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In other words, I am not starting with the assumption that the Gospels are inspired or infallible. I am trying to show that a certain portrait of Jesus is common to all the witnesses and goes back as far as historical criticism can go.
His words of love and authority and authenticity, then present this invented Jesus to a church with such deceptive power that many people were willing from the outset to die for this fictional Christ? Further, must we believe that all the Gospel writers swallowed the invention—and in the space of several decades while many who knew the real Jesus were still living? Is that a more reasonable or well-founded guess than the plain assertion that a real man, Jesus Christ, did in fact say and do the sorts of things the biblical witnesses said He did?
You must decide for yourself. To my mind, an unknown inventor of this Jesus is more incredible than the possibility of Jesus’ reality. So for me the question becomes: “How do we account for a man who leaves a legacy like this?” I cannot morally reckon Him among the poor deluded souls who suffer from pathological delusions of grandeur. Nor can I reckon Him among the great con men of history, a deceiver who planned and orchestrated a worldwide movement of mission on the basis of a hoax. Instead, I am constrained to acknowledge His truth. Both my mind and my heart find themselves drawn to yield allegiance to this man. He has won my confidence.
THE EVIDENCE FOR JESUS’ RESURRECTION
FROM THE DEADAlongside this line of evidence we should put the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.2 If He did not rise, but followed the way of all flesh, the extraordinary implications of His Word and life come to nothing. But if He overcame death, His claims and His character are vindicated. And His teaching concerning the Bible becomes our standard. Without going into detail, I will mention six things that undergird my confidence in the resurrection of Jesus.
1. Jesus bore witness to His own coming resurrection.
Two separate witnesses testify in two different ways to Jesus’ statement during His lifetime that if His enemies destroyed the temple, He would build it
2. For an excellent, popular-level book dealing with the evidence for the resurrection, see William Lane Craig, The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus (Eugene, Oreg.: Wipf and Stock, reprint 2001). See also Craig’s chapters on the resurrection in Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus, ed. Michael J. Wilkins and J. P. Moreland (Grand Rapids,
Mich.: Zondervan, 1996) and Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (Wheaton, Ill.:
again in three days (John 2:19; Mark 14:58; cf. Matthew 26:61). Jesus also spoke elusively of the “sign of Jonah”—three days in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:39-40; 16:4). Therefore, the credibility of Jesus points to the reality of the resurrection to come. And He hinted at it again in Matthew 21:42 (RSV): “The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner.”
2. The tomb was empty on Easter. There are four possible ways to account for this.
His foes stole the body. If they did (and they never claimed to have done so), they surely would have produced the body to stop the successful spread of the Christian faith in the very city where the crucifixion occurred. But they could not produce it.
His friend stole it. This was an early rumor (Matthew 28:11–15). Is it probable? Could they have overcome the guards at the tomb? More important, would they have begun to preach with such authority that Jesus was raised, knowing He was not? Would they have risked their lives and accepted beatings for something they knew was a fraud?
Jesus was not dead, but only unconscious when they laid Him in the tomb. He awoke, removed the stone, overcame the soldiers, and vanished from history after meetings with His disciples, during which He convinced them He was risen from the dead. Even the foes of Jesus did not try this line. He was obviously dead. The stone could not be moved by one man from within who had just spent six hours nailed to a cross and been stabbed in the side by a spear.
God raised Jesus from the dead. This is what He said would happen. It is what the disciples said did happen.
But as long a there is a remote possibility of explaining the resurrection naturalistically, modern people say we should not jump to a supernatural explanation.
Is this reasonable? I don’t think so. Of course, we don’t want to be gullible. But neither do we want to reject the truth just because it’s strange. We need to be aware that our commitments at this point are much affected by our preferences—either for the state of affairs that would arise from truth of the resurrection, or for the state of affairs that would arise from the falsehood of the resurrection. If the message of Jesus has opened you to the reality of God and the need
I S T H E BI B L E A R E L I A B L E G U I D E TO L A S T I N G JOY ?
for forgiveness, for example, then anti-supernatural dogma might lose its power over your mind. Could it be that this openness is not prejudice for the resurrection, but freedom from prejudice against it?
3. The disciples were almost immediately transformed from men who were hopeless and fearful after the crucifixion (Luke 24:21; John 20:19) into men who were confident and bold witnesses of the resurrection (Acts 2:24; 3:15;
4:2). Their explanation was that they had seen the risen Christ and had been authorized to be His witnesses (Acts 2:32). The most popular competing explanation is that their confidence was owing to hallucinations. There are numerous
problems with such a notion:
For one, hallucinations are generally private things, but Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:6 that Jesus “appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive.” They were available to query.
Furthermore, the disciples were not gullible, but level-headed skeptics both before and after the resurrection (Mark 9:32; Luke 24:11; John 20:8–9, 25).
Moreover, is the deep and noble teaching of those who witnessed the risen Christ the stuff of which hallucinations are made? What about Paul’s great letter to the Romans?
