Simple yet powerful apologetics

tomb.jpgHere is a summary of the “minimal facts” approach: Nearly 100% of historical scholars from 1975 – present agree with the following statements:

  • Jesus really lived and was killed on a Roman cross.
  • Jesus’ disciples believed He appeared to them.
  • Jesus’ brother, James, went from being a pre-crucifixion skeptic to a post-crucifixion church leader.
  • The Apostle Paul believed Jesus appeared to him and he wrote most of the books attributed to him, including Romans, I & II Corinthians, Philemon and others.

75% of the same scholars agree that the tomb was empty.

I submit that the physical resurrection of Jesus best accounts for these facts.

——-

I am confident that we can defend the inspiraton and innerancy claims of the Bible, but the discussions are wide and deep and it is easy for them to get off track.

An interesting approach is to consider what the skeptical historians tend to agree on – that is, what elements of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus do the well educated skeptics concede?  You can actually build a very strong case starting with those.  If nothing else, it helps annihilate the “blind faith” accusations often lobbed against Christians.

When virtually all historians agree on something – believers and skeptics included, we have a term for those views: Facts.

I readily concede that God used the writing styles and experiences of the humans who wrote the Gospels, but I don’t concede that it didn’t turn out exactly as God wanted it to. He is sovereign over his creation and could easily guide the people and circumstances to achieve what He desired.

I think those doctrines are quite defensible but not necessary to share the Gospel. There are several important facts that even skeptical historians will concede, and we can work from there:

  • Jesus really lived and then died on a Roman cross.
  • The disciples really believed He rose physically (even if the historians don’t believe He rose physically they agree that the disciples believed that He did).
  • The Apostle Paul persecuted Christians then converted after claiming to see the risen Christ and wrote at least Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Philipians, Galatians and Philemon, which record key doctrines and traditions at early dates.  Paul was originally hostile to the faith and had no reason to believe.

Mike Licona is a New Testament historian, author, and Christian apologist. He is a PhD candidate in New Testament at the University of Pretoria and has an M.A. in Religious Studies from Liberty University. He has a great web page that addresses these in a very accessible way.  Here are a couple excerpts.  Go read the whole thing.  I also put a link in the apologetics section to the right.

1. Jesus’ disciples believed he appeared to them. (% of scholars from 1975-Present who agree: Nearly 100%)

No less than 9 ancient sources from an eyewitness, very early oral traditions dating within 20 years of Jesus’ crucifixion, and several written sources testify that Jesus’ disciples were claiming that he had risen from the dead and appeared to them.

“It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which He appeared to them as the risen Christ.” -Atheist New Testament Scholar Gerd Lüdemann, 1995

2. A few skeptics believed Jesus appeared to them. (% of scholars from 1975-Present who agree: Nearly 100% for Paul; ~90% for James)

Paul experienced an immediate change from a persecutor of the Church to one of its most aggressive advocates.  He said the change was because the risen Jesus had appeared to him, and he willingly suffered and died for that belief. (Sources: Paul, Luke, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Tertullian, Dionysius of Corinth, Origen)

Prior to Jesus’ resurrection, the brother of Jesus named James was a skeptic (Sources: Mark, John).  An appearance of the risen Jesus to James is reported within 5 years of Jesus’ crucifixion (Source: 1 Corinthians 15:7).  James became a leader of the Church in Jerusalem (Sources: Paul, Luke).  James willingly died for his belief that Jesus was the Messiah (Sources: Josephus, Hegesippus, Clement of Alexandria).

3. The original disciples were willing to suffer and die for their belief that Jesus rose and attests to the sincerity of their faith, which strongly rules out lies on their part.

Sources: Luke, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Ignatius, Dionysius of Corinth, Tertullian, Origen.

4. “All the strictly historical evidence we have is in favor of [the empty tomb], and those scholars who reject it ought to recognize that they do so on some other ground than that of scientific history.”-William Wand, Oxford University, 1972) (% of scholars from 1975-Present who agree: ~75%)

Since Jesus was publicly executed then buried in Jerusalem, it would have been impossible for Christianity to get off the ground there had the body still been in the tomb.  His enemies in the Jewish leadership and Roman government would only have had to exhume the corpse and publicly display it for the hoax to have been shattered.

