or inventor) … It should be emphasized that matter as such is unable to generate any code. All experiences indicate that a thinking being voluntarily exercising his own free will, cognition, and creativity, is required.” In the Beginning was Information, CLV, Bielenfeld, Germany, pp. 64–7.

There is no known natural law through which matter can give rise to information, neither is any physical process or material phenomenon known that can do this.” (p. 79)

Thus, chance is unable to account for the information in DNA. This leaves the only reasonable option, design. Someone’s mind had to intentionally design DNA so the pattern makes sense and can function.

How reasonable is the atheist’s position that DNA – with the informational content of 4,000 books – formed by chance? We would literally laugh at anyone who speculated that the Encyclopedia Britannica arose from many years of copying errors in an abandoned library thousands of years ago – so why should we consider that DNA, the most complex, informationally rich entity we know of, just came to be without a mind and without a purpose?

How Can Anyone Believe This?

You may start asking why anyone would believe DNA could evolve, but the problem lies in that evolution became popular among scientists long before DNA or even the structure of cells was known. Did you know that during Darwin’s time, the cell was considered a simple “blob” of plasma? In the minds of scientists who had no knowledge of the hidden mysteries of the microscopic world, the cell was just a bunch of jelly that could easily arise by chance in an ancient pond. If one thinks about life’s origin that way, then it can appear reasonable that life arose by chance.

Yet once the microscopic world was opened to the eyes of the scientist, unparalleled complexity just kept getting more mind-numbing every day. Now cells are actually compared to cities in complexity – can you imagine a cellular city! That is so super complex – so how can that form by chance? The list of nature’s intricate marvels can go on nearly to infinity, but these microscopic examples themselves are enough.

So we have super-complex cells, the so-called “simple” forms of life, and super-complex and information-rich DNA, and both these entities, by themselves, reveal how utterly unreasonable atheism is in explaining the natural world. Even though science has been entrenched in undirected evolution for more than a century, many scientists are starting to buck the peer pressure and voice their conviction in an intelligent Designer of life. Thus, natural selection, mutation, DNA, and cells all testify to the logical and scientific hurdles that face purposeless, mindless processes as the key to life.

Rather, it makes better sense that an intelligent Creator began the universe, created life in all its complexity, and outfitted this life with the ability to adapt to varying environments. This is where natural selection comes into play – it acts not as a tool of limitless evolution, but as a built-in, limited variation mechanism within a creature’s population that helps the species survive and thrive in its surroundings.

But, as recorded in the Christian narrative, the highest of God’s creatures did wrong and all creation fell from glory to corruption. Harmful mutations entered the scene and polluted the complexity, yet the beauty of the original can still be seen. Thus, disorder increasing among an incredibly ordered creation is what we see now and what we would expect from the Biblical creation account. Atheism and evolution expect order to rise from disorder and complexity to rise from simplicity, which is not what we usually see in the natural world.

Thus, though atheism claims to be reasonable and scientific, it fails in both realms.

The Bible: Just Follow the Evidence

Atheism brushes aside the Bible as a collection of myths and unreliable reports. But is this position reasonable? It may seem so until one looks at the evidence! Even though the Bible has been copied from copies for thousands of years, we have compelling evidence that those copies are reliable.

The Old Testament

Did you know that before 1947, the Old Testament we have, the farthest it could be traced in the copies, was around the tenth century? It’s called the Masoretic Text which the Jews preserved. Scholars argued that we couldn’t know if the Old Testament was reliable before the tenth century.

But in 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered and many Old Testament books are among the scrolls. These scrolls are dated from 100 years before the time of Christ to the time of Christ. That is 1000 years earlier than the tenth century Old Testament Jewish copies, which had been before these discoveries the earliest copies we had of the Old Testament!

And do you know what was found? The Old Testament books written 1000 years earlier were virtually identical with the Old Testament books of the tenth century! Scholar Gleason Archer states,

For example, even though the two copies of Isaiah discovered in Qumrun Cave 1 near the Dead Sea in 1947 were a thousand years earlier than the oldest dated manuscript previously known (A.D. 980), they proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text. The 5 percent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling. They do not affect the message of revelation in the slightest” (qtd. in Josh McDowell, Evidence for Christianity: Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith, p. 104).

Burrows makes further fascinating note:

Of the 166 words in Isaiah 53, there are only seventeen letters in question. Ten of these letters are simply a matter of spelling, which does not affect the sense. Four more letters are minor stylistic changes, such as conjunctions. The remaining three letters comprise the word “light,” which is added in verse 11, and does not affect the meaning greatly. . . . Thus, in one chapter of 166 words, there is only one word (three letters) in question after a thousand years of transmission – and this word does not significantly change the meaning of the passage” (qtd. in Josh McDowell, Evidence for Christianity: Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith, p. 115).

These differences are minuscule – absolutely minuscule!

Do you know why there were so few differences? Because the Jews as God’s people had a very careful way of copying, even counting every letter in the most painstaking way of copying. Sir Frederick Kenyon explains:

The Masoretes [Jewish scholars of the 6th to 10th centuries) undertook a number of calculations which do not enter into the ordinary sphere of textual criticism. They numbered the verses, words, and letters of every [Biblical] book. They calculated the middle word and the middle letter of each. They enumerated verses which contained all the letters of the alphabet, or a certain number of them. These trivialities, as we may rightly consider them, had yet the effect of securing minute attention to the precise transmission of the text” (qtd. in Josh McDowell, Evidence for Christianity: Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith, p. 112).

Thus they preserved the Bible like no other book. God made provision for the safe copying of His Word. With such precise copying and the proof of precise copies a thousand years apart from our next oldest ones, is it reasonable to doubt the reliability of the Old Testament?

The New Testament

And besides the Old Testament, we have so many manuscripts of the New Testament that we can cross-reference them to see if they have differences. We have copies dating to the 2nd century – that is so close to the time of Christ! Most ancient works have their surviving copies 1000 later than the originals – but the Bible has its copies only 250 years!

Date of Gospels

New discoveries show that the Gospels were very early.

