This began as a series of articles.
It is now going to be a book.
I’ve had so much feedback, so many questions, and each led to more articles and ideas…so I’m going to combine the above into a combination of Introduction and Prologue as the Foundation for a book that will look at THE SIMPLICITY OF THE GOSPEL as applied to everyday life. I will look at subjects, topics that confront us DAILY…whether one realises it or not. I will keep it simple in that I will do a side-by-side comparison (such as “Love and Holiness as taught in The Bible”), each will have their own chapter, each build upon and supplement the others; and there will be practical ways for applying them to our lives daily; and, lastly, there will be examples of How they’ve been altered or abandoned altogether WITH the ensuing results thereof.
I will begin with THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT ONE: TRUTH V. LIES.
This is NOT PC. NOR do I want it to be.
This IS Morally and Biblically CORRECT- one of my main goals is to DESTROY the abomination of PC and MC, and place The Truth of God/The Bible back where it belongs: ON THE THRONE OF OUR HEARTS.
WHAT IS TRUTH??
EXTERNAL PROOFS OF THE BIBLE’S VERACITY.
Why trust the Bible? Well, first, many people are not aware that most historians take the Bible, especially the New Testament, very seriously indeed. The Bible has been subjected to extremely vigorous literary and historical criticism, probably more than any other ancient work, and it’s emerged unscathed. Hans Kung put it nicely:
Lay people are usually unaware that the scrupulous scholarly work achieved by modern biblical criticism … represented by scrupulous academic work over about 300 years, belongs among the greatest intellectual achievements of the human race. Has any of the great world religions outside of the Jewish-Christian tradition investigated its own foundations and its own history so thoroughly and impartially? None of them has remotely approached this. The Bible is far and away the most studied book in world literature.
In other words, the Bible doesn’t need defending or protecting from historical criticism — Christians haven’t shut themselves off from academic questions — far from it. Indeed, as the 19th century Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon once quipped: “Defend the Bible? I’d sooner defend a lion!”
When one approaches the Bible from a historical perspective, one can approach it much as one would any other ancient work. Broadly speaking, there are three tests a historian can utilise to determine the veracity of an ancient document. The bibliographic test, the internal test, and the external test. Let’s briefly look at each of these and how they apply to the Bible.
The Bibliographic Test
The bibliographic test looks at the ancient manuscripts of the Bible and asks whether the text of the Bible we have today is the same as the original? The simple answer is “yes”. There are thousands upon thousands of ancient manuscripts of the Bible, dating from the early second century down to the middle ages. When you compare what we have for the Bible with, say, what we have in terms of manuscripts for other important works of antiquity — Plato or Thucydides — it’s striking. For the Bible, we have 5,000 Greek manuscripts, hundreds of papyri, almost 350 Syriac copies (most dating to the 400s). On top of this, virtually the entire New Testament could be reproduced from quotations in the early church fathers; 32,000 such quotations exist before the Council of Nicaea in AD325, for example.
Many of these manuscripts are staggeringly early. For example, the John Rylands fragment (P52) dates to around AD120. Codex Sinaiticus dates to about 350AD and contains virtually all of the New Testament — I remember visiting the British Library a few years ago and staring at this beautiful object, just a few centimetres away from me behind a pane of glass. One felt that one was in touch with history.
Why are these manuscripts important? Because they enable us to be confident that the text of the Bible we have today is extremely accurate and close to the original. Historian and textual critic Ben Witherington has remarked that critical scholarship is about 99% certain of all of the New Testament text now — indeed, that we’re closer to the original text of the New Testament now than anytime since the first couple of centuries, so good is the scholarship.
The Internal Test
What about the historian’s second test, the internal test? This test asks whether we can determine whether the document we have before us was written by eyewitnesses. When it comes to the Bible, especially to the New Testament, things get very interesting.
First, we have multiple witnesses. Many people who are unfamiliar with the Bible tend to think of it as one book — but, of course, the Bible contains multiple books — it’s more like a library than a book. So, when we come to the New Testament, for example, we have multiple authors writing about the life of Jesus. Critical scholars would count at least six — Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul and probably also “Q”, a collection of sayings of Jesus that Matthew and Luke referred to.
Furthermore, these sources are all very early. Most scholars date the Gospels to the 60s, 70s and 80s AD, although some argue that Mark, especially, is much earlier. British New Testament scholar James Crossley — who, I’d note, is not a Christian — believes Mark was written in the late 30s or early 40s — that’s within a decade of Jesus. Another very early witness is Paul, who is writing his letters between AD48 and AD65, well within the lifetimes of the eyewitnesses. Why is this important?