Rather than point to an occupied tomb, the Jewish leadership who had Jesus crucified accused His disciples of stealing the body. This move seems to have been an attempt to account for a missing body, since it is highly unlikely that this claim would have been made if the body had still been in the tomb. (Sources: Matthew, Justin, Tertullian).

When we come to the account of the empty tomb, women are listed as the primary witnesses.  This would be an odd invention, since in both Jewish and Roman cultures woman were not esteemed and their testimony was regarded as questionable; certainly not as credible as a man’s. Given the low view of women that existed in the first century, it seems unlikely that the Gospel authors would invent testimonies, place them in the mouths of those who would not be believed by many, and then make them the primary witnesses to the empty tomb.  If the Gospel writers had invented the story about the empty tomb, it seems that they would most likely have depicted men discovering its vacancy and being the first to see the risen Jesus.

Conclusion

a. A number of people claimed to have seen Jesus alive after his execution.  These were friends and skeptics, individuals and groups.

b. Jesus’ tomb was empty

c. Since these facts are well established historically and are accepted by the majority of scholars, any theory of what happened has to account for all of the facts.

d. Jesus’ resurrection certainly accounts for all of the historical facts.  But can any natural explanation (opposed to a supernatural one) explain these facts too?

Competing theories

Psychological phenomena, fraud, legend. [see the web site for refutations of these theories]

The New Testament wasn’t first compiled into a single volume until the middle of the second century.  Thus, we have no less than 9 New Testament authors who write about Jesus in the first century.  Furthermore, 11 additional early Christian authors, 4 heretical writings, and 7 non-Christian sources make explicit mention of Jesus in their writings within 150 years of his life. This amounts to a minimum of 31 authors, 7 who are non-Christian, who explicitly mention Jesus within 150 years of his life.

16 thoughts on “Simple yet powerful apologetics

  1. Hi Neil,

    I’ve been compiling all 31 authors that mention Jesus. I have so many unfinished projects :-(

    On a personal note, I contacted Mike Licona via his website but he never replied (this was around easter)…

    In any case, Licona is pretty good. He’s supposed to be a really nice guy too. Greg Koukl likes him and I’ve heard him on a podcast or two.

  2. Hi Edgar,

    Looking forward to the full list of authors.

    I think I heard him on Stand to Reason. We must have listened to the same Podcast.

    I used this as part of a Sunday School lesson the other day along with some of my other posts on the Bible and it seemed to go well.

  3. The “blind faith” argument is thrown at me on YouTube ALL OF THE TIME. I must bookmark this page as it says essentially what I try to convey…only much better!

    Thanks!!

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  5. Hi Neil,

    Thanks for your comments. “Fighting a war for peace is like raping for virginity” this was a statement taken from Dr. Wright’s sermon “Confusing God with Government”. I think he was eluding to people fighting in the name of a loving and how do you counter act evil with evil.

    Jesus talks about this very thing in Luke chapter 6 verse 29

    Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. [NASB]

    “Man’s problem is that he follows a three-headed god, and he has become confused. He doesn’t know whether he’s obeys the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit!” comes from a Muslim mentor of mine not the Gospel of Thomas.

    I took my place in the midst of the world, and I appeared to them in the flesh.

    I found all of them intoxicated; I found none of them thirsty.

    And my soul became afflicted for the sons of men, because they are blind in their hearts and do not have sight; for empty they came into the world, and empty too they seek to leave the world.

    But for the moment they are intoxicated.

    When they shake off their wine, then they will repent. This is from the Gospel of Thomas saying number 28.

    I am really interested why you feel this isn’t a true gospel. I would have to say its Matthew that isn’t a true gospel and only because it was translated from Hebrew to Greek and then the Hebrew text was lost….As a linguist, I have serious issues with that.

    Events in the New Testament prove the Greeks and Romans had no interest in preserving the words of Yahshua ben Yosef. They only cared of following the raving LUNATIC who couldn’t decide if his name was Paul or Saul! Tell me how is this LUNATIC any different than say Joseph Smith and his angel Moroni?