A newly-discovered portion of John’s Gospel (considered to be the last Gospel written) was dated as having been copied in A.D. 130. Since this copy of John was located in Egypt, which is quite far away from where John’s Gospel was written (Asia Minor), the original Gospel of John must be even older if this early copy made it all the way to Egypt (McDowell p. 66).

Modern scholarship is concluding that the Gospels were written much earlier than previously thought. William Albright, one of the greatest Biblical archaeologists, says the Gospels can’t be dated any later than A.D. 80, which means that the gap between Jesus’ death (A.D. 30s) and the last Gospel written is 50 years, not 60-140 years.

Actually, the late 60-140-year range was more credible during the 19th century, for recent manuscript discoveries after that time are closing the gap between older manuscripts and the time when the gospels were written.

Even liberal scholars are revising their dates of the New Testament to be much earlier than they claimed before. One formerly-skeptical scholar, Dr. John A. T. Robinson, concluded from his research (documented in Redating the New Testament) that all the New Testament, including the Gospels, was written before Jerusalem’s fall in A.D. 70. Since Jesus died around the A.D. 30s, then if all the New Testament was written at the latest before A.D. 70., then there is at most 40 years between the latest New Testament book and the events of Jesus’ life. Forty years is well within the generation that was living in Jesus’ time – and this 40-year gap would only be for the last books. Many were written much earlier.

Myth Formation?

This 40-year gap makes myth-making inconceivable, as William Lane Craig states in a comparison of Roman historians and the New Testament:

“According to Professor Sherwin-White, the sources for Roman history are usually biased and removed at least one or two generations or even centuries from the events they record. Yet, he says, historians reconstruct with confidence what really happened. He chastises NT critics for not realizing what invaluable sources they have in the gospels. The writings of Herodotus furnish a test case for the rate of legendary accumulation, and the tests show that even two generations is too short a time span to allow legendary tendencies to wipe out the hard core of historical facts.” – “Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ,” Truth 1 (1985): 89-95.

New Testament Vs. Ancient Writings

Manuscripts, like the fragment of John’s Gospel, reveal that the New Testament is profoundly reliable, especially compared to all other ancient works. The earliest discovered copies of the Gospels are 50+ to 225 years later than the original writings (McDowell p. 65).

  • Just compare that to Caesar’s Gallic Wars, written in 100-44 B.C., whose earliest copy is dated A.D. 900. That is basically a 1000-year gap between copy and original!

And nearly every other ancient writing is like this: the time between the original writing and the copies we have discovered hovers around 1000 years, with Homer’s writings having a “small” gap of 400 years between original and copy while Herodotus’s writings having a huge gap of 1,350 years. Yet historians see these ancient works as reliable, despite the hundreds of years between the original writing and the copies.

  • Surely the New Testament, with only a gap of 50-225 years, outshines every secular writing as a trustworthy source.

Not only do all other ancient writings besides the New Testament have huge time gaps between the original writing and our remaining copies, but the copies we do have are very few. The fewer the existing copies, the more likely that they had been tampered with and do not reflect the originals. We have only . . .

  • 10 copies of Caesar’s Gallic Wars
  • 7 copies of Pliny’s Natural History
  • 8 copies of Herodotus’s History
  • 643 copies of Homer’s Iliad

But the New Testament has

  • 24,970 copies

How could the New Testament be forged, when so many copies exist? Note: above list of manuscript copies from Evidence for Christianity, by McDowell, p. 65.

 Tampered Gospels?

With so many manuscripts in existence, it is extremely hard to conceive that people had the ability to change the Gospels or other books in the New Testament to suit their own beliefs. At the very beginning, Christianity was a missionary faith, and so the New Testament was translated into many languages, such as Syriac and Arabic. With the New Testament being translated and copied far and wide to distant lands, how could a forger gather each manuscript and make changes?

That would be equivalent to a modern forger gathering all the letters, articles, and writings about Abraham Lincoln and changing significant portions for his own beliefs – without letting anyone suspect his actions. The writings on Abraham Lincoln are mostly in one language, so the analogy does not even pose the greater problem of the different languages the New Testament was translated into soon after Christianity began.

One fact reveals that the New Testament hasn’t been changed significantly since first written (“Hasn’t the Bible been rewritten so many times that we can’t trust it anymore?” by Matt Slick, carm.org):

  • 99.5% of the material in our current copies of the New Testament agree with each other
  • The 0.5% of differences are mostly spelling differences or minor word variants, like substituting “Christ Jesus” for “Jesus Christ”; no major Christian doctrine is harmed

Since our copies of the New Testament agree with each other 99.5%, a forger would need to change thousands of manuscripts identically, an absurd task. John Warwick Montgomery notes that “to be skeptical of the resultant text of the New Testament is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament” (qtd in McDowell p. 61).

This is unbelievable – no other ancient work is as well attested to in manuscript number of manuscript dates. And many Bible students, in comparing the vast number of manuscripts with each other, have come away surprised how similar they are to one another! Thus, the Bible is not corrupted – and the textual evidence makes this very clear. When it comes to reason and evidence, atheism has no ground to stand and accuse the Bible of mythology.

The Most Evidenced Event in Ancient History

Atheism certainly considers the resurrection of Jesus Christ to be a most unreasonable belief. Yet the circumstances surrounding this amazing event in history force one to realize that the resurrection is the only reasonable explanation.

Just take a look at each of these skeptical men:

  • Dr. Simon Greenleaf: law professor who raised Harvard Law School to preeminence

He doubted the resurrection

  • Dr. Frank Morris, journalist and lawyer

He set out to write a book refuting the resurrection

  • C.S. Lewis, expert in Medieval and Renaissance literature

He thought Christians “to be wrong” and Jesus’ resurrection a legend

  • Josh McDowell, scholar and speaker to more than 650 universities worldwide

He ridiculed Christians and thought the resurrection “intellectual suicide.”

Each man held that Jesus’ resurrection was fiction. But they also share another thing in common – they all investigated the historical and legal evidence for the resurrection and changed their minds. Many other men of intellect have examined the evidence and also reversed their convictions in favor of the resurrection. What is this evidence that changed them so drastically?

