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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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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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Rapid Response: “Did Jesus Think Jesus Was God?”

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. What would you say if someone said, “I’ve read some of the Bible and I can’t find a place where Jesus actually said, ‘I am God’. I’m not even sure Jesus thought he was God.” Here is a conversational example of how I recently responded to this statement:

Did Jesus Think Jesus Was God

“You know, this is one of the claims I used to make with the Christians I knew because I wasn’t a careful reader of scripture. It wasn’t really until I started to use my expertise in forensic statement analysis (where we look at every little word a suspect says, his use of pronouns, how he introduces things and how he describes people), that I started to see things I used to miss. But you don’t have to be an expert in Statement Analysis to read between the lines of Scripture. In fact, anyone can do this by carefully reading the Bible.

Let me give you an example: When I first looked at the gospels and the Old Testament, I noticed the stark contrast between Old Testament prophets (I don’t care if it’s Ezekiel, or Isaiah, or if it’s a minor prophet like Amos), all these prophets in the Old Testament, when announcing a truth claim from God, would say, “Thus the Lord Almighty says” or “The Lord God says” or, they would always announce that this information is coming from the Lord Almighty.

But Jesus never ever did that. There’s not a single time you’ll find him in the gospels saying, “The Lord Almighty says.” Instead he’ll say something, at least in the King James, “Verily, verily, I say to you” or in the NASB, “I tell you the truth.” Jesus never says, “God says this.” Instead, Jesus says, “I am telling you this.” Think about that for a minute. The people who heard Jesus in the 1st Century were accustomed to the prophets in every generation announcing a proclamation from God as “Thus the Lord God Almighty says to you.” When they heard Jesus proclaim, “I say this to you,” they understood what he meant. Jesus’ words gave him away. Even if you didn’t have a direct claim from Jesus where he said, “Hey, by the way guys, I’m God,” he used statements that included personal pronoun use indicating that he considered Himself to be God. He never felt compelled to say, “God’s telling you this.” Instead, he said, “I’m telling you this.” Jesus understood himself to be the God of the universe, the Being who created everything.”

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 ChristianityCold-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.

Why Doesn’t Archaeology Corroborate Every Detail of the New Testament Accounts?

When trying to establish the reliability of eyewitnesses in cold case investigations, I use a template that I learned from criminal trials (I’ve written about this at length in my book). One of the four areas I examine is whether or not an eyewitness account can be verified in some way by outside evidence that corroborates the claims of the witness. Detectives are usually able to locate DNA, fingerprint, or other forensic evidence that validates and affirms the statement offered by a witness (sometimes an additional witness is even used to verify a statement). But what about historic eyewitness accounts that were recorded so long ago that forensic evidence is no longer available? Well, here’s where I think archeology can step into the gap to help us substantiate the claims of ancient eyewitnesses.

I’ve written online about some of the archeological evidence that supports the claims made by Luke in the Book of Acts (I’ve written more on this in Cold Case Christianity), but it’s clear from any authority on Biblical archeology that we don’t have support for every detail of the gospels. Critics often cite this reality as a challenge for those of us who claim the gospels are accurate. But let’s take a minute to compare the state of Biblical archeological support with the state of Mormon archeological support. Both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon make claims about the ancient past that can be verified with archeological discoveries. But while the Biblical narrative has been robustly (although incompletely) confirmed with archeology, the Book of Mormon narrative has not been corroborated by a single archeological discovery. Not a single Mormon city has been discovered. Not a single Mormon artifact. Not a single inscription bearing a name from the Mormon narrative. Christianity does not suffer from such a complete absence of archeological confirmation.

But what are we to say to those who argue the Biblical archeological record is incomplete? The answer is best delivered by another expert witness in the field, Dr. Edwin Yamauchi, historian and Professor Emeritus at Miami University. Yamauchi wrote a book entitled, The Stones and the Scripture, where he rightly noted that archaeological evidence is a matter of “fractions”:

Only a fraction of the world’s archaeological evidence still survives in the ground.

Only a fraction of the possible archaeological sites have been discovered.

Only a fraction have been excavated, and those only partially.

Only a fraction of those partial excavations have been thoroughly examined and published.

Only a fraction of what has been examined and published has anything to do with the claims of the Bible!

See the problem? In spite of these limits, we still have a robust collection of archaeological evidences confirming the narratives of the New Testament (both in the gospel accounts and in the Book of Acts). We shouldn’t hesitate to use what we do know archaeologically in combination with other lines of evidence. Archaeology may not be able to tell us everything, but it can help us fill in the circumstantial case as we corroborate the gospel record.

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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4 Informal Logical Fallacies & Biblical Examples

By Billy Dyer

Is logic foreign to the New Testament? Is it a field of study we should reserve for the philosophers and let the theologians be by themselves? Of course not! Logic is logic and works in every field of reality. If God is the God of Truth then we should expect to see Him, the inventor of logic, using logic. Humans didn’t invent logic, we simply use it, name it, and study it. Today I want to look at a few examples of Informal Logical Fallacies and how the Bible actually uses these principles correctly.

The Law of Non-Contradiction

  • It states, “Two contradictory statements cannot possibly be true at the same time and in the same relationship.”
  • For example you couldn’t say, “The Earth is round and not round.”
  • This law is fundamental to thinking. You cannot have a conversation without it. We all use it intuitively. If someone denies this law then you can point out they are actually using it right now. What do I mean? If I were to say, “There is a Law of Non-Contradiction” and someone said, “No there is not” then they would be contradicting me to say there is none!!!
  • 1st John 2:4 says, The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” John states it is a contradiction to profess to know Christ and yet not obey him. You cannot do both at the same time.

Hasty Generalization

  • This law points out the fallacy when we jump to a conclusion without sufficient data. We extrapolate from a small sample to create a general rule.
  • People/Organizations formulate rules or policies from accidental or exceptional situations.
  • For example…When the youth group has an overnighter and someone breaks a window. The Church will then make a rule that we can never have another overnighter because they are destructive to the Church building.
  • Biblical Example…Someone reads a story of God destroying Sodom/Gomorrah and concludes He is a wrathful and mean God. They did not collect enough data to balance God’s characteristics.

Dicto Simpliciter

  • If hasty generalizations go from a small sample to a general rule dicto simpliciter is when you presume that what is true in general, under normal circumstances, is true under all circumstances without exception.
  • For example…The speed limit on the highway is 65 mph in Maryland. But police cars exceed that speed all the time. Well they are not under normal circumstances if they are chasing an armed robber or responding to a call for help.
  • Biblical Example…I read an article a few years ago which denied that Enoch and Elijah were translated directly to heaven. What was their basis? Romans 5:12 which says, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” Their reasoning was this; If death spread to all men then Enoch & Elijah couldn’t have circumvented death. The author was guilty of the dicto simpliciter fallacy for the Bible clearly says that a whole group of people are going to escape physical death if they are Christians when the Lord returns.

The Reductive Fallacy

  • This fallacy occurs when we attempt to reduce a complex entity to only one of its many aspects
  • Key words that are generally used for this fallacy are “just”, “only”, “merely”, “simply”, “nothing but”.
  • For example…”Man is just an animal” or “Music is nothing but sound waves.” These states hold truth but not the whole truth. Man is more than just an animal and music is more than sound waves. My burp is a sound wave but it surely isn’t music.
  • Biblical Example…Have you ever heard someone say, “God is love”? Would you agree or disagree? I guess as is we could agree with the statement but I might disagree with the intent behind the statement. When people use this phrase most of the time what they are really attempting to say is that “God is only love”. But God is also Holy. There is a balance to His nature (Romans 11:22).

The Church needs to be wary of using logical fallacies in our theology. If we want good theology we need to use good logic. Can you think of better biblical examples than what I used?

For more articles like 4 Informal Logical Fallacies & Biblical Examples go to Billy’s website at DyerThoughts.com

Examining Jesus by the Historical Method (Part 6: Eyewitness Testimony–The Case for the Gospels)

By Brian Chilton

As we have engaged in our evaluation of Jesus according to the historical method, my previous articles have demonstrated that the historical Jesus passes the historical method with flying colors. However, we must continue our quest in asking, “Do we have eyewitness testimony concerning Jesus of Nazareth?” That is, do we have the accounts of Jesus from those who personally knew him? If someone is investigating a person or an event of history, the investigator will want testimony from those who actually knew the person, or witnessed the event.

