Tag Archive: Christ


Yesterday I had such a wondrous time reading Matthew chapters 5-7 — just alone time with my God and me. I started from the Beatitudes to the end of Christ’s words, and His teaching just struck me as so amazing. Stuff I had heard before, but for some reason I was seeing with new eyes. Like, He says, when your enemy forces you to go one mile with him, you should go with him two miles. Or if he sues you for your tunic, give him your coat also. Wow, how counter-intuitive! How totally lacking in bitterness — what a hard, amazing thing. He’s really saying, in a nutshell, to repay evil with good, to give to your opponent even when you are the one wronged.

THAT takes a lot of maturity — maturity in becoming Christlike. I was just thinking through these three chapters how a lot of it is about our relationships and our character-building — what righteousness is is Christlike character! The whole Christian experience is growing in that character so that we reflect God’s own perfect character. And all the things Christ was saying in these chapters — so counter-intuitive, against your expectations kind of things — it just made me realize how smart, wise Christ is.

Did you ever ponder how He is pretty smart, I mean, like you admire how other people are smart? I’ve been noticing the ingenuity of God lately, like how His greatest act of glory (redemption of fallen humans) is through His greatest humiliation (the cross)! I mean, how genius is that? Who ever thought of winning through utter defeat, giving life through death — that’s just mind-blowing!

My sis and I really started appreciating this because we’re trying to write a novel, and we come up with these story twists and character growths. And then we apply what we’re doing with what God’s doing, and suddenly we see how awesome God is — He is the greatest Storyteller ever. How He ever came up with the cross is astounding. He’s a person who wants to show His great glory — and yet He shows His greatest glory by becoming a weak, poor, tortured man who dies a criminal’s death on the cross. What’s with that — I mean, if I was trying to show my glory, that’s not the way I’d go about it! I’d blast the world with light or something and just everyone will be at their knees. That’s how we’d all do it.

But not God. He really has a humble streak in Him — He loves showing power through weakness, glory through meekness. O how beautiful — can’t you see how incredible He is! God is a genius — we talk about how loving or holy or merciful He is, but has anybody ever just thought of how He’s just so smart, so genius to come up with such a counter-intuitive way of showing all His glory in the most defeating way? Amazing! Awesome! Now He’s Someone to really admire — to revere and worship and just stand in awe!

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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).

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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

Can nature’s laws be broken? The view of modern society and all of scientific investigation says “No.” So how could Jesus Christ have resurrected physically from the dead, a preposterous-sounding event when we look at the statistics of every man, woman, and child who has ever died: They have all died and not come back. And any reports of “people coming back from the dead” must, according to the modern view, have mistaken that the person was actually dead.

 

This strikes a crucial blow to the Christian faith, which views the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ as pivotal to its truth. Or is the physical resurrection really necessary? Some view the appearances of Jesus Christ to the disciples, the women, apostle Paul, and the five hundred witnesses (1 Corinthians 15) as only visions of a spiritual Christ. According to the spiritual resurrection theory, when Christ was laid in the tomb, His physical body did not rise, but only His Spirit. Thus, some Christians view this spiritual resurrection as a reconciliation of the Bible with science, history, and common experience.

 

However, a spiritual resurrection appears to seriously contradict many verses in the Bible, the account of Jesus’ life. In 1 Corinthians 15, an epistle by apostle Paul, Paul states in verse 3-4 that “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” Now, does this mean that Christ began to appear to the disciples spiritually after the third day in the grave?

 

Consider verses 12-13,17, in which Paul tries to correct a misunderstanding of the readers in his day:

 

“Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised . . . and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.”

 

This sounds like Paul says that Christ really rose physically from the grave, “from the dead.” But verses 20-22 are even clearer:

 

“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep [figurative for dead]. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”

 

Basically, it’s saying that through Adam’s sin of disobedience toward God in the Garden of Eden, all men were subjected to the curse of death as punishment for their now-tainted natures from their original father. But Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came down to earth, died as a payment for our sin, and then resurrected physically from the dead as a testament that we too who believe in Him will also be resurrected in the future. If Christ was only spiritually resurrected, then this emphasis on coming “from the dead” would not make sense, because Jesus’ body would still be in the grave, conquered by death!