First, the evidence of the reliability of the New Testament mentioned before does not have to be repeated here. The New Testament has been shown to conclusively represent the actual original documents, and thus we can rely on them as accurate descriptions of Jesus’ life. Since the New Testament was written within only a few decades after Jesus’ death, we can know that Jesus is not just some myth created centuries after the fact.

Living Eyewitnesses

The factor that settles Jesus of Nazareth beyond all myth is witness testimony. The New Testament reminds its readers that the miracles and words of Jesus had “not been done in a corner” (Acts 26:26). In front of crowds, Jesus gave sight to the blind (Matt. 9:27-30; 21:14), healed (Luke 7:21; Matt. 8:2-3), fed thousands with a few loaves and fishes (Matt. 14:15-21), raised the dead (John 11:1-45), etc. The disciples wrote that this same Jesus was crucified, buried, and arose from the grave on the third day (Matt. 27-28; Mark 15-16; Luke 23-24; John 19-20). They were calling, “Check the tomb. He’s not there!” Because the New Testament was written within the lifetimes of the witnesses to these events, anything the disciples wrote could be tested against the memories of countless thousands.

Many of these thousands believed. The New Testament was preached far and wide and translated into many languages (Jeffrey, Signature of God, p. 88). Copies multiplied, making impossible any forgery, as shown by illustration (Ibid., pp. 88-89): Suppose a forger in the 1990s wanted to claim that John F. Kennedy rose from the dead after his assassination. This forger would have to gather all the countless writings about JFK, hoping none would suspect any change, even the millions who lived during JFK’s life. This is just absurd. The fact that Christianity was born in Jerusalem, outside whose gates Jesus was crucified, and then rapidly spread to the entire Roman Empire testifies that many in that generation saw the works of Jesus as true history, not myth (McDowell, Resurrection Factor, pp. 106-107).

Hostile Testimony

Even the Jewish religious leaders, who hated Jesus for exposing their hypocrisy, couldn’t deny His empty tomb. Rather, they accused His disciples of stealing His body in an attempt to make Jesus’ resurrection prophecy come true (Matt. 27:62-64; 28:11-13).

Die for a Known Lie?

Yet if the disciples really stole Jesus’ body, why did they die for their own lie? These disciples had displayed cowardice when fleeing Jesus during His arrest and trials, but after claiming to see Him alive, they passionately preached His resurrection while suffering intense persecution from Jews and Romans. Nearly all the disciples died for preaching a risen Christ, yet none renounced Him (McDowell, Resurrection Factor, p. 94). Would anyone live a persecuted life and die for his own fabrication? Many religious fanatics have died for false beliefs, but each could not objectively know that their beliefs were true. Only the disciples of all martyrs had the unique opportunity to know if their beliefs were true – because they knew if they had seen Jesus alive. Even Apostle Paul, a persecutor of Christians, and James the brother of Jesus, skeptic of Jesus during His ministry, later believed after His resurrection and died for their faith. They died willingly, for they knew the truth.

Just Visions?

Did Jesus’ disciples just hallucinate His resurrection? Yet if Jesus appeared in their minds only, why did the Jewish leaders imply an empty tomb by claiming the body was stolen (Matt. 28:11-13)? How could thousands of Jews in Jerusalem convert to Christianity during the first sermon (Acts 2) when they easily could walk to Joseph’s tomb and verify if it was truly empty (McDowell, Resurrection Factor, pp. 106-107)? Many converts were persecuted, so seeing the empty tomb was vital (Ibid., p. 107).

The hallucination doesn’t fit what the disciples saw.

People can’t have the same hallucination at the same time, since each vision depends on an individual’s unique experience (Ibid., p. 84). In contrast, at one point five hundred individuals saw or talked with Jesus (John 20:11-18; I Corinthians 15:6). Unlike a couple drug addicts, each high and having a different hallucination, each person saw the same Jesus. Some even ate with Him (John 21) or touched His wounds (John 20:24-28); what kind of vision allows that? Their accounts are detailed, just as psychologists expect of someone seeing reality (McDowell, Resurrection Factor, p. 84). Also, seeing a false image requires a person to expect to see it (Ibid., pp. 85-86). Jesus’ followers were last to expect that Jesus had risen (Ibid., p. 86). The women brought spices to anoint His body, expecting His body dead. The disciples had fled their Master at His arrest and trial (Mark 14:50), expecting Him to be dead.

Not Really Dead?

Did Jesus only faint on the cross, reviving in the tomb’s cool air? Maybe His disciples mistakingly concluded He had resurrected. Yet this theory ignores the fatal brutality of crucifixion, as described by Dr. Alexander Metherell, Ph.D., (qtd in Strobel, Case for Easter, pp. 12-24):

(1) a Roman whipping that stripped off the flesh to the bowels, causing severe blood loss and shock

(2) an arduous walk to execution carrying the cross

(3) the nails through sensitive nerves in wrists and feet

(4) the hanging from the cross, pressuring the chest so that Jesus had to push Himself up continually in order to exhale, until exhaustion and then suffocation set in

(5) cardiac arrest from shock and slow suffocation

(6) the spear thrust into Jesus’ side, which let out much blood and water from a ruptured heart.

How can anyone survive this ordeal? Many prisoners died at the beating stage. Jesus couldn’t even “play dead,” for none can pretend to stop breathing for long as the lungs were pressured in the hanging position. As Dr. Metherell declares, Jesus couldn’t survive it.

The Greatest Testimony

But the greatest testimony against the reviving theory are the disciples (McDowell, Resurrection Factor, pp. 98-99). Just imagine: Jesus had to (1) revive, (2) unwrap Himself from 100 lbs. of burial cloth, (3) roll the stone away, and (4) escape the guards. As the anti-Christian theologian David Strauss admitted, this weakened, mutilated Jesus could never persuade His hopeless, cowardly disciples that He rose in a new, glorified body. Yet the disciples did preach from Jerusalem to the farthest reaches of the Roman Empire that Jesus is Conquerer of death because they actually saw their Lord risen in a perfect new body.

