The Christian Faith: Answers for Critics
Matthew 12:30 ~ He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.
One skeptic (I do not have his exact quote, so I will paraphrase) said it like this,
God created Eve out of Adam's rib. A serpent convinced them to eat some forbidden fruit. It rained for forty days and flooded the whole earth. A short time later Moses parted the waters of the Red Sea with his staff. Then after that, Jonah was swallowed by a big fish and with God's help lived to tell about it. Again at another time, Jesus instantly stopped a stormy sea with just a command and later he himself rose from the dead. And, if I do not believe all these things I do not get to go to heaven.
This skeptic poses a good question. Does God really expect us to believe these things?
Matthew 16:15-17 ~ [Jesus] saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
Our problem is, even though a person may desire to believe in God, he cannot honestly do this by his will power alone. For instance, if I asked you, "Do you believe in Santa Claus?" most people will honestly answer, "No". There are many obstacles to overcome before you could believe he is real. Suppose I showed you all the advantages in believing, I could point out that those who do believe in Santa receive gifts from him. Sometimes they write him letters with want lists, and on Christmas morning, they find that they have received the very things they asked for! Though you know this is true, will this convince you to believe in Santa Claus? The reason we do not believe in Santa is not for the lack of benefits; rather, all the evidence points to him being a myth.
However, this paper is not about Santa Claus. There is another question, the most important question of all; did Jesus Christ really rise from the dead? You have probably already heard that if you believe in Jesus Christ you will get many benefits, including eternal life! However, does not the evidence point to his resurrection also being a myth? And, wouldn't the evidence have to be conclusive that Jesus rose from the dead, before a righteous God would hold you accountable to believe? Yes, there must be evidence before a righteous God would hold us accountable, the good news is that it does exist and it is compelling.
Willful ignorance is no excuse
Nobody can believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ (anymore than one can believe in Santa Claus) by will power alone. It appears that God expects us to inquire and search if it is true. However, it takes a sincere search for truth before God will reveal himself to you. God has met us more than half way, by sending us His evangelists, prophets and most importantly His son. What we do with Jesus is our choice; though, unlike Santa Clause, this decision has eternal consequences. The prophet Zephaniah speaking of those who did not inquire said,
Zephaniah 1:3, 6 ~ I will consume man and beast; I will consume the fowls of the heaven, and the fishes of the sea, and the stumblingblocks with the wicked; and I will cut off man from off the land, saith the LORD. [...] And them that are turned back from the LORD; and those that have not sought the LORD, nor inquired for him.
Perhaps you have not seen any compelling evidence that proves the resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact. While God can excuse ignorance that is beyond our control to remedy, willful ignorance will not be given the same tolerance.
Miracles or gullibility?
Does God really expect me to believe in miracles? Isn't this just being gullible? Before we answer, we should look at what it means to be gullible. In 1996, President Bill Clinton claimed that NASA found a rock that fell from Mars, not only that, the rock contained evidence of Martian life. This news story is a good example of gullible.
- There are many rocks on this planet, what are the odds of them picking up a rock containing martian life?
- What natural phenomenon (with the force of a hydrogen bomb) could eject this rock past Mar's sphere of influence, or its gravitational pull, without destroying the signs of life?
- Have many rocks with martin life in/on them landed on earth? Like picking a needle in a haystack, what caused them to so thoroughly examine this rock?
- How do we know this rock really came from Mars? Are there any other possibilities?
- What were the chances of a rock ejected from Mars hitting the earth? Would it not leave the solar system or be attracted by a planet such as Saturn or Jupiter or the sun, all which have tremendously larger spheres of influence?
- If any life forms could have survived the explosion that ejected this rock into space and the millions of years it spent there. Would not the reentry into the earth's atmosphere (which often burns meteors up completely) not have damaged the alleged life forms beyond recognition?
While this martin life has now been discredited, when this event happened most news sources and talk-show hosts didn't question a thing. For myself, I was amazed at their gullibility, that such a story could be received without question and from the same people that would call me gullible. I am also amazed at how history repeats itself.
Acts 19:35-36 ~ And when the town clerk had appeased the people, he said, Ye men of Ephesus, what man is there that knoweth not how that the city of the Ephesians is a worshiper of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Jupiter? Seeing then that these things cannot be spoken against, ye ought to be quiet, and to do nothing rashly.
