Does the Temple Prediction Invalidate the Early Dating of the Gospels?

While the absence of any description of the temple’s destruction can reasonably be interpreted as a piece of circumstantial evidence supporting the early dating of the New Testament accounts, skeptics sometimes use this fact to make just the opposite case. Many have proposed that Jesus’s prediction related to the destruction was inserted to legitimize the text and make it appear that He had some prophetic power. If this was the case, the Gospels would clearly date to after the event (post AD 70), as the writers already knew the outcome before they cleverly inserted the prediction.

But, this sort of skepticism is clearly rooted in the presupposition I describe on this website and in my book, Cold-Case Christianity. If we begin from a position of philosophical naturalism (the presumption that nothing supernatural is possible), we have no choice but to describe the supernatural elements we find in the Gospels as lies. From a naturalistic perspective, prophetic claims are impossible. The skeptic, therefore, must find another explanation for Jesus’s prediction related to the temple; critics typically move the date of authorship beyond the date when the prophecy was fulfilled to avoid the appearance of supernatural confirmation. But as we described earlier, a fair examination of the evidence that supports supernaturalism must at least allow for the possibility of supernaturalism in the first place. The naturalistic bias of these critics prevents them from accepting any dating that precedes the destruction of the temple in AD 70 and forces them to ignore all the circumstantial evidence that supports the early dating.

When explaining why the destruction of the temple itself was not included in the gospel record, skeptics have argued that the gospel writers intentionally omitted the fulfillment to make the accounts look like they were written early. But if this was the case, why were the gospel writers unafraid to describe the fulfillment of prophecy in other passages in the Gospels? Over and over again we see the fulfillment of Old Testament messianic prophecies that are attributed to Jesus in one manner or another.

In addition to this, on several occasions Jesus predicted His own resurrection. The gospel writers readily described the fulfillment of these predictions in the resurrection accounts. Why would they be willing to describe this aspect of fulfilled prophecy, but shy away from discussing the destruction of the temple?

In addition, Luke freely admitted that he was not an eyewitness to the events in his gospel. He told us from the onset that he was writing at some point well after the events actually occurred, working as a careful historian. Why not include the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple? There was no reason to be shy here. Other Old Testament authors wrote from a perspective that followed the events they described and were unafraid to say so. Moses, Joshua, and Samuel, for example, repeatedly reported on events that took place well before their written account; they often wrote that the conditions they were describing continued from the point of the event “to this day” (indicating the late point at which they were actually writing). Why wouldn’t Luke take a similar approach to the destruction of the temple, especially given the fact that he made no pretense about writing as a historian?

While it is certainly possible that the Gospels were all written after the destruction of the temple, it is not evidentially reasonable. In fact, the primary motivation for denying the early authorship of the Gospels is simply the bias against supernaturalism that leads skeptics to re-date the Scriptures to some point following the fulfillment of Jesus’s prophecy.

This article was excerpted from my first book. To learn more, please refer to Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels, and be sure to request our free teaching outlines so you can share the case with others.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, and God’s Crime Scene.

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There’s No Good Reason to Deny the Early Dating of the Gospels

Not long ago, Daniel Wallace (no relationship to me, except that all us Wallace’s claim to descend from William) posted some great news about an early fragment of the Book of Romans that was recently discovered. This fragment dates to the early third century which puts it in rare company. It contains Romans 9:18–21 and small portions of Romans 10. Wallace made news a few years back when he mentioned an early fragment of the Gospel of Mark that has yet to be published. The fragment of Mark is said to be as early as the first century.

dating gospels

I had the great pleasure of visiting with Dan Wallace at an event where we got the chance to examine a number of very ancient manuscript fragments. Some of these were Biblical fragments; some of these were non-Biblical ancient documents. We were the first people to examine the documents in nearly two thousand years. By the end of the day it was clear to me that there are literally thousands of fragments of ancient texts still out there to be discovered and examined. We have only touched the tip of the iceberg and as our ability to find and examine these fragments continues to improve, we’ll surely discover much more evidence that the New Testament was written very early and transmitted faithfully.

In fact, this is the focus of my book, Cold Case Christianity. I’ve been studying this issue from the perspective of a detective for some time now and I’ve written about the evidence for early dating and about the reliable transmission of the documents at ColdCaseChristianity.com.  If the New Testament eyewitness accounts were written as early as the evidence infers, many of the objections of skeptics are impotent. Early manuscripts mean that the original witnesses to the life of Jesus were (1) available to write the documents we now have, and (2) early observers of Jesus’ life would have been available to deny the testimony of the gospel authors. The continuing discovery of early fragments of New Testament documents corroborates this early dating.

When visiting with Dan Wallace, Greg Koukl and I asked him about the skepticism on the part of people like Bart Ehrman related to early dating. We asked Wallace if there was some specific manuscript evidence that inclined people to deny the early dating of the Gospel accounts. Wallace said there was no such evidence. We then asked why people continued to deny the early dating if, in fact, we were continuing to find early fragments and there was no contrary manuscript evidence. It turns out that the late dating of the gospels is due primarily to a denial of supernaturalism.

One of the primary reasons why skeptics date the gospels later than 70AD is the fact that Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple in the gospel accounts (i.e. Matthew 23). Secular history records that the Temple was destroyed in 70AD, fulfilling this alleged prediction by Jesus. In order to avoid the accurate prophecy from Jesus, skeptics argue that the gospel must have been written after the temple was destroyed. After all, how could Jesus possess the supernatural power of prophecy if nothing supernatural exists? The philosophical naturalism of the secular historian prevents him from accepting the possibility of accurate prophecy.

The gospels also contain many descriptions of miracles. The philosophical naturalist must also deny the truthfulness of these supernatural accounts. Skeptics, therefore, date the gospel accounts very late, arguing that eyewitnesses to these events were already dead and unavailable to deny the claims. It turns out that the presupposition of philosophical naturalism is at work in the minds of those who would deny the early dating of the gospels. When this presuppositional bias is removed, the remaining evidence confirms that the gospels were written in the lifetimes of the eyewitnesses.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, and God’s Crime Scene.

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Investigating Bart Ehrman’s Top Ten Troublesome Bible Verses

On the final page of the paperback edition of Misquoting Jesus, Bart Ehrman famously listed the “Top Ten Verses That Were Not Originally in the New Testament.” In an effort to discredit the reliability of the New Testament text, Ehrman offered this list to demonstrate the existence of many late insertions in the text. He found this reality troubling as a young man, and eventually walked away from his Christian faith as a result:

“The Bible began to appear to me as a very human book. Just as human scribes had copied, and changed, the texts of scripture, so too had human authors originally written the texts of scripture. This was a human book from beginning to end.”  (from Misquoting Jesus)

Bart JWW Top 10

Let’s take a look at Ehrman’s list of troublesome verses and examine how they impact the reliability of the New Testament text:

1 John 5:7
There are three that bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one.

John 8:7
Let the one who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her.

John 8:11
Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.

Luke 22:44
In his anguish Jesus began to pray more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground.

Luke 22:20
And in the same way after supper Jesus took the cup and said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.“

Mark 16:17
These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons and they will speak with new tongues.

Mark 16:18
And they will take up snakes in their hands, and if they drink poison it will not harm them, and they will lay their hands on the sick and they will become well.

John 5:4
For an angel of the Lord went down at certain times into the pool and disturbed the waters; and whoever was the first to step in when the water was disturbed was healed of whatever disease he had.

Luke 24:12
But Peter rose up and ran to the tomb, and stooping down to look in, he saw the linen clothes by themselves. And he went away to his own home, marveling at what had happened.

Luke 24:51
And when Jesus blessed them he departed from them and he was taken up into heaven

While this list may seem large (and even surprising for those of us who haven’t examined the presence of textual variants in the New Testament), I think this list does little to impact the reliability of the text. In fact, I think Ehrman is profiting from the unfamiliarity that most Christians have with the presence of textual variants. The list does seem shocking and daunting if you’ve never taken the time to examine matters such as these. But if you stop and think about it and examine each verse listed here, the impact is actually very minimal. I recognize four truths about these verses:

The Verses are Designated Earlier
Seven of these passages (John 8:7, John 8:11, Luke 22:44, Luke 22:20, Mark 16:17, Mark 16:18 and John 5:4) are already clearly designated in my Bible (I’m using the ESV for this blog post). It’s not as though these specious verses are hidden; most modern translations do an excellent job of including everything, then identifying those verses that are variants. Check it out for yourself. You’ll see that these verses, like many others in the text, have been clearly marked.

The Verses are Described Elsewhere
Three of these passages (Luke 22:20, Luke 24:12 and Luke 24:51) are simply reiterations of information that is given to us in other gospels. So, although these verses could be removed from Luke, their claims are found elsewhere in passages that are uncontested (see Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24, John 20:3-7, Acts 1:9-11).

The Verses are Decidedly Extraneous
That leaves only one verse on Ehrman’s list (1 John 5:7) that begs for explanation. But even if this verse can’t be reconciled, it’s clearly extraneous. The doctrine of the Trinity it addresses is found elsewhere in the scripture. Like other scribal variants, it may have been included by a scribe to make the doctrine clearer, but with all the other Biblical evidence for the triune nature of God, this verse has no impact on our understanding of the Trinity. The superfluous nature of this verse is similar to the vast majority of all Biblical textual variants; they have no impact on the theological or historical claims of the text.

The Verses are Detected Easily
Perhaps most importantly, these late entries were easy to detect, given the large number of ancient Biblical manuscripts we possess. By comparing these texts, we are able to determine which verses should not be in our Bible today, and the same discipline that allows us to determine what is specious, allows us to determine what is special. The skill set that allows us to identify what doesn’t belong is the very same skill set that allows us to identify what does belong.

I’ve written a lot more about this issue in a chapter in my book entitled, “Separating Artifacts from Evidence.” It turns out that Ehrman has the ability to complain about the existence of these passages only because we happen to possess the accurate methodology to remove them from consideration in the first place. As a result, we ought to have even more confidence that we possess documents today that are a reliable reflection of what was originally written thousands of years ago.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene.

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Why Is There Even A Jesus Myth Theory?

By Stephen Bedard

I have spent much of my apologetics activity responding to the Jesus myth theory. My first book (co-authored with Stanley Porter) Unmasking the Pagan Christ and my first journal article were both responses to the Jesus myth theory.

Although generally discounted by scholars, I believe that it is a dangerous theory that is influencing people through the medium of the internet. I am thankful that many apologists see this challenge and are responding to it.

This post is not a response to the specific claims of the Jesus myth theory.

Jesus Myth

My question is: Why is there even a Jesus myth theory to begin with? It does not make sense for people to just wake up one morning and decide they are going to question the historicity of one of the most well known ancient figures. Why do they do it?

I do not believe that there is only one answer to that question. I will present four possible reasons for people to embrace this theory.

1) Atheist Agenda. Atheists by definition deny the existence of God. Traditionally, however, they have accepted the existence of Jesus. They have seen Jesus as either someone who was delusional or someone who was misrepresented (usually by Paul).

More recently, some atheists have begun to question the existence of Jesus as well. Why make this leap? It may be the fault of many Christian apologists. Some apologists, including myself, see the resurrection of Jesus as the best evidence for the existence of God. If the evidence demonstrates that Jesus died and then on the third day was seen alive, something supernatural must have happened.

Instead of attacking each piece of evidence, it may be easier for some atheists to just reject the entire story. There is no need to respond to the empty tomb if Jesus never existed.