The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is not only the pivotal event of history, but a life transformer. Only the resurrection explains Christianity’s massive growth in the very city of Jesus’ crucifixion. Because Jesus rose, He is who He claimed to be, the Christ, the Son of God, the Creator indwelling flesh to pay the penalty for men’s sins and save them. Because He conquered death, those who believe will rise from death to life eternal to be with God in His heavenly kingdom. Please believe in Jesus today as your Savior and your Lord. There is nothing more reasonable.

As we have seen, atheism cannot provide a more reasonable explanation in these subjects. From the origin of the universe to the events of Jesus and His disciples, only Christianity explains these facts of science and history in a reasonable, compelling manner. Though those at the Reason Rally may think otherwise, reason is Christianity’s friend time and again. If you want to choose reason, choose Christ.

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Continuing with the theme of my last post, here I post part of my comments, slightly edited, about the evidence for the Bible’s truth. Now we turn to archeology: Does its discoveries support the Bible? There are so many examples that can be given that this post would become exceedingly long, especially if I were to expound them each in detail. So I have only concentrated on one particular archeological discovery in the Sinai Peninsula that stunningly supports the miraculous events of the Biblical Exodus. I quote heavily from The Signature of God by Grant Jeffrey, who describes these amazing discoveries:

Ancient Inscriptions

The Bible describes the exodus of God’s people Israel from Egypt with miracles, such as the Red Sea opening up and the Israelites being fed with quails from heaven in large number. All this is supposed to have taken place in the Sinai peninsular thousands of years ago. Though this event is from such long ago, evidence in the Sinai shows that it happened (as described in The Signature of God, Jeffrey, pp. 48-68).

Ancient inscriptions in the high mountains in the Sinai Peninsula were rediscovered and deciphered. Here I quote from Jeffrey’s book above:

“We know these inscriptions are truly ancient because they were first described by the historian Diodorus Siculus before the time of Christ (10 B.C.) in his Library of History. In describing the Sinai Peninsula, Diodorus wrote: ‘Moreover, an altar is there built of hard stone and very old in years, bearing an inscription in ancient letters of an unknown tongue. . . .’ (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, bk. 3, sect. 42, Loeb Classical Library, C. H. Oldfather, trans. [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993], p. 211). This passage by Diodorus and a parallel description by the Greek writer Strabo (A.D. 24) in his seventeen volume Geography confirm that these inscriptions were so ancient in their own day that the language was unknown to those living at the time of Christ” (p. 48).

“Carved Hebrew Characters”

Byzantine Christian writer Cosmos Indicopleustes in A.D. 518 “wrote that the engravings appeared ‘at all halting places, all the stones in that region which were broken off from the mountains, written with carved Hebrew characters.’ It is fascinating that his Jewish companions confirmed the Hebrew nature of the script” (p. 49).

“The native Arabs claimed these inscriptions were written in a language that was lost to them and of very great antiquity. Since the Arabs of the Sinai Peninsula had not suffered under foreign conquest during the five centuries between the time of Christ and A.D. 518 when Cosmos visited the site, it is safe to conclude that these inscriptions must have been written long before the time of Christ. Otherwise, the Arab natives would not have described them as written in a lost language and unknown character” (p. 49).

In 1862, after his explorations of the inscriptions on Sinai, Rev. Charles Forster “concluded that these writings were original records of an ancient Hebrew-Egyptian alphabet describing the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. Professor Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, in his Sinai and Palestine, explained that Rev. Forster and Dr. Stewart concluded that ‘a Sinaitic inscription has been found contemporaneous with a tablet of Egyptian hieroglyphics'” (p. 49).

An Original Account

“One of the strongest reasons for believing that some of these inscriptions may have been composed by Israelites in the time of the Exodus is that the language appears to be an original account of the Exodus events rather than an attempt to copy Exodus passages from the inspired pages of the Torah. Although these incredible rock inscriptions describe in great detail many of the supernatural events that occurred during the Exodus from Egypt, the writers did not use any of the words or characteristic language of Moses . . . If this conclusion is correct, then these inscriptions would be an important independent confirmation of the truth of the biblical account” (p. 50).

“Consider the words of this ancient inscription about the Israelites’ escape from Egypt. Six ancient inscriptions were found on different cliffs in the Wadi Sidri, located on one of the natural routes the Jews would have chosen when entering the interior of the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt” (p. 54).

Here is inscription 41, describing the Israelite flight from Egypt through the Red Sea: “Moses causeth the people to haste like a fleet-winged she-ostrich crying aloud; the cloud shining bright, a mighty army propelled into the Red sea is gathered into one; they go jumping and skipping. Journeying through the open channel, taking flight from the face of the enemy. The surge of the sea is divided” (p. 55).

This description of the Exodus talks about the same event in the Bible mentioned in Exodus 14:21-29, but the wording is different, like it is an independent witness.

 Another Ancient Witness

“The ancient Greek historian Diodorus Siculus wrote an extraordinary ancient report about the tribes in Egypt and the miraculous drying up of the Red Sea: ‘It is an ancient report among the Ichtheophagi, who inhabit the shores of the Red Sea, that by a mighty reflux of the sea which happened in former days, the whole gulf became dry land, and appeared green all over; and that the water overflowed the opposite shore, and that all the ground continued bare to the very lowest depth of the gulf, until the water, by an extraordinary high tide, returned to its former channel.’ (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, lib. iii., c. 40)” (p. 58).

 Both Egyptian and Hebrew

Another amazing aspect of these inscriptions is that they are written in a Hebrew-Egyptian language — just like the Israelites would have known when they came out of Egypt. No other peoples would write this way. “While the letters of the Sinai inscriptions are primarily Hebrew, the language pattern is clearly Egyptian. Forster found that five out of every six words used in these inscriptions are related to the Hamyarite (ancient Arabic) language, the vernacular language of Egypt and Yemen. . . . After several centuries of captivity as slaves in Egypt, the Israelites would naturally speak and write a language that, while containing the initial evidence of Hebrew, would be heavily influenced by the Egyptian language” (p. 51).