Admittedly, this area of study pertaining to the historical Jesus is among the most controversial. Many prominent New Testament scholars hold that the accounts that we have of Jesus come from second-hand sources, which would eliminate any eyewitness account that one possesses of the historical Jesus of Nazareth.

But hold on! Not so fast! There are just as many scholars who hold that the testimonies in the New Testament come from eyewitnesses. This article will examine the reasons for holding that the Evangelists record eyewitness testimony. The second installment will look into the weight of this eyewitness testimony as it tells us who provides the witness. For this investigation, we will examine the Four Gospels. Since at least 7 letters of Paul are undisputed and since I have previously discussed the pre-NT traditions found in Paul’s letters, we will not focus on proving the eyewitness nature for his material.[1]

Internal Evidence of the Gospels

Within the Gospels, one can find reasons to hold that the testimony comes from eyewitness testimony.

Internal Testimony of Matthew

Matthew has traditionally been ascribed to the disciple Matthew who was a former tax-collector. It is odd that the church would ascribe the Gospel to one who was a tax-collector if it was not true. Tax-collectors were hated in ancient times. Internally, one finds reasons for holding Matthean authorship. Blomberg writes,

This author, at least of an original draft of this book (or one of its major sources), seems quite probably to have been the converted toll collector, also named Levi, who became one of Jesus’ twelve apostles (cf. 10:3; 9:9–13; Mark 2:14–17).”[2] In addition, Cabal adds that “The Gospel also contains clear evidence that the author possessed a strong command of both Aramaic and Greek, something that would be a prerequisite for most tax collectors. Furthermore, the author of Matthew used the more precise term nomisma for the coin used in the dispute over tribute (Mt 22:19) than Mark’s and Luke’s denarion (Mk 12:15; Lk 20:24).”[3]

This would have been something that a tax-collector would have known.

Internal Evidence of Mark

The church unanimously agreed that John Mark had recorded the eyewitness testimony of Simon Peter in the Second Gospel. The internal nature of Mark’s Gospel seems to indicate that John Mark was indeed the author. Grassmick notes that

“Several features also point to the author’s connection with Peter: (a) the vividness and unusual detail of the narratives, that suggest that they were derived from the reminiscences of an “inner-circle” apostolic eyewitness such as Peter (cf 1:16–20, 29–31, 35–38; 5:21–24, 35–43; 6:39, 53–54; 9:14–15; 10:32, 46; 14:32–42); (b) the author’s use of Peter’s words and deeds (cf. 8:29, 32–33; 9:5–6; 10:28–30; 14:29–31, 66–72); (c) the inclusion of the words “and Peter” in 16:7, which are unique to this Gospel; and (d) the striking similarity between the broad outline of this Gospel and Peter’s sermon in Caesarea (cf. Acts 10:34–43).”[4]

The tradition that Mark records Simon Peter’s testimony is affirmed by the internal nature of the Gospel as well as the external witness which will be given later in the article.

 Internal Evidence of Luke

The physician Luke is normally ascribed to have been the author of the Third Gospel. Internally, one finds evidence for this association. While Luke was not an eyewitness, Luke acknowledges his use of eyewitness material by saying, “just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us” (Luke 1:2).[5] Thus, Luke never claims to be an eyewitness but uses eyewitness material.

Internal Evidence of John

The Fourth Gospel is normally ascribed to the apostle John. John is nearly universally agreed to have been the last Gospel written. While some may disagree, the episodes of the “disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20) within the Gospel points to an inner circle disciple. Peter and James are mentioned in such episodes, but never John. The Gospel ends by saying, “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know his testimony is true” (John 21:24). In addition, the “disciple whom Jesus loved” is assigned by Jesus to care for Jesus’ mother Mary (John 19:27). The letters of early church leader Ignatius confirms this report. Thus, the internal evidence is clear. John the apostle wrote the Fourth Gospel either by his own hand or dictating the information to a student.

Now that we have considered the eyewitness testimony of the Gospels by the internal evidence, let us consider the eyewitness testimony of the Gospels given by external testimony.

 External Evidence of the Gospels

The early church was unanimous in their acceptance of the four canonical Gospels. Early on, church father Papias provides a glimpse at how the Gospels were written.

Testimony of Papias of Hierapolis (c. AD 95-130)

Papias may not have personally known John the apostle, although he may have heard John speak.[6] Nevertheless, Papias knew Polycarp and others who knew John well. Papias recorded the following pertaining to the writings of the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Matthew that he received from the presbyter (presumably John, but perhaps Polycarp):

“And the presbyter 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. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements…Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could.”[7]

It must be remembered that we do not possess the entirety of Papias’ writings. However, we are benefited by the documentation of those who knew Papias’ writings well.

Testimony of Irenaeus of Lyons (c. AD 175)

Irenaeus of Lyons probably knew the writings of Papias well. Irenaeus describes the writing of all four Gospels by documenting the following:

“Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.”[8]

 These testimonies would find further corroboration by church historian Eusebius.

Testimony of Eusebius of Caesaria (c. AD 325)

Eusebius of Caesaria was a church historian writing around AD 325. He writes the following pertaining to the writing of the Gospels:

“But Luke, who was of Antiochian parentage and a physician by profession, and who was especially intimate with Paul and well acquainted with the rest of the apostles, has left us, in two inspired books, proofs of that spiritual healing art which he learned from them.”[9]

“For Matthew, who had at first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other peoples, committed his Gospel to writing in his native tongue, and thus compensated those whom he was obliged to leave for the loss of his presence.

And when Mark and Luke had already published their Gospels, they say that John, who had employed all his time in proclaiming the Gospel orally, finally proceeded to write for the following reason. The three Gospels already mentioned having come into the hands of all and into his own too, they say that he accepted them and bore witness to their truthfulness; but that there was lacking in them an account of the deeds done by Christ at the beginning of his ministry.”[10]

 Evidence from Dating

We mentioned in a previous article that good reasons exist for holding that the three canonical Gospels were all written before AD 64. Primarily, it was argued that Luke does not record the death of Paul and Peter, quite odd if Acts was written after Peter and Paul’s execution. Some scholars hold that Peter and Paul died around AD 64. If this is true, then Acts must have been written before AD 64, forcing the Gospel of Luke and the borrowed material from the Gospels of Matthew and Mark prior to the 60s. An early dating bodes well for claiming that the Gospels hold eyewitness testimony because the time-frame puts the writings well within the time of the eyewitnesses.

Conclusion

While there are many who deny the authenticity of eyewitness testimony in the four canonical Gospels, I feel that the evidence strongly supports the assertion that the Gospels are based upon eyewitness testimony. If the findings of this article are true, then Matthew and John provide first hand eyewitness testimony, whereas Mark and Luke provide documentation of eyewitness testimonials. In the next section of this article which will be published next week, we will look at the number of eyewitnesses we have in the New Testament alone. The historical Jesus continues to pass the historical methodological test.

Copyright February 1st, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Click here to see source site of this article.

 


 

Bibliography

Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. The New American Commentary, Volume 22. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992.

Cabal, Ted, et al. The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith.Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007.

Eusebius of Caesaria. “The Church History of Eusebius.” In Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. Volume 1. Second Series. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Translated by Arthur Cushman McGiffert. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890.

Grassmick, John D. “Mark.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Edited by J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1985.

Irenaeus of Lyons. “Irenæus against Heresies.” In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

Papias. “Fragments of Papias.”In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

Endnotes

[1] In addition, we are looking for material for those who knew Jesus during his earthly ministry.

[2] Craig Blomberg, Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 44.

[3] Ted Cabal et al., The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith(Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), 1402.

[4] John D. Grassmick, “Mark,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 95–96.

[5] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[6] This is an area of dispute. It depends on one’s understanding of Papias’ testimony.

[7] Papias, “Fragments of Papias,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 154–155.

[8] Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 414.

[9] Eusebius of Caesaria, “The Church History of Eusebius,” in Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Arthur Cushman McGiffert, vol. 1, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890), 136.

[10] Eusebius of Caesaria, “The Church History of Eusebius,” in Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Arthur Cushman McGiffert, vol. 1, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890), 152–153.