Because one thing historians get very excited about is multiple attestation and early dating.
To return to the Gospels, though, for a moment. Not merely are they very early, but it’s now fairly universally accepted in critical scholarship that the Gospel writers were trying to write history; in terms of genre, the Gospels are biographies. The seminal work that demonstrated this was a book called What Are the Gospels? by Richard Burridge. Interestingly, Burridge set out to disprove that the gospels are biographies but the evidence caused him to change his mind. Historian David Aune sums up the implications of this:
[Bios, ancient biography] was firmly rooted in historical fact rather than literary fiction. Thus while the Evangelists clearly had an important theological agenda, the very fact that they chose to adapt Greco-Roman biographical conventions to tell the story of Jesus indicated that they were centrally concerned to communicate what they really thought happened.”
There’s a further point here, too. If one wants to reject the Gospels as history, then one is still left with the problem of explaining the early church. It had to come from somewhere and if Jesus’ life and career didn’t play out as the Gospels claim, one has to explain where. As German historian Martin Dibelius put it: you have to posit an X big enough to explain the Y of the early church. The best explanation remains that given in the Gospels: that Jesus existed and something very remarkable happened to him.
The External Test
Finally, there’s the external evidence for the Bible, in particular archaeology. Time and time again, archaeology has confirmed that the writers of the biblical texts knew what they were talking about. Along with the writings of non-Christian historians from the first century, men like the Jewish historian, Josephus, archaeology endorses the biblical text at many points. As Millar Burrows, former professor of archaeology at Yale wrote:
On the whole … archaeological work has unquestionably strengthened confidence in the reliability of the Scriptural record. More than one archaeologist has found his respect for the Bible increased by the experience of excavation in Palestine. Archaeology has in many cases refuted the views of modern critics.
Let me give you a few fascinating examples. First, two examples from Luke. In Acts 17:6-8, Luke uses the Greek word politarchs to describe the city officials in Thessalonica. That word doesn’t appear in classical Greek literature so for many years, critics accused Luke of making a mistake. Then archaeologists discovered a first-century arch in the town that used this very term — showing that the term was in use for government officials at the very time Luke was writing. It was a similar phenomena with Acts 18:12, where Luke uses the term “proconsul” to describe a gentleman called Gallio. That word didn’t appear either in classical literature so, again, scholars questioned Luke’s accuracy. Then an inscription was found at Delphi, dating to AD51, using the same term — and amazingly, to describe the very same official, Gallio. Once again Luke was proven to be a very accurate historian.
It’s a similar story with the other Gospel writers. For example, in John 5:1-2, the fourth Gospel writer speaks of “a pool in Jerusalem, by the Sheep Gate, called in Hebrew ‘Bethesda’, which has five porticoes”. Until the 20th century, there was no evidence outside of John’s Gospel for such a place and, again, critics questioned John’s reliability. Then in the 1930s, the pool was uncovered by archaeologists — complete with four colonnades around the edges and one across the middle.
One more example will suffice and it’s perhaps the most intriguing — the so-called “James Ossuary”. According to the Gospels — and to the Jewish historian, Josephus, James was the brother of Jesus and was killed in AD62. In 2002, a mid-first century bone box or ossuary was discovered in Jerusalem, bearing the Aramaic inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”. There is very strong evidence that the box and its inscription are authentic. Ed Keall, of the Royal Ontario Museum here in Toronto, has said “we stand by our opinion that the James Ossuary is not a forgery”. As New Testament historian Ben Witherington put it:
If, as seems probable, the ossuary found in the vicinity of Jerusalem and dated to about AD 63 is indeed the burial box of James, the brother of Jesus, this inscription is the most important extra-biblical evidence of its kind.
If we had more time, numerous other examples could be listed. The key point is this: archaeology doesn’t prove the New Testament is true. But what it does do is endorse the narratives. It shows that the biblical writings are historical and geographical in character — and thus deserve to be weighed and treated as seriously as an other texts from antiquity.
In the short time available to us, we’ve only been able to scratch the surface of what is a fascinating and rich area of study. But I hope in this brief survey I’ve been able to show that there are very good reasons to trust the Bible. And thus very good reasons to approach it with an open mind, willing to take what it says seriously and weigh its claims seriously.