“One of the fascinating features of these inscriptions is that the writer would draw a picture of a quail side by side with the inscription describing God’s miraculous provision of the quails to feed the Israelites” (p. 51).

Graves in the Mountains

“One of the most remarkable of the discoveries found in the Sinai in recent centuries was that of the graves of those Jews who had died from a supernatural plague. The Book of Numbers records: ‘And the Lord smote the people with a very great plague. And he called the name of that place Kibroth-hattaavah: because there they buried the people that lusted” (p. 62).

“In 1761, the German explorer Barthold Niebuhr discovered an extensive ruined cemetery with carved inscriptions on the tombs and within a sepulcher on top of an inaccessible mountain . . . Niebuhr noted that these inscriptions could not have been made by native Egyptians because there are no carved stone inscriptions found in Egypt; rather the Egyptians painted their inscriptions on plaster surfaces” (p. 63).

“Neibuhr noted that the native Bedouin Arabs from the deserts of Sinai call these tombs ‘the Jews’ graves.’ He said that these hieroglyphics on the tombstones were quite different than the inscriptions he had found in Egyptian tombs” (p. 64). The many graves sit at the top of a mountain, unlike the graves of Egyptians who bury their dead in valleys. But the ancient Israelites customarily bury their dead on top of mountains, so these graves are clearly of Israelites who died while on the Exodus out of Egypt.

Archeology Supports the Bible

This one example of archeology shows that the Biblical Exodus, far from being a myth, is supported by history and archeology. It shows that the events and even miracles in the Bible are attested to by hard evidence. Many more discoveries from archeology give support to the Biblical account. Thus, we can trust God’s Word through the record of history.

Of all religious books, only the Bible has hundreds of prophecies that have been fulfilled. Fortune tellers often give vague predictions, but many Biblical prophecies are starkly specific. Only an all-knowing God knows the future so precisely, even centuries after the forecast. Below are just a few examples:

Prophecies of Nations

The Unique Downfall of Tyre. This prosperous Middle Eastern port had plotted to plunder Jerusalem’s people. Thus, God declared in Ezekiel 26:3-5:

  • I will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves. They will destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers; and I will scrape her debris from her and make her a bare rock. She will be a place for the spreading of nets.”

Notice four points: (1) many nations will come; (2) invasions will be like sea waves; (3) Tyre will be “a bare rock”; and (4) Tyre will be for “spreading of nets.”

Each of these precise prophesies has come true. Throughout history, many nations have come against Tyre, like many destructive waves. This vibrant center of ancient commerce was scrapped off its island and became just “a bare rock” on which modern fishermen spread their nets. How could someone guess all this without divine help?

The Nation of Israel Conquered, Scattered, and Brought Back. When a people is conquered, they often assimilate into the host nation and lose their identity as a people. Yet the Jewish people have not only been conquered numerous times, but have also been spread to every land across earth, after Jerusalem’s destruction in A.D. 70. That the Jews didn’t assimilate is in itself a miracle. Yet another miracle occurred: after 2,000 years of worldwide scattering, the nation of Israel was reborn in 1948. No other ancient nation in history has done the same. Mighty empires like the Hittites have vanished, yet the lowly, persecuted Jew survived and returned to his land.

The answer to this enigma lies in God’s prophecies in the Bible. If Israel committed evil, God warned that they would be scattered among the nations (Deuteronomy 28:15, 64). Yet God promised them that when “you return to the Lord your God . . . then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples” (Deuteronomy 30:2-3). Even the exact date of Israel’s rebirth – 1948 – was predicted in Ezekiel 4:3-6, as explained in fascinating detail in The Signature of God by Grant Jeffrey.

Prophecies of Messiah

Since the world fell into evil, God promised that a Savior, or Messiah, would come to set things right (Genesis 3:15). Hundreds of prophecies, recorded in the Old Testament, were fulfilled in Jesus Christ, this Messiah. He was prophesied to . . .

(1) be God (Isaiah 9:6; fulfilled: John 1:1, 10:30)

(2) be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; fulfilled: Matthew 2:1, Luke 2:4)

(3) ride into Jerusalem on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9; fulfilled: Matt. 21:7, John 12:14)

(4) be pierced (Zechariah 12:10; fulfilled: John 19:34-37)

(5) come before the Jews’ governmental authority is taken away (Genesis 49:10; fulfilled: Jesus was born before 11 A.D., when Rome removed Israel’s right to judge).

Payment for His People’s Wrongdoings. Written hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus Christ, Isaiah 53 prophesied that the Messiah’s suffering and death would save His people from the debt of their wrong actions. Below is just part of Isaiah 53:

  • But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. . . . His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth” (Isaiah 53:5-7,9)

The New Testament reveals that even the details of Isaiah 53 came true in Jesus: He bore our sin in His body on the cross (1 Peter 2:24), uttered no protest when falsely accused (Matthew 27:12-14), died with criminals (Luke 23:33), and was buried in a rich man’s tomb (Mark 15:43-46). Isaiah 53 is so prophetic of Jesus’ life that some Jews have speculated that Isaiah 53 was a Christian forgery. But this possibility was forever disproven when a copy of Isaiah was discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. This copy dates 100 B.C. – 100 years Before Christ. Clearly, Isaiah 53 prophesies Jesus.

Exact Date of Jesus’ Unveiling as Messiah and Time of His Death. “Messianic Prophecies” (Christiananswers.net) explains a yet even more stunning prophecy: “The precise timing of Jesus’ crucifixion was also given to the Jews when God revealed to the prophet Daniel (9:24) how the Jews could calculate the day of the revealing of the Messiah. Talking of a 490 year period, the prophet foresaw that it would begin “from the going forth of the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem” (9:25). In the book of Nehemiah we learn that this command was given “in the month Nisan [on the Hebrew calendar], in the twentieth year of the king” (2:1). The king was Artaxerxes Longimanus who ruled from 465 to 425 B.C. The prophet Daniel said that 483 years from that date, the Messiah would be revealed to Israel, but He would then “be cut off, but not for himself” (9:26). This prophecy refers to the crucifixion when Jesus died, or was cut off, for the sins of the world.