While we are still on the topic of being gullible, more recently, Reuters reports that Russian scientists predict that we will encounter Alien life in the next twenty years. These scientists expect us to believe that creating living cells is as easy as creating atoms. While I do not know what it would take to create the first atom from quirks and others subatomic particles, to believe the first self-replicating living cell just came to be. Well, either they are naive about the complexity of a living cell, or they expect us to be gullible. Yet in the year 2020 NASA without admitting life on Mars, plans to declassify evidence of UFOs.
Being gullible is believing, or refusing to believe, something with important personal consequences without personally substantiating the evidence. Applying this principle to the miracles of Jesus, if there is substantiating evidence, one would be foolish to ignore the important personal consequences of His miracles. The miracles Jesus performed are a necessary part of his message. He himself said,
John 5:36 ~ But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.
If Jesus were who He claims to be, we would expect to see His power over the elements. We would not be surprised that he walked on water, calmed storms, raised the dead. Nor should signs in the heaven at his birth and at His death surprise us. Yet for the diehard skeptic, miracles are a can't win situation.
If Jesus had not done any miracles
Some people have suggested the Bible would be okay if it was not full of all the miracles or as they prefer to call them myths. Yet if Jesus had done no miracles, His teachings would be just opinions and they would carry no more weight than the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, Krishna or Mohammad.
John 15:23-24 ~ He that hateth me hateth my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.
If Jesus did miracles
Since many miracles cannot be substantiated, the skeptics first response is to disbelieve. Some have created world views that disallow miracles altogether.
Luke 7:31-32 ~ And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like? They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept.
While every proof in Christian apologetics may not have enough evidence for a conviction, like the story of Jonah and the fish. Yet, if you toss out all proofs without giving them any consideration, you are being ignorant on purpose. The fact is, Jesus miracles were substantiated, even by his enemies. The most important miracle, His resurrection from the dead is one of the easiest to substantiate, even today.
If Jesus did miracles, why don't we see any today?
The Bible is full of miracles, so why are there no miracles happening today? While the Bible describes many miracles, there are only brief periods during human history when miracles were common, during the rest of history miracles were rare. Here is a list of the few times when miracles were common.
- During creation week.
- Fifteen centuries later during Noah's flood.
- About 8 or 9 centuries after that, when God, through Moses, brought Israel out of Egypt and into the promised land.
- God had a special relationship with Israel, therefore God sent them prophets until Israel was carried into Babylon for her sins.
- Jesus did many miracles during His three year ministry.
While there were other miracles recorded, most were one-time and local in nature. If Miracles happened every day, we would cease to call them miracles, nor would they have the effect intended. Perhaps one exception to this rule are the prophecies in the Bible of the last days, which we look at in a moment.
Are not miracles beyond the study of science,
therefore impossible to prove?
Isaiah 55:9 ~ For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
It is not necessary for us to understand supernatural events in order to believe that they exist, anymore than you need to understand how computers work in order to believe that they exist.
A scientist may claim that we cannot examine the supernatural; we cannot observe or experiment outside the cosmos. However, God stepped into our world and revealed himself in the form of a man, and this makes all the difference. Often this claim that science cannot examine the supernatural is decided in a courtroom. Is this the scientific method?
Secular scientists are also selective in deciding what unobservable events are to be disallowed. For instance, they allow theories on how quirks formed into atoms in the big bang, at the same time they prohibit discussion on intelligent-design. The processes that happen at the sun's core can be theorized. Facts critical to the theory of evolution or events that happened in Jesus' life may not.
Which details in this picture can be proved by observation?
We must be careful lest our rejection of miracles be the result of social conditioning rather than an honest investigation of available facts.
What about errors in the Bible?
This conclusion comes from personal bias, rather than from study. For example, if you believe in the theory of evolution, the first page of the Bible is riddled with errors. If you believe in intelligent design, you might be able to see the errors that riddle the theory of evolution.
John 5:46-4 ~ For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?
Suppose you are a man married to an unfaithful wife when you come home early and see a man sneaking out your back door. What would you suspect? Now suppose you are a man and your wife can be trusted without reservation when you come home early and see a man sneaking out the door. Though you may not know what just happened, you know that you can trust your wife.
If you believe the Bible has errors, like a husband who cannot trust his wife, when you read a verse with an apparent error you will reason, “There is another scientific error” and become more affirmed in your opinion. If, like the second husband, you have come to trust the Bible without reservation, you may not have an immediate explanation but your faith will not waiver. For myself, after reading the Bible and enjoying its transforming power in my life, I have become like the second husband. As time has passed, most of the apparent 'contradictions' have been answered.