 

These verses are only a few of those that show Jesus as physically coming back to life. The Gospels record that the resurrected Jesus ate cooked fish and let His disciples touch his scarred hands.

 

Jesus Christ told His disciples this: “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:38-39; emphasis mine). Jesus Himself states that He was not a spirit, but a physically-alive person when He appeared from the dead.

 

This makes sense, because the Bible states repeatedly that the tomb was empty and that the religious and secular authorities were worried about explaining away this strange happening. If the resurrection was only spiritual, the tomb would still be full and the authorities would have crunched the fledgling religion right away when it started making outrageous claims and converting many people, if those claims could not be backed up. It does not make sense that three thousand Jews (Acts 2:41) would convert in one day just because someone saw a “dream” or “vision” of Jesus. Many of them died as martyrs for their faiths, and they were able to be brave against this death because they believed that they would be physically resurrected just like Jesus when He came back to earth as King and Lord. A spiritual resurrection does not explain these verses, events, or convictions.

 

So, how does Jesus’ physical resurrection square with our common experience that such things just don’t happen? Since this would go under the “miracle” category, how can miracles even take place in a world of unbroken scientific laws? This is a legitimate question, but one which has an all-powerful answer: God. You see, Jesus didn’t just regain life through a chance occurrence in the natural realm; He was supernaturally resurrected by a Supernatural Being, God. And since God created the rules of nature, He is perfectly capable of reaching His hand into the woodwork and changing the rules momentarily for His own purposes.

 

But hasn’t science shown that the laws of nature cannot be broken? Not really – science has only observed that the laws of nature, as far as we can see, are not broken. But what do we observe? We see finite energy and matter interacting with each other, obeying the laws of nature. But God is an infinite power who can work all things according to His own plan. Can we put God in a laboratory and tell Him, “We want to see if You can break the laws of nature.” First of all, we finite creatures could never do that, and second, He would never stoop down to be bossed around like a guinea pig! But seriously, this shows that just because we see finite, created matter and energy never disobeying nature’s rules does not mean that God cannot override the rules that He Himself placed upon the universe.

 

Then why don’t we see any other miracles happening? Well, they actually have happened: the creation of life, the worldwide flood, and all the miraculous happenings recorded in God’s Word, the Bible. The creation of the universe actually requires a miracle, or “supernatural” cause: Since both secular scientists and Christians maintain that the universe had a beginning (Big Bang or otherwise), a beginning required that “something” began the universe into existence. This something cannot be the universe or a part of it, since the universe wasn’t existing yet! So God supernaturally (not through natural means, since “nature” wasn’t invented yet) created the universe, which stands even today as the biggest miracle ever in the history of everything.

 

Just think about it: If talking snakes, floodwaters covering earth, and a man rising from the dead seem outrageous events, then the existence of everything is the most outrageous of them all. It is easy (relatively speaking) to raise a man from the dead rather than create him from only the dust of the earth. And everything else in existence ultimately came from nothing, brought about only because of the all-mighty power of God. If God can create everything from nothing, then I wouldn’t be worried that He physically resurrected Jesus from the dead. And if Jesus Christ, God Himself in human form, really rose from the dead, then it’s not so outrageous to believe that we too will be raised just like Him when we believe and trust in Him as truth.

  • “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up” (Matt. 20:18-19).

Ever since Jesus of Nazareth uttered this prophecy two thousand years ago, the whole world has been debating whether it came true. Theory upon theory has been proposed to explain away this miracle of miracles. Has a man really risen himself from the dead, never to die again? If Jesus arose, He would not be just any man, but the Possesser of the power of life. And all His claims would be proven true. He would be the long-sought Messiah of Old Testament prophesy (Is. 53; 9:6-7; Mic. 5:2, etc.), the Ransom for sinners (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45), and the very Creator of heaven and earth (Col. 1:16)! How fantastic, how unbelievable! And yet, the largest religion in the world shot up from nonexistence upon this very belief, that the resurrection actually happened in history.