4. The sheer existence of a thriving, empire-conquering early Christian church supports the truth of the resurrection claim. The church spread on the power of the testimony that Jesus was raised from the dead and that God had thus made Him both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). The Lordship of Christ over all nations is based on His victory over death. This is the message that spread all over the world. Its power to cross cultures and create one new people of God was strong testimony of its truth.
5. The apostle Paul’s conversion supports the truth of the resurrection. He argues to a partially unsympathetic audience in Galatians 1:11–17 that his gospel comes from the living Jesus Christ. His argument is that before his Damascus road experience, he was utterly opposed to the Christian faith. But now, to everyone’s astonishment, he is risking his life for the gospel. His explanation: The risen Jesus appeared to him and authorized him to spearhead the Gentile mission (Acts 26:15–18). Can we credit such a testimony?
This leads to my last argument for the resurrection.
6. The New Testament witnesses do not bear the stamp of dupes or deceivers. How do you decide whether to believe a person’s testimony? The decision to give credence to a person’s testimony is not the same as completing a mathematical equation. The certainty is of a different kind, yet can be just as firm. (I trust my wife’s testimony that she is faithful.) When a witness is dead, we can base our judgment of him only on the content of his writings and the testimonies of others about him. How do Peter and John and Matthew and Paul stack up?
In my judgment (and at this point we can live authentically only by our own judgment—Luke 12:57), these men’s writings do not read like the works of gullible, easily deceived, or deceiving men. Their insights into human nature are profound. Their personal commitment is sober and carefully stated.
Their teachings are coherent and do not look like the invention of unstable men. The moral and spiritual standard is high. And the life of these men, as it comes through their writings, is totally devoted to the truth and to the honor of God.
JESUS IS TRUE REVELATION GODTHE OF These, then, are some (not all!) of the evidences that undergird my confidence in Jesus as the true revelation of God. Before I try to explain how this leads me to credit the whole Bible as God’s Word, let me give a personal admonition.
Whenever a Christian converses with a non-Christian about the truth of the faith, every request of the non-Christian for the proof of the Christianity should be met with an equally serious request for proof for the non-Christian’s philosophy of life. Otherwise we get the false impression that the Christian worldview is tentative and uncertain, while the more secular worldviews are secure and sure, standing above the need to give a philosophical and historical accounting of themselves. But that is not the case.
Many people who demand that Christians produce proof of our claims do not make the same demand upon themselves. Secular skepticism is assumed to be reasonable because it is widespread, not because it is well argued. We should
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simply insist that the controversy be conducted with fairness. If the Christian must produce proof, so must others.
Now, if Jesus has won our confidence by His authentic love and His power over death, then His view of things will be our standard. What was His view of the Old Testament?
WHAT WAS JESUS’ VIEW OLD TESTAMENT?
OF THE First of all, was the Old Testament He prized made up of the same books as the Old Testament that Protestants prize today? Or did it include others (like the Old Testament Apocrypha3)? In other words, was Jesus’ Bible the Hebrew Old Testament, limited to the thirty-nine books of the Protestant Old Testament, or was his Bible more like the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) which includes an extra fifteen books? Norman Anderson, in his inspiring book God’s Word for God’s World, states my answer and the support for it so well that I would like to
simply quote him:
So we must now consider the reciprocal witness that Jesus bore to the Bible—primarily, of course, to the Old Testament, as the only part of the Scriptures which was then in existence. That the books He had in mind spanned the whole “Hebrew Bible” is, I think, clear from two New Testament references: first, from His allusion, in Luke 24:44. to “the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms,” since this was tantamount to referring to the threefold structure of the Jewish Scriptures as the “Law,” the “Prophets” and the “Writings” (in which the Psalms held pride of place); and, secondly, from His allusion to “all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berachiah,” since the blood of Abel is mentioned early in Genesis (4:8), the first book in the Hebrew
3. The Apocrypha is a group of ancient books written during the time between the Old and New Testaments. They are included in Catholic editions of the Old Testament, but Protestants have generally rejected them as part of the authoritative inspired canon of Scripture. For the texts, see Bruce Metzger, ed., The Oxford Annotated Apocrypha of the Old Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965).
Bible, and that of Zechariah towards the end of 2 Chronicles (24:21), the last book in the Jewish Scriptures.4 If, then, Jesus’ Bible was the same Old Testament we Protestants use today, the question now becomes, “How did He regard it?”
1. In quoting Psalm 110:1, He said that David spoke by the Holy Spirit: “David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, declared...” (Mark 12:36, RSV).
2. In His controversy with the Pharisees concerning their interpretation of the Old Testament, He contrasted the tradition of the elders and the commandment of God found in Scripture. “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” (Mark 7:9).
3. When He answered the Pharisees concerning the problem of divorce, He referred to Genesis 2:24 as something “said” by God, though these are words of the biblical narrator and not a direct quote of God: “He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother’” (Matthew 19:4–5).
4. He makes an explicit statement concerning infallibility in John 10:35: “Scripture cannot be broken.”
5. An implicit claim for the inerrancy of the Old Testament is made Matthew 22:29: “Jesus answered them, ‘You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.’” Knowing the Scriptures keeps one from erring.