2) Anti-Religion. This reason has some overlap with the first but it is somewhat different. Being anti-religious does not require being an atheist. Some people use their love for God to fuel their hatred of religion.

The denial of the existence of Jesus should be seen in the context of attitudes toward other founders of major religions. In addition to denying the existence of Jesus, there are those who deny the existence of Moses, Buddha and Muhammad. Admittedly, those who deny the existence of Muhammad are quite careful in how they express that view.

There seems to be a trend for people to question the existence of every founder of a religion. How long before people question the existence of Joseph Smith?

3) Another Conspiracy. Some people embrace the Jesus myth because of their love for conspiracy theories. We can assume that at some point people knew that Jesus was a myth and then at another point people believed he was real. Someone had to be responsible for this change.

The Church has made many mistakes over the centuries and so they are an easy target. Church leaders must have secretly decided to make Jesus historical, presumably to make money off of the ignorant masses.

Once you add Constantine into the mix, you have both religious and political powers conspiring together. That is the makings of the perfect conspiracy theory.

4) Alternative spirituality. Not everyone who subscribes to the Jesus myth does it for negative reasons. Some use it to replace traditional Christianity with an alternative spirituality.

My introduction to the Jesus myth came through Canadian author Tom Harpur. Harpur is a former Anglican priest. Having read his books and spoken with him over coffee, I have a sense of why he believes what he does. Harpur was deeply disturbed by the exclusivity of traditional Christianity. Belief in Jesus as the only way is, according to Harpur, the reason behind the crusades, inquisition, holocaust and so on.

But what if the story of Jesus was true in a spiritual sense rather than a historical sense? What if there was no historical Jesus to divide Jews, Christians and Muslims? What if there was a cosmic Christ in every human of every religion and of no religion? Then there would be the potential for peace and unity for the human race.

This is not the place to respond to each of these claims. Rather the purpose of this post is to acknowledge that there are different reasons why people accept the Jesus myth. The practical application for apologists is to determine the kind of Jesus mythicist we are interacting with. Their place in each of the four categories will influence how we respond to their questions.

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The First Question to Ask of an Ancient, Holy Book: Is It Ancient?

Many of the world’s best-known religious texts are silent when it comes to claims about history. Many Eastern religious scriptures, for example, describe spiritual principles devoid of historical location or setting. Texts such as these are proverbial in nature, proclaiming ancient wisdom without any connection to historical context. The Abrahamic religions are very different, however. Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Mormonism make claims about ancient history. For this reason, these religious worldviews are both verifiable and falsifiable. We ought to be able to corroborate the historical claims of ancient religious texts just as we could other historical documents. Such verification would certify their antiquity, if nothing else. On the other hand, if the claims of an ancient holy book are consistently incorrect related to the ancient world it allegedly describes, we ought to consider the text with suspicion.

Ancient Holy Book

It’s also important to remember that not every ancient text makes a claim about “divinity”; there are many texts from antiquity that are ancient, but not “holy”. If a text claims to be both ancient and holy, it needs to pass the first test related to antiquity before it can hope to qualify in the second category as holy. After all, a book cannot be holy or divine if it is lying about ancient history.

The test of antiquity was incredibly important to me as a skeptic examining the claims of scripture for the first time. As I became interested in Christianity, my Mormon family encouraged me to examine Mormonism as well. I read the entire Book of Mormon before I completed the Old and New Testament. I wanted to determine the “antiquity” of the Gospels and the Book of Mormon before I could examine the question of “divinity”. I needed to know if the New Testament gospels were written early enough to have been written by eyewitnesses who were actually present to observe what was recorded in these accounts. Similarly, I needed to know if the Book of Mormon was an accurate account of the history of the American continent from 600BC to 400AD (as it claims). My first investigation was centered on the foundational question: Are these ancient holy books truly ancient?

What kinds of questions can an investigator ask when trying to answer this important question related to antiquity? I considered the following:

Are historical events cited in (or omitted from) the text in a manner that is reliably and accurately ancient?

Are the references to language, proper names and titles reliably and accurately ancient?

Are the references to culture, government or civilizations reliably and accurately ancient?

Are the references to geography, native animals and plants reliably and accurately ancient?

Are the other corroborative documents that are reliably and accurately ancient?

Are there additional, successive historical references that are reliably and accurately ancient?

I asked these questions of the gospel accounts and the Book of Mormon and came away with two very different sets of answers. There are many good reasons to accept the early dating of the gospels and their reliability as eyewitness accounts. In each of the above listed criteria, the gospels pass the test. I’ve written an entire chapter in my book examining the evidence for early dating and the historical reliability of the gospel eyewitness accounts. After examining the accounts using the tools that are employed by historians and detectives, I concluded that the gospels are reliable. Unfortunately, the Book of Mormon doesn’t withstand evidential scrutiny nearly as well. Written in the first half of the 19th century, it fails to record anything about the ancient past that can be verified in any of the ways I’ve described. In fact, in each of the categories of inquiry I’ve offered to answer the issue of antiquity, the book of Mormon fails miserably.

I once asked a Mormon Scholar to tell me how she knew the book of Mormon was a true, reliable account of the ancient past. She told me that she had asked God about it and she believed that God had given her a “spiritual confirmation”. It struck me that this method for determining antiquity was misguided. While prayer might be one way to determine if and ancient holy book is holy, there are other, better established investigative approaches that ought to be employed to determine if an ancient holy book is ancient. We shouldn’t attempt to answer questions about divinity before we answer questions about antiquity. If a text is lying to us about events in the ancient past, it cannot be from God. For this reason, the first question we ought to ask any text that claims to be an ancient, holy book is simply this: Is the text truly a work from the ancient past?

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, and God’s Crime Scene.

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Jesus Is A Myth, Just Like President Kennedy

I was born in 1961, so I was too young to recall the national tragedy that my mother remembered with such shock and dismay. She talked often of presidential assassination that occurred in 1963, and it was clear that it impacted her deeply. You probably already know the president to whom I am referring:

Jesus Kennedy Myth

Prior to his election, he had been a boat captain. He was related to a U.S. Senator, Attorney General, ambassador to Great Britain, and the mayor of Boston.

He was elected to Congress in ’47 and was the vice-presidential runner-up in ’56.

He was elected President in ’60.

He was in his thirties when he was president; his wife was a socially prominent twenty-four year old girl at the time of their marriage. She spoke French fluently.

While living in the White House, his wife suffered the loss of a child. His family consisted of three children.

As president, he was deeply involved in civil rights for African Americans.

He was assassinated and shot in the back of the head, on the Friday before a major holiday, while seated beside his wife (she was not injured).

On the day of his assassination, a staffer told him not to go to the event where he was murdered.

Following the assassination, there were insistent claims that the fatal shot must have come from a different direction.

His assassin was born in ’39, and was a southerner who held extremist views.

This assassin was murdered before he could be brought to trial; he was killed by a shooter who used a Colt revolver and fired only one, fatal shot.

After the assassination, he was eventually succeeded by a vice-president who was a southern democrat (and former senator) named Johnson.

Does this president sound familiar? I used to think so too, but I’m not so sure anymore. It turns out that the president I just described is not John F. Kennedy, but Abraham Lincoln. I think that my mother created this piece of fiction by borrowing the details from Lincoln’s personal story. After all, the details I just listed are accurate facts related to Lincoln. How could they also be true of Kennedy? I think my mom has been lying to me all along.

Well it turns out that both Lincoln and Kennedy share these common characteristics, and while this seems to make them nearly identical on paper, you and I know how different the two men really were. It’s easy to make people sound the same when we are selective about describing similarities and intentionally leave out all the characteristics that distinguish one from the other. Imagine that historians are researching Kennedy 2,000 years from now. Will they doubt his existence simply because Lincoln shared so many similarities? Will “Kennedy Skeptics” deny the historicity of Kennedy because he is so similar to Lincoln? Maybe.

There are lots of skeptics who try to deny the historicity of Jesus just because he allegedly shares some similarities with gods or mythologies that pre-date him. Truth be told, the similarities related to Jesus are more fiction than reality, but even if they were all true (like those I’ve listed related to Kennedy and Lincoln), the mere existence of similarities does not invalidate the historicity of Jesus (or Kennedy, for that matter). If we’re prepared to say that Jesus is a myth just because he shares a few characteristics, we better be ready to tell the world that there was never a president named John F. Kennedy.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene.

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Can We Trust the Gospels, Even If They Were Transmitted Orally?

One common challenge leveled at the gospels is related to the manner in which they were first recorded. How early were the texts written, and how was the material transmitted prior to being documented by the gospel eyewitnesses? I’ve assembled a cumulative circumstantial case for the early dating of the gospels, but even if the gospels were written early enough to have been authored by eyewitnesses, wouldn’t 15-20 years be enough time for the authors to forget something important or add something errant, especially if they were only retelling the story orally?

Gospels transmitted Orally

When we offer this kind of objection, we start (of course) by denying the supernatural power of God to guide the Biblical authors and protect their memory. But as an atheist, I had no problem beginning with this denial; I was already denying the existence of God, let alone God’s power to protect the eyewitness account. My distrust in the ability of eyewitnesses to recall and transmit the account orally seemed very reasonable back when I was a non-believer. I simply could not fathom the writers being able to transmit the necessary and important details from one person to another without corruption or loss of information. After investigating this more thoroughly, however, I do think we have good reason to trust the accurate transmission of the gospels.

Personal Reverence
The content of the gospel message was of critical importance to both those who communicated it and those who accepted it (and later re-communicated it to the next generation). These folks weren’t passing along mom’s meatloaf recipe; hey were testifying as eyewitnesses to the greatest life ever lived, and they understood their role as eyewitnesses from the start (read through the Book of Acts to see what I mean).

Persistent Repetition
We’ve also got to remember that the first century culture in which the disciples operated was a culture of oral transmission. A lot has been written about this, but let me give you an example I experienced personally last week, as I visited and ministered with Andy Steiger from Apologetics Canada. Andy is a slave driver, and he asked me to give 10 talks over a period of 7 days. Most of these were talks on the reliability of the Bible; the same talk, repeated many times over the course of that week. An important volunteer at Apologetics Canada, Tyson Bradley, came to every event. At one point, after hearing the same talk about 5 times in a row, he told me that he could finish, my sentences for me. I laughed until he started to repeat me line for line (it wasn’t so funny then).  In just five repetitions, Tyson had memorized my message. Imagine what he could do if he hung out with me for three years like the disciples did with Jesus.

Prompt Recording
Beyond this, those who memorized the repeated teaching of Jesus offered what they remembered to those who recorded it within the lifetimes of the original eyewitnesses. The early church Bishop, Papias, claimed that Mark recorded the preaching of Peter as he described the life and teaching of Jesus. Having access to the man (Peter) who (like Tyson) sat under repeated teaching until he had memorized it thoroughly, Mark then recorded the truth about Jesus as Peter delivered it to him. The case for early dating helps us to have confidence that this occurred very early in history.

As a skeptic, even without embracing the divine protection of the gospel accounts, I found that the circumstances surrounding their transmission and authorship was reasonable. Now, as a Christian, I realize that God protected this entire process and orchestrated the events in such a way as to allow us to have a reliable record of the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene.

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Who Wrote the Gospels?

One often hears the claim, made frequently by skeptical scholars and laypeople alike, that we have no grounds on which to think the four canonical gospels were actually written by the people to whom they are ascribed. The original documents, we are told, were written in anonymity, the attributions being added by scribes at a later date. This claim is made frequently by the notorious textual critic Bart Ehrman. Is Ehrman’s assessment correct here, however? Do we have any evidence which might indicate the authorship of the four gospels?

Wrote the Gospels

Ehrman is actually mistaken in his assertion that we know the original documents did not bear the name of their author. As Ehrman knows full well (he’s constantly reminding us), we don’t have the original documents in our possession (as is the case for all sources of that time period) and so we couldn’t possibly know for sure one way or the other. But I think there is positive indication that the gospels were written by the persons to whom they were attributed by the early church (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

One example would be the fact that two of the gospels are ascribed to such minor characters as Mark and Luke — neither of whom, by any accounts, were themselves eyewitnesses. Had a forger wanted to acquire credibility for his writing he would undoubtedly have attributed it to someone like Peter, Thomas or James (as the later second and third century Gnostic gospels did).

Actually, there is some compelling evidence (both external and internal) that Mark penned the eyewitness accounts of Peter. For example, Justin Martyr, writing around A.D. 150, spoke of Mark’s Gospel as “the memoirs of Peter.” He suggested that Mark wrote down his material when he was in Italy (which concurs with other early tradition which indicates that the gospel of Mark was penned in Rome for the benefit of the Christians there. Iraeneus (writing approx. A.D. 185) referred to Mark as “the disciple and interpreter of Peter.” Most famously, Papias, the bishop of Hieropolis (writing approx. A.D. 140) wrote,

 “And the presbyter [the Apostle John] said this: Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings. Wherfore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some sayings as he remembered them. For one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements.”

It is curious, then, that Mark’s gospel did not become “the gospel according to Peter” but, rather, “the gospel according to Mark”. This demonstrates tremendous restraint on the part of the early church.

I also think that the gospel traditionally attributed to John claims that authorship. It refers throughout to the certain “disciple whom Jesus loved”, a disciple who is clearly John but who is never mentioned by name. Given that John is a very prominant disciple in the three other gospels (the synoptics name the Apostle John approximately 20 times), this is very curious indeed, and suggests that the author assumed his readers would know who the author was. In the final chapter of John’s gospel, he writes, “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down.” In addition, there is some strong external corroboration for the Johanine authorship of John’s gospel. Irenaeus (A.D. 130-200), who was a student of Polycarp (A.D. 70-160), who in turn was student of the apostle John, testifies to the Johanine authorship of John and asserts that it was written when John was in Ephesus and when he was well on in years.

There is also some supportive evidence, I think, for the traditional authorship of Luke. Apart from being another fairly minor character (and not one of the twelve disciples), we also know that Acts of the Apostles is written by the same individual as Luke’s gospel. From Acts 16 onwards, the narrator routinely employs the pronouns “we” and “us”, which suggests that the narrator is in close contact with Paul and his companions. Moreover, much of the information relayed in Acts is unlikely to be known by an individual who had not completed that trip — or, at the very least, been in contact with someone who had. Indeed, Paul, in his letters, refers to his companion Luke three times (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 1:24).

The evidence for the authorship of Matthew’s gospel is weaker than for the other three. Matthew’s gospel would certainly have to have been written by someone who was familiar with the time and place (e.g. see Peter William’s lecture here). The Gospel’s authorship, as is the case for all four gospels, goes unchallenged in the early church. In his Ecclesiastical History, the church historian Eusebius (A.D. 265-339) quotes Origen (A.D. 185-254), stating,

“Among the four Gospels, which are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the first was written by Matthew, who was once a publician, but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was prepared for the converts from Judaism.”

To conclude, there is no good reason to doubt the traditional authorship of the four gospels, and there are various internal and external indicators to suggest that the traditional authorship is correct. I could continue in the same vein, listing such evidences, for some time. For a fuller discussion of the topic, I refer readers to Timothy McGrew’s lecture here, and Richard Bauckham’s book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony.

 


 

Rapid Response: “The Gospels Have Been Altered”

In our Rapid Response series, we tackle common concerns about (and objections to) the Christian worldview by providing short, conversational responses. These posts are designed to model what our answers might look like in a one-on-one setting, while talking to a friend or family member. Imagine if someone made the following claim: “I can’t believe what the Gospels say because they were altered over the years.” How would you respond to such an objection? Here is a conversational example of how I recently replied:

Gospels Altered

“I understand the objection, because that was one of my first doubts as a skeptic. I held two suspicions as a committed atheist (I didn’t examine the Gospels until I was in my thirties). First, I didn’t think the Gospels were written early in history, because they contained so many miraculous stories. I was a committed philosophical naturalist and I rejected miracles. So, I figured the Gospels must have been written late in history, after all the people who knew the truth about Jesus were already dead and gone. Secondly, even if the Gospels were written early, I suspected the supernatural elements were inserted later. I believed the earliest versions of the Gospel accounts were probably much less supernatural. Maybe, in the first versions of the story, Jesus was a simple guy who was a good teacher, but not a miracle worker. He didn’t walk on water and didn’t rise from the dead; all those elements, in my opinion, were inserted later.

But there’s a process we employ in criminal investigations that we can use here to investigate the possibility of tampering in the Gospels. In my criminal cases, we must demonstrate to the jury that the evidence we’re presenting at trial wasn’t altered after we collected it from the crime scene. We must assemble what is known as the ‘Chain of Custody.’ Let me give you an example. Let’s say we present a bullet casing to the jury during a homicide trial and highlight the existence of an extractor pin mark on the casing. We tell the jury this pin mark identifies the casing as having come from the defendant’s handgun. But how can the jury be sure the pin mark was on the casing when officers originally recovered it at the crime scene? Isn’t it possible that an unsavory officer altered the casing after the fact by secretly etching the mark on the casing to fool the jury? The ‘Chain of Custody’ will help us determine if the casing was altered.

We begin by asking a few simple questions: Did someone take a photograph of (or write a detailed report describing) the casing at the crime scene? Who collected it? To whom did the officer give the casing? Who was the next officer (or criminalist) in the ‘Chain of Custody’? Who booked it into the Property Room? Who handled it while it was there? Who collected the casing from the Property Room and delivered it to the Crime Lab? Who picked it up from the Crime Lab and brought it to the courtroom? Did these involved parties document the existence of the pin mark along the way? If we have repeated images or reports describing the casing, we’ll be able to determine if it was altered over time.

We can do something similar when we examine the Gospels. Let’s look, for example, at the Gospel of John. How do we know that the Gospel accepted by the Council of Laodicea in 363AD wasn’t altered dramatically in the 300 years between its original authorship and this historic council? Lucky for us, we can assemble a ‘Chain of Custody’ for the Gospel of John. John was the ‘officer at the scene,’ documenting what he saw at the time. He then gave his account to the next ‘officers’ in the ‘Chain of Custody’; John had three personal students named Papius, Ignatius, and Polycarp. After John died, these men became leaders in the Church and wrote their own letters to local congregations. These letters aren’t in our Bible, but they have survived as ancient documents. We can read these letters to see if their description of Jesus was different than John’s. Two of these men, Ignatius and Polycarp, had a student named Irenaeus, the next ‘link’ in the ‘Chain of Custody’. Irenaeus also wrote about what he learned from his teachers. He then had a student of his own named Hippolytus. This latter ‘link’ also wrote about what he learned from his teacher.

These ancient men form a Gospel of John ‘Chain of Custody’. We can examine each ‘link’ in this ‘chain’ to see if their description of Jesus is evolving or changing over time. We can examine all the ‘links’ in the ‘chain’ to see if the story of Jesus was altered. As it turns out, the story of Jesus never changed. The description of Jesus wasn’t altered. From the first ‘link’ to the last, Jesus was born of a virgin, worked miracles, preached sermons, died on a cross, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and seated at the right hand of the Father. Nothing about the Jesus story has been altered. You may not believe it’s true, but we can demonstrate with certainty that the content of the Gospels and the story of Jesus has not been altered.”

This brief answer was modified from my interview with Bobby Conway. To learn more and watch many other short answers to difficult questions, please visit the One-Minute Apologist website.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, and God’s Crime Scene.

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Did Messianic prophecy inspire the Christmas story?

By Tim McGrew

One of the favorite targets of destructive biblical criticism is the narrative of Jesus’ birth in the first two chapters of Matthew. One distinctive feature of Matthew’s account makes it a particularly tempting target. Matthew’s theological agenda is absolutely overt: over and over in the first few chapters of his Gospel, we get some variation on the phrase, “… all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet…” followed by a quotation of some passage from the Old Testament. Clearly, Matthew is deeply concerned to show the birth of Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.

Messianic Prophecy Christmas

There are two ways to look at that fact. From a traditional Christian perspective, Matthew, knowing some of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, searched back through the prophets to find passages that would resonate with the events. Jewish interpretive practices in the first century were varied and complex and not always something sober twenty-first-century readers would engage in. Still, Matthew’s use of those techniques (still a debated issue in some circles) is pretty tame by Jewish standards of his time.

It is not difficult, in a quick online search, to find long lists of ostensible messianic prophecies fulfilled by Jesus. Take Hosea 11:1, for example:

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.

One recent commentary (John Phillips, Exploring the Minor Prophets: An Expository Commentary (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2002), p. 60) reflects on this passage:

Devout Jewish students must have often pondered this Messianic prophecy. How can the Messiah possibly come out of Egypt? they no doubt reasoned.

Or consider Jeremiah 31:15:

Thus says the LORD, “A voice is heard in Ramah, Lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; She refuses to be comforted for her children, Because they are no more.”

Even in Jeremiah’s time, Rachel had been dead for centuries; her mourning is a metaphor. Matthew, reflecting on the small but brutal massacre in Bethlehem, saw history coming full circle again and found in Jeremiah’s description of Rachel’s lament an apt metaphor for events in his own time.

Above all, there is the much-disputed sign promised in Isaiah 7:14:

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

As the notes in the NET Bible Synopsis of the Four Gospels inform us, the “Messiah was to be born of a virgin”—and despite what appears to be an unending wrangle over the words almah and parthenos, it is not hard to see how Matthew, learning that Jesus had indeed been born of a virgin, would have taken the event to be a fulfillment of prophecy.

But from a more cynical perspective, this order of looking at things is backwards. Matthew, knowing the Old Testament prophecies, and persuaded that Jesus was the Messiah, invented the stories in order to fit the prophecies. The events did not remind Matthew of the prophecies; the events, in fact, never took place. Rather, recollected prophecies gave rise to the fabrication of the Christmas story.

The simplicity of the skeptical theory gives it a certain superficial charm. Anything Matthew says that cannot be independently verified can be explained away in this fashion. Why does he (but not Luke) send Jesus to Egypt? Because that way, Jesus can be seen as fulfilling the prophecy in Hosea.

Regarding Jeremiah 31:15, George Wesley Buchanan (Jesus, the King and His Kingdom (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1984), p. 292) writes:

Jeremiah was a prophet. Therefore, he would have been speaking only of the days of the Messiah. Why would there be weeping in Herod’s day? Herod must have slaughtered Rachel’s descendants the way Pharaoh had done with the Hebrew children in Egypt.

There is the reversal: Herod “must have” done this, as it is what the prophecy requires; therefore, the story fulfills the prophecy, neatly bypassing actual history in the process.

And for Isaiah 7:14, the skeptical explanation seems ready made. Does Isaiah prophesy a virgin birth for the Messiah? Well, then if Jesus is the Messiah, a virgin birth he must have. To the skeptical eye it is all so so clear, so satisfying.

Except for one small problem. In all of the Jewish literature prior to the advent of Christianity, there is not one scrap of evidence that any Jewish reader ever considered Isaiah 7:14, Jeremiah 31:15, or Hosea 11:1 to be messianic prophecies.

It is not as though we lack evidence of what they did consider to be messianic. We have an abundance of evidence on that front. In an appendix to the second volume of his massive work The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Alfed Edersheim lists 456 passages that are glossed in the Targums or the Talmud as messianic. And not one of these passages makes the list.

I want to express myself carefully here, as there is a risk that I will be misunderstood. I am not saying that, by the standards of first-century Jewish interpretation, these passages could not be taken to resonate with actual events in the life of Jesus. Clearly they could—if those events really transpired, they might well suggest that sort of application of these passages. What I am saying is that, so far as our evidence is concerned, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that an overly zealous first century Jew, intent on making up a story about the birth of the Messiah, would reach for these passages or feel the need to work them into his narrative. There is plenty of other material to work with. But for this hypothetical Jewish-Christian novelist, these three passages are simply not relevant.

The fact that the Jews themselves did not consider these passages to be Messianic is fatal to the theory that the birth narrative in Matthew was fabricated to accord with messianic expectations. One might even reverse the argument. It is not easy to find a good explanation for the incorporation of such material into a fictional account of Jesus’ nativity. Yet there it is. How, then, shall we explain that fact? Why did Matthew feel moved to draw out just those strands from the prophetic writings, unless it was because the parallels were suggested by the events themselves?

Against this, there is always the fundamental fallback position of skepticism, a position that Matthew Arnold puts with admirable bluntness in his Preface to Literature and Dogma (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1883), p. xii:

[O]ur popular religion at present conceives the birth, ministry, and death of Christ, as altogether steeped in prodigy, brimful of miracle;—and miracles do not happen.

With such an antagonist, one knows where one stands. There is no subterfuge here, no pretense that the narratives must be set aside because of the results of dispassionate historical criticism. As G. K. Chesterton observes:

Somehow or other an extraordinary idea has arisen that the disbelievers in miracles consider them coldly and fairly, while believers in miracles accept them only in connection with some dogma. The fact is quite the other way. The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them. [Orthodoxy (New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1945), pp. 278-79]

 

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Christmas is Christmas Because Jesus is God

As we approach Christmas in less than a week, I’ve been thinking about what separates Jesus from other great religious figures of history. Many faith traditions lay claim to famous religious leaders and founders, but Jesus is different. Jesus claimed to be more than a good teacher or leader. Jesus claimed to be God. Some deny this truth about Jesus’ teaching, but the New Testament leaves little room for doubt: Jesus claimed to be God and taught this truth to His followers.

Christmas Jesus God

He Spoke As Though He Was God
While all Biblical prophets of God made statements on God’s behalf, they were careful to preface their proclamations with “This is what the LORD Almighty says,” or “This is what the LORD says,” but Jesus never used such a preface. Instead, Jesus always prefaced his statements with, “Verily, verily, I say to you,” (KJV) or “I tell you the truth,” (NASB). Prophets spoke for God, but Jesus consistently spoke as God.

He Claimed the Title Used by God
Faithful Jews recognized the fact that God identified Himself to Moses as the great “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). Yet Jesus (in referring to Himself) told the Jewish religious leaders that “before Abraham was born, I AM”. They immediately recognized that He was identifying Himself as God and were so angered by this ‘blasphemy’ that they “picked up stones to stone him.” (Jesus also identified Himself as the great I AM in Mark 14:62, John 18:5-6, 8:24, and 8:28).

He Claimed the Home of God
Every time Jesus was asked about where he came from, He told His listeners that He came not from Bethlehem or Nazareth but from the same realm where God abides. Jesus claimed to come “from above”. He repeatedly said that He was “not of this world” (John 8:23-24) and even told Pilate that he was a King whose Kingdom “is from another place” (John 18:36-37).

He Claimed Equality With God
Jesus said that God’s angels were His angels and that God’s Kingdom was His Kingdom (Matthew 13:41). Jesus even said that the judgment typically understood to be reserved for God was actually Jesus’ judgment to make (Luke 12:8-9). Jesus told His followers that when they saw Him, they saw God; if they knew Him, they knew God, and if they loved Him, they were loving God (John 14:6-9 and John 14:23).

He Saw No Distinction Between Himself and God
Finally, Jesus simply and plainly told His followers that there was no distinction between Himself and God the Father. When talking about the manner in which saints are selected for Salvation, Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:29). He did not mean that they were ‘one’ in purpose or power, but that they were one in identity. His hearers understood what He was saying and picked up stones again to stone him “for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:33).

There are many important religious dates that commemorate the significant role that historic religious leaders have played (did you know, for example, that December 23rd is the birthday of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism?) But Jesus was more than an important leader and founder. He was more than a great thinker and teacher. Jesus taught His followers that He was God. That’s why Christmas is a celebration above and beyond other holy days celebrated by religious believers around the world.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, and God’s Crime Scene.

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Jesus’ Birth: How undesigned coincidences give evidence for the truth of the Gospel accounts

By J.W. Wartick

There are many charges raised against the historicity of the birth narratives of Jesus Christ. These run the gamut from objections based upon alleged contradictions to inconsistencies in the genealogies to incredulity over the possibility of a virgin birth. Rather than make a case to rebut each of these objections in turn, here I will focus upon using undesigned coincidences to note how these birth narratives of Christ have the ring of truth. How exactly do undesigned coincidences work? Simply put, they are incidental details that confirm historical details of stories across reports. I have written more extensively on how these can be used as an argument for the historicity of the Gospels: Undesigned Coincidences- The Argument Stated. It should be noted that the birth narrative occurs only in Matthew and Luke. John begins with a direct link of Christ to God, while Mark characteristically skips ahead to the action. Thus, there are only a few places to compare these stories across different reports. However, both Mark and John have incidental details which hint at the birth account. These incidental details lend power to the notion that the birth narratives of Jesus are historical events.

Jesus Birth Undesigned coincidences

Joseph

First, there is one undesigned coincidence that is such a gaping hole and such a part of these narratives most people will probably miss it. Namely, what in the world was Joseph thinking in Luke!? Do not take my word for this–look up Luke chapters 1-2. Read them. See anything missing? That’s right! Joseph, who is pledged to a virgin named Mary (1:27) doesn’t say anything at all about the fact that his bride-to-be is suddenly pregnant. There is no mention of him worrying at all about it.

So far as we can tell from Luke, Joseph, who we only know as a descendant of David here, is going to be wed to a virgin and then finds out that she’s pregnant. He’s not the father? What’s his reaction? We don’t find out until Luke 2, where Joseph simply takes Mary with him to be counted in the census, dutifully takes Jesus to the Temple, and that’s about it. Isn’t he wondering anything about this child? It’s not his! What happened?

Only by turning to Matthew 1:18ff do we find out that Joseph did have his second thoughts, but that God sent an angel explaining that Mary had not been unfaithful, and that the baby was a gift of the Holy Spirit. So we have an explanation for why Joseph acted as he did in Luke. Now these are independent accounts, and it would be hard to say that Luke just decided to leave out the portion about Joseph just because he wanted to have Matthew explain his account.

The genealogies of Jesus that Matthew and Luke include are different, but they reflect the meta-narratives going on within each Gospel. Luke’s narrative generally points out the women throughout in a positive light, and it is often argued that his genealogy traces the line of Mary. Matthew, writing to a Jewish audience, traces through Jesus’ legal father, Joseph. Now it could be argued that these are simply reflections of the authors’ imaginations within their fictional accounts, but surely including names with descendants tracing all the way back to Abraham and beyond is not a good way to construct a fictional account. No, Matthew and Luke include the genealogies because their accounts are grounded in history.

Incidental Details

Interestingly, the birth narratives of Jesus also help explain the events reported in Mark and John, which do not report His birth. What of the apparent familiarity John had with Jesus in Mark 1:3ff and John 1:19ff? It seems a bit odd for John to go around talking about someone else “out there” who will be better in every way than he himself is without knowing who this other person is. Well, looking back at Matthew and Luke, we find that Mary and Elizabeth (John’s mother) knew each other and had visited each other during their pregnancy. It seems a foregone conclusion that they continued to interact with each other after the births of their sons, which would explain John’s apparent familiarity with Jesus in Mark and John.

Strangely, Mark never mentions Joseph as Jesus’ father. If all we had was Mark’s Gospel, we would be very confused about who Jesus’ father is. The oddness is compounded by the fact that Mary is mentioned a number of times. Well okay, that still seems pretty incidental. But what about the fact that Mark explicitly has a verse where he lists Mary as well as Jesus’ siblings?

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:3, ESV)

This verse seems extremely weird. After all, Joseph was a carpenter (well, a more accurate translation is probably “craftsman”) and yet despite Mark explicitly using that word for Jesus, as well as listing Mary and Jesus’ siblings, we still see nothing but silence regarding Jesus’ father. Well, of course! After all, when we turn to the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke, we find that Jesus was born of a virgin. Jesus had no human father. Thus, Mark, ever the concise master of words, simply omits Joseph from details about Jesus’ life. But to not mention Jesus’ father in a largely patriarchal society alongside his mother and siblings seems extremely strange. It is only explained by the fact of the virgin birth, with which Mark would have been familiar. However, Mark didn’t see the birth narrative as important in his “action Gospel.” Only by turning to Matthew and Luke do we find an explanation for the strange omission of Joseph from Mark’s Gospel.

Conclusion

I have listed just a few undesigned coincidences to be gleaned from the birth narratives of Jesus. The fact of the matter is that these can be multiplied almost indefinitely if one looks at the whole of the Gospels, and even moreso if one investigates the whole Bible. These incidental details fit together in such a way as to give the Gospels the ring of truth. The way that Matthew fills in details of Luke, Mark demonstrates his familiarity with the birth narratives, and the intimate connections of Jesus and John are all cross-confirmed is both incidental and amazing. The claim is not that based upon these incidences alone the Gospel accounts are true. No, the claim is that those who challenge the truth of these accounts must account for these incidences in a way that is more plausible than that they simply occur when people relate history. It seems that the only way to do that would be to resort to outlandish narratives that involve the four authors sitting together and discussing which portions of stories to leave out so the others can fill them in. No, instead it seems much more likely that these four authors were writing what they had witnessed–or that they received from eyewitness testimony, and just as we do when recounting events (think of 9/11, for example, and the different things people remember) they wrote specific details they felt were important or part of the narrative, while the others found other things more important or had other incidental knowledge related to the events they recorded.

 

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Truth is a Person—Not Simply An Idea

Truth matters. And in our moments of honesty, we all know this. Minimally, we all live as if truth matters. It’s unavoidable.

Truth matters in religious matters too. All religions (including atheism) claim to present a true depiction of reality. And this includes Christianity. But there is a key fact that makes Christianity distinct from other world religions—Christianity does not present truth merely as an abstract idea, but as a person who can be known.

truth is a person

When Pilate questioned Jesus about truth nearly twenty centuries ago, he failed to realize something profound: truth was standing right in his presence. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Pilate was not just discussing truth in his Jerusalem palace that day; he was literally looking at it with his own two eyes. Truth was standing before him, clothed in human flesh! Jesus Christ, “who came from the Father full of grace and truth,” is the very embodiment and essence of absolute moral and spiritual truth itself (John 1:14, NIV).

Truth is much more than a mere abstract fact or concept; it is inescapably relational. Even more than that, truth is a person and this person is Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus transcended the concept of truth by identifying himself as the truth. We cannot separate the idea of truth from the person of truth—Jesus Christ. This is why Jesus told Peter, “Follow me” (John 21:19). Rather than telling Peter merely to follow certain rules, obey certain commands, or live out certain teachings, Jesus’ final instruction to Peter was: “Follow me.” Jesus knew that Peter could only fully understand what it meant to know truth if he was first willing to follow Jesus with all his heart.

In the Christian worldview, truth can be personally known as well. In John 16:13-14, Jesus says:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Truth is so relational that it dwells in us through the Holy Spirit. Having truth ultimately means knowing Christ personally through his Spirit.

People in our world today desperately need to understand truth. But more importantly, they need a relational encounter with the Person of Truth. Our task is not merely to proclaim the abstract truths of Christianity with clarity and force, as important as this is. Our ultimate job is to proclaim the unique offer Christianity makes about intimately encountering the God of Truth (John 17:3). Framing our apologetics this way is not only true, it is much more attractive.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

 


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On the Historical Accuracy of the Book of Acts

By Tim McGrew

Here are some of the details that Luke gets right in Acts that cannot be derived from Josephus. Most of these can be found in Colin Hemer’s magisterial work, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History.

1. A natural crossing between correctly named ports. (Acts 13:4-5) Mt. Casius, which is south of Seleucia, is within sight of Cyprus.

2. The proper port (Perga) along the direct destination of a ship crossing from Cyprus (13:13)

3. The proper location of Iconium in Phrygia rather than in Lycaonia. (14:6) This identification was doubted because it challenges some sources reflecting boundary changes from a different date, but the ethnic inclusion of Iconium in Phrygia is confirmed by the geographical distribution of Neo-Phrygian texts and onomastic study.

Historical Accuracy of the Book of Acts

4. The highly unusual but correct heteroclitic declension of the name Lystra. (14:6) This is paralleled in Latin documents.

5. The Lycaonian language spoken in Lystra. (14:11) This was unusual in the cosmopolitan, Hellenized society in which Paul moved. But the preservation of the local language is attested by a gloss in Stephanus of Byzantium, who explains that “Derbe” is a local word for “juniper.” Hemer lists many other native names in the Lystra district.

6. Two gods known to be so associated—Zeus and Hermes. (14:12) These are paralleled epigraphically from Lystra itself, and the grouping of the names of Greek divinities is peculiarly characteristic of the Lystra district.

7. The proper port, Attalia, which returning travelers would use. (14:25) This was a coasting port, where they would go to intercept a coasting vessel, by contrast with Perga (13:13), a river port.

8. The correct order of approach (Derbe and then Lystra) from the Cilician Gates. (16:1; cf. 15:41)

9. The form of the name “Troas,” which was current in the first century. (16:8)

10. The place of a conspicuous sailors’ landmark, Samothrace, dominated by a 5000 foot mountain. (16:11)

11. The proper description of Philippi as a Roman colony, and the correct identification of its seaport as Nea Polis, which is attested both in manuscripts and in numismatic evidence. (16:12)

12. The right location of the Gangites, a small river near Philippi. (16:13)

13. The identification of Thyatira as a center of dyeing. (16:14) This is attested by at least seven inscriptions of the city.

14. The proper designation for the magistrates of the colony as strategoi (16:22), following the general term archontes in v. 19.

15. The proper locations (Amphipolis and Apollonia, cities about 30 miles apart) where travelers would spend successive nights on this journey to Thessalonica. (17:1)

16. The presence of a synagogue in Thessalonica. (17:1) This is attested by a late 2nd AD inscription. (CIJ 693)

17. The proper term (“politarchs”) used of the magistrates in Thessalonica. (17:6) See Horsley’s article in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, in loc.

18. The correct implication that sea travel is the most convenient way of reaching Athens, with the favoring “Etesian” winds of the summer sailing season. (17:14-15)

19. The abundant presence of images in Athens. (17:16)

20. The reference to a synagogue in Athens. (17:17) See CIJ 712-15.

21. The depiction of philosophical debate in the Agora, which was characteristic of Athenian life. (17:17)

22. The use of the correct Athenian slang word for Paul (spermologos, “seed picker,” 17:18) as well as for the court (Areios pagos, “the hill of Ares,” 17:19)

23. The proper characterization of the Athenian character. (17:21) This, however, might be attributed to common knowledge.

24. An altar to an “unknown god.” (17:23) Such altars are mentioned by Pausanias and Diogenes Laertius. Note also the aptness of Paul’s reference to “temples made with hands,” (17:24), considering that Paul was speaking in a location dominated by the Parthenon and surrounded by other shrines of the finest classical art.

25. The proper reaction of Greek philosophers, who denied the bodily resurrection. (17:32) See the words of Apollo in Aeschylus, Eumenides 647-48.

26. The term “Areopagites,” derived from areios pagos, as the correct title for a member of the court. (17:34)

27. The presence of a synagogue at Corinth. (18:4) See CIJ 718.

28. The correct designation of Gallio as proconsul, resident in Corinth. (18:12) This reference nails down the time of the events to the period from the summer of 51 to the spring of 52.

29. The bema (judgment seat), which overlooks Corinth’s forum. (18:16ff.)

30. The name “Tyrannus,” which is attested from Ephesus in first-century inscriptions. (19:9)

31. The shrines and images of Artemis. (19:24) Terracotta images of Artemis (=Diana) abound in the archaeological evidence.

32. The expression “the great goddess Artemis,” a formulation attested by inscriptions at Ephesus. (19:27)

33. The fact that the Ephesian theater was the meeting place of the city. (19:29) This is confirmed by inscriptional evidence dating from AD. 104. (See OGIS 480.8-9.)

34. The correct title “grammateus” for the chief executive magistrate in Ephesus. (19:35) This is amply attested in inscriptional evidence.

35. The proper title of honor “neokoros,” commonly authorized by the Romans for major cities that possessed an official temple of the imperial cult. (19:35) See Wankel, Die Inschriften von Ephesus, 300.

36. The term “he theos,” the formal designation of the goddess. (19:37) See the Salutaris document, passim.

37. The proper term (“agoraioi hemerai”) for the assizes, those holding court under the proconsul. (19:38)

38. The use of the plural “anthupatoi,” (19:38), which is either a remarkable coincidence of expression or else a deliberate reference to the fact that at that precise time, the fall of AD 54, two men were conjointly exercising the functions of proconsul because their predecessor, Silanus, had been murdered. See Tacitus, Annals 13.1; Dio Cassius 61.6.4-5. This is one point where Ramsay’s work has been superseded in a way that reflects great credit on Luke’s accuracy.

39. The “regular” assembly, as the precise phrase is attested elsewhere. (19:39) The concept is mentioned repeatedly in the Salutaris inscription, IBM 481.339-40 = Wankel 27, lines 468-69.

40. The use of a precise ethnic designation, “Beroiaios.” (20:4) This is attested in the local inscriptions.

41. The employment of the characteristic ethnic term “Asianos,” meaning “Greeks in Asia.” (20:4) Cf. IGRR 4.1756, where the Greeks honor a Sardian citizen with this designation (lines 113, 116).

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Why Andy Stanley is Right About the Foundation of Christianity and How to Defend It

Dr. Russell Moore expressed several disagreements with pastor Andy Stanley at a recent conference for Southern Baptists. Dr. Moore is the president of the Southern Baptist’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and Andy Stanley is the Founding Pastor of the Northpoint series of churches in and around Atlanta, which collectively have over 40,000 weekly attendees.

Moore was supposed to be interviewing Stanley about his approach to engaging the culture through preaching. Andy and his Northpoint team are known for creating a church environment that attracts unbelievers with the goal of making them disciples of Christ. Andy’s obvious success at engaging unbelievers made him the perfect subject for Dr. Moore’s interview. Unfortunately, the interview turned out to be more of an interrogation than a quest for knowledge.

After Andy read a letter from an atheist who had attended Northpoint the previous two Sundays and was moving toward Christ because of her experience there, Dr. Moore immediately took issue with Andy’s approach despite its obvious success in reaching just the kind of person the conference was convened to help reach. The tension level rose as Dr. Moore continued to disagree with Andy’s approach on several fronts. (I saw this interview from a private link which we originally had on this site and had to remove.  If you would like to see this interview for yourself, please contact the ERLC and ask them to post it.  It is their property and they originally said they would post it. UPDATE:  the interview video is now up here.)

Though he controlled the questions and the direction of the interview, Dr. Moore later said on his podcast that he didn’t want it to go the way it did. In fact, he spent his entire 22-minute podcast (which he recorded a few days later) explaining his differences with Andy’s culture-engaging approach. Based on the interview and that podcast (which you’ll have to hear to get a fuller understanding of what I’m about to say), I think Dr. Moore gets a few tactical issues right, but he gets the more substantial theological points wrong.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I am a friend of Andy Stanley, and he’s used and recommended my book in his current apologetics sermon series. I do not personally know Russell Moore but do appreciate much of his work. I’ve tried to be fair in the following assessment. I’ll leave it to you to decide if I’ve succeeded.

Since Dr. Moore was the one initiating the disagreements, I’ll address his points.

 

What Dr. Moore Gets Right

Dr. Moore is certainly correct when he states that churches have to strike the right balance between evangelism and discipleship. Russell Moore CLEARUnlike some in his reformed camp, he admits that the church is not solely for believers and that unbelievers will attend. In fact, he observed that the church at Corinth had unbelievers attending, and that pastors today must be sure to conduct worship services in an orderly and explainable way so that unbelievers don’t think “you are out of your mind” (1 Cor. 14:22-40).

Dr. Moore believes that Northpoint is out of balance—that it is weighted too much toward evangelism. I actually can’t verify if he’s right about that, but he could be. The many messages of Andy’s that I’ve seen are nearly always biblical, insightful and extremely practical. But whether or not Northpoint actually is successful at making disciples, I honestly cannot say. I’m not there, and discipleship is very difficult to measure at any church, especially a church of over 40,000. While there certainly is room in the body of Christ for churches that lean one way or the other, every church must “feed the sheep” to some extent. Jesus commanded us to make disciples, not mere believers.

I think Dr. Moore is also correct that all pastors, particularly a pastor of Andy’s influence, must qualify statements such as Andy’s, “We need to get the spotlight off the Bible.” A comment like that, without proper explanation, can lead down a dangerous path as Dr. Moore observed, and it’s certainly going to cause some Christians to run for their pitch forks (just google “Russell Moore and Andy Stanley” to see the pitch forks for yourself). Andy must go out of his way to explain exactly what he does and doesn’t mean.

In Andy’s defense, the context of that comment was made at a conference designed to reach a culture of unbelievers, and the more complete quote was, “We need to get the spotlight off the Bible, and back on the Resurrection. Because the issue for us is, ’who is Jesus?’ Did he rise from the Dead?”

As I’ll argue below, that comment can be defended in context. But extreme clarity is critical, especially when you’re talking about something as important at the Bible. Without that clarity, Dr. Moore is right to raise a red flag. (Other similarly provocative statements by Andy Stanley have raised evangelical eyebrows, including my own, at least until I better understood the context. Please understand that I don’t always agree with Andy. I agree with about 95% of what he says—I don’t even agree with myself that much!).

I also think Dr. Moore is correct about the need for pastors to address controversial moral issues from the pulpit. Although he’s protested at abortion clinics, Andy stated that he has never preached a message on abortion, preferring that and topics such as same-sex marriage are left to small groups within the church.

Why would a pastor of unparalleled communication skills (Dr. Moore called them “amazing”) leave such delicate and important issues to small groups—issues that are literally life and death and cut to the heart of what people perceive to be road blocks to Christianity? I’m convinced that so many people stay away from Christianity, and often destroy their lives, because pastors fail to tactfully present the truth on these issues (not to mention the damage our silence is doing to the nation and religious freedom). If anyone can present tactfully and compassionately it is Andy Stanley. Andy should take the lead on those issues instead of relying on less skilled and informed group leaders. Paul stated that he “did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27). Neither should Andy nor any other pastor.

Those are the tactical issues that I think Dr. Moore gets right. Now, let’s take a look at the more foundational theological issues that Dr. Moore gets wrong (and Andy gets right).

 

What Dr. Moore Gets Wrong

Quoting the Bible is the only way to reach unbelievers

I think Dr. Moore is mistaken for suggesting that the only way to engage unbelievers is by quoting Scripture. He argued that Andy’s apologetic approach is not Biblical because Jesus quoted Scripture to people and said “Thus sayeth the Lord.”

It is true that Jesus did quote Scripture with folks who already accepted the authority of the Old Testament. But when He spoke to unbelievers (the woman at the well, the rich young ruler, Pilate, and the thief on the cross), Jesus wasn’t firing Bible verses at them while assuming the authority of Scripture. Likewise, Paul didn’t assume the authority of Scripture or quote from it when speaking to the Athenians (Acts 17), but attempted to find common ground with them, even quoting their own poets and recognizing their “unknown God” beliefs, in order to connect them with the true God and the truth of the Resurrection.

I agree with Dr. Moore that quoting Scripture is effective to bring some unbelievers to Christ (with the work of the Holy Spirit of course), just that it’s not the only way. Some unbelievers have intellectual objections and often resist the Spirit until they get answers.

In fact, if preaching Scripture alone is the sole means through which everyone can be converted, why doesn’t Dr. Moore merely read Scripture on his podcast? If the Scriptures are all “sufficient” for evangelism, then why is he wasting his time organizing a conference where he seeks Andy Stanley’s insights on how to better preach to the culture? If merely saying “thus sayeth the Lord” is sufficient, then evangelists should forgo the hours of message preparation and simply read the Bible!

It seems to me that a preacher can do three things with regard to the Scriptures:

  1. He can read the Scriptures;
  2. He can explain the Scriptures so they are understood and applied (exposition);
  3. He can support their veracity with evidence (apologetics).

Why wouldn’t a wise pastor do all three? Pastors will reach and disciple a lot more people by using every tool available to them. Indeed, God makes his appeal through us, and it’s a deeper and wider appeal when we engage in evangelism, exposition, and apologetics.

 

Presupposing the Bible is true rather than showing it’s true

Dr. Moore’s stance on quoting the Bible to unbelievers seems to be the result of a presuppositional approach to apologetics, which just presupposes the Bible is true. In doing so, he is confusing knowing that the Bible is our authority with showing the Bible is our authority.

This is also a failure to distinguish between the ends and the means. Dr. Moore and Andy agree on the ends—that the Bible is God’s primary revelation and authority to mankind. However, the means of showing that are not presupposing it’s true (that’s circular), but the classical approach to apologetics that Andy advocates, which cites evidence for the events in the Bible, and the reliability of the biblical documents, from philosophy, science and history.

Getting evidence for the New Testament events and documents is not circular—we are not presupposing the Bible is true as the presuppositionalists do. We are gathering evidence to find out what really happened and to see if the New Testament documents can be trusted, which is what historians do when they investigate any set of historical documents or events. (For more on problems with presuppositionalism and the merits of the classical approach, listen to my recent interview with Dr. Richard G. Howe).

In fact, the Bible actually commands us to use reason and evidence in worship and in our defense of Christianity. Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God . . . with all your mind.” God speaks through the prophet Isaiah saying, “Come now, let us reason together.” Peter urges us to “always be prepared to give an answer.” Paul commands us to “destroy arguments” that are opposed to the truth of Christianity, and he declares that Christianity is false unless the resurrection of Christ is an historical fact. He even names the living eyewitnesses of the Resurrection, in effect daring his readers to fact-check him by asking them. He did not say, “Believe that Jesus rose from the dead because I’m writing the Bible and the Bible is the authority!”

Of course, not everything in the Scripture can be supported with evidence. But as Andy and classical apologists maintain, once we’ve established that Jesus actually rose from the dead and is therefore God, then whatever Jesus says and teaches is true. Since the evidence shows that the New Testament documents are reliable, then we know Jesus taught that the Old Testament is God’s Word (as is the coming New Testament). It is on the Risen Savior’s authority that we believe all of the Scriptures are true—even those events in Scripture that we can’t independently verify.

 

Failing to acknowledge the indispensable role of God’s other “book”

Dr. Moore seems not to acknowledge the indispensable role of natural revelation in understanding God’s special revelation to us. (I keep saying “seems” about Dr. Moore’s beliefs because I’m basing all of this on an interview and his 22-minute podcast—I may not be understanding his beliefs completely or accurately). God has actually written two books: the Bible (special revelation, see 2 Tim. 3:14-16) and the “book” of nature (natural revelation, see Ps. 19, Rom. 1:18-20, 2:14-15). Both are necessary in the life of the believer.

Unfortunately, when some Protestants today talk about the “sufficiency of Scripture” or “sola Scriptura” (Scripture alone), they often make it sound like we have no need for any truths outside the Bible. That’s not true for several reasons. Here are just two.

First, one can’t even understand the Bible (or any communication) without first understanding truths from outside the Bible—aspects of the natural revelation such as philosophy, logic, and consistent cause and effect. In other words, in order to get anything out of the Bible, you need principles or keys of interpretation from outside the Bible to access it, much like you need your keys to unlock your house to get anything out of it. Without keys of interpretation from the outside, we would never be able to unlock the Bible to learn what’s in it. While we often take those keys of interpretation for granted, we get them from the book of nature and the principles of human communication including language and grammar.

Sometimes we even use what we learn from nature or philosophy to overrule what appears to be the clear reading of Scripture. The rotation of the earth around the sun is one such example. Another is the immaterial nature of God. We use the book of nature and the principles of human communication to realize that the Bible uses observational language to describe nature (sun rising and setting) and metaphors to describe God’s attributes (He has eyes, arms, legs, etc.).

While the Bible does say “God is Spirit,” the only way to resolve the apparent contradiction with several other verses that suggest God has body parts is through philosophy. (Before you object to the use of philosophy, the Apostle Paul never prohibited its proper use. That would be a philosophy to not use philosophy which would be self-defeating. The “vain philosophy” to which Paul was referring in Col. 2:8 was legalism infecting the church). While one can use bad philosophy to interpret the Bible, it’s impossible to use no philosophy.

In his new series “Who Needs God,” Andy highlighted a second reason that truths outside the Bible are critical: Truths outside of the Bible got Christianity started! Before the New Testament was ever written, thousands of Jews and pagans understood the truth of Resurrection Christianity. While those early believers didn’t have as much information as we’re privileged to have now, they knew enough to transform the Roman empire.

how needs god and andy

Andy’s point in reaching unbelievers today is that unbelievers in the mid-first century were never asked to become Christians through blind faith in an authoritative New Testament that didn’t exist, but on the reality of God and the historical fact of the Resurrection. Contrary to what some skeptics assert, the New Testament writers did not create the Resurrection; the Resurrection created the New Testament writers!  So Christianity would still be true if every Bible and manuscript in the world were destroyed.

Let me sum up this important point in another way. The ontological foundation of Christianity is not a collection of ancient writings we call the Bible. The ontological foundation of Christianity is the reality of God and the historicity of the biblical events including the Resurrection of Christ. (In fact, the New Testament wouldn’t exist unless the Resurrection occurred.) So while we need all of the Bible to more fully understand God and live the Christian life, we don’t need all the Bible to understand its most important message—the Gospel.

That was Andy’s reason for saying, “Let’s get the spotlight off the Bible, and back on the Resurrection.” Not for believers, but for unbelievers. Namely, when unbelievers doubt certain stories in the Bible (such as Noah or Jonah), focus on the evidence that the Resurrection actually occurred so they don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and dismiss the Gospel.

That’s Andy’s approach because many in our culture believe that if you doubt one story in the Bible you can’t believe any of it. Andy’s apologetic approach defuses that erroneous belief and for good reason. Believing in Noah and Jonah are not essential to your salvation, but believing in the Resurrection is!

Andy Stanley does not deny the Scripture or the historicity of stories such as Noah and Jonah. In fact, he went on to affirm the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible (watch the interview). However, his point is that the way to bring unbelievers into Christianity with the fewest potential obstacles is to focus on the historicity of Jesus and His Resurrection.

This aspect of historical reliability is unique to Christianity among world religions. The fact that Christians tend to ignore the unique verifiability of their belief system and insist people just take it on “faith” like other religions do makes little sense, and it ignores Jesus’ directive to examine the evidence. He said to his disciples, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves (John 14:11).” Since Jesus cited evidence shouldn’t we?

 

Using an incorrect definition of Sola Scriptura

This final mistake is related to the last. Dr. Moore and several reformed internet critics seem to be charging Andy with denying “sola Scriptura.” But Andy doesn’t deny sola Scriptura. What he denies is their erroneous definition of that doctrine.

Sola Scriptura was cited by the reformers to correct abuses by the Roman Catholic church. It means that the Bible is sufficient for the faith and practice of a believer, as opposed to the Scripture plus church tradition, plus church councils, plus the statements of the Pope, and so forth. Andy’s critics seem to think that Sola Scriptura denies the role of natural revelation, including reason, in theology. But, as we have seen, such a position would make understanding the Bible impossible. Without natural revelation we couldn’t understand the Bible or anything else about reality! Even Martin Luther realized this point. He didn’t dismiss reason. He said he would only recant if he could be proven wrong by Scripture or reason.

It’s ironic that a tradition has arisen in reformed Christianity that distorts the original meaning of sola Scriptura—the very doctrine intended to correct the erroneous traditions that had arisen in the Roman Catholic church. Roman Catholics may nullify the Word of God when they add traditions to God’s revelation. But some Protestants are nullifying it when they subtract from God’s revelation. We shouldn’t add church tradition to God’s special revelation, but we also shouldn’t subtract natural revelation either. It’s from God just as much as the Bible!

 

Conclusion

You may disagree with some of Andy’s tactics (leaning too far toward evangelism, provocative statements, leaving some moral issues to small groups), but there’s nothing wrong with his theology, especially on the issues Dr. Moore brought up.

Ironically, it turns out that in several important ways Andy Stanley is more in line with all of God’s revelation than Russell Moore. So if anyone needs to make substantive corrections to his theology, apologetic method and approach to unbelievers, it’s not Andy Stanley—it’s Russell Moore.

I don’t expect our pitch-fork-bearing brethren on the Internet to agree with me. While classical apologists defend Christianity, presuppositionalists defend presuppositionalism (as you’re likely to see in the comments of this post). They and others seem hell bent on labeling Andy Stanley a heretic by taking his statements out of context. Unfortunately, they don’t appear to be open to correction by Scripture or reason (but I pray that I’m wrong about that).


Resources for Greater Impact:

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I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH FAITH TO BE AN ATHEIST

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DEEP & WIDE

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ONWARD

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STEALING FROM GOD

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COLD CASE CHRISTIANITY

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WHY I STILL DON’T HAVE ENOUGH FAITH TO BE AN ATHEIST

The Case for Christianity According to a 7th Grader

This is a special guest post by Annie Olson, a 7th grader who wrote this as her final paper in a rhetoric class. It is reprinted here with the permission of Annie and her parents, and it’s an excellent example of what young people can accomplish when we elevate our expectations. Don’t underestimate the ability of your kids to understand the evidence and make the case, regardless of their age. You never know, they just might write something like this:

We believe in God the Father. We believe in Jesus Christ. We believe in the Holy Spirit and that He’s given us new life. We believe in the crucifixion. We believe that He conquered death. We believe in the resurrection and that He’s coming back again. We believe.  So, why do we believe?  Should we believe?  Is the New Testament even reliable?

Most people recognize that the New Testament is used by Christians as a historical account and the basis of their faith.  Some people believe that the New Testament accounts are reliable.  Conversely, others do not believe that the New Testament accounts are reliable.  As described by J. Warner Wallace, author of Cold-Case Christianity, there are strategic methods of investigation used to determine whether the facts of a case are reliable.  For the purpose of this paper, the case or the issue, is whether or not the New Testament accounts are reliable.  According to these methods, the New Testament accounts are reliable for three reasons: the writers lived early enough in the First Century to be true eyewitnesses of the events described; the testimonies given were verified by outside sources and evidence and were not corrupted over time; and the motives possessed by the authors were not biased.

The first piece of evidence supporting that the New Testament accounts are reliable is that the writers lived early enough in the First Century to be true eyewitnesses of the events described.  Known historical events were not depicted in the writings because they had not yet happened.  For example, the siege of Jerusalem in AD 67-70 and the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 were not mentioned in the New Testament because they had not occurred.  The deaths of Jesus’ early followers were also not recorded because they were still living.  For instance, the deaths of James, Peter, and Paul were not until AD 61-65.  Paul’s letters, written between AD 53-57, directly referenced the Gospels, which means they had already been written.  He referenced Mark’s gospel, which was written in AD 45-50 and Luke’s gospel, which was written in AD 50-53.  All this evidence supports that the New Testament accounts were written close to the time and events that they describe.  Substantial evidence that the authors lived during the time of Christ makes them powerful eyewitnesses.

Secondly, the testimonies given in the New Testament were verified by outside sources and evidence and were not corrupted over time.  Archaeological findings and writings from early, external, non-Christians gave detailed descriptions of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Some of these non-Christian historians included Josephus, Thallus, Tacitus, Mara Bar-Serapion, and Phlegon.  It is powerful to note that even non-followers and those who didn’t necessarily believe that Jesus was the Son of God provided documentation that Jesus lived in Judea, was a virtuous man, had wondrous powers, predicted the future, was the wise “King of the Jews”, was accused by Jewish leaders, and crucified by Pilate during the reign of Tiberius Caesar.  They also described darkness and an earthquake that covered the land at the time of the crucifixion.  Furthermore, these same non-believers stated that Jesus reportedly rose after death, was believed to be the Messiah, and was called the “Christ”.  Supporting that the New Testament accounts were not corrupted over time, the students of the original apostles consistently echoed the same message even though they were spread out geographically.  Moreover, true to the Jewish tradition, scribes were known for meticulously copying the Scriptures.  For example, the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in caves in 1947.  There were fragments of almost every book of the Old Testament and a complete copy of Isaiah in these scrolls.  When the scroll of Isaiah was compared the book that we now have, 95% was word-for-word and the other 5% were simply some spelling differences and sometimes the presence of the word “and”.  None of these differences changed the meaning of the Old Testament Scriptures at all.  There is no reason to believe that the writers of the New Testament would not use these same methods for copying their work and passing it down to their students.  It is clear that the New Testament accounts were verified by outside sources and were not corrupted over time.

Finally, the motives possessed by the authors of the New Testament accounts were not biased.  We are all motivated do to the things we do, whether that be for good or for evil.   Some of the prime motivations for anyone to take action include: financial greed, pursuit of power, and self-protection.  The apostles were not driven by financial greed, as evidenced by the fact that they abandoned all of their earthly possessions to follow Jesus in the hope of finding the treasures of Heaven instead.  The authors of the New Testament were also not driven by the pursuit of power.  Indeed, their status in the Jewish community was crushed considerably, leaving them outcasts according to Jewish elite, like the Pharisees.  Similarly, there is no evidence to support that the writers were concerned with self-preservation.  In fact, none of the apostles recanted their testimony, even to save their lives.  The evidence supports that the motives of the New Testament writers were pure.

Despite these facts, the opposing side will try to convince you that the New Testament accounts are not reliable.  They try to prove this by suggesting that the Gospels were written late, meaning they were not written when the true eyewitness were alive.  Therefore, they claim that they are a lie, saying that the Gospels were penned in the Second or Third Centuries.  Furthermore, skeptics proclaim that the Gospels were written much closer to the establishment of Christianity in the Roman Empire than to the life of Jesus.

These suggested explanations are inadequate because there is substantial evidence that the historical events described in the New Testament all happened in the First Century and were actually written about by true eyewitnesses in that same time period.

Others may deny the reliability of the New Testament accounts, saying that because Mark’s account seemed to be written in a hurry, it is not correct.  Because the facts are brief and jumbled, some may think they cannot be trusted.  There could also be concerns that Mark’s sense of urgency in his writing could have led to inaccuracy of the facts.

This proof against the reliability of the New Testament accounts is inadequate because it is plausible that Mark put together the facts quickly because he wanted to world to know about the life of Jesus before it was too late.  For all he knew, Jesus would return before there would be any need for an ordered biography of sorts.  Mark wrote almost word-for-word what his teacher, Peter, who had been a direct eyewitness, said.  Mark was very careful and unlikely to have written any false accounts.  The accuracy was simply more important to Mark than an ordered description.

The opposing side alleges to have accurate and reliable evidence to disprove the reliability of the New Testament; however, there are clear ways to refute their claims.

The New Testament accounts are reliable.  We know this because the writers lived early enough in the First Century to be true eyewitnesses of the events described.  The testimonies given were also verified by outside sources and evidence and were not corrupted over time.  Finally, the motives possessed by the authors were not biased.

The reliability of the New Testament accounts matters to Christians.  As stated by J Warner Wallace, “While we are often willing to spend time reading the Bible, praying, or participating in church programs and services, few of us recognize the importance of becoming good Christian case makers.”  Now that we are able to make a case, based on evidence, to strongly support the New Testament’s reliability, we need to use this knowledge to defend our faith.

(Reference: Wallace, J Warner. Cold-Case Christianity. David C Cook, Colorado Springs, 2013. Lyrics: We Believe by the Newsboys)

At 13, Annie is already well equipped to defend the truth. When I got her letter, I thought, “This is why I wrote Cold-Case Christianity, and this is why I’m so glad we had the opportunity to write Cold-Case Christianity for Kids.” Our kids book is written for children 8-12 years old to help them understand how to evaluate evidence and make the case for Christianity. It’s accompanied by an interactive Academy Website with videos and downloadable activities. Pre-order Cold-Case Christianity for Kids and get a free activity sheet. Let’s encourage our young people to raise the bar and make the case for Christ.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, and God’s Crime Scene.

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The Apostle Thomas was Not a Doubter

Thomas is my favorite apostle. I love his inquisitive nature (John 14:5) and his demand for evidence (20:24-29). Thomas may have even been the boldest apostle! When Jesus announced to his disciples that he was going to Judea, they tried to stop him (11:8). And yet Thomas was not dissuaded. He boldly proclaimed: “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (11:16). Thomas may have even first evangelized India and died there as a martyr. As I demonstrate in my book The Fate of the Apostles, the stories and traditions surrounding the apostle Thomas are utterly fascinating. In fact, Thomas was one of the most commonly cited apostles in the early apocryphal traditions.[i]

And yet most people simply remember Thomas as a doubter. How unfortunate! The great irony is that Thomas wasn’t even a doubter. That’s right, Thomas was not a doubter. Let me say it one more time to be sure it sinks in—“Doubting Thomas” was not a doubter.

How can I make such a claim? According to Strong’s Greek lexicon doubt (distásō) means, “to waver, hesitate, be uncertain.” Doubt is not rejection of belief, but holding a belief with hesitation and uncertainty. Doubt involves believing something with questions about whether it is really true or not. In fact, doubt seems to be parasitic upon belief.

When we think about it this way, its clear that Thomas was not a doubter. He didn’t doubt the resurrection of Jesus—he fully rejected it until he could have physical proof. John 20:24 describes an appearance of Jesus to the apostles except Thomas:

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

As this passage clearly indicates, Thomas refused to believe. He didn’t doubt the resurrection; he rejected it entirely and claimed he would never believe without physically touching the risen Jesus. The adjective “doubting” misrepresents Thomas’ unbelief. Maybe we should call him “Skeptical Thomas” or “Incredulous Thomas.” Probably the most accurate title would be “Disbelieving Thomas.” But, of course, that doesn’t have the same flair as “Doubting Thomas.” Regardless, Thomas was not a doubter and we need to stop referring to him as one!

Why does this even matter? I can think of two reasons:

1. Calling Thomas a doubter implies that doubt is opposed to faith. In reality, there are many people who believe amidst doubts—myself included! Right before Jesus gave the Great Commission, and then ascended to the Father, Matthew reports that the eleven disciples worshipped Jesus, but some doubted (Matthew 28:16). They did believe that Jesus had risen from the grave, but they still harbored doubts. If the apostles of Jesus had doubts, even though they saw Jesus in his resurrected state, then it seems natural that many of us will too. Given that Thomas seems firm is his belief (and unbelief), my suspicion is that Thomas was not one of the apostles who Matthew reports as doubting. So, ironically, there may even be other apostles who were greater doubters than Thomas.

2. Calling Thomas a doubter implies that certainty is required for belief. If we refer to Thomas as a doubter when he was not a believer, then aren’t we implying that people with doubts don’t genuinely believe either? When people think belief requires certainty, doubts and questions can be paralyzing, painful, and sometimes even lead to despair. Fortunately, the Bible does not teach that certainty is required for faith (nor does good epistemology). According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, belief is when “we take something to be the case or regard it as true.” Understood this way, belief does not require certainty. In fact, depending on the available evidence, we hold beliefs with varying degrees of confidence. For instance, the belief that my wife loves me is much firmer than my belief that the San Antonio Spurs will win the NBA championship next year. I am much more confident in the former, but I do believe both are true.

Jude 22 says, “And have mercy on those who doubt.” This implies that doubt is not the opposite of faith (point #1) and also that certainty is not required for belief (point #2). And it also shows the posture with which we ought to approach people with doubts. Rather than improperly labeling them, we ought to extend care and grace for people with questions. No doubt about it.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.


[i] Glenn W. Most, Doubting Thomas (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), 90.


 

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Jesus’ Authority Was Based in His Deity

In Cold-Case Christianity, I make the case for the reliability of the New Testament Gospels based on a template we use to test eyewitnesses in criminal trials. This book traces my own personal journey as I investigated the Gospels and ultimately became a Christian. When I first started considering the words of Jesus, I was only interested in gleaning some wisdom from an ancient sage. But the more I read through the Gospel narratives, the more I realized Jesus spoke and taught as though He were God Himself. Jesus possessed more than the authority of a wise teacher; He demonstrated a power and authority that can only be described as Divine:

The Authority to Create
The writers of Scripture described Jesus as more than simply our Savior. According the Bible, Jesus is also our creator:

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:3)

For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. (Colossians 1:16)

The Authority to Forgive
Jesus also repeatedly demonstrated His Divine authority to forgive sin:

Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!” Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . .” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe. (Matthew 9:1-8)

The Authority to Grant Eternal Life
As the creator of life, Jesus also demonstrated the ability to give of eternal life:

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:28)

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)

The Authority to Judge
As the author of our lives, Jesus proclaimed the right to evaluate how we have lived as His creation:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.” (Matthew 25:31-33)

The Biblical eyewitnesses described Jesus as a uniquely authoritative teacher. But this authority appears to be rooted in much more than exceptional wisdom or persuasive communication skills. Jesus’ authority is grounded in His power; a Divine power that separated Him from other wise rabbis. Jesus’ authority was based on His Deity.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene.

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What Makes the Deaths of the Apostles Unique?

“The apostles were willing to die for their faith? So what! Many people, such as Muslim terrorists and Buddhist radicals, were willing to die as well. Does that mean their beliefs are true too?”

One of the most common arguments for the resurrection is the willingness of the apostles to die for their belief in the risen Jesus. This argument is compelling, as I demonstrate in my recent book The Fate of the Apostles. Yet as soon as this argument is put forth, the objector will point to others who have died for their faith, implying that the deaths of the apostles is not unique.

Certainly, many people throughout history have died for their beliefs. As a form of political protest, for example, Buddhist monks have participated in self-immolation.[1] And on September 11, 2001, nineteen radical Muslims hijacked four planes and, killing themselves in the process, attacked and killed thousands of people. Clearly, the willingness to die on their parts shows the sincerity of their beliefs. Muslim radicals believed they were following the commands of the Qur’an and would be rewarded in the afterlife; Buddhist monks believed their sacrifice would save more lives in the future or lead to political freedom. Given these Muslim radicals and Buddhists were just as sincere as the apostles, should their claims be considered as reliable as well?

But this objection misses a key difference between the deaths of the apostles and modern martyrs. Modern martyrs[2] die for what they sincerely believe is true, but their knowledge comes secondhand from others. For instance, Muslim terrorists who attacked the Twin Towers on 9/11 were not eyewitnesses of any miracles by Mohammed. In fact, they were not eyewitnesses of any events of the life of Mohammed. Rather, they lived over thirteen centuries later. No doubt the Muslim radicals acted out of sincere belief, but their convictions were received secondhand at best from others. They did not know Mohammed personally, see him fulfill any prophecy, or witness him doing any miracles such as walking on water, healing the blind, or rising from the dead. There is a massive difference between willingly dying for the sake of the religious ideas accepted from the testimony of others (Muslim radicals) and willingly dying for the proclamation of a faith based upon one’s own eyewitness account (apostles). The deaths of the nineteen terrorists provide no more evidence for the truth of Islam than my death would provide for the truth of Christianity. My martyrdom would show I really believed it, but nothing more.

In contrast to the beliefs of Buddhist monks and Muslim radicals and any other modern martyrs, including Christians, the beliefs of the apostles was not received secondhand, but from personal experience with the risen Jesus (Acts 1:21-22; 1 Cor 15:5-8). They proclaimed what they had seen and heard with their own eyes and ears, not stories received from others (Acts 1:3; 2:22-24). Peter not only claims that he was an eyewitness but that the events took place in public and that his audience had full knowledge of them. The events were not done secretly in a corner. Buddhist monks and Muslim terrorists are certainly willing to suffer and die for a faith they received secondhand, but the apostles were willing to suffer and die for what they had seen with their own eyes.

If Jesus had not risen from the grave and appeared to his apostles, they alone would have known the falsity of his claims. In other words, if the resurrection did not happen, the apostles would have willingly suffered and died for something they knew was false. While people die for what they believe is true, it is a stretch to think all the apostles were willing to suffer and die for a claim they knew was false. The suffering and deaths of the apostles testify to the sincerity of their beliefs that they had seen the risen Jesus.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog atseanmcdowell.org.


[1]Anthony Boyd, “Buddhist Monk Sets Himself on Fire to Protest against the Slaughter of Cattle in Sri Lanka,” The Daily Mail, May 24, 2013, accessed May 7, 2014,http://www.dailymail.co.uk /news/article-2330398/Buddhist-monk-sets-protest-slaughter-cattle-Sri-Lanka.html.

[2]The term “modern martyrs” refers to those who die in the present age for their beliefs. Technically, Muslim terrorists would not qualify as martyrs since they are actively murdering people rather than being put to death for the proclamation of their faith.

A Witness Can Be Wrong and Reliable

In every crime scene I’ve ever worked, both evidence and artifacts were present; it’s my job to separate one from the other. Did the murderer cause this blood smear, or was it caused by the paramedic who responded before me and tried to resuscitate the victim? Some smears may be evidence I can use to reconstruct the struggle, others may simply be artifacts that are completely unrelated to the crime. The evidence matters, the artifacts are inconsequential.

The “evidence” of scripture also contains unrelated “artifacts”. Bart Ehrman, for example, has drawn attention to the number of textual variations (artifacts) in the New Testament. In Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman describes his own descent from faith:

“There was an obvious problem, however, with the claim that the Bible was verbally inspired – down to its very words. As we learned at Moody in one of the first courses in the curriculum, we don’t actually have the original writings of the New Testament. What we have are copies of these writings, made years later, in most cases, many years later. Moreover, none of these copies is completely accurate, since the scribes who produced them inadvertently and/or intentionally changed them in places. All scribes did this. So rather than actually having the inspired words of the autographs (i.e., the originals) of the Bible, what we have are the error-ridden copies of the autographs… Not only do we not have the originals, we don’t have the first copies of the originals. We don’t even have copies of the copies of the originals, or copies of the copies of the copies of the originals. What we have are copies made later – much later. In most instances, they are copies made many centuries later. And these copies all differ from one another, in many thousands of places… The Bible began to appear to me as a very human book. Just as human scribes had copied, and changed, the texts of scripture, so too had human authors originally written the texts of scripture. This was a human book from beginning to end.”

It’s clear that Ehrman was troubled by the existence of the textual “artifacts” and eventually came to believe that he couldn’t trust any of the Biblical “evidence” that shared space on the pages of scripture. Imagine if I took that same approach to my crime scenes. If I threw my hands up every time I encountered a scene that wasn’t evidentially pure, I wouldn’t solve a single case. Every crime scene has artifacts. Get over it. That’s why we have to learn to be good detectives; it’s our job to sort through the evidence and the artifacts. We can’t just give up because the scene is less tidy than we might like.

It’s also important to recognize that Ehrman’s initial expectation of Biblical inerrancy caused him to lose confidence in the Bible once he discovered anything that didn’t belong in the text. Maybe that’s because he was raised in the Church and the teaching on inerrancy was foundational to his belief. As a 35 year old atheist detective, I came from a very different place when I first discovered the presence of scribal variations in the Biblical text. I’d already tried a number of robbery and murder suspects prior to reading the gospels. I was very familiar with the nature, texture and properties of eyewitness statements, long before I began to examine the claims of the gospel writers. My expectations of eyewitnesses were far lower than Ehrman’s. I already acknowledged two things about witnesses: they seldom agree about every detail and they are sometimes mistaken about some aspect of their testimony. In spite of this, witnesses can be deemed reliable and trusted once we do the hard work of determining why they might see something differently or incorrectly. In fact, judges in the state of California instruct juries that they are not to distrust a witness just because that witness may be wrong about some aspect of his or her testimony:

“Do not automatically reject testimony just because of inconsistencies or conflicts. Consider whether the differences are important or not. People sometimes honestly forget things or make mistakes about what they remember. Also, two people may witness the same event yet see or hear it differently” (Section 105, Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions, 2006)

Witnesses can be wrong in some aspect of their testimony, yet be considered reliable, over all. Once the jury understands why the witness might be mistaken in a detail, they are encouraged to consider the rest of the testimony reliable.

Let me be clear about something here: after examining the gospel accounts, I don’t believe that they contain any true contradictions or factual errors. I do, believe however, that they contain scribal variants, and these variants are already identified on the pages of scripture by the publishers of our modern translations. While I do believe in the inerrancy of the original text of the New Testament, I entered my examination of the gospels with a very different standard; I didn’t demand that the witnesses be inerrant, just reliable. A witness can be mistaken about some small detail, yet considered reliable related to his or her larger claims. Although it is clear that the New Testament we possess today contains “variants” that we have accurately identified by comparing over 24,000 manuscripts fragments and larger documents, this has no bearing on whether or not they are reliable. These variants may be an excuse for some to lazily dismiss the claims of scripture, but good investigators don’t have the luxury of being lazy. Instead, it’s our duty to separate the artifacts from the evidence so we can solve the case and determine what really happened at the crime scene. Similar diligence is needed if we are ever going to fairly assess the claims of Christianity.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene.

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Why Didn’t Luke Include The Deaths Of Paul, Peter and James In The Books Of Acts?

In my book, Cold Case Christianity, I attempt to evaluate the gospel accounts with the same criteria used by jurors to assess the reliability of eyewitnesses in a criminal case. In California, jurors are encouraged to ask themselves, “How well could the witness see, hear, or otherwise perceive the things about which the witness testified?” In essence, jurors must determine whether or not a witness was even present and able to see what it is they say they saw! For those of us who are examining the gospel accounts, this means we’ve got to answer the simple question, “Were the gospel written early enough to have been written by people who were actually present for the life and ministry of Jesus?” This is a critical question in evaluating the reliability of the New Testament gospels, and I think the Books of Acts is the key to the answer.

I make a much more elaborate and cumulative case for the early dating of the gospels in Cold Case Christianity, but a portion of this case revolves around Luke’s omission of three important deaths in the Book of Acts: the deaths of Paul, Peter and James. A recent listener to the Stand to Reason “Please Convince Me” Podcast recently wrote: “Firstly, perhaps such historical events were simply beyond the scope of the author of Acts? It has been suggested that the author may have been aware of the aforementioned events, but he chose instead to end his account thematically with the Gospel finally reaching the heart of Gentile civilization, Rome… Is it really viable to suggest that these possibilities are less reasonable than the early dating hypothesis?” One of the evidences in the Book of Acts that makes the omission of Paul, Peter and James’ death so powerful is the inclusion of two other deaths in the narrative: the deaths of Stephen and James, the brother of John:

Acts 7:58-60
When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of da young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep.

Acts 12:1-2
Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword.

As important as Stephen and James, the brother of John, were to the early Church, it can hardly be argued that Paul, Peter and James, the three most important Christian leaders of the first century and the primary characters of the Book of Acts narrative, would not be considered important enough to describe their deaths. Is it possible (viable) that Luke “may have been aware of the aforementioned events, but chose instead to end his account thematically with the Gospel finally reaching the heart of Gentile civilization, Rome?” Of course it’s possible, because anything and everything is possible. But it’s not reasonable. And as I’ve described in my book, the difference between what’s possible and what’s reasonable is critically important to jurors. Jurors are instructed that they are not to spend time “speculating” in their jury deliberation about what’s possible, but to consider instead what is reasonable in light of the evidence. The inclusion of the deaths of Stephen and James (the brother of John), make the exclusion of the deaths of Paul, Peter and James (the brother of Jesus) powerful evidences for the early dating of Luke’s work. The most reasonable inference from the omission of these deaths is that Luke wrote his narrative prior to their occurrence.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianityand God’s Crime Scene.

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