Examining Jesus by the Historical Method (Part 4–Early Testimony: Pre-NT Traditions)

By Brian Chilton

In our first three articles which have examined Jesus by the historical method, we have seen that, thus far, Jesus of Nazareth stands up to historical scrutiny. However, this fourth article confronts an issue that many skeptics present concerning one’s knowledge of the historical Jesus: early testimony. Early testimony is important because the closer a text is to the events that it describes, the more reliable the testimony. Longer spans of time allows for the introduction of legendary material. Early testimony allows for correction among historical records and other eyewitnesses who can corroborate or deny the details presented by a text.

Some are skeptical to the dating of some New Testament texts. Part of this skepticism stems from extreme liberal beliefs concerning the biblical texts originating from textual criticism gone wild. However, unbeknownst to many, such skepticism is far from unanimous in biblical scholarship. In fact, the scholarly world is coming to the understanding that the texts of the New Testament may be much earlier than previously anticipated. In fact, two radical scholars, John A. T. Robinson and W. F. Albright, have accepted an early dating for the New Testament writings. Albright noted that “We can already say emphatically that there is no long any basis for dating any book of the New Testament after about A.D. 80, two full generations before the date between 130 and 150 given by the more radical New Testament critics of today.”[1]

This article will not address every early document that we have pertaining to Jesus of Nazareth. Rather, this article will examine some of the earliest testimonies we have pertaining to Jesus of Nazareth. We will begin with, perhaps, the most important testimony we possess.

Pre-New Testament Traditions

Throughout the New Testament, one finds early Christian documentations that predate the New Testament writings. These documentations date to the earliest times of the church.  Habermas notes that “It is crucially important that this information is very close to the actual events, and therefore cannot be dismissed as late material or as hearsay evidence. Critics not only admit this data, but were the first ones to recognize the early date.”[2]

Several of these early traditions are documented throughout the New Testament writings. It is important to note that these traditions date to the earliest church. For your consideration, I have attached a formulation (listing out key historical events), a hymn (a song relating theological information), and a confession (listing out a statement to be said in confessing a belief).

Formulation:   1 Corinthians 15:3-8

In this formulation, perhaps one of the most important historical pre-NT traditions, Paul relates what he received when he first became a Christian and met with the apostles. This is what Paul records:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”[3]

In this formulation, one will note the emphasis placed upon Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and resurrection appearances. This tradition provides HUGE historical support for resurrection claim.

Hymn: Philippian 2:6-11

In his letter to the Church of Philippi, Paul recounts an early hymn that predates his writing. This hymn records several important Christian beliefs pertaining to Christ.

“who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).

Here again, one will find early testimony for the crucifixion of Christ and implicitly for the resurrection. Also of great importance is the early attribution of divinity that the church placed upon Jesus of Nazareth.

Confession:     Romans 10:9

To the Church of Rome, Paul provides an early confession that predates his writing. Paul notes that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Paul’s confession notes, again, the death and resurrection of Jesus.

These early testimonies are so important that NT historian Michael Licona noted that “Paul and the oral traditions embedded throughout the New Testament literature provide our most promising material.”[4] Therefore, these traditions which number far more than the three listed are of extreme value to the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth.

Author’s Note: So much information was compiled for the early testimony of Jesus that the article had to be broken into two sections. Next week, our examination of early testimony will continue as we take a look at the dating of the Gospels and the three earliest Epistles in the New Testament. As they say on television and the movies…

…To be continued.

© January 18th, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Click here to visit the source site of this article.

 


 

Bibliography for Complete Article

Albright, W. F. Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1955.

Habermas, Gary. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996.

Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010.

Richardson, Kurt A. James. The New American Commentary. Volume 36. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997.

Rydelnik, Michael, and Michael Vanlaningham, eds. The Moody Bible Commentary. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014.

Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013.

Endnotes

[1] W. F. Albright, Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands (New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1955), 136.

[2] Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996), 30.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[4] Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010), 275.

Examining Jesus by the Historical Method (Part 3–Embarrassing Admonitions)

By Brian Chilton

Last week, I discussed the second way that historians examine the legitimacy of a historical event by researching enemy attestation. The article demonstrated that Jesus of Nazareth passes such a test. This week, we discuss a third historical method that helps historians determine the historicity of an event…embarrassing admonitions.

Gary Habermas and Michael Licona write that “an indicator that an event or saying is authentic occurs when the source would not be expected to create the story, because it embarrasses his cause and ‘weakened its position in arguments with opponents’[1].”[2] In other words, if a person provides information that would harm his or her cause, then the claims adds to the historical certainty that such an event took place or that such a statement was spoken.

A member at one of my former pastorates gave a great example of this method. He told of a pastor who told his congregation that he was too busy to visit the sick. Then a few sentences later, he had spoken on how he had been playing golf on multiple occasions that week. Such a statement was embarrassing for the pastor and, therefore, increases the reliability that such a statement was given.

When it comes to the early church, seven examples serve as embarrassing admonitions. While others exist, these five relate especially to the core movement of the church.

 

huh

  1. Disciples’ Inability to Understand Message.

If a movement desires to instill the reliability of its advocates, the movement will not present the leaders as ignorant. With the New Testament, the apostles are presented several times as ignorant as to the message presented by Jesus until Jesus explained the message to them at a later point. For instance, Luke records the following,

“And taking the twelve, [Jesus] said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.’ But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said” (Luke 18:31-34).[3]

Some might claim, “Then how can we trust the disciples with the message of Christ if they did not understand?” Well, John explains that Jesus’ disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him” (John 12:16). That the disciples would include their ignorance verifies the historicity of Jesus’ teachings (at least in part) and their misunderstandings.

questionmark

  1. Jesus’ Ignorance of Certain Events.

It is unheard of that the disciples would elevate Jesus as the Son of God and then document that Jesus did not know a particular thing. Yet, this is what happened with the Evangelists. Jesus is noted as saying, pertaining to the return of Christ at the end of time, thatconcerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). Such a statement fits an embarrassing admonition, thus verifying its authenticity.

garden of gethsemane.gif

  1. Jesus’ Fear in Facing the Cross.

If someone is building up a fictional hero, the writer is unlikely to include bouts of fear especially if the hero is noted for his/her courage. Yet, on the evening before facing the cross, Jesus “being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Such a bout of agony could be demonstrated to be an embarrassing admonition, thereby verifying Jesus’ time of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

peter-denies-christ-bloch-carl_1167438_inl

  1. Cowardice of Key Leaders.

Another admonition that would have been embarrassing for the early Christian movement was the claim that the early church leaders, even those of prime importance, fled when Jesus was tried.[4] Consistently, the four canonical Gospels indicate that the male disciples fled while the women remained with Jesus.[5] Women were also listed as prominent disciples in the early church movement (Rom. 16:1-3, 7, 12; Phil. 4:2-3; 1 Cor. 16:19).

 In a patriarchal society (where men are elevated and women minimalized), is this something you would want to promote if it were not true??? Would you really want people to know that the women were brave while you were a coward???

 joseph_arimathea

  1. Joseph of Arimathea’s Burial of Jesus.

Mark, generally held to be the earliest Gospel, notes that one Joseph of Arimathea “a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus…And when he [Pilate] learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph” (Mark 15:43, 45).

Now, Jesus had been condemned by the Sanhedrin. Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Sanhedrin. Thus, the burial of Jesus was embarrassing for the church as it would claim that the disciples could not even provide a decent burial. It would take one from the very council that condemned Jesus to give Jesus a proper burial.

 women.jpg

  1. Testimony of Women.

Habermas notes that “The Gospels are unanimous in their claim that women were the earliest witnesses to the empty sepulcher (Mt 28:1-10; Mk 16:1-8; Lk 24:1-9; Jn 20:1-2). This is a powerful indication of the authenticity of the report, since a woman’s testimony was generally disallowed in a law court, especially on crucial matters.”[6]

We already noted how that first-century Palestine, as well as the rest of the Greco-Roman society, was patriarchal in scope. Lesley DiFrancisco notes that In the patriarchal societies characteristic of this time, men had social, legal, and economic power. Although women could achieve some status through marriage and motherhood, they were often dependent on men.”[7] Here again, it would not make sense to have the women as the first witnesses of the resurrected Christ unless it actually took place in that fashion.

thomas-2

  1. Doubt of Some Pertaining to Jesus’ Resurrection.

Finally, if one were to invent the Christian story, then one would show that everyone saw and believed without reservation. However, the Gospels show that even after Jesus had risen from the dead, some doubted. Matthew writes that “when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted” (Matthew 28:17). Luke notes that the women had seen Jesus but the male disciples refused their testimony seeing it as an “idle tale” (Luke 24:10-11). Who could forget of one “Doubting Thomas” who later became “Believing Thomas” (John 20:24-29)? The fact that some disciples doubted the report could be seen as an embarrassing admonition for the early church.