But did it? Does the historical evidence prove or disprove the resurrection of Jesus?

Many today would wonder at hearing “historical” and “Jesus” in the same sentence. “Is not the story of Jesus a myth? How can anyone believe the Bible’s legends in the scientific age?” In fact, many scholars of the 19th and 20th centuries, especially the German higher critics, had declared that the New Testament was not written until the latter part of the 2nd century (McDowell, Resurrection Factor, pp. 24-25), much more than a hundred years after the alleged lifetime of Christ. Such a long period of time could have enabled myths to entangle the Biblical accounts in inaccuracy (Ibid., p. 24). As a result of this consensus from the 19th– and 20th-century higher critics, much of the modern world has supported some form of the “legend theory.”

However, three factors refute the Christ-myth: the witness of contemporaries, even those hostile to Christianity; the many preserved manuscript copies of the New Testament; and new discoveries in archaeology. Such discoveries all over the “Bible lands” of Judea and Asia Minor have unearthed a 1st-century civilization exactly as described by the New Testament writers, particularly Luke in his precisely detailed Acts of the disciples (McDowell, Evidence for Christianity, pp. 93-94). In fact, the numerous 1st-century references Luke makes to obscure local details, such as calling Philippian rulers praetors when scholars thought the correct term was duumuirs, have been proven right again and again as archaeologists unearth more of the Bible lands (Ibid., pp. 96-97). Such obscure details show a pervasive 1st-century, not 2nd century, background of the New Testament that has lead numerous scholars, such as the renown archaeologist Sir William Ramsay, to reverse their beliefs in the dating, and thus the reliability, of the New Testament: Instead of the late 2nd century, all New Testament books had to have been written before A.D. 64-80 by the disciples or their close contemporaries (McDowell, Resurrection, pp. 24-25 and McDowell, Evidence, pp. 93-94). Basically, the New Testament was written thirty or so years after the events of Jesus of Nazareth.

This early date combines powerfully with the vast number of surviving New Testament manuscript copies, which far surpasses the surviving copies of any other ancient written works (Morris, Many Infallible Proofs, p. 23). Preserved in multitudes of languages, the New Testament’s 24,970 manuscripts dwarf the next largest surviving group of manuscripts, the 643 of Homer’s Iliad (McDowell, Evidence, pp. 60-61). There are many ancient writings such as Herodotus’s History and Caesar’s Gallic Wars that are based on just a few manuscripts yet are never questioned in their authenticity by historians (Bruce, NTD, pp. 16-17 qtd in McDowell, Evidence, p. 64). Thus, if the New Testament is not to be trusted, then how can any other work of the ancient past be verified? If the existence of Jesus of Nazareth is questioned, then the existences of Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, and any other ancient historical figure fall into the uncertainty of myth (Jeffrey, Signature of God, p. 86).

But the factor that settles Jesus of Nazareth beyond all speculation of myth is the testimonies of the witnesses, from His closest associates to the following multitudes to His arch enemies. When the disciples wrote down the miracles of Jesus they claimed to have seen and the words of Jesus they claimed to have heard, they reminded their readers that these things had “not been done in a corner” (Acts 26:26). In fact, they wrote that Jesus had preached and performed miracles before many multitudes of people over the course of His ministry, like giving sight to the blind (Matt. 9:27-30; 21:14), healing diseases (Luke 7:21; Matt. 8:2-3), feeding thousands with just a few loaves and fishes (Matt. 14:15-21), raising the dead to life (John 11:1-45), etc. And then the disciples wrote the most fantastic feat of all, that this same Jesus was crucified, was buried, but then arose from the dead on the third day (Matt. 27-28; Mark 15-16; Luke 23-24; John 19-20). They were practically 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.