483 years later, to the day, was Sunday, April 6, 32 A.D. On that day, which we commemorate as Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and revealed Himself as Israel’s Messiah. He was killed four days later, thus fulfilling the prophecy that He would be revealed and then slain. [Peter and Paul LaLonde, 301 Startling Proofs & Prophecies (Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada: Prophecy Partners, Inc., 1996).]”

Prophecies of the Last Days

The Bible’s prophecies of the world’s end are being fulfilled at an accelerating pace: (1) nation rising against nation (Matthew 24:3-8), fulfilled in world wars; (2) rise of transportation speed and technology in the last days (Daniel 12:4); (3) gospel preached in whole world before the end (Matt. 24:14), an unbelievable feat nearing fulfillment in today’s global information age and worldwide missionary movement; (4) one world government (Revelation 13:7), possible today for the first time in history; and (5) false christs that deceive many (Matt. 24:5, 24), fulfilled in the increase of cult leaders.

Don’t bet your life that these prophecies were fulfilled by mere chance. God gave these prophecies as compelling evidence because He wants you to trust that His Words are true and that He is in control of the future for the good of those He loves. Let Him handle your future. For more information: askwitnessingGod@gmail.com

Five brief evidences that point to God.

 

1. How the universe began. It is logically necessary that everything that has a beginning must have a cause. Modern scientific discoveries show that the universe had a beginning. Thus, it had a cause. The cause of the whole natural universe must be super-powerful and supernatural – the infinite God.

 

2. Complex design and information in the universe and life. Very complex machines like computers and vast stores of information like books are all made by intelligent minds. Yet when we investigate the universe, the complexity and information it contains are very much greater than anything man-made. Even within the simplest life, the cell, there are machine-like mechanisms, like the cell’s motor flagellum that can propel the cell the equivalent speed of a car traveling 150 miles per hour. The information in DNA is even more amazing: Within the simplest bacterium, DNA contains 4 million units of information, holding more information than contained in the whole series of Encyclopedia Britannica. This much complexity and information can only come from a super-intelligent mind – the mind of God.

 

3. Evidence for a world-wide flood in the fossil record and geology. The flood described in the Bible left many scientifically-verifiable evidences behind – such as seashells on mountain peaks and violently contorted fossils in every part of the world. The flood formed many of earth’s features, including mountains, plateaus, canyons, ocean basins, etc. Former evolutionist Dr. Walt Brown explains the flood: http://www.creationscience.com/onlinebook/

The flood reveals that the record of the Bible is trustworthy – the truth of God.

 

4. Biblical prophecy fulfilled, such as in the life of Jesus Christ. Hundreds and even thousands of years before Jesus’ birth, the Jewish Scriptures predicted that a Messiah, a Savior, would come who would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), save His people from their evil deeds by His suffering (Isaiah 53), and come as the Messiah to His people Israel 483 years (69 sabbaths) after a decree to rebuild Jerusalem (Daniel 9:24-27). The decree in this last prophecy was given by a Persian king, and counting 483 years forward puts the fulfillment of prophecy in the first century A.D. – when Jesus lived. This last prophecy contained in Daniel is very specific and highly unlikely to be resulting from coincidence. Dozens, even hundreds, of Bible prophecies have been fulfilled, which is totally unexplainable unless they were fulfilled by a Mind who knows the future – the all-knowing God.

 

5. The resurrection of Jesus Christ. Many skeptics have tried to disprove it but became believers, such as journalist Lee Strobel and former Harvard law professor Dr. Simon Greenleaf. They couldn’t explain Jesus’ empty tomb and His followers’ claims of seeing Him alive after His death. That His tomb was empty is even admitted by Jesus’ enemies, the religious authorities and the Romans. Jesus’ disciples were very fearful and not expecting His resurrection. Yet once they saw Christ alive many times, they were transformed into fearless preachers and died for their conviction in His resurrection. Even Paul, chief persecutor of early Christians, believed in and died for Jesus after seeing Him alive after His death. If they knew they were lying, why would they die for it? The most reasonable explanation is that they preached what they knew was true – that God resurrected Jesus.

 

Much more evidence than these five support the existence of the all-powerful, all-knowing, loving, and just God of the Bible. He is the Creator and Ruler of the universe and the real purpose for our lives – we owe Him everything. Yet each of us has rebelled and forgotten Him and not followed His good laws for our lives, and this failure to follow has caused much suffering in the world. We lie, cheat, steal. None of our good actions can make up for the wrong that we have done against Him. Because He is of infinite worth, our wrongdoing against Him deserves infinite punishment.

 

But God came down to earth as Jesus Christ in order to pay our penalty in place of us – He did this by dying on the cross. “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24). For “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). We are made good before God not by trusting our tainted goodness, but by trusting in Jesus our God to save us. Want to learn more about Jesus? Read the Holy Bible, God’s Word. For more evidence of God, check out carm.org and 4truth.net.

And don’t be afraid to email questions to askwitnessingGod@gmail.com

The Jesus Seminar is unique among scholarly groups. It has captured the interest of the general public and has brought to the fore ideas about early Christianity that, up to its inception, had only been relegated to fringe members of the academic community. It claims something radical – that the Jesus we all have come to know is not the Jesus that really lived two thousand years ago: His sayings as recorded in the traditional gospels are not always the sayings the real man said. In their magnum opus work The Five Gospels, the Jesus Seminar labels each saying as either historical (in red and pink ink) to unhistorical (black and gray ink).

Why does the Seminar make this claim? As with any scholarly pursuit, a cast of test criteria is involved. The Seminar uses these test functions, called the criteria of authenticity, to gauge whether a gospel saying of Jesus is indeed historical. Their criteria employs the principles of coherence, dissimilarity, and multiple attestation. The honest employment of these rules actually leads to the acceptance of many of the gospels’ sayings of Jesus (Blomberg, 1987, p. 253). However, the fact that the Jesus Seminar rejects more than half of all gospel sayings reveals that the Seminar’s own scholars are unnecessarily limiting themselves with the sayings they officially ascribe to the historical Jesus.