Conclusion

Several other embarrassing admonitions could be added to the seven listed above. However, one should note the great weight of authenticity that comes from these embarrassing admonitions. No one likes to be embarrassed. No one! Thus, we must ask, does Jesus pass the third historical test found in embarrassing admonitions?

YES!!!

So far, Jesus of Nazareth and the early Christian movement have stood strong with the historical methodology employed. But, we are not done yet. Next week, we will examine the fourth aspect of the historical method: early testimony. Just how early are the sources that we possess? Join us next week as we find out.

Click here to visit the source site for this article.

© January 11, 2016. Brian Chilton.


  

Bibliography

DiFrancisco, Lesley. “Women in the Bible, Mistreatment of,” The Lexham Bible Dictionary.Edited by John D. Barry, et al. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015. Logos Bible Software.

Habermas, Gary R. Habermas, and Michael R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004.

Habermas, Gary R. Habermas, The Risen Jesus & Future Hope. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

Meier, John P. A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. Volume 1. New York: Doubleday, 1991-2001. In Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004.

Endnotes

[1] John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume 1 (New York: Doubleday, 1991-2001), 168 in Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004), 38.

[2] Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004), 38.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[4] E.g. Matthew 26:69-75.

[5] A couple of examples of the women’s faithfulness are seen in Matthew 27:55-56 and John 19:24b-27.

[6] Gary R. Habermas, The Risen Jesus & Future Hope (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 23.

[7] Lesley DiFransico, “Women in the Bible, Mistreatment of,” The Lexham Bible Dictionary,ed. John D. Barry et al. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015), Logos Bible Software.

Examining Jesus by the Historical Method (Part 2–Enemy Attestation)

By Brian Chilton

In our last installment of “Examining Jesus by the Historical Method,” we discussed the first aspect of the historical method. We examined how Jesus of Nazareth enjoys documentation by a variety of independent sources, something that is important for both the historian and the detective.

This article will discuss the second method by which a person and/or event of history is scrutinized—enemy attestation. Gary Habermas and Michael Licona note that “If testimony affirming an event or saying is given by a source who does not sympathize with the person, message, or cause that profits from the account, we have an indication of authenticity.[1]

Here’s why this is so important: if a person’s mother said that her child had integrity, one could claim the mother spoke out of bias for her child. But what if the person’s enemy said that the person had integrity? The claim of integrity would hold greater weight. The same is true of historical enemy attestation. The following are examples of enemy attestation as it pertains to Jesus of Nazareth. The writers of the texts you are going to read are not Christians and have no allegiance to the Christian church.

cornelius-tacitus

Roman historian Tacitus (Annals 15.44), c. 100AD.

In the late first-century, Roman historian Tacitus set out to write an account of the histories of Rome. When discussing the twisted emperor Nero, Tacitus briefly mentions Jesus and the band of followers known as the Christians. Tacitus’ comments are associated with Nero’s burning of Rome. Tacitus writes,

“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.”[2]

From Tacitus, we can acquire that Jesus of Nazareth lived, died during the reign of Tiberius by the hands of Pontius Pilate, and was believed to have been resurrected (from Tacitus’ claim of one “mischievous superstition”). One also can acquire the great devotion of the early Christians from Tacitus’ text.

josephus

Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities 18.3), c. 90AD.

Josephus was not a Christian, but was a Jewish historian. Josephus was also a Roman sympathizer. Since Josephus was not a believer, this has led some to dismiss Josephus’ reference to Jesus. However, Josephus mentions Jesus and Jesus’ brother James in other places of his work. Many have noted that the reference is legitimate, but may have originally left out the part where the historian refers to Jesus as “the Christ.” While the exact wording is debated, the reference is authentic. Josephus writes,

“Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works—a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”[3]

From Josephus, we can know that Jesus lived, was considered to be wise, was condemned by Pontius Pilate, was crucified on a cross, died, and that his disciples believed him to have been raised from death.

talmud1

Talmud (Sanhedrin 43a), c. 220AD but reports an earlier tradition.

The Babylonian Talmud contains a tradition that was handed down from a previous source. While there are some differences in this account than the Gospel record (for instance, the Talmud only records 5 disciples), the general facts about Jesus (or Yeshu) are the same.Sanhedrin 43a reads,

“There is a tradition (in a Barraitha): They hanged Yeshu on the Sabbath of the Passover. But for forty days before that a herald went in front of him (crying), “Yeshu is to be stoned because he practiced sorcery and seduced Israel and lead them away from God. Anyone who can provide evidence on his behalf should come forward to defend him.” When, however, nothing favorable about him was found, he was hanged on the Sabbath of the Passover.”[4]

Notice that this is not a source friendly to Jesus. Even still, one can demonstrate the hostility to Jesus from the religious authorities, the crucifixion of Jesus, and even the working of miracles (attributed as sorcery in this reference). Also, one notes that Jesus, in accordance with the Gospel record, was hung on the cross near the time of Passover.

mara-bar-serapion

Mara Bar-Serapion, c. 73-100AD.

At some point after 70AD, Syrian and Stoic philosopher Mara Bar-Serapion wrote of the importance of a person’s pursuit of wisdom. In doing so, Serapion compares Jesus (ie. The “wise king” to Socrates and Pythagoras. Serapion writes,

“What are we to say when the wise are forcibly dragged by the hands of tyrants and their wisdom is deprived of its freedom by slander, and they are plundered for their superior intelligence without the opportunity of making a defence? They are not wholly to be pitied.

         What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished.

          God justly avenged these three wise men. The Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise king die; he lived on in the teaching which he had given.”[5]

Thus, one can identify the wisdom that even Jesus’ adversaries found in the Nazarene. In addition, one can find that Jesus’ teachings were passed down by the early church.

Thallus (from Julius Africanus fragment), c. 52AD.

Julius Africanus quotes a now extant (meaning that it is lost) writing from a historian named Thallus. Africanus states that Thallus “wrote a history of the Eastern Mediterranean world from the Trojan War to his own time…Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun—unreasonably, as it seems to me (unreasonably, of course, because a solar eclipse could not take place at the time of the full moon, and it was at the season of the Paschal full moon that Christ died).”[6] Thus, from Thallus one can note the darkness that surrounded Christ’s death.

Acts of Pilate (from Justin Martyr, First Apology 35), Justin wrote in the mid 2nd century but records a text from the first-century AD.

In his book the First Apology, Justin Martyr refers to a commonly known document known as the Acts of Pontius Pilate. Unfortunately, the document is now extant. Nevertheless, Martyr writes,

“And the expression, ‘They pierced my hands and my feet,’ was used in reference to the nails of the cross which were fixed in His hands and feet. And after He was crucified they cast lots upon His vesture, and they that crucified Him parted it among them. And that these things did happen, you can ascertain from the Acts of Pontius Pilate.”[7]

The translators of the text add the following note, “These Acts of Pontius Pilate, or regular accounts of his procedure sent by Pilate to the Emperor Tiberius, are supposed to have been destroyed at an early period, possibly in consequence of the unanswerable appeals which the Christians constantly made to them.”[8] Some may see this as a forgery. However, I do not think so. Such ancient records could have been confirmed and/or denied. The fact that early Christians tended to appeal to this document would tend to verify its authenticity to some degree. This causes me to think that there may be more ancient resources available yet to be discovered that would further confirm the historical veracity of Jesus of Nazareth.

Conclusion

From the enemy attestation presented, the historian can know the following:

1) Jesus existed;

2) Jesus was a teacher from Judea;

3) Jesus was thought to have been wise;

4) Jesus performed miracles, although attributed to sorcery by his adversaries;

5) Jesus was crucified at the command of Pontius Pilate;

6) Darkness surrounded the area at Jesus’ crucifixion;

7) Jesus was crucified around the time of the Passover;

8) One can assume from the information given that Jesus was buried;

9) Jesus was believed to have been resurrected;

10) and Jesus’ followers accepted suffering and death while still holding on to the belief of Jesus’ resurrection.

From enemy attestation, one can know a great deal about the fundamentals of Jesus’ life. Does Jesus pass the test of enemy attestation?