    Now I know the LDS church gives Smith the respect he deserves, but what about mainstream Christian society? Both stories are similar–essentially non-believers in the divinity of Christ and after a “comin to Jesus’ event where each are the ONLY person in attendance– both Paul and Joseph have a revelation about Jesus Christ, and both become renowned experts in the ‘new covenant.”

    What’s more accurate is both men are correct, but if you are not versed in God’s law, they become nothing less than a false prophet leading a lamb to slaughter.

    I commend you for not being satisfied by sitting in a pew and receiving the WORD. Proverbs 30 (lengthy won’t post here) warns us about the changing of the word and what will happen. Jeremiah expands on this warning in Chapter 31 verses 31-40.

    33.But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. [NASB]

    The WORD of God is omnipresent…you just have to find it.

  6. Hi Mizclark,

    Thanks for the clarification.

    I think you have been misinformed on some important issues. The notion that Matthew was definitely written in Hebrew is speculative at best. How do we know that if the originals were lost? And even if that is the case, why couldn’t it have been copied and translated properly like the other books?

    The gospel of Thomas has many issues, and there are many good reasons it wasn’t in the Canon.

    Re. Paul / Saul, here’s the answer to that mystery: “Acts 13:9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul . . .”

    That’s it. Jesus didn’t change his name, as many believe. He appeared to have a Hebrew and a Greek version of his name, or perhaps a nickname. He did not have a problem deciding what his name was.

    What makes you think he was a lunatic? Paul was many things, but he was definitely a brilliant and clear thinking man. Have you read Romans lately?

    Re. “turn the other cheek” – the context their is personal insults, not police / government actions. Defending the weak is a noble thing to do.

    Peace,
    Neil

  7. Oh I just have issues with Paul period! I still back and forth with him, because he’s somewhat fanatical. I needed an in depth study of the Torah to even begin to understand Paul.

    My main issues are his instructions concerning marriage to the Corinthians(2cor.7) and Ephesians(5). There is a drastic difference! When I study the history of the time it is clear he was frustrated with the behavior the people. He raves about how faithful and obeidient the people of Ephesus are and then we read about the church being the synagogue of Satan in Revelations 2. I’m still piecing it together for myself so I’ll get back to you.

  8. I’m a big fan of Paul, and I have never heard anything about the disabled daughter.

    Glad to read that you’re wrestling with the text. Let me know what you see about 1 Cor 7 and Eph 5. I’ve never noticed issues there.

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  12. I don’t understand why you need these things to be true in order to scaffold and sustain your morality. What if the mythology of Jesus is completely incorrect and never occurred in any shape or form? Would this somehow impair your ability to be a decent human being?

    To try to reconcile your rational and religious minds into a harmony seems like such a task then it can be avoided by simply not needing these things to be true to rationalize being a good person. Hauling these stories around with you seems like unnecessary baggage. The genuine taste of the apple will make your wine and wafers quite bland if you try have them in the same sitting.

    Defending a faith with reason is a burdensome hobby that I’m glad I don’t have any of my sense of well being tangled up with.

    • I don’t understand why you need these things to be true in order to scaffold and sustain your morality. What if the mythology of Jesus is completely incorrect and never occurred in any shape or form? Would this somehow impair your ability to be a decent human being?

      You haven’t read carefully. Our point is that without God there is no true grounding for morality or your definition of “decent human being.” Hitler, Stalin and Mao all would have claimed to be decent human beings. In your worldview you have no logic to explain why they were wrong.

      To try to reconcile your rational and religious minds into a harmony seems like such a task then it can be avoided by simply not needing these things to be true to rationalize being a good person. Hauling these stories around with you seems like unnecessary baggage.

      On the contrary, our worldview harmonizes perfectly. We know why you disbelieve. We know the problem of man. We know the solution. It is all quite logical. But it sounds like you haven’t stepped out of the echo chamber of Darwinian philosophy to carefully investigate our claims.

      Remember, our worldview can explain yours, but yours can’t explain ours. Even if your petty insults were accurate, our beliefs would be 100.000% caused by your Darwinian evolution. But here is why you believe what you do:

      Romans 1:18–20 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

      The real foolishness is thinking that you get to define whether God exists and what He must be like. Repent and believe while you still have time. Eternity is a mighty long time to suffer for your foolish pride.

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