The complete criteria of authenticity includes many tests, including those related to language and cultural milieu (Stein, 1980), but the primary are coherence, dissimilarity, and multiple attestation (Bock, 1995, p. 90). Coherence means that one saying, accepted through the other means of authenticity, can vouch for a debated saying through their reference of the same basic idea. The collection of accepted sayings is where the main conflict here lies, so coherence relies heavily on proper execution of the other criteria. The Jesus Seminar, as will be shown, unduly limits what it accepts, so it naturally has less to use for this criteria.

Using dissimilarity on the sayings of Jesus essentially means checking the given statement against the Judaic culture of the saying’s past and the Christian culture of the saying’s future. If a statement runs counter to both, it is most likely historical, for it could not have been invented from the mindset of either. When applied to Jewish elements, dissimilarity is useful in determining what sets Jesus apart from his culture, for some statements clearly run counter to it: Jews and Christians alike were not too keen about loving one’s enemies (Matt. 5:44) nor of “let[ting] the dead bury their dead” (Matt. 8:22 King James Version), since it appears dishonorable to refrain from burying one’s own. The Seminar, accordingly, marks these statements as historical.

But then the Seminar begins to act inconsistently in its application of dissimilarity, and this is where their undue limitations begin to take root. A good example of this inconsistency is the “Son of man” passages found in a host of gospel passages. Its dissimilarity to culture is definitively established, having been employed in a Messianic sense only twice in the whole Bible – once in the Jewish tradition (Dan. 7:13) and once in the Christian tradition (Acts 7:56) (Blomberg, 1987, p. 249). Both of these references picture a heavenly figure who is clearly divine, so its application to the Jesus who walks the earth like any other human is quite distinct. With no obvious parallel in either traditions, it should be often deemed historical by this criterion. However, the Seminar rejects it, placing such appearances of the phrase in the unhistorical black and gray ink of the The Five Gospels(Funk, Hoover, et al., 1993). By contrast, when “Son of man” (or “son of Adam,” as translated by the Seminar’s Scholar’s Version of the gospels) appears to simply mean an individual or man in general, it is not rejected, despite this usage being paralleled considerably in the Jewish tradition (Job 25:6; Ps. 8:4; Ps. 144:3; Ps. 146:3; Jer. 49:33; Ezek. 2:1; Ezek. 3:1; dozens more in Ezekiel).

Get this excellent critique on the Jesus Seminar. Click above.

Examples specifically like this are not replete in the Seminar’s works, but its appearance does give warning over the Seminar’s use of this criteria, especially when considering other passages, where the Seminar does the opposite and takes dissimilarity too seriously, leaving a Jesus potentially void of culture and ineffective in influencing what are supposed to be his followers (Bock, 1996, p. 91). So the pendulum goes both ways, and the Seminar does not consistently remain in the balance.

Next comes the criterion of multiple attestation. This rule can be said to rest, ironically enough, in an idea found in Matthew 18:16: “In the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established” (King James Version). One can safely assume that a saying was actually said if it is found in two historical documents, such as Mark and John, or two genre forms, such as a parable and a miracle story (Bock, 1995, p. 92). The gamut of viable document “witnesses” includes the traditional gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John and their theorized source materials of Q, M, L, and Mark, in addition to other documents such as the apocryphal gospel of Thomas and the early letters of Paul. Using multiple attestation, the Jesus Seminar can label Jesus’ description of John the Baptist in Matthew 11:7-8 as historical, for it appears not only in Matthew, but in Thomas (saying 78). Jesus’ command to give Caesar what is Caesar’s also gets the Seminar’s red ink of approval, for it can clearly be found in Matthew 22:21 and Thomas 100.

But then emerges the Seminar’s inconsistency once again. By the standard of multiple attestation, Jesus’ assertion in Mark 2:17 that he came to save sinners should be accepted. It is paralleled in Matthew 9:13, Luke 5:32, Luke 19:10, and I Timothy 1:15. Admittedly, the Matthew and Luke parallels can be attributed to their having used Mark as a source, thus casting all three as a single witness to the phrase. However, I Timothy is clearly a second, independent witness, one written as early as A.D. 63 (Constable, 2010, p. 2). In I Timothy 1:15, the indication that Jesus came to save sinners is plainly supported, thus providing the second witness of authenticity. However, the Seminar rejects this saying, with no compensating explanation, but rather a candid acknowledgement of the saying’s parallels (Funk, Hoover, et al., 1993. p. 95).

A similar phenomenon occurs in the “I have come” sayings in which Jesus defines and describes his ministry. Sayings following this formula flood the synoptic tradition, especially when also considering the “I am sent” sayings, which are “conceptually similar in form” (Bock, 1995, p. 92) and the “Son of man has come” sayings, which are grammatically identical (especially if “Son of man” is not considered a messianic title). The witnesses to this format are found in Mark, M, L, Q – nearly all of the theorized gospel sources. But when the Seminar analyzes Mark 10:45, where Jesus asserts that “the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many,” the Seminar takes a winding path of logic to nullify its authenticity: Luke’s shorter parallel passage (Luke 22:27), they say, is closer to the original, while Mark expanded and theologized its simple message of service (Funk, Hoover, et al., 1993, pp. 95-96; Bock, 1995, p. 92). However, one of the concepts taken for granted among scholars liberal and conservative alike is that Mark was written earlier than Luke. Thus, the Seminar’s reasoning falls short, leaving the door open to accept at least the historicity of Jesus’ terminology here, since “I am sent” and “Son of man has come” are indisputably common ways Jesus spoke of himself.