YES!!!

But what about the third test? The third test considers embarrassing admonitions. Will Jesus pass the third test? Find out on our next post on this series!

 

Click here to visit the source site for this article.

© January 4, 2015. Brian Chilton.


 

 Bibliography

Africanus, Julius. Chronography 18.1. In Josh McDowell. The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999.

Bar-Serapion, Mara. TextExcavation.com. Accessed January 4, 2016.http://www.textexcavation.com/marabarserapiontestimonium.html.

Habermas, Gary R., and Michael R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004.

Josephus, Flavius, and William Whiston. The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged.Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987.

Martyr, Justin. “The First Apology of Justin.” In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

Tacitus, Cornelius. Annals XV.44. The Internet Classics Archive. Translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb. Accessed January 4, 2016.http://classics.mit.edu/Tacitus/annals.11.xv.html.

Talmud. Sanhedrin 43a. JewishChristianLit.com. Accessed January 4, 2016.http://jewishchristianlit.com//Topics/JewishJesus/b_san43a.html#DIS.

Endnotes

[1] Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004), 37-38.

[2] Tacitus, Annals XV.44, from The Internet Classics Archive, Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb, trans, retrieved January 4, 2016,http://classics.mit.edu/Tacitus/annals.11.xv.html.

[3] Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged(Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), Logos Bible Software.

[4] Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a, JewishChristianLit.com, retrieved January 4, 2016.http://jewishchristianlit.com//Topics/JewishJesus/b_san43a.html#DIS.

[5] Mara Bar-Serapion, TextExcavation.com, retrieved January 4, 2016.http://www.textexcavation.com/marabarserapiontestimonium.html.

[6] Julius Africanus, Chronography, 18.1, in Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 122.

[7] Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 174–175.

[8] Ibid., 175, 1n.

What Can We Historically Know about Jesus of Nazareth?

By  Brian Chilton.

 

As we come close to a Christian holiday, people often begin to ask, “Can we know that these events actually took place?” When it comes to Christmas, greater ambiguity exists as to particular elements pertaining to the life of Jesus (e.g. the date of Jesus’ birth) than it does for Easter. Part of this comes from the fact that the Gospels are part of a literary genre known as “bioi” (Licona 2010, 203), or ancient biographies and only focused on the core attributes of the person’s life. While we may not know the precise date of Jesus’ birth with great certainty, this doesn’t mean that we cannot know the most important aspects of Jesus’ life. Many skeptics will ask during the holidays, “How is it that we can know that anything actually took place in history? What can we know about the life of Jesus?” This article will provide a brief—and that is an understatement—evaluation about how history is evaluated and what can be known about the historical Jesus.

 

Is history knowable?

 

Skeptics will often claim, “We cannot know anything about history because we cannot know that the person recording a particular event is telling the truth.” This mentality is termed historical subjectivism which is defined by Norman Geisler as the argument “that the substance of history, unlike that studied by empirical science, is not directly observable” (Geisler 1999, 318). But if this is the case, then nothing past the present moment can truly be known with any certainty. What about that precious childhood event that shaped you? Well, extreme historical subjectivists would claim that such an event is unprovable as it is possible that you just thought that the event took place. Taken to its conclusion, the historical subjectivist has no means of knowing whether George Washington was truly the first President of the United States or whether King Henry VIII actually initiated the English Reformation. The historical realist believes that history is knowable. Historians obviously fit within the historical realist category. Luckily, there are ways that an event and/or person is deemed “historical.” The historian uses certain methodological tools to gauge the tenability of an event of history.

 

How is an event determined “historical”?

 

Since history is by its nature unobservable, the historian must gauge the probability that an event occurred or that a person lived. Nothing can be known with 100% certainty—not even scientific theories. Thus, history is gauged by the probability that what is written is true. These tools include, but are not limited to, the following.

 

-Multiple, independent sources (Habermas & Licona 2004, 37)—that is, several voices addressing the same event and/or person.

 

–Enemy attestation (Habermas & Licona 2004, 37) is the voice of the enemy of the person of history being studied. One can claim bias by a supporter, but if an enemy says the same thing about a person then the person(s) involved in an event can be deemed historical.

 

-“Embarrassing admonitions” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 38) are statements that are given in a history and/or biography that would bring embarrassment to the writer and/or movement.

 

-“Eyewitness testimony” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 39) is the account of those who witnessed the event and/or person being studied.

 

-“Early testimony” (Habermas & Licona, 39) refers to the time that the biography and/or history is written as compared to the event and/or person being addressed. Thus, a writer in the 1700s would hold more credulity than a person writing in the 2010s about the real life of John Adams.

 

–Arguments to the best explanation (Licona 2010, 108) refers to whether a hypothesis pertaining to an event of history holds the best explanation or whether alternatives do. Licona adds that this practice includes “Explanatory scope…Explanatory power…Plausability…Less ad hoc…[and] Illumination [sic]” (Licona 2010, 109-110). Space will not permit the explanation of these divisions, but may be addressed in future posts.

 

-Arguments from statistical inference (Licona 2010, 114) is the practice of weighing the possibility that a certain person, fact, or event is more probable existing or occurring than not. So, what can we know of Jesus using these practices?

 

Using these methodologies, what can we know about the historical Jesus?

 

Actually, quite a bit! Gary Habermas presents what he calls the Minimal Facts Approach. These are facts about the life of Jesus that are agreed upon by the vast majority of historical scholarship—both skeptical and evangelical alike! They are:

 

“1) Jesus died by Roman crucifixion.

 

2) He was buried, most likely in a private tomb.

 

3) Soon afterward, the disciples were discouraged, bereaved, and despondent, having lost hope.

 

4) Jesus’ tomb was found empty very soon after his interment.

 

5) The disciples had experiences that they believed were actual appearances of the risen Jesus.

 

6) Due to these experiences, the disciples’ lives were thoroughly transformed, even being willing to die for this belief.

 

7) The proclamation of the resurrection took place very early, at the beginning of church history.

 

8) The disciples’ public testimony and preaching of the resurrection took place in the city of Jerusalem, where Jesus had been crucified and buried shortly before.

 

9) The Gospel message centered on the death and resurrection of Jesus.

 

10) Sunday was the primary day for gathering and worshipping.

 

11) James, the brother of Jesus and former skeptic, was converted when, he believed, he saw the risen Jesus.

 

12) Just a few years later, Saul of Tarsus (Paul) became a Christian believer due to an experience that he believed was an appearance of the risen Jesus” (Habermas 2003, 9-10).

 

That’s quite a bit! But, Habermas also notes that if one accepts the early creeds and early writings of the church fathers, then one can also know that “Jesus was born of Mary (Ignatius), who was a virgin (Ignatius; Justin), and he had a brother named James (Josephus). Jesus was born in the city of Bethlehem, located about five miles from Jerusalem, and it is recorded that his birth could be verified by the records of Cyrenius, who was the first procurator of Judea (Justin). Later, Jesus was visited by Arabian Magi, who had first seen Herod (Justin). He was also from the town of Nazareth (creeds: Acts 2:22; 4:10; 5:38)” (Habermas 244).

 

Conclusion

 

Seeing that history is knowable, that history can be verified by particular methodologies, and the wealth of information that can be known of Jesus of Nazareth using these methodologies, the Christian should take comfort in knowing that his or her faith is based upon actual events. So, when the believer celebrates this holiday season, they can worship with the full weight of trust in the biblical record without worrying about the doubts that the skeptics may bring. Enjoy the holidays and remember…Jesus is truly the reason for the Christmas season!

 

Click to see Original Article Source.

 


Sources Cited:

 

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

 

Habermas, Gary R., and Michael R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004.

 

Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996.

 

The Risen Jesus & Future Hope. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

 

Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010.

Merry Christmas from Newsweek!