As a side note, most apparent errors are the result of a careless mistake while reading the Bible. 23 Mistakes not to make while studying your Bible could help you avoid many of these errors.
Could not the myths have been added to the Bible later?
One common argument against the reliability of the Gospel accounts is that they were written centuries after the life of Jesus. Thus the Christians, down through the ages, forgot the facts and because of their superstitious nature, made up the fables.
Until the nineteenth century, our oldest complete manuscript, the Textus Receptus, was dated to the sixteenth century. Now we have two manuscripts of the New Testament that date to the middle of the fourth century. Was this enough time for the myths to creep into the scriptures? The skeptics will argue that 300 years is enough time for error and myths to creep into scripture. So is there evidence that the original manuscripts were written in the first century?
If the gospels and epistles were written shortly after Jesus' death, say about 35 years, there would be no time for myths to creep into the church. If during this period someone started to make up stories, like Jesus rising from the dead, the apostles and others who were witnesses at the time, would have refuted those writings as a lie. Archeological and historical research has provided no such rebuttals. The early church would have had a vested interest in refuting the Gospel accounts if they were mythology. Instead, Paul appeals to the church in Corinth saying there are nearly five hundred witnesses to the resurrection still living. Even the critics of Jesus at the time did not deny the events, rather they tried to attribute his miracles to the devil, or as they do today, to find natural explanations.
1 Corinthians 15:5-8 ~ And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.
Is there any proof the four gospels were written before 68 AD, or within 35 years of Jesus death? To answer that question, we must understand how ancient documents are dated. One way to date your manuscript would be for an expert to compare paper, ink, fonts and writing styles used. Another way is by looking at how a document describes a major event. For example, suppose you found an old piece of paper in your cellar. If you read the words "World War One", you would know that this document was written sometime after World War Two (W.W.II) was off to a good start. If your document had said: "The Great War" It would have been written sometime toward the end of W.W.I and it may have been written before the end of W.W.II.
How do we use this technique to date the Gospels? In the year 70 AD, the Romans crushed Israel. Jerusalem was destroyed; before they were finished the temple did not have one stone left upon another. The last holdout for the Jews was in a Roman Fortress called Masada. When the Romans finally broke through the walls they found all the Jews, nearly one thousand of them, had committed suicide. Thus, the destruction of the nation of Israel was complete. Nor was life better for the Christians. Nero is now famous for his atrocities toward the Christians during the period of 64 AD to his death in 68 AD.
Yet there is not even the least hint of these atrocities in the Gospels or any of the epistles having happened (not that the epistles are lacking for atrociticies committed against christians), not even a Freudian slip. Instead, we have an accurate and detailed account of life in Israel. Their precise accounts of the events during Jesus' time would have been just as impossible for someone in the second century AD to fabricate, as it would be for you or me to.
While there are no complete manuscripts from the first century, there are many partial manuscripts and fragments dated to the first century. We have over 30,000 quotes from before 325 AD, from which we could reconstruct all but eleven verses of the New Testament. Could these authors quote scripture before it was written? There is no reason to believe the authors were not personally eyewitnesses to the accounts they describe in the New Testament.
While many cults have corrupted the scriptures for their own use, The church has taken great care to preserve the Bible. While life was a little more difficult before the invention of the printing press, the scriptures have always been sacred to the true disciples of Jesus Christ.
2 Timothy 3:16 ~ All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.
The location of the ancient manuscripts
helps prove their authenticity
While, finding documents in the right place does not always prove they are authentic, it helps. When billionaire Howard Hughes died in 1976, the news reported that nearly three thousand wills showed up in probate court. By determining the location where these supposed wills were found, we could easily eliminate most of them.
Deciding where scripture and letters from the church fathers should be found is a little harder to do. Yet the principle is the same, and the scriptures live up to the scrutiny. The most famous example to illustrate this would be the location of some ancient Qumran manuscripts, popularly known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. If we were going to use the location where they were found to test their authenticity, we would expect to find them in the mountains of Israel in an old Qumran community. Exactly where they were found. For a stark contrast, you can look for the ancient manuscripts supporting The Book of Mormon or the ancient Hindu scriptures. This archeological discovery also provides proof for the antiquity and preservation of the Old Testament scriptures found there.
Many other ancient manuscripts have also been found. Like the codex Vaticanus found in the Vatican library or The codex Sinaiticus, found in an ancient monastery named after St. Catherine, in Mount Sinai. These and other ancient documents show universal acceptance and antiquity of the Bible.