And myriads of these thousands believed, ballooning the new faith Christianity. Soon after the New Testament was written and preached to Gentiles as well as Jews, they spread the word to their own countrymen and translated the New Testament into many languages, to be read in Sunday meetings all across the land (Jeffrey, Signature of God, p. 88). Manuscripts multiplied, making the job of a forger so much more grueling (Ibid., pp. 88-89). The impossibility of any myth-formation in the New Testament text is superbly illustrated in Grant Jeffrey’s The Signature of God:

  • Imagine that some writer wanted to create a false story in the 1990s about President Kennedy performing miracles and being raised from the dead for forty days after his tragic assassination in November, 1963. To succeed with his plan the writer would have to accomplish two impossible things: (1) He would have to simultaneously acquire every one of the millions of books and newspaper reports about the president and insert his counterfeit passages in this material without being detected by a single reader. (2) He would have to simultaneously convince millions of people around the world to accept his forgery as true, despite the fact that these people who were alive when Kennedy lived have independent recollections that contradict his invented story (p. 89).

Thus, the thousands of New Testament manuscripts ensure its reliability. And the fact that Christianity was born in Jerusalem, outside whose gates Jesus was crucified, and then rapidly grew from this epicenter to engulf the entire Roman Empire and beyond testifies to the witness of many in that generation, who saw the works of Jesus as true history, not a myth (McDowell, Resurrection Factor, pp. 106-107).

Even the Jewish religious leaders, who hated Jesus for His condemning their hypocrisy and stirring the people away from them, could not deny His miracles or the empty tomb. Instead, they claimed that He received power to heal people using Satanic magic (Mark 3:22-23). When all Jerusalem was transformed into an uproar with the discovery of the empty tomb, the Jewish leaders did not deny its existence, but accused His disciples of stealing His body in an attempt to make Jesus’ resurrection prophecy come true (Matt. 27:62-64; 28:11-13). Their lone argument against His resurrection crumbled in the years ahead: These same disciples, who had formerly forsook Jesus during His arrest and trials, now passionately preached and converted thousands of Jews and even Gentiles while suffering intense persecution from the Jewish leadership and the Roman Empire. Nearly every one of these disciples was martyred 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? The obvious answer has lead this “stolen body theory” of the Jews to be discounted by critics today (Strobel, Case for Easter, p. 41). Thus, the hostile witness of the Jewish leaders all the more increases the trustworthiness of the disciples’ testimony.

Even secular writings opposed to Christianity attest to the existence, life, and death of Jesus. The greatest Roman historian, Cornelius Tacitus (A.D. 55-120), mentions in his Annals that “Christus [Christ], the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate” (qtd in McDowell, Evidence, p. 171); the 2nd century Greek satirist, Lucian of Samosata, declares in his The Death of Peregrine that “the Christians . . . deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws” (qtd in Ibid., p. 172); and another ancient historian, Phlegon, wrote in his Chronicles that “during the time of Tiberius Caesar an eclipse of the sun occurred during the full moon” (Africanus, Chronography, 18.1, qtd in Ibid., p. 174), a clear allusion to the chilling darkness that befell the land during the crucifixion of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels (Matt. 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44).

This last reference, in seeking a natural explanation for an actual, mystifying event, is disproven by science: For by its very nature, a solar eclipse can only occur during the new moon, when the moon is between the earth and the sun (Espenak, “Solar Eclipses for Beginners”). But Jesus was crucified the day before the Passover (Mark 15:42; Matt. 26:17), a holiday which occurred during the phase of the full moon (Parsons, Hebrew for Christians, “Pesach”). Thus, though secular critics of ancient times tried explaining away this strange darkness by natural means, it is nature that refutes them.

Not only do the witnesses, New Testament manuscripts, and archaeological discoveries fully refute the legend theory, but they also entangle all other theories in hopeless mazes. Many scholars, knowing the obvious fact that Jesus lived and died, have not attacked His existence but have proposed theories to explain the events recorded in the New Testament through natural circumstances. However, no theory has been able to fit each jigsaw of evidence into one coherent picture.