As has become common around Christian holidays, another media outlet has issued what I think can rightly be called an attack piece. Newsweek rolled out a cover story for this week’s edition that attacks the Bible and the warrant for trusting that we even know what it says as well as its content:

http://www.newsweek.com/2015/01/02/thats-not-what-bible-says-294018.html

I’m all for free speech and critiquing all viewpoints including religious ones but this article makes egregious factual errors. Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, a world-renowned expert on early manuscripts of the New Testament (and shown in this picture), has responded to this article by pointing out numerous mistakes and some key omissions that make it quite misleading:

Predictable Christmas fare: Newsweek’s Tirade against the Bible

I’ve had the honor of getting acquainted with Dan the last couple of years as I’ve become involved in the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts which he founded. This organization is doing incredibly important work to combat the kind of misconceptions propagated by this Newsweek article. Check out their web site to see how they’re digitizing early New Testament manuscripts and along the way even discovering new documents that are confirming our confidence in the transmission of these Biblical texts. I’ve found Dan to be fair-minded, incredibly knowledgeable, and sacrificially committed to the noble task of learning as much as we can from the earliest Greek texts of the New Testament books.

Here is a sampling of some of Wallace’s corrections but I recommend that you read his entire article:

Newsweek: “At best, we’ve all read a bad translation—a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.”

Wallace: “This is rhetorical flair run amok so badly that it gives hyperbole a bad name. A “translation of translations of translations” would mean, at a minimum, that we are dealing with a translation that is at least three languages removed from the original. But the first translation is at best a translation of a fourth generation copy in the original language. Now, I’m ignoring completely his last line—“and on and on, hundreds of times”—a line that is completely devoid of any resemblance to reality. Is it really true that we only have access to third generation translations from fourth generation Greek manuscripts? Hardly…. Almost 6000 of these [20,000+] manuscripts are in Greek alone. And we have more than one million quotations of the New Testament by church fathers. There is absolutely nothing in the Greco-Roman world that comes even remotely close to this wealth of data. The New Testament has more manuscripts that are within a century or two of the original than anything else from the Greco-Roman world too. If we have to be skeptical about what the original New Testament said, that skepticism, on average, should be multiplied one thousand times for other Greco-Roman literature.”

 

Newsweek: “About 400 years passed between the writing of the first Christian manuscripts and their compilation into the New Testament.”

Wallace: “The oldest complete New Testament that exists today is Codex Sinaiticus, written about AD 350… the reality [of the delay between completion of the New Testament and our oldest extant copy in complete form] is closer to 250–300 years (conservative), or 200–250 years (liberal). Yet even here the notion of “compilation into the New Testament” may be misleading: the original New Testament manuscripts were undoubtedly written on papyrus rolls, each of which could contain no more than one Gospel. It was not until the invention of the codex form of book, and its development into a large format, that the possibility of putting all the NT books between two covers could even exist.”

 

Newsweek: Constantine “changed the course of Christian history, ultimately influencing which books made it into the New Testament.”

Wallace: “This is an old canard that has no basis in reality. In fact, Eichenwald seems to know this because he does not bring it up again, but instead speaks about the Council of Nicea (initiated by Constantine) as dealing primarily with the deity of Christ. There is absolutely nothing to suggest in any of the historical literature that Constantine ever influenced what books belonged in the NT.”

There are many more examples such as these so please check out both Wallace’s response as well as the Newsweek article so you can understand the misconceptions that are being propagated in our culture and how to correct them. In summary, Newsweek’s article about the Bible is factually flawed, blatantly biased, and embarrassingly egregious in audaciously attacking a simplistic straw man. Other than that it’s a pretty good article.

What Really Happened at Nicea?

For many years, the council of Nicea has been the subject of much confusion among laypeople. The misapprehensions which have come to be associated with the council of Nicea have, in part, been fuelled by popular fictional novels such as Dan Brown’s notorious The Da vinci Code. No matter what group you are dealing with in your apologetic exploits (including atheists, Muslims, Jehovah’s witnesses and unitarians), you are almost guaranteed to encounter some of these misconcepts. For this reason, it is important for Christians to study and learn church history, so that they might correct common myths and falsehoods.

The council of Nicea was famously convened on May 20, 325 AD, at the request of Emperor Constantine. What did the council of bishops meet to discuss? Contrary to common misconception (popularised particularly in Muslim circles) that has been widely circulated via the internet, the council of Nicea did not meet to discuss the canon of Scripture — that is, the decision about which books should make up the New Testament. In fact, there is not a shred of evidence that the canon of Scripture was even brought up at Nicea. Another misconception is that the council of Nicea, at the encouraging of Constantine, “invented” the deity of Christ or, at the very least, that the bishops in attendance at Nicea were significantly divided on the issue, the matter being decided with a vote. This too, however, is completely inaccurate. In 325 AD, when the bishops convened at Nicea, the deity of Christ had been affirmed almost unanimously by the Christian movement for close to three hundred years!

The bishops who met at Nicea had just come out of an extremely challenging time of intense persecution by the Romans, having lived through the cruelty of the Emperors Diocletian (ruling 284-305) and Maximian (ruling 286-305). One of the bishops present at Nicea, Paphnutius, had even lost his right eye and been given a limp in his left leg as a consequence of his profession of faith. According to one ancient writer, Theodoret (393-457),

“Paul, bishop of Neo-Cæsarea, a fortress situated on the banks of the Euphrates, had suffered from the frantic rage of Licinius. He had been deprived of the use of both hands by the application of a red-hot iron, by which the nerves which give motion to the muscles had been contracted and rendered dead. Some had had the right eye dug out, others had lost the right arm. Among these was Paphnutius of Egypt. In short, the Council looked like an assembled army of martyrs.”

It strikes me as odd, therefore, that one would suppose that the early Christian movement, having come out of such difficult times as those, would capitulate so easily to the emperor Constantine’s demands with respect to defining the very fundamentals of their faith!

The story of the Nicean council begins in Alexandria in northwest Egypt. The archbishop of Alexandria was a man by the name of Alexander. A member of his senior clergy, called Arius, took issue with Alexander’s view of Jesus’s divine nature, insisting that the Son is, in fact, himself a created being. In similar fashion to modern Jehovah’s Witnesses, Arius maintained that Jesus was like the Father inasmuch as they both existed before creation, played a role in creation and were exalted above it. But the Son, according to the theology of Arius, was the first of God’s creations and was commissioned by the Father to create the world.

On this point, Alexander strongly disagreed, and publically challenged Arius’s heretical teachings. In 318 AD, Alexander called together a hundred or so bishops to talk over the matter and to defrock Arius. Arius, however, went to Nicomedia in Asia Minor and rallied his supporters, including Eusebius of Nicomedia, who was a relative by marriage to Constantine the emperor, and a theologian in the imperial court. Eusebius and Arius wrote to many bishops who had not been involved in the defrocking of Arius. The effect was the creation of divisions among the bishops. Embarassed by such bickering, the emperor Constantine convened the ecumenical council of Nicea in 325.

Constantine’s primary concern was imperial unity rather than theological accuracy, and he desired a decision that would be supported by the greatest number of bishops, regardless of what conclusion was reached. His theological advisor, Hosius, served to get the emperor up to speed before the arrival of the bishops. Since Arius was not a bishop, he was not invited to sit on the council. However, his supporter Eusebius of Nicomedia acted on Arius’s behalf and presented his point of view.

Arius’s position regarding the finite nature of the Son was not popular with the bishops. It became clear, however, that a formal statement concerning the nature of the Son and his relationship to the Father was needed. The real issue at the council of Nicea was thus how, and not if, Jesus was divine.

A formal statement was eventually put together and signed by the bishops. Those who declined to sign the statement were stripped of their rank of bishop. The few who supported Arius insisted that only language found in Scripture should feature in the statement, whereas Arius’s critics insisted that only non-Biblical language was adequate to fully unpack the implications of the language found in the Bible. It was Constantine who eventually suggested that the Father and Son be said to be of the “same substance” (homoousios in Greek). Although Constantine hoped that this statement would keep all parties happy (implying the complete deity of Jesus without going much further), the supporters of Arius insisted that this language suggested that the Father and Son were equal but didn’t explain how this was compatible with the central tenet of monotheism (i.e. the belief in only one deity).

Nonetheless, the Nicean creed did indeed incorporate this language. It stated,

“We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of all things, visible and invisible; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten from the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the substance of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, through Whom all things came into being, things in heaven and things on earth, Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down and became incarnate, becoming man, suffered and rose again on the third day, ascended to the heavens, and will come to judge the living and the dead; And in the Holy Spirit. But as for those who say, ‘There was when He was not, and, Before being born He was not, and that He came into existence out of nothing, or who assert that the Son of God is from a different hypostasis or substance, or is created, ir is subject to alteration or change — these the Catholic Church anathematizes.”