We have four witnesses to the life of Jesus
The Gospels (the first four books of the New Testament) are four separate accounts. Many skeptics believe that Matthew and Luke plagiarized from Mark. This is wishful thinking. Though it is possible that Matthew, Mark or Luke could have been familiar and even read one of the other accounts, their own accounts do not have the marks of plagiarism in them.
A teacher can easily spot plagiarism from a student even if he used only words normally found in his vocabulary. This is because in trying to hide plagiarism, he gives himself away. For example, if two witnesses in a courtroom give the exact same testimony of an event, detail for detail, this is evidence that their testimony is the result of being instructed, rather than personal observation. For many reasons, we would expect their observations to be different, accurate accounts would include apparent contradictions. Thus, many of the apparent contradictions like account details, chronological order, or different genealogies in Matthew and Luke actually show the different accounts are authentic and not plagiarized.
Corroborating evidence in the Old Testament
The Jewish cannon of scripture (Old Testament), bears witness of Jesus. I have never heard of a skeptic who could give credible explanations for the prophetic references to Jesus in the Old Testament. Anybody who believes the Jews added these passages to their Bible only shows their ignorance of Jewish history. Those who believe it is just coincidence have never looked at the statistical improbabilities, nor can they show similar coincidences in any other book. In fact, the Old Testament prophets will make us without excuse on the Day of Judgment.
Isaiah 46:9-10 ~ Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.
Can we prove the apostles were honest?
Even if it could be proved that the manuscripts were written shortly after Jesus' death, how do you prove the apostles were honest? The first test for honesty is to check a testimony for vagueness. In trying to prevent detection when someone is making up a story, it is necessary for him or her to remain vague. The Gospel accounts are not vague; the events include names, dates, customs and places. Many of these facts were lost in 70AD with the destruction of Israel. However, in the last century archeology has been able to uncover and confirm many details found in the New Testament.
Another test for honesty is how an author presents himself in his narrative. If the apostles were trying to capitalize on Jesus death to start a new religion, they would have presented themselves as heroes of the Faith. Name another religion where the founder wasn't presented as exceptionally holy. If the apostles were lying, at the very least, they would have played down their own shortcomingsl. Yet what do we see?
- Jesus rebuking them for arguing about who is the greatest. (Mark 9:34)
- They fall asleep when Jesus asks them to wait up for him. (Mat 26:40)
- Everyone forsakes Jesus. (Mat 26:56)
- Peter denies he knows Jesus. (Mat 26:69-75)
- Jesus upbraids the apostles for their own unbelief. (Mark 16:14)
- Paul persecuted the church. (Acts 9:1-2)
A third and final test for the apostle's honesty is that they chose to die rather than change their story. If that was not enough, their deaths were slow and torturous. The early disciples were fed to lions, crucified and burned alive because they would not renounce the Gospel. The Christian faith was truly tried by fire. These three tests are external proofs, the internal proof is the message of the Gospel, that we present ourselves a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God. The Gospel writers call us to be honest.
3 John 1:4 ~ I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.
Revelation 21:8 ~ But the fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
Their message has been effective. Over the centuries, millions have repented and turned from their sins. We can verify this statistically as well as by the personal testimony of countless Christians.
Skeptics will point to wolves in sheep's clothing. It is certainly true that we see many examples of evil men professing to be pastors or prophets in order to fleece the flock. These false brethren should not concern us, in fact if there were no false prophets and pastors, Jesus would have been a false prophet, for He Himself said,
Matthew 24:4b-5 ~ Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; [I am anointed] and shall deceive many.
And His apostles would have also prophesied falsely, for Paul said,
Acts 20:29-30 ~ For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
And Peter said,
2 Peter 2:1-3 ~ But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.
Therefore, the false prophets and teachers confirm the truth of Jesus words as recorded in the Bible. Even the skeptics, (those that speak evil of the truth) confirm rather than discredit the words of Jesus.
It is all or nothing.
The moral integrity of a witness is important. A witness, having a history of being completely honest, and whose moral integrity is beyond question, has given you a critical message. Yet, if Jesus is not who he claimed to be, he was dishonest or deceived himself. Therefore Jesus’ teachings are only moral to those who believe.
1 John 5:10 ~ He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.
Whose fault will it be on the Day of Judgment if you do not believe? Everything is at stake here. Read the Gospel of Jesus Christ for yourself, seek the truth,
John 20:31 ~ But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
The only way you can know that Jesus rose from the dead is to study the record He gave of himself, for yourself.
If I can be any help contact me, Jeff Barnes
If this study was helpful,
I recommend reading:
Faith on Trial, by Pamela Ewen