Consider the “wrong tomb theory,” as proposed by Professor Kirsopp Lake in The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (summarized in McDowell, Resurrection Factor, p. 79). This position theorizes that when Jesus was taken down from the cross, He was buried by Joseph of Arimathea, emissary of the Jewish leaders instead of a disciple of Jesus, in a tomb amidst the many tombs of Jerusalem, and the disciples and women close to Jesus were watching from afar at the moment of burial. Then on Sunday the women, who were planning to anoint His body with spices, went to the wrong tomb. A young man at this open tomb tells the astonished women “He is not here,” giving them the idea that the man was an angel proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead. Thus is born the resurrection tale.

Yet the plausibility of this theory is only superficial. For not only the women would have gone to the wrong tomb, the beloved grave of their Lord, but so would the disciples; the Jewish leaders; and even Joseph of Arimathea, owner of the tomb (Ibid., p. 80). Given the very short time interval, just three days, surely someone would have realized or at least suspected the error committed. Yet no one seemed even to have thought of this possibility until the modern age. Furthermore, the theory ignores the New Testament’s attestation to a guard being stationed at Jesus’ tomb by the Jewish leaders (in an attempt to prevent the disciples from stealing His body and claiming a resurrection) (Matt. 27:62-66). Surely anyone could verify the true location of Jesus’ tomb by locating the lone tomb guarded by soldiers and marked with an official seal. All rumor would have died, and Christianity, never born. Yet the faith lives on, and so does the angel’s statement: “He is not here, for He has risen” (Matt. 28:6).

Even more problems compound the more popular hallucination theory. This theory attempts to account for the appearances of Jesus after His death as hallucinations of His disciples, longing so hard for their dead Master that their minds resurrected Him in thought only. Yet if Jesus appeared in their minds only, what happened to the stationed guard, and why did the Jewish leaders acknowledge that the tomb was empty by claiming that the body was stolen (Matt. 28:11-13)? And how could thousands of Jews in Jerusalem instantly convert to Christianity at the preaching of their first sermon (Acts 2) when these Jews could have easily walked to Joseph’s tomb and verified whether it was truly empty (McDowell, Resurrection Factor, pp. 106-107)? Many of these converts would and did face persecution and even martyrdom, so witnessing for themselves the actual emptiness of the tomb would be essential (Ibid., p. 107).

Beyond even these grave problems, the theory’s key mechanism, the hallucination, just does not fit into what the disciples saw. People cannot have the same hallucination at the same time, since such visions are drawn from each individual’s unique personal experiences (Ibid., p. 84). In contrast, many different types of people saw Jesus at all times of the day (Matt. 28:1-9; Luke 24:13-32), and from one to five hundred individuals saw or conversed with Jesus (John 20:11-18; I Corinthians 15:6). Unlike a group of drug addicts, each high and each 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 hallucination allows that? Their accounts are detailed, just as psychologists would expect of someone seeing reality (McDowell, Resurrection Factor, p. 84).

Besides, the seeing of a false image requires that a person expect to see the image (Ibid., pp. 85-86). The women and disciples were the last to expect that Jesus would rise to life (Ibid., p. 86). For the Gospels declare that on Sunday the women were bringing spices to anoint His body, obviously expecting His body to be there, and when they saw and spoke to their Lord alive in glory, they hurried and declared the stunning news to His disciples. But the defeated, dejected disciples, who had fled from their Master at His arrest and trial (Mark 14:50), rejected their testimony, having abandoned all hope since crucifixion day. Not until Jesus of Nazareth Himself appeared to them in the upper room and in subsequent places, speaking and comforting and reminding them of all the cross fulfilled in the Scriptures, did they finally believe what they saw and heard and felt was true.