So why read the Bible? Because from a historian’s perspective, we have good reason to trust it. Why read the Bible? Because only by reading it can you draw your own conclusions, rather than uncritically swallow somebody else’s second-hand-scepticism. Why read the Bible? Because through the pages of the four biographies in the New Testament, the gospels, one encounters a historical figure — Jesus of Nazareth — whose powerful personality continues to resonate and impact lives two thousand years on.
FOR FURTHER READING:
Per the great Christian apologist C. S. Lewis, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else He would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
C.S. Lewis popularized this “Trilemma” argument, though it has earlier roots in the writings of Scottish Christian preacher “Rabbi” John Duncan, and Watchman Nee in his 1936 book, Normal Christian Faith. The 3-legged stool of this argument quickly gets to the heart of the matter: will we accept Jesus — or not?
Was Jesus a liar, lunatic — or Lord? Let’s look at each option.
~ Was Jesus a Liar? ~
If Jesus knew He was not God, then He was lying. But if he was a liar, then He also was a hypocrite, as He told others to be honest, whatever the cost. If that’s the case, then we can say that would make Jesus unspeakably evil, as He deliberately told others to forsake their religious beliefs and trust Him for their eternal destiny. Jewish religious leaders actually did charge Jesus with having a demon (John 8:48), which Scripture decidedly refutes. And if Jesus knew He was lying, then He was a fool, as His claims led to His crucifixion.
But would a liar teach his followers, as Jesus did throughout the Gospels, to adhere to a profoundly moral code? Could such a massive deceiver teach unselfish, ethical truths and live the morally exemplary life that Jesus did? The very notion is ridiculous.
John Stuart Mill, a philosopher, skeptic, and antagonist of Christianity, still admitted that Jesus was a first-rate ethicist supremely worthy of our attention and emulation:
“But about the life and sayings of Jesus there is a stamp of personal originality combined with profundity of insight….in the very first rank of men of sublime genius of whom our species can boast. When this pre-eminent genius is combined with the qualities of probably the greatest moral reformer, and martyr to that mission, who ever existed upon earth, religion cannot be said to have made a bad choice in pitching on this man as the ideal representative and guide of humanity; nor, even now, would it be easy, even for an unbeliever, to find a better translation of the rule of virtue from the abstract into the concrete, than to endeavor so to live that Christ would approve our life.”
To put that succinctly, Mills is saying that Jesus was a perfect example of all that He taught.
Let’s also consider this equally long statement by William Lecky, a noted Irish historian and dedicated opponent of organized Christianity, because it’s just so darn good:
“It was reserved for Christianity to present to the world an ideal character, which through all the changes of eighteen centuries has inspired the hearts of men with an impassioned love; has shown itself capable of acting on all ages, nations, temperaments, and conditions; has been not only the highest pattern of virtue but the strongest incentive to its practice; and has exercised so deep an influence that it may be truly said that the simple record of [Jesus’] three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and to soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers, and all other exhortations of moralists.”
As church historian Philip Schaff adds, Jesus was a “character so original, so complete, so uniformly consistent, so perfect, so human and yet so high above all human greatness” who could be neither fraud nor fiction. Schaff adds that Jesus “never lost the even balance of His mind,” but “sailed serenely over all the troubles and persecutions, as the sun above the clouds, who always returned the wisest answer to tempting questions, who calmly and deliberately predicted His death on the cross.” I personally haven’t met any other human who lived up to Jesus’ behavior…have you?
In his book Cold-Case Christianity, cold-case homicide detective J. Warner Wallace lists these three decisive motives at the heart of any misbehavior: financial greed, sexual or relational desire, or power.
Jesus wasn’t interested in any of them. The New Testament writers tell us that He taught His disciples to give to the needy, and to not store up earthly treasures. And no evidence exists that Jesus was motivated by lust or relationships. The Gospels stress the respect that Jesus displayed toward women, including those who followed and supported His ministry. And rather than gain power for Himself, Jesus modeled serving others and giving without expectation of return, even to the wicked and ungrateful. He taught His disciples to do the same. If Jesus had been interested in personal power, He would have stepped into the political role people expected of Him. Instead, He shunned it.
