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Showing posts with label reliability of the Bible. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reliability of the Bible. Show all posts

Monday, September 11, 2017

Yes Jesus Existed: Even Romans Outside the Bible Wrote About Him


It seems that given enough of a shine, any bad idea can gain traction. For most of history, scholars have debated the events of the life of Jesus recorded in the biblical accounts. However, the vast majority of New Testament scholars, both those who are of the faith and those who are critical of it, have held that it as historical fact that a man named Jesus of Nazareth lived in first century Palestine, had disciples follow him, and was eventually put to death. While a few fringe elements doubted the idea of a historical Jesus, not even most atheist New Testament scholars believe that Jesus never existed.

But with the advent of the internet and the ability to self-publish, that fringe has grown a much larger following. Now there are very popular atheists who hold that the entire account of Jesus's life, teaching, and death, are simply made up, setting a fictional stage for a fictional tale of a mythical messiah. They claim that if Jesus was such a big deal he would surely have been noticed and written about by more than just the biblical authors.

While that argument isn't valid—in comparison to the events of the Empire in circa 30 A.D., the goings on in Palestine wouldn't be considered newsworthy to those living in Rome—the fact is that Jesus does get mentioned in ancient Roman sources. In his book Jesus Outside the New Testament, Dr. Robert E. Van Voorst pulls together citations from Roman writers such as Thalles, Pliny the Younger, Seutonius, Tacitus, Mara bar Serapion, Lucian of Samosata, and Celsus, along with Jewish sources such as Josephus and other rabbinic writings. Of his Roman sources, Van Voorst underscores that this is a pretty diverse group:
The famous Roman writers on history and imperial affairs have taken pride of place: Suetonius, Tacitus, and Pliny the Younger. On the other end of the spectrum, the comparatively unknown writers Mara and Thallos have also contributed their voices. Philosophic opponents to Christianity such as Lucian and Celsus have also written about Christ. These writers have a range of opinion: from those perhaps sympathetic to Christ (Mara); through those moderately hostile (Pliny) and those fully hostile but descriptive (Tacitus, Suetonius); to those not interested in description, but who vigorously attack Christianity and in the process attack Christ (Lucian and Celsus). A variety of languages is also notable: Latin, the official language of Rome; Greek, both a common literary language and the language of trade; and Syriac, a main language of the eastern Mediterranean. Together, they speak of a variety of topics about Jesus' teachings, movement, and death. And they know that Jesus is worshiped by Christians, which they relate to his founding of a movement.1
Van Voorst is cautious not to make too much of these mentions, as he notes most of the outside accounts of Jesus's life are coming from Christians who do believe He existed. He even states "by the strictest standards of historical evidence we cannot use them to demonstrate the existence of Jesus. On the other hand, given the nature of the evidence on Jesus from classical authors, neither can one use them as conclusive evidence to disprove the existence of Jesus."2 But these sources cannot be counted out as of no value at all. After all, some of these sources were very hostile to Christianity and they would have motive to point out the fact that such a man as Jesus was mythical. Instead, Van Voorst sees them as secondary sources of historical accounts. After making the above points, he continues:
…Although independent confirmation by contemporary classical writers is excluded, we do gain a later corroboration of certain key elements in the life of Jesus. Corroboration of knowledge is important, in historiography as in the natural sciences. If classical writers had never mentioned Jesus, or especially if they had argued that he was a product of Christian myth­making, then it would be a different matter. They did treat Jesus as a historical person, the founder of his movement, and had no reason to doubt his historicity. It would have been easy (if Jesus never existed) to deliver a strong blow against Christianity by showing that it was based on a myth when it claimed to be based on history. But these writers accepted Jesus as historical, and all but one used the events of his life as arguments against Christianity: he began a movement that they called a pernicious superstition, and he was executed as a criminal.3
Van Voorst concludes that ultimately to do good history, we must do what scholars have done for centuries. We have to take the New Testament accounts themselves as what they are, documents of ancient history. The evidence there is very strong that the New Testament authors were writing in a specific genre of ancient biography, meaning they were writing about a real person. And given that both Jewish antagonists and Roman antagonists argued that the events of the life of Jesus proved he wasn't worthy of worship, it seems a much more reasonable to conclude that Jesus was a real person rather than that he never existed at all.

References

1. Robert E. Van Voorst. Jesus Outside the New Testament: an Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2000. 68.
2. Van Voorst. 73.
3. Ibid.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Archaeology Topples Objection to Biblical Samson Account



Certainly one of the most fantastic characters in the Bible is Samson. Everything about his exploits reads like a comic book: killing a lion bare-handed, slaying 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey, pulling up the gates of Gaza. He seems to be a man of steel living in the Bronze Age!

But, just like the modern day Superman (who was modeled in part from Sampson), the hero had his own form of kryptonite in pretty faces. Samson had a weakness for woman and no one can think of his name without also recalling the name Delilah, who prodded the source of his strength from him so she could then sell him to the Philistines. Even in this story we see a tragic climax, where Samson, blinded by his enemy is placed in the center of the temple of Dagon between two pillars to entertain his foes. He prays to God for strength one last time and collapses the pillars so the Philistines both inside the structure and on the roof were killed by the collapse, along with Sampson himself.

Of course, such as story strikes the modern ear as too fantastic to believe. How could such a character as Sampson have lived? Obviously, we don't have any way of testing whether he did beyond the record presented to us in the book of Judges. It's therefore not unexpected that the tales of Sampson's exploits would be met with skepticism from scholars like John L. McKenzie who writes:
…the historical quality of heroic tales is always low. This is easy to see in Samson. A palace or temple which could support several thousand people on its roof supported by two central pillars separated by an arm's length never existed.[1]
McKenzie is right in noting the detail of two pillars holding up a roof would be odd. In fact, Philistine temples that had been known to archaeologists didn't have such a design at all—until the 1970s when Amihar Mazar unearthed a temple at Tell Qasile from the exact same time period of Sampson and discovered a unique feature of its design was it had two central pillars in the center that supported the roof.[2] Nearly two decades later, while digging in another site some 20 miles away, archaeologist Trude Dothan found another Philistine temple with a similar structure:
On the north-south central axis of the main room, we discovered two pillar bases (and possibly a third), one located exactly in the center of the hall. This configuration resembles that in the Philistine temple at Tell Qasile, where two support pillars stood about 6 feet apart. These two pillars, of course, also recall the pillars in the Philistine temple mentioned in the famous Bible story in Judges 16. Chained and blinded, Samson brings a Philistine temple down on himself by pushing two pillars apart. The two pillars in the Ekron building were 7.5 feet apart.[3]
To be clear, I don't believe either of these temples is the one mentioned in the Samson story. However, the archaeological discoveries do show that such a design wasn't at all uncommon in Philistine architecture. It doesn't prove the Sampson story as true, but it definitely removes the claim that the two pillars are a fictitious invention of the author of Judges.

Further, it lends credibility to the author's reliability in getting certain details right, since Jewish architecture, definitely did not feature two central pillars. The author seems to have some real familiarity with Philistine temple construction, bolstering his reliability in the process. This is just one more way modern archaeology has lent support to the biblical accounts and why we continue to trust the Scriptures.

References

[1]. McKenzie, John L. The Old Testament Without Illusions. Chicago: Thomas More, 1979. 229, as quoted in Roskoski, John, PhD. "Between the Pillars: Revisiting 'Samson and the House of Dagon'". Associates for Biblical Research. Associates for Biblical Research, 24 July 2008. Web. 17 Apr. 2017. http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2008/07/Between-the-Pillars-Revisiting-Samson-and-the-House-of-Dagon.aspx#Article.
[2]. Mazar, Amihai. "Additional Philistine Temples at Tell Qasile." The Biblical Archaeologist, vol. 40, no. 2, 1977, pp. 82–87., www.jstor.org/stable/3209491.
[3]. Dothan, Trude. "Ekron of the Philistines, Part I: Where They Came From, How They Settled Down and the Place They Worshiped In," Biblical Archaeology Review 16.1 (1990): 24–36.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Why the Gospels are History (podcast)



As we approach Easter, Christians will get inundated with media specials trying to proclaim the "lost" story of the real Jesus. But they have it wrong. Listen in to all four parts of this new podcast series  as we examine why the Gospel accounts are completely trustworthy as reliable sources of ancient history.

Subscribe to Come Reason's Podcast via iTunes or RSS feed.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Clarifying Objections against Bible Reliability



There's an old joke about a professor walking at his University and sees a young Christian from a small town reading the book of Exodus. "Praise God!" the youth exclaims, "What a miracle! God parted the Red Sea so Israel could pass through!" The prof decides to dispel the backwards beliefs of the yokel, telling him, "I think you're misinformed. Scholars have concluded that what you read as the Red Sea is really the Sea of Reeds. That area is really only covered buy a few inches of water, so the Red Sea wasn't really parted. Education has debunked that miracle, so there's nothing there to shout praises for."

The student sheepishly thanked the teacher for enlightening him to this new-found knowledge. Feeling a bit cocky as he began to walk away, the professor was surprised to suddenly hear the student exclaiming the greatness of God and his miracles all the louder. Turning on a dime, the lecturer quickly returned to the student and snapped "Didn't you believe what I said?"

"Yes sir, I did." answered the lad. "But then I kept reading and it says here that God drowned all of Pharaoh's army in those few inches of water. What a mighty miracle of God!"

Two Types of Charges against Scripture

Certainly one of the more persistent objections Christians hear to their faith is the Bible is untrustworthy. I've heard this charge raised in many different venues. Sometimes Christians will rush in to defend the Bible with stats and quotes, but this would be a mistake. As I've engaged skeptics in colleges and universities who question the veracity of the Bible, their objections are not monolithic. Different people have different objections to the Scriptures, and it is important that in conversation you address the specific objection in the objector's mind.

The first thing that I ask someone who claims the Bile can't be trusted is "in what way can't it be trusted? Can you be more specific?" This helps shape the conversation going forward so I know where to place my emphasis. Objections to the Bible come in one of two main categories: either doubting the accuracy of the text or doubting the fidelity of the accounts. Each category will need to be answered very differently. Let's take a look at both so you can more easily identify them.

Accuracy of the Text

When asked to be more specific, most people who make the claim that the Bible is untrustworthy will respond with a more specific objection. You may hear objections like these:
  • The Bible's been translated too many times
  • No original versions exist
  • It's been too long between the copies we have and when the originals were written
  • There have been too many changes to the text over time.
All of the examples above fall into the first major category, questioning the accuracy of the text. These kinds of objections may be answered by pointing to methods of textual criticism that show why scholars have a very high level of confidence that we can know what the original scriptures said. I've written on an easy-to-remember way to show that here. (The "translated too many times" objection is based from ignorance.) The accuracy of the New Testament text really isn't an issue for scholars, and the Dead Sea scrolls have demonstrated that the Old Testament text has remained reliably copied for thousands of years.

Fidelity of the Accounts

But textual accuracy isn't the only type of objection one may hear. You may also be confronted with objections like:
  • There are contradictions in the Bible
  • There was too much time between oral stories and when they were written down for legends to develop.
These charges are not questioning whether we have the right text, but whether the text accurately records the accounts as they happened. Answering charges against the fidelity of the scriptures requires a different approach. You may need to discuss how the Gospel accounts had to meet a high level of expectation as history or how archaeology has confirmed many of the biblical accounts. You may need to spend some time discussing just what they mean by "contradiction" and how different contradiction claims fail. You may even need to talk about why the Gospels offer a ring of truth as eyewitness accounts. Wherever your discussion leads, it will be a very different one than with someone who questions the accuracy of the text itself.

When defending your faith, asking clarifying questions is crucially important. Sometimes when challenged, people don't even have a focused objection in mind. They're just parroting back something they've heard. Challenging them to be more specific brings this out and it will tell you just how seriously they are taking their own claims. But if they do, you now have a better idea of how to approach the discussion and whether or not they're earnest in listening to a response.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Bible Critics and Demands for Archaeological Proof



Christianity is a literate faith. By that I mean it is written accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that are at the center of Christian belief. The Gospel accounts and Paul's writings offer specific testimony to historical events that if proven false would mean Christianity is a sham.

Because written testimony sits at the crux of Christian faith, it should come as no surprise that skeptics and critics call those written accounts into question. Many times, the doubt the critics voice is accompanied by a complaint of the lack of archaeological data. Take Resa Aslan's Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. In chapter three, he writes, "Despite the stories in the gospels about Jesus preaching in his hometown's synagogue, no archaeological evidence has been unearthed to indicate the presence of a synagogue in ancient Nazareth, though there could have been a small structure that served as such."1 Aslan also points out there have been no inscriptions found to show the general population of Nazareth as literate.

It seems Aslan chooses to offer these points in some attempt to undermine the story of Jesus announcing his Messiahship in Luke 4:16-30. Other critics have made similar moves, asking "where's the archaeology? to this or that biblical account. But lack of accepted archaeological data isn't as clear as the critics would have you believe. Craig Keener, in his massive historical assessment of the book of Acts, makes a pertinent observation:
Archaeology is, in some ways, more concrete than extant manuscripts copied and recopied from ancient originals; it provides physical evidence and sometimes (especially through burial inscriptions) the "underside" of society less apt to be preserved in literary sources. Nevertheless, it too has its limitations, not least the "muteness" of stones apart from interpretive grids often provided, at least in part, by literary sources... We further possess only a sample of even the possible physical remains, merely a portion of which have been excavated and only some of the excavations published, thus we sometimes have chance finds confirming literary records that previously were unconfirmed by such data. Some of the archaeological data and the interpretations of them for particular sites noted in this commentary will therefore undoubtedly require revision because archaeological information is always partial and open to reinterpretation when new evidence is found.2
Keener is right on target here. First, the fact is we don't have archaeological evidence for much of ancient history. Very few things can last buried in the dirt for two thousand years and the things that seem significant in our day may not be significant in that day. How do we know just how literate the people of Nazareth are in the Hebrew Scriptures when the common language was koine Greek? Most writing was placed on perishable materials.

Second, even the archaeological finds that have been investigated are not clear cut. A wall or a cup is just that. It requires the archeologist to infer things about where it was fond and why it was left there. One famous example is the supposed burial mask of Agamemnon. Archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann found a golden mask in Mycenae, Greece and claimed he found the remains of King Agamemnon spoken of in Homer's Iliad. But Schliemann's whole life was dedicated to proving the Iliad historically true and the mask dates to centuries earlier than the Trojan War. Thus, a great controversy has ensued about the mask, with modern archaeologists even questioning whether it is a fraud or not.3

Ancient Texts Count as Ancient Evidence

Archaeology is a great tool to help investigate events of the past. The Bible has been shown to be true in many details through archaeological evidence, such as the existence of the pool of Siloam, the existence of Pontius Pilate, the existence of Belshazzar and why he is the second king,  and even Hezekiah's defiling of the pagan temples in Jerusalem. But archaeology is no more full proof that any other method of historical investigation as it needs to be interpreted and properly understood. The ancient written accounts we have help us make sense of the archaeology, just as the archaeology may help us make sense of the written accounts. But to try and call the story of Jesus into question simply because "no archaeological evidence has been unearthed" is disingenuous.

References

1. Aslan, Reza. ZEALOT: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. New York: Random House, 2013. Location 3511. Kindle.
2. Keener, Craig S. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012.32. Print.
3. Harrington, Spenser PM. "Behind the Mask of Agamemnon." Archaeology Magazine. Archaeological Institute of America, Aug. 1999. Web. 01 Nov. 2016.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Bill Maher Whores out the Horus Myth Against Jesus


A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. That aphorism is no truer than within the new atheism where people become instant experts because they read something that sounded plausible and agreed with their biases.

Take the charge that the accounts of Jesus's life, death, and resurrection were not only not history, but they are simply a retread of the dying and rising God myths, such as the Egyptian myths concerning Horus. In his movie Religulous, prominent atheist Bill Maher confidently tells some Christians that "the Jesus story wasn't original." The film then moves to a series of texts making the following claims:
Written in 1280 BC, the Egyptian Book of the Dead describes a god, Horus… Horus is the son if the god Osirus born to a virgin mother. He was baptized in a river by Anup the Baptizer, who was later beheaded. Like Jesus, Horus was tempted while alone in the desert… healed the sick… the blind… cast out demons… and walked on water. He raised Asar from the dead. "Asar" translates to "Lasarus." Oh yeah, he also had 12 disciples. Yes, Horus was crucified first, and after three days two women announced Horus the savior of humanity had been resurrected.1
Each of these claims is overlaid on top of a movie clip where Jesus is paralleling the detail.

Which Horus is Maher Talking About?

However, there seems to be something missing from Maher's little tutorial; he offers no citations of the sources from which he's drawing his data. We're left to believe all one needs to do is pick up a translation of one Egyptian Book of the Dead and we'll have everything laid out in front of us. That's the assumption you get from what was presented, right?

You'd be incredibly wrong. Egyptian mythology isn't so neatly unpacked. Much of what was written about Horus in a systematic manner doesn't come from the Egyptians at all, but from Plutarch who wrote them some 30-60 years after the Gospels were composed. Egyptologist E.A. Wallis Budge explains:
Plutarch, as a learned man and a student of comparative religion and mythology was most anxious to understand the history of Isis and Osiris, which Greek and Roman scholars talked about freely, and which none of them comprehended, and he made enquiries of priests and others, and examined critically such information as he could obtain, believing and hoping that he would penetrate the mystery in which these gods were wrapped. As a result of his labours he collected a number of facts about the form of the Legend of Isis and Osiris as it was known to the learned men of his day, but there is no evidence that he had the slightest knowledge of the details of the original African Legend of these gods as it was known to the Egyptians, say, under the VIth Dynasty. Moreover, he never realized that the characteristics and attributes of both Isis and Osiris changed several times during the long history of Egypt, and that a thousand years before he lived the Egyptians themselves had forgotten what the original form of the legend was.2
Not only have the myths changed, but they've been mixed together, even among the Egyptian texts. John Gwyn Griffiths, in explaining some of the Horus mythology, writes "Little consistency, however, is shown with regard to the genealogy of Horus. He is described as the son of Nut, the son of Geb, and once perhaps as the son of Hathor. Sethe sees Hathor as the original mother of Horus in the Horus-nome of Damanhur-Momemphis, where she is later replaced by Isis who assumes her bovine headdress." 3 Griffiths goees on, but just in that section it sounds like Maher will have an incredibly difficult time demonstrating the December 25 birth date, the born of a virgin claim, or that he was the son of Osirus.

Just before all those assertions that Horus had the original Gospel story some 1300 years before Jesus's birth, Maher authoritatively tells his Christian interviewees how many gods of that era were bor4n on December 25 and they should really "study the religions of the Mediterranean region from a thousand years before." He seems to say they need to shed their naiveté. It is obvious, though, that Maher hasn't studied Horus at all if he thinks a quick read of the Book of the Dead will give you a 1280 BC parallel of the Gospels. You can try it yourself here.

Next time I'll look at Plutarch's version of the Horus myth to counteract any final appeals there. But I think Maher (as well as all those Internet atheists who like to parade these claims) needs to take a bit of his own advice. Perhaps he should at least look into the Horus myth before going off half-cocked with wild-eyed speculations on parallels that don't exist.

References

1. Religulous. Dir. Larry Charles. Perf. Bill Maher. Thousand Words, 2008. Ill Maher - Jesus, Horus, Mithra, Krishna - Religulous ( 2 Mins ). YouTube, 29 Dec. 2011. Web. 23 Sept. 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4lLiRr_mT24.
2. Budge, E. A. Wallis. "IX. The History of Isis and Osiris." Legends of the Gods: The Egyptian Texts, Edited with Translations. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner &, 1912. Web. http://www.sacred-texts.com/egy/leg/leg12.htm
3. Griffiths, J. Gwyn. The Origins of Osiris and His Cult. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1980. Print. 15.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Answering Bible Contradiction Claims (video)



Last week I gave two talks at the annual Speaking the Truth in Love apologetics conference. Here is the video from one of those, entitled Answering Bible Contradiction Claims. Enjoy!



Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Ignoring the Eyewitnesses to the Resurrection



Is the resurrection account of Jesus true? Skeptic will say no. They hold the resurrection of Christ is fiction, created either by intentional fabrication or through an accumulation of legends, mistakes, and misunderstandings (or some combination of the two). I've recently looked again at why the resurrection could not be an intentional fraud, but what about the possibility of legend?

There are several reasons that place the legend theory in doubt. First of all, it is a concept that runs contrary to the Jewish mindset of that day, yet Jews were the first to accept and spread the belief. Why would such a legend develop if it bucks the expected conventions of the very people who are supposedly falling for it? Secondly, the resurrection accounts themselves appear pretty early after the time the resurrection was said to take place.

There's another point that I don't hear much about in these discussions, though. Even before the Gospel accounts were relatively early, there is a source of information that connects the events as they happen to the Gospel writers' pens. That is the testimony of Jesus's very closest disciples, known in the Gospels as "the Twelve."

In his article "The Circle of the Twelve: Did It Exist During Jesus' Public Ministry?" John P. Meier argues that this circle of twelve people who made up Jesus's most entrusted followers could not be a later invention or legendary. Meier offers several lines of evidence for his view:
  • Unlike the term apostle (meaning "one who is sent") that is applied to Paul, Barnabas, and others in the epistles, the use of the term "the Twelve" is very specific and is used by the Gospel writers, especially Mark and John, to very specifically to refer to those disciples who were closest to Jesus.1 This means from a historical standpoint, attestation of the Twelve exists across multiple sources; it has a stronger level of support.

  • The list of names of the Twelve is remarkable consistent across the different gospels, not only are eleven of the twelve names identical, but even the grouping of the names are always displayed in three sets of four. The only name that has some question behind it is Thaddeus who is called Jude of James in Luke's gospel.2 Meier sees this as evidence for an oral tradition for the Twelve that pre-dates the written accounts of the Gospels.

  • Meier places special emphasis on the Gospel of John's mention of the Twelve: "The fact that the Twelve are mentioned in John is all the more weighty because John has no special interest in the group called the Twelve. The Johannine tradition names important disciples or supporters of Jesus (e.g., Nathaniel and Lazarus) who are not listed in the Synoptic catalogues of the Twelve; and the anonymous "disciple whom Jesus loved," the model of all discipleship, does no apparently belong to the Twelve. The few references to the Twelve that occur in John thus have the air of being relics or fossils embedded in primitive Johannine tradition."3

  • The presence of Judas as Jesus's betrayer also argues for the existence of the Twelve for how else does one explain his betrayal? Without the existence of the Twelve, Judas's appearance is out of place, disjointed. But as Meier notes, the fact that Judas was numbered among the Twelve and the fact that he handed Jesus over to the authorities is multiply attested. Further, it's highly embarrassing for Jesus to be betrayed not simply by a follower, but by one of his own inner circle, the very one with whom he entrusted the ministry finances.4

  • Lastly, emphasis on the Twelve is much more prevalent in the period during Jesus's earthly ministry than it is in the first generation of Christians after Jesus's ascension. Meier writes, "In his epistles, Paul alludes to his interaction with or compares himself to other church leaders… What is glaringly absent in Paul's letters is any mention of the Twelve" with the exception of the 1 Corinthians 15:5, which is a Christian creed formulated within a few years of the resurrection itself.5
It seems that Jesus really did have a circle of Twelve disciples he kept especially close. This inner circle was in a unique position to be the primary source material for the accounts of the Gospels that record their exploits. If the Resurrection accounts are legendary, why would this circle of Twelve develop? How does it fit, especially if the concept of the Twelve is glaringly absent in the other writings of the New Testament authors?

As Richard Bauckham has developed in his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, it is the members of the Twelve who provide the link between Jesus, his ministry and resurrection, and the gospel accounts. It is a chain of custody establishing that eyewitness testimony is the thing establishing the resurrection accounts. Because legends cannot explain the existence of the Twelve, they also cannot explain the testimony of the resurrection eyewitnesses.

References

1. Meier, John P.. "The Circle of the Twelve: Did It Exist During Jesus' Public Ministry?". Journal of Biblical Literature 116.4 (1997): 638. Web.
2. Meier, John P., 1997. 647.
3. Meier, John P., 1997. 652.
4. Meier, John P., 1997. 665-670.
5. Meier, John P., 1997. 670.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Why the Resurrection Cannot be a Lie


Easter week is here and Christians are getting ready to mark the rising of Jesus from the grave. The Resurrection is the foundational event of Christianity and it drastically changed human history. But skeptics don't believe the accounts of the resurrection as the Gospels and Paul present them. They doubt the historicity of the resurrection, and think the Gospel writers either intentionally fabricated the tale or recorded legends that grew into the familiar story we know. However, both theories have significant problems associated with them.

Problems with Charging the Resurrection as Fraud

Some charge the Gospel writers with fraud, inventing the resurrection accounts as part of a purposeful plan to "sell" Christianity to the masses or to gain power. This charge goes all the way back to the Jewish Sanhedrin themselves, who claimed the disciples stole the body in order to claim Jesus had been raised from the dead (Matt 28:13).

First, it is very unclear how concocting a story of a crucified leader who rises physically would be more appealing to a first century Jew than perhaps a spiritual or ephemeral resurrection. I noted yesterday how the idea of a resurrection here and now created a paradigm shift from traditional Jewish thought. Further, Romans initially reacted to the story with persecution and death. Tacitus even reports that after the first couple of decades for the resurrection, Christians were "hated for their abominations" so much Nero thought they would be the perfect fall guys to blame the burning of Rome on.1

Moreover, the change in the disciples themselves and their unflinching belief in seeing the resurrected Jesus become more implausible if these early followers really knew the whole thing was a conspiracy. Not one disciple ever recanted seeing the risen Christ, even upon pain of torture or death. In fact, their behavior changed drastically. They became bold proclaimers of the risen Lord, even directly defying the very Sanhedrin from whom they ran and hid when Jesus was arrested (Acts 4:18, Mark 14:27).

What About Those Who Held Christianity in Contempt?

Also, the false resurrection theory cannot account for the conversion of those who were antagonistic to Jesus and his message. Throughout Jesus's ministry, his brothers were outsiders, not believing him to be the Messiah (ref. Mark3:21, 6:3-4). However Jesus appeared to James after his resurrection which changed him so much he became the leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:12-21). What would cause James to change his beliefs? If he didn't believe the miracles of Jesus before his crucifixion, why would he believe Jesus rose unless he actually saw him as 1 Corinthians 15:7 states?

Even more amazing than James is the conversion of the Apostle Paul. Paul was trained in the ways of the Pharisees (Phil. 3:5), a highly observant and passionate follower of the Jewish faith who found the claims of Jesus and the Christians so offensive, he petitioned the Sanhedrin to capture or kill any Christians he could find (Acts 9:1). Without Jesus appearing to Paul, why would Paul abandon such deeply held and what he would only consider as righteous beliefs? As I explain here, it's like a high ranking ISIS commander, one who ordered the beheadings of Christians in Syria all at once renouncing not only ISIS but Islam and converting to Christianity and holding Billy-Graham style crusades around the world. Again, it wasn't an empty tomb that Paul offered as the reason for his conversion. It was the fact that Paul saw the risen Jesus himself (1 Cor. 15:8-9).

If the resurrection account is a lie, then Paul's conversion screams for an explanation. Paul believed it was a lie. He believed it was more than a lie, but also an affront to God himself. So, what made Paul do a 180 degree change in his beliefs and his attitude?

Where's the Alternative?

To claim the resurrection is a fraud, the skeptic is denying the testimony of Paul and the Gospel writers themselves. Therefore, the skeptic must offer some plausible explanation for the facts we do know: that Jesus died by Roman crucifixion, that the disciples so deeply believed they had experienced the risen Jesus it transformed them and they held their belief even unto death, that Jesus's skeptical brother  James became a leader in the Christian church and that one of the deadliest enemies of Christianity reversed himself in the blink of an eye and became its biggest advocate.

How does the skeptic account for these things and is their account more plausible than the resurrection itself? I don't think any alternative theory has measured up to the challenge.

References

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Gospels Had to Meet High Expectations as History


Apologists often make the claim that the resurrection is one of the most well-attested facts of ancient history. Some of this is due to the fact that the resurrection account is recorded in multiple independent sources which includes the Gospel accounts. Further, scholars have argued that the Gospel accounts count as a very specific kind of ancient historical genre; they are written as biography.1

Sometimes skeptics will grant the fact the Gospels were written to be taken as a historical record, but they don't believe that's enough. They will assume that history two thousand years ago meant a very different thing than what we mean today. History was basically propaganda where anyone could claim anything.

While it is true that those in power had the ability to shape events in a more positive light, it is far from the case that the ancient audiences didn't care about the truth in historical reporting. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Writings that claimed to be reporting historical events had very specific criteria of recounting what people who were there actually experienced and they should record those experiences as accurately. I'll take a look at each of these in turn.

History was supposed to report what people saw

Were ancient people more gullible and ignorant than people of today? Not necessarily. Just because cultures of the past may have had misinformed or perhaps what we would consider backwards views on matters dealing with science, it doesn't follow they would hold backwards view on everything. Such assumptions are a kind of chronological snobbery.

The fact is ancient historians held to their peers to high standards when recording historical events. Samuel Byskrog, whom Richard Bauckham quotes, explains how the people who were there and could personally recount the event being recorded were consider the most reliable sources, since they weren't hearing about events second or third hand. He writes:
The ancient historians – such as Thucydides, Polybius, Josephus, and Tacitus"were convinced that true history could be written only while events were still within living memory, and they valued as their sources the oral reports of direct experience of the events by involved participants in them. Ideally, the historian himself should have been a participant in the events he narrates"as, for example, Xenophon, Thucidides, and Josephus were"but, since he could not have been at all the events he recounts or in all the places he describes, the historian had to also rely upon eyewitnesses whose living voices he could hear and whom he could question himself.2

History was supposed to be accurate

Beyond looking for first-hand reports, historians would also police each other – just like today. While the peer review process wan't as developed, there was certainly n exchange between historians when one thought the other was being less than accurate or trying to push an intentionally biased account. Craig Keener states, "Historians harshly criticized other historians whom they accused of promoting falsehood, especially when they were thought to exhibit self-serving agendas." 3

One such example form ancient history is how the Greek historian Polybius dressed down Timaneus, another historian, on what Polybius shows as clear mistakes in his report of Africa. He writes:
No one can help admiring the richness of the country, and one is inclined to say that Timaeus was not only unacquainted with Africa but that he was childish and entirely deficient in judgement, and was still fettered by the ancient report handed down to us that the whole of Africa is sandy, dry, and unproductive. The same holds good regarding the animals. For the number of horses, oxen, sheep, and goats in the country is so large that I doubt if so many could be found in the rest of the world, 4 because many of the African tribes make no use of cereals but live on the flesh of their cattle and among their cattle. 5 Again, all are aware of the numbers and strength of the elephants, lions, and panthers in Africa, of the beauty of its buffaloes, and the size of its ostriches, creatures that do not exist at all in Europe while Africa is full of them. Timaeus has no information on this subject and seems of set purpose to tell the exact opposite of the actual facts.(Emphasis added.)4
Polybius goes on criticizing Timaneus' account simply because he offers a false report, but he wasn't the only historian to believe in standards. Even Pliny the Younger, who wrote at the same time the Gospels were being written, thought history should be done with "fidelity and truth"5

Dismissing historical records as unreliable simply because they are old is irrational. Ancient cultures well understood truth from a lie and they wrote history because they wanted to preserve what really happened. The Gospels fit into a genre where truth mattered. Certainly, that doesn't mean everything recorded in every ancient account is true; false perceptions, witnesses would color the truth, and interpreting events so Caesar looked good did happen. But one cannot simply waive one's hand and discount the Gospels because they are old and therefore they could pass fantastic stories on to an uncritical audience. That's simply not the world in which the Gospels were written.

References

1. See Craig Keener's discussion on this in The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, 74-84.
2. Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2006. Print. 8-9.
3. Keener, Craig S. The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009. Print. 96.
4. Polybius. "Fragments of Book XII." XII.3.3 Polybius • Histories. University of Chicago, 1927. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.
5. Pliny, Epistles 7.17.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Talking Wrong and Testimony as Trustworthy



When I was a kid, I listened to Steve Martin's Wild and Crazy Guy album. Martin told a joke there about a dirty trick to play on a three year old kid:


In the clip, Martin explains "Kids learn how to talk from listening to their parents. So, if you have a three-year-old kid and you want to play a dirty trick on him, whenever you're around him you talk wrong. So now it's like his first day in school and he raises his hand: "May I mambo dogface to the banana patch?"1

Martin's joke is funny, but it actually highlights an interesting point about the nature of being reasonable. Kids DO believe others will talk with them in a way that's trustworthy. They believe parents will give them a basically truthful concept of the world, that they will be honest in using words and filling them with proper meaning, and that, dad jokes excepted, people are not trying to intentionally mislead them.

We shouldn't think of children as being unreasonable in trusting the statements of others even with no evidence. One of the reasons that dad's tall tales work on kids is because dad is generally otherwise trustworthy. Those tall tales leverage the child's inexperience and their reasonable trust of authority.

The Principle of Testimony

However, children are not the only ones to whom it would be considered reasonable to hold to the general trustworthiness of others. All people must operate on this principle in order to have a world that makes any sense at all. Yesterday, I highlighted one of the fundamental principles of knowledge, the Principle of Credulity, which Richard Swinburne defined. Along with that one, Swinburne also offers the Principle of Trustworthiness. Swinburne defines this as "individuals ought to believe the reports of others about how things seemed to them, and so (given the principle of credulity) that things were as they report—in the absence of counter-evidence. That is, other things being equal, the reports of others are probably true."2

Swinburne goes on to clarify that one would never be able to understand another person if one were to believe they were playing Steve Martin's dirty trick on them. How could we? Even if they used proper words but communicated false ideas half the time, it would be impossible to know if and when they truly meant anything. That would make all of their statements untrustworthy and therefore meaningless.

Swinburne does say that experience can teach us that "certain persons or persons in certain circumstances are not to be trusted."3 That's why I can no longer get away with pulling dad jokes on my kids; they recognize when I've planted my tongue in my cheek. Now, they just roll their eyes and continue the conversation.

The Trustworthy Testimony of the Gospels

The principle of testimony also applies when reading ancient historical writings. While people can always be biased (should we believe the campaign slogans of politicians even today?), for the most part an ancient source can be held as truthful. Take Luke who wrote the Gospel that bears his name as well as the book of Acts. Craig Keener notes that the dominant view of Luke's writings by scholars today is that they are historical in nature. Keener quotes the Anchor Bible Dictionary in stating, "The reasons for regarding Luke-Acts as a History are obvious, and to most scholars, compelling."4 Keener then points out that when compiling the different genres suggested for Luke's writings, "history appears five times as often as novel and, together with biography, seven times as often as the novel."5 In other words, Luke is hoping to convey what he believes is historical reality. That means one should approach Luke as someone trying to tell the truth and measure his trustworthiness in what we can measure.

In speaking with atheists, though, they don't take this approach with the Gospel accounts. Because they classify them as "religious writings," they hold all of them to be untrustworthy unless the opposite can be proven. That's simply backwards and it causes the same effect: they won't really be able to weigh the evidence the Gospel accounts offer because they refuse to understand them to begin with. In their eyes, Luke may as well have written "May I mambo dogface to the banana patch?" Such a position shows it is those atheists who are the ones being unreasonable.

References

1. Martin, Steve. A Wild and Crazy Guy. Rhino/Warner Bros., 1978. CD.
2. Swinburne, Richard. The Evolution of the Soul. Oxford: Clarendon, 1986. Print. 13.
3. Swinburne, 1986, 13.
4. "Luke-Acts." The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1992. 406. Print. As quoted in Craig S Keener's Acts: An Exegetical Commentary. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. 91. Print.
5. Keener, Craig S. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. Print. 91.

Monday, December 21, 2015

How Can We be Sure Where Jesus Was Born?



Most childhood plays of the Christmas story show a young Mary and Joseph wandering from house to house in Bethlehem, knocking on doors only to be met with a head shaking "no" no the other side. While there is conjecture as to whether they