This former skepticism and dejection of the disciples is one of the many factors forgotten by the proponents of another popular theory, the resuscitation or “swoon theory” (McDowell, Resurrection Factor, p. 97). It declares that the crucifixion did not actually kill Jesus. Instead, He fainted upon the cross, was presumed dead by medically-ignorant soldiers, was wrapped in graveclothes, and was placed in the tomb. The tomb’s cool air, however, revived Him despite His wounds. He walked out alive and appeared to His shocked disciples, who could not imagine that anything but a resurrection had taken place.

Yet this theory ignores what the disciples and their contemporaries knew too well about a crucifixion: its fatal brutality. It is one of the most tortuous deaths devised by man. Dr. Alexander Metherell, Ph.D., (qtd in Strobel, Case for Easter, pp. 12-24) describes what Jesus suffered on the day of His crucifixion: (1) a Roman whipping that stripped off the flesh to the bowels, causing severe blood loss and shock; (2) an arduous walk to the execution site carrying the wooden crossbar; (3) the nailing to the cross through the sensitive nerves of the wrists and feet; (4) the hanging from the cross, which pressured the chest in such a way that Jesus had to push Himself up continually in order to exhale and prevent suffocation, until total exhaustion set in; (5) cardiac arrest of the heart from the effects of shock and slow suffocation; and (6) the spear thrust into Jesus’ side, which let out a great volume of blood and water from a ruptured heart. How can anyone survive this ordeal? Many prisoners die even at the beating stage. Jesus could not have even “played dead,” for who can pretend for long not to breath? As Dr. Metherell so adamantly declares, there is no way that Jesus could have survived this ordeal.

But perhaps the greatest testimony to Jesus’ actual death and resurrection would be the skeptical disciples themselves (summarized in McDowell, Resurrection Factor, pp. 98-99, and Strobel, Case for Easter, pp. 24-26). For if by some “miracle” Jesus naturally swooned back to consciousness, unwrapped Himself from the hundred pounds of wrappings and spices wound tightly around Him, rolled the massive tombstone away, and fought or eluded the Roman guards; as the anti-Christian theologian David Strauss admitted, how could this weakened, gashed, and mutilated person, having just suffered the worst torture and agony a man can experience, so transform all the lives of the hopeless, cowardly disciples that they fan across from Jerusalem to the farthest reaches of the Roman Empire proclaiming the absolute fact of Jesus risen in glory and Conquerer of death, to the very second of their martyrdoms? What else could vanish all their fear of death, than the actual sight of their Lord risen from the dead to a glorious heavenly body, one without injury or decay?

For the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is not just the pivotal event of history, but the transformer of lives. Only an actual resurrection could explain the massive growth of Christianity in the very city where Jesus’ crucifixion took place. And because Jesus resurrected, we can be certain that He was who He claimed to be, the Christ, the Son of God, the very Creator incarnated in humanity to pay the penalty for men’s sins and save them. Because He rose, we can know that He is trustworthy and His promises are true. Because He conquered death, so we know that those who believe will not molder forever in the grave, but be resurrected also to life everlasting and be with our Lord and our God in His heavenly kingdom. For Jesus Christ is the Truth of the resurrection.

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

 

The Holy Bible. New American Standard Version.

 

Espenak, Fred. “Solar Eclipses for Beginners” MrEclipse.com. Sept. 26, 2009. Web. June 15, 2010.

 

Jeffrey, Grant R. The Signature of God: Astonishing Biblical Discoveries. Toronto: Frontier Research Publications, Inc., 1996.

 

McDowell, Josh D. Evidence for Christianity: Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2006.

 

McDowell, Josh [D.] The Resurrection Factor: Does the Historical Evidence Support the Resurrection of Jesus Christ? Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1981.

 

Morris, Henry Madison, Ph.D. Many Infallible Proofs: Practical and Useful Evidences for Christianity. El Cajon, CA: Creation Life Publisher, Inc., 1974.

 

Parsons, John J. “Pesach – The Feast of Freedom.” Hebrew for Christians. Web. June 15, 2010.

 

Strobel, Lee. The Case for Easter: A Journalist Investigates the Evidence for the Resurrection. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003.