But the crowning example of the Seminar’s intentional ignorance of its rules of authenticity comes in the multi-layered tradition of Jesus’ allusions to a close Father/Son relationship. These passages include the “Our Father” passage in the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6:9 and Luke 11:2 and the expressions of paternal closeness found in Matthew 11:25-27, Luke 10:21-22, John 3:35, John 13:3, and even Thomas 61:3. That the Seminar accepts “Our Father,” while rejecting the conceptually similar related passages displays an excessively limiting factor that the Seminar itself finally admits to adhering:

“Our Father” from the Lord’s Prayer fulfills a criteria of dissimilarity from the Jewish tradition against pronouncing an intimate name for God. It also one of the similar words in the two renditions of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew and Luke; thus, the Seminar labels it as part of the original version theoretically found in Q. Therefore, we have as historical a key idea on “Jesus’ self-understanding . . . [in] his unparalleled use of the intimate word for Father, Abba, in his prayers” (Blomberg, 1987, p. 251). From this conclusion, it logically flows that Jesus saw a highly unique relationship between himself and God, namely, one of an intimate father and son. Thus, Jesus’ more evident statements to his unique sonship ought to be considered historical by the criteria of coherence.

Jesus’ sonship sayings occur in Matthew, Luke, John, and Thomas, as mentioned above. The first two references are similar and could have been sourced in Q; thus, they form the first witness. John’s reference is independent and so is Thomas’s. Yet the Seminar colors all three witnesses in the black or gray ink of unhistorical formulations of the later church.

Interestingly, the Seminar in their work The Five Gospels does not explain their conclusions on declining three of the five sonship passages. When they do explain themselves, it is with revelatory effect. In their scholar’s notes to Matthew 12:25-27, the Seminar acknowledge this passage as similar to that in John and allusive to that in Thomas. Right after this acknowledgement comes the conclusion that all of these versions be rejected. However, they offer no expanded explanation for the suddenly candid disregard of coherence and multiple attestation. But in the notes to Thomas 61:3, they are finally more definitive: Although, they say,

[t]his version may be compared with similar language in John 3:35; 7:29; 13:3; and the Q saying located at Luke 10:22//Matt 11:27 [, a]ll these versions are Christian language that cannot be traced back to Jesus. (Funk, Hoover, et al., 1993, p. 507)

The Jesus Seminar, thus, restricts themselves with the foundational assumption that all sayings allusive to Christian dogma are unhistorical, no matter how widely attested to in the layers of gospel tradition, nor how closely cohesive they are to already Seminar-approved sayings. This is not a supported argument, for the Seminar gives no evidential reason for judging Christian ideas outright as fictional or as not having originated with Jesus. In fact, such ideas are attested to early in the first century – as early as the mid-30s in Paul’s recorded oral confession1, a fact acknowledged by the Seminar itself. But this early attestation only proves to the Seminar that these ideas were “formulated very early” (Funk, Hoover, et al., 1993, p. 258), rather than the ideas being historical due to their springing forth so soon after Jesus’ life and in the lifetime of corrective eyewitnesses. The Seminar’s note at Matthew 9:13 explains the mystery quite simply: “[T]he interpretative remark is cast in Christian terms, which prompted the Fellows to give it a gray designation” (Funk, Hoover, et al., 1993, p. 164).

Less stark, but equally limiting, factors can be found in the Seminar’s restrictive foundational interpretation of Jesus. New Testament professor Dr. Craig L. Blomberg lists several ways in which the Seminar limits the speech of Jesus: by type, topic, and by how much Jewishness and criminality is allowed in Jesus’ assertions (1996, pp. 20-21). In the former two, the Seminar limits Jesus’ sayings to parables and pithy sayings that are neither explanatory nor sermonic, while his speech’s content can barely, if ever, touch upon such common cultural topics as the Mosaic law, the future, warnings of God’s judgment, and self-made Messianic claims (though this latter one had been done at the time by numerous others [Blomberg, 1995, p. 21]). The Seminar also limits Jesus’ Jewishness by listing as unhistorical statements that have a parallel in Jewish writings. Instead, they seem to limit Jesus to a “Greco-Roman philosopher” or “Cynic sage” of non-Jewish cultures (Blomberg, 1996, p. 21). Finally, the Seminar has molded a Jesus that does not say anything that could be interpreted as criminal in the eyes of his contemporaries, but only as unusual and non-traditional. Jesus, then, is a mere eccentric, not a bold man who claims divinity in the face of a Jewish culture bound by Mosaic law to execute blasphemers. The unanimously-accepted historical event of Jesus’ crucifixion goes unexplained and unmotivated in the restricted world of the Seminar’s Jesus.

The Seminar’s line of thought may have started off well, and if it adhered consistently and reasonably to the criteria that it often cites, it may have concluded more fairly. However, their assumptions about who Jesus was often overrode the evidence of his identity as shown through the criteria of authenticity. Because of this fundamental mindset, they slipped in their consistency of using the criteria, and thus concluded with an often erroneous picture of Jesus. Their undue restrictions and unwarranted foundational ideas prevent them from coming to the same conclusion that, for example, Dr. Ian Marshall comes to in his I Believe in the Historical Jesus, namely, that the scholarly criteria of authenticity can indeed provide a confidence in what is recorded in the gospels.

Footnotes

1. This is the creed recorded in I Corinthians 15:1-11. Paul’s letter dates from within thirty years of Jesus’ death, while the creed reproduced in its pages dates back even earlier (Turner, n.d.)

References

Blomberg, C. L. (1987). The historical reliability of the gospels. Leicester, England & Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity.

Bock, D. L. (1995). The words of Jesus in the gospels: Live, jive, or memorex? In M. J. Wilkins & J. P. Moreland (Eds.), Jesus under fire: Modern scholarship reinvents the historical Jesus (73-99). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan.

Constable, T. L. (2010). Notes on I Timothy. In Dr. Constable’s Expository Notes. Retrieved from http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/1timothy.pdf

Funk, R. W. & Hoover, R. W. (1993). The five gospels: What did Jesus really say? The search for the authentic words of Jesus. New York: HarperCollins.

Marshall, I. H. (1977). I believe in the historical Jesus. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Stein, R. H. (1980). The ‘criteria’ for authenticity. R.T. France & D. Wenham (Eds.), Gospel Perspectives, 1, 225-263. Retrieved from http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/gp/gp1_authenticity_stein.pdf

Turner, R. (n.d.). An analysis of the pre-Pauline creed in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. Retrieved from http://carm.org/apologetics/evidence-and-answers/analysis-pre-pauline-creed-1-corinthians-151-11