~ Was Jesus a Lunatic? ~
So if Jesus wasn’t a liar, is it feasible that He mistakenly thought He was God? After all, one might be both sincere — but also sincerely wrong. Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft deftly shows why we must reject the option of Jesus being a lunatic:
“A measure of your insanity is the size of the gap between what you think you are and what you really are. If I think I am the greatest philosopher in America, I am only an arrogant fool; if I think I am Napoleon, I am probably over the edge; if I think I am a butterfly, I am fully embarked from the sunny shores of sanity. But if I think I am God, I am even more insane because the gap between anything finite and the infinite God is even greater than the gap between any two finite things, even a man and a butterfly. Well, then, why not liar or lunatic? But almost no one who has read the Gospels can honestly and seriously consider that option. The savviness, the canniness, the human wisdom, the attractiveness of Jesus emerge from the Gospels with an unavoidable force to any but the most hardened and prejudiced reader.”
“Jesus has in abundance precisely those three qualities which liars and lunatics most conspicuously lack: (1) His practical wisdom, His ability to read human hearts …. (2) His deep and winning love, His passionate compassion, His ability to attract people and make them feel at home and forgiven, His authority; and above all (3) His ability to astonish, His unpredictability, His creativity. Liars and lunatics are all so dull and predictable! No one who knows the Gospels and human beings can seriously entertain the possibility that Jesus was a liar or a lunatic, a bad man.”
The idea that Jesus was self-deceived or delusional is simply not compatible with the impression He has left on history. So viewing Jesus as a lunatic is our second ridiculous option.
~ Is Jesus Lord? ~
In the first century, when people were given a number of answers about Jesus’ identity, Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:15-16). Like Peter, we can decide to believe that Jesus made truthful claims about being God — and then accept or reject Him as our personal Savior.
Yes, Jesus was put to death by the Romans. But was that the end of the movement that He launched three years earlier? We have to shout a resounding “No!”, if the millions who call Him “Lord” are to be counted. Jesus stands head-and-shoulders above all other self-proclaimed “saviors,” because He is clearly at work among His people. His presence is palpable, when His people draw near. He is still answering our prayers (even when the answer is no!), and guiding us.
God’s Word tells us that we each must choose for ourselves whether or not to believe that Jesus is Lord. Can the Bible prove that Jesus is God? No. But we can take heart that archeological discoveries continue to prove its legitimacy as a truthful document. The Bible does clearly show us that Jesus, as a proven historical figure, was amazing in the way He demonstrated love. He gave all credit to God the Father, with whom He said He was equal. As the apostle John wrote in the New Testament, “these are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).
So we are left with two ridiculous options — and one that must be given weight as entirely possible. Historians disagree with this, of course, saying that faith can’t be used as a measure of proving truth. Really? Sometimes I feel very sad for people who refuse to consider options, simply because they can’t see or feel them for themselves. Faith, it seems to me, identifies the real risk takers among us. And definitely the wisest. 😉
We cannot put Jesus on the shelf as a great moral teacher; evidence strongly favors Jesus being so much more.
C. S. Lewis, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else He would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
EXTERNAL PROOFS FOR THE VERACITY OF GOD’S WORD, THE BIBLE
We’ve already read what three of the greatest mind and apologists have said, let’s now conclude with this:
EVERY PERSON MENTIONED IN THE BIBLE HAS BEEN CONFIRMED VIA HISTORY AND ARCHEOLOGY.
EVERY PLACE MENTIONED IN THE BIBLE HAS BEEN FOUND, WE EVEN KNOW THE GENERAL LOCATION FOR THE GARDEN OF EDEN, WHICH IS SAID TO BE BETWEEN THE TIGRIS AND EUPHRATES RIVERS.
EVERY EVENT THAT THE BIBLE MENTIONS HAS BEEN DUG UP AND PROVEN BY ARCHEOLOGISTS. SODOM AND GOMORRAH? PILLARS OF SALT, SULFUR, AND BRIMSTONE ARE FOUND WHERE THE BIBLE SAYS THEY ONCE WERE. MOSES CROSSING THE RED SEA WITH PHARAOH CHASING? EGYPTIAN CHARIOTS, ARMOR, AND WEAPONS HAVE BEEN FOUND WHERE THE BIBLE SAYS MOSES CROSSED THE RED SEA…IN THE RED SEA.
WENT TO GREAT LENGTHS TO ESTABLISH THE TRUTH AND VERACITY OF THE BIBLE, GOD’S WORD, BECAUSE TO SPEAK ABOUT TRUTH WITH CERTAINTY AND AUTHORITY AMONGST SKEPTICS WE NEED TO PROVIDE AN ADEQUATE DEFENSE OF OUR FAITH.