With the exception of two (Secundus of Ptolemais and Theonas of Marmarcia), the creed was signed by all the bishops, numbering more than 300. Arius’s supporters had been overwhelmingly defeated.

Arius’s supporters, however, managed to find some wiggle room. A single letter iota changes the meaning of homo (“same”) to “like” (homoi). The latter could be exploited by Arius and his followers to describe a created Christ. Moreover, it was argued, the creed could be interpreted as supporting Sabellianism, an ancient heresy which fails to discriminate between persons of the godhead. It was this in-house squabbling between bishops that ultimately led to the council of Constantinople in 381.

A company of bishops started to campaign for the formal re-instatement of Arius as a presbyter in Alexandria. Constantine yielded to their petition and, in 332, re-instated Arius as a presbyter. Athenasius, who had recently succeeded his mentor Alexander as bishop of Alexandria, was instructed to accept Arius into the church once again. Needless to say, Athenasius did not comply with this order. The consequence was exile. Constantine had little interest in the precision of his theology — rather, it was the struggle for imperial unity that was his motivation.

In conclusion, although popular misconceptions about the council of Nicea are rampant, the idea that the council of Nicea determined which books comprised the new testament or that it invented the deity of Christ to comply with the demands of Constantine are myths. Indeed, correct theology was of little concern to Constantine, who cared much more about imperial unity. Christians must make a serious effort to study and learn church history, so that when we encounter such claims in the media and in our personal evangelism, we may know how to present an accurate account of our history.

A Case For The Resurrection: The Empty Tomb

Over the course of six previous blog entries, I have discussed the various lines of evidence supporting the historical proposition that Jesus really did appear to individuals and groups of people following his death by crucifixion. In this blog entry, I want to consider some of the evidence pertaining to the vacancy of the tomb. While an establishment of the empty tomb may not, in and of itself, constitute compelling evidence for the resurrection, when taken in the context of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus (which I have evidenced previously), it adds to a very compelling cumulative argument.

Fact#1: The disciples first proclaimed the resurrection in Jerusalem
When the first Christians started preaching the resurrection of Jesus, they did so in Jerusalem, the very city where it was all supposed to have happened, under the noses of the very people who would have been able (and certainly willing) to dispute their assertions if they were not true. If the Christians had doubts about the historicity of the empty tomb, they would have been far better to do it far away from the city of Jerusalem where there resided a great number of hostile eyewitnesses, who could have checked out the state and purported vacancy of the tomb. The fact that the Christians preached first of all in Jerusalem, and so shortly following the resurrection, denotes tremendous confidence in their case.

Amazingly, Peter addresses the people of Jerusalem in Acts 2, declaring, “Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses to the fact.”

As E.H Day comments, “If it be asserted that the tomb was in fact not found to be empty, several difficulties confront the critic. He has to meet, for example, the problem of the rapid rise of the very definite tradition, never seriously questioned, the problem with the circumstantial nature of the accounts in which the tradition is embodied, the problem of the failure of the Jews to prove that the Resurrection had not taken place by producing the body of Christ, or by an official examination of the sepulchre, a proof which it was to their greatest interest to exhibit.”

Dr. William Lane Craig further remarks, “When therefore the disciples began to preach the resurrection in Jerusalem and people responded, and when religious authorities stood helplessly by, the tomb must have been empty. The simple fact that the Christian fellowship, founded on belief in Jesus’ resurrection, came into existence and flourished in the very city where he was executed and buried is powerful evidence for the historicity of the empty tomb.”

Fact#2: The earliest Jewish polemic against the early disciples presupposes the vacancy of the tomb
The earliest Jewish allegation was that Jesus’ disciples had come during the night and stolen the body while the guards were asleep. According to Matthew 28:11-15, “While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, ‘You are to say, His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep. If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.”

The Toledoth Yeshu, (a compilation of early Jewish writings), alludes to the stolen body allegation, as does the record of a second century debate between Justin Martyr and the Jew Trypho, Chapter CVII: “…you have sent chosen and ordained men throughout all the world to proclaim that a godless and lawless heresy had sprung from one Jesus, a Galilean deceiver, whom we crucified, but His disciples stole Him by night from the tomb, where He was laid when unfastened from the cross, and now deceive men by asserting that He has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven.”

The allegation that someone had stolen the body is an implicit admission that the tomb was empty. The fact that Jesus’ opponents conceded the vacancy of the tomb is strong evidence in the eyes of historians. On top of that, the idea that the disciples stole the body is absurd, and scholars universally reject it today. It is highly unlikely that Jesus’ followers could have schemed to steal the body with the Roman guard protecting the tomb, much less the large stone. The theft hypothesis is a lame excuse. And it won’t suffice to charge them with inventing the account of the sleeping guards – such a story could only have served as apologetic propaganda had the guards remained awake. There is also the fact that the disciples were unlikely to risk their lives for the sake of stealing Jesus’ body from the tomb. The Biblical record portrays the disciples as scared, disheartened and discouraged. The transformation from a company of terrified disciples who had lost their leader and feared for their own life to the fearless apostles who boldly preached and proclaimed the Gospel of the risen Lord begs explanation. Moreover, it seems unlikely that the disciples would be willing to suffer extreme persecution and ultimately martyrdom for something which they themselves knew to be an outright lie and deception. The disciples also had no motive for stealing the body, for the reason that the Jewish tradition and mindset precluded anyone rising bodily from the dead to glory and immortality until the general resurrection at the end of time. The disciples, therefore, had no necessary predisposition towards positing a physical resurrection, nor an empty tomb. As John records in his account (20:9), upon discovery of the empty tomb, “They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.” Finally, a physical resurrection could have been relentlessly exposed with either the presence of a corpse or an occupied tomb. By speaking of a physical resurrection and an empty tomb, therefore, was an enormous and unnecessary risk to take.

Michael Green cites a secular source of early origin that bears testimony to Jesus’ empty tomb. This piece of evidence is called the Nazareth Inscription. Green remarks, “It is an imperial edict, belonging either to the reign of Tiberius (A.D. 14-37) or of Claudius (A.D. 41-54). And it is an invective, backed with heavy sanctions, against meddling around with tombs and graves! It looks very much as if the news of the empty tomb had got back to Rome in a garbled form (Pilate would have had to report; and he would obviously have said that the tomb had been rifled). This edict, it seems, is the imperial reaction.” Green concludes, “There can be no doubt that the tomb of Jesus was, in fact, empty on the first Easter day.”

Fact#3: The gospels record that the primary witnesses to the empty tomb were women

All four gospels (including John, who was almost certainly writing independently of the synoptic gospels) make women the first witnesses of the empty tomb, and Matthew and John make women the first witnesses of the risen Jesus. Male witnesses appear only later and in two of the Gospels. This is incompatible with a dishonest intention to write an untrue but convincing account, because of the lowly status of woman as witnesses in the ancient world.

This fact is significant because in both first century Jewish and Roman cultures, women were lowly esteemed and their testimony was not highly regarded. Further, female witnesses were only permitted to be legal witnesses to matters within their knowledge if there was no male witness available. Women were second-best witnesses, and anyone wanting to artificially bolster a fictional account would have without question made male witnesses the primary discoverers of the empty tomb. The Jewish Talmud remarks, “Sooner let the words of the Law be burnt than delivered to women,” and “Any evidence which a woman [gives] is not valid (to offer).” Josephus states further, “But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and of their sex.”

This fact becomes even more significant in light of Luke 24:11, when Luke records that “…they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”

The best explanation for why all four gospel writers would have included such an embarrassing and awkward detail is that that is actually what happened and they were committed to recording it honestly and with integrity, regardless of its blow to their credibility.

Fact#4: The breaking of the Roman seal

One point which is worthy of attention is the breaking of the seal that stood for the power and authority of the Roman Empire. The consequences of breaking the seal were extremely severe. Roman authorities would hunt down the men who were responsible. If they were apprehended, it meant automatic execution by crucifixion. People feared the breaking of the seal. Jesus’ disciples displayed signs of cowardice when they hid themselves. Peter, one of these disciples, went out and denied Christ three times.

Fact#5: Multiple, early attestation

Apart from mention of the empty tomb in the pre-markian passion narrative, the old tradition cited by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, which probably dates just a few short years at most following the events, implies the empty tomb. For any first century Jew, to say that a dead man ‘was buried and that he was raised’ is to say that his tomb was vacated. Further, the expression ‘on the third day’ probably derives from the women’s visit to the tomb on the third day following the crucifixion as alluded to in the gospels.

Fact#6: The Security of the tomb

Jesus Himself spoke of his resurrection on repeated occasions, stressing that it was to happen on the third day following his death. Both his enemies and his followers were told to expect it. Those who sought to smother his teaching took elaborate steps to counter the possibility of His claim, including the placement of a Roman guard at the door to the tomb. The initial Christian proclamation that Jesus had risen was responded to by the allegation that the disciples had stolen the body while the guards were sleeping, to which the Christian retaliation was that the Jews had bribed the guards to say they fell asleep. If there had not in fact been any guards, the exchange would not have gone in such manner.

Archaeological evidence reveals that there would have been a slanted groove that led down to a low entrance, and a large disk-shaped stone was rolled down the groove and lodged into a place across the door. A smaller stone was then used to secure the disk. Although it would be easy to roll the big disk down the groove, it would take several men to roll the stone back up in order to reopen the tomb.

Conclusion

In summary, to quote J.N.D. Anderson, “The empty tomb stands, a veritable rock, as an essential element in the evidence for the resurrection. To suggest that it was not in fact empty at all, as some have done, seems to me ridiculous. It is a matter of history that the apostles from the very beginning made many converts in Jerusalem, hostile as it was, by proclaiming the glad news that Christ had risen from the grave – and they did it within a short walk from the sepulchre. Any one of their hearers could have visited the tomb and come back again between lunch and whatever may have been the equivalent of afternoon tea. Is it conceivable, then, that the apostles would have this success if the body of the one they proclaimed as risen Lord was all the time decomposing in Joseph’s tomb? Would a great company of the priests and many hard-headed Pharisees have been impressed with the proclamation of a resurrection which was in fact no resurrection at all, but a mere message of spiritual survival couched in the misleading terms of a literal rising from the grave?”

Undesigned Scriptural Coincidences: The Ring Of Truth

Frank Turek interviewed philosopher Tim McGrew for the CrossExamined radio show. The topic of the discussion was the so-called “undesigned coincidences”. It’s only in recent months that I myself have been introduced to these undesigned coincidences, largely through my own interactions with Tim McGrew. I had been exposed to one or two previously, but had no idea just how wide spread these phenomena actually are.

What is an undesigned coincidence? An undesigned coincidence (so-named by J.J. Blunt and first discovered by William Paley) occurs when one account of an event leaves out a bit of information which is filled in, often quite incidentally, by a different account, which helps to answer some natural questions raised by the first. As an argument for the historical veracity of the gospels, the case is at its strongest when taken as a cumulative whole: In other words, it’s death by a thousand mosquito bites.

There are two categories of undesigned coincidences pertinent to the New Testament: Internal and External. As the labels suggest, the former concerns details which are filled in by other Biblical (i.e. internal) sources, while the latter concerns details filled in by other extra-Biblical (i.e. external) sources. In this article, I want to take a look at a few examples of both.

Internal Coincidences

One of my own personal favourite examples pertains to one of Jesus’ multiple predictions with regards his pending death and subsequent resurrection.

Example 1:

In John 2:18-22, we read the following account:

The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

In Mark 14:55-59, we read this account of Jesus before the Sanhedrin:

 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree.

Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.’” Yet even then their testimony did not agree.

Notice that the false witnesses, described by Mark, misrepresent what Jesus had said. Jesus had not said that he would destroy any man-made temple. Rather, he had used the temple as a metaphor for his body (as we learn in the John 2 passage above). There is also a parallel for this passage in Matthew 26:59-61.

In Mark 15:27-30, we are told,

They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!”

There is also a parallel account in Matthew 27:38-40. Notice that neither Matthew, nor Mark, give us the original context with regards what Jesus had originally said. All we are given by Matthew and Mark is the later misrepresentations by the false witnesses and mockers as Jesus’ trial and execution. But notice that, equally, John (the non-synoptic gospel), while reporting Jesus’ original words, does not report on the later misrepresentations at Jesus’ trial. I have used this argument as an evidence for Jesus having predicted his death and resurrection.

Example 2:

Let’s take another example.

In John 6, we read the account of the feeding of the five thousand. In verses 1-7, we are told:

Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

Now, Philip is a fairly minor character in the New Testament. And one might, naturally, be inclined to wonder why Jesus hasn’t turned to someone a little higher in the pecking order (such as Peter or John). A partial clue is provided in John 1:44: “Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida.” 

And what is so significant about Philip being from the town of Bethsaida? We don’t learn this until we read the parallel account in Luke’s gospel (9:10-17). At the opening of the account (verses 10-11) we are told, “When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.”

And so, we are informed by Luke that the event was actually taking place in Bethsaida — the town from which Philip was from! Jesus thus turns to Philip, whom, he believed, would be familiar with the area. Notice too that Luke does not tell us that Jesus turned to Philip.

What makes this even more intriguing is that the parallel account in Mark’s gospel (6:30-42) states, in verses 30-31 that

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.

Why were there many coming and going? Mark doesn’t tell us. The answer lies in John’s account. John 6:4 explains that “The Jewish Passover was near.”

Example 3:

Let’s take one more example of an internal coincidence, before proceeding to examine a few external ones.

In Luke 23:1-4, we read,

Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.”

So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.”

On the surface, this seems to be a rather strange declaration to make. Jesus has just declared Himself to be a King, and has been charged with subverting the nation and opposing paying taxes to Caesar. Why has Pilate found no basis for a charge against him?

The answer lies in the parallel account in John’s gospel (18:33-38):

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.

It is only when you read John’s account that you learn that Jesus had told Pilate that “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

But there is also another intriguing feature related to this passage. Why, in John’s account, does Pilate even ask Jesus whether He is a King? We learn the answer in Luke 23:2. The allegation which is made in Luke’s gospel is not recorded in John’s.

External Coincidences

Okay, let’s look at a few external examples.

Example 1:

In Matthew 2:22, we are told:

But when [Joseph] heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Then after being waned by God in an dream, he left for the regions of Galilee…

Josephus’ Antiquities 17.3.1 tells us that the domain of Herod the Great was divided among his sons, with Archelaus having authority in Judea but not in Galilee, which was governed by his younger brother, Herod Antipas.

We also know that Archelaus had acquired quite a bloody reputation (e.g. Antiquities 17.13.1-2 and 17.9.3). The latter of these references describes how Archelaus slaughtered 3,000 Jews at Passover. Thus, Joseph decides not to return to Judea and, instead, goes further north to the regions of Galilee, governed by Herod Antipas.

Example 2:

In Matthew 2:22, Archeleaus is reigning as king in Judea; in Matthew 27:2, Pilate is governor of Judea; in Acts 12:1, Herod is king of Judea; and in Acts 23:33, Flex is governor of Judea. This becomes extremely confusing.

But here’s the thing: Josephus attests to the accuracy of every one of these titles. Herod the Great was made King of Judea by Mark Anthony. Archelaus was deposed in the year 6 A.D., after only a ten-year reign, and a series of procurators ruled over Judea (of whom Pilate was fifth). The Herod of Acts 12 is Agrippa I. He was made king by Claudius Caesar. After his death, Judea was, once again, placed under the government of procurators (one of them being Felix).

Example 3:

When Luke tells us of the riot in Ephesus, he reports that the city clerk tells the crowd that “There are proconsuls”. A proconsul is a Roman authority to whom a complaint may be taken. Normally, there was only one proconsul. Just at that particular time, however, there seems to have been two as a result of the assassination of Silanus (the previous proconsul) by poisoning in the Fall of AD 54, by the two imperial stewards at the urging of Nero’s mother. This event is independently documented by Tacitus in his Annals (13.1). Indeed, Luke’s accuracy has allowed historians to date the event which Luke narrates with incredible precision since we know when Silanus was poisoned.

Summary & Conclusion

In summary, then, we have explored three internal and three external examples of ‘undesigned coincidences’ and have thereby argued that the gospel accounts have a ‘ring of truth’ to them. Rest assured that this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many dozen more examples than those articulated above. When taken as a cumulative argument, the result is extremely powerful. One critic of this argument, Ed Babinski, has attempted to explain this away by virtue of Markian priority: For a full explanation as to why Babinski’s ideas don’t offer much help, I refer readers to Tim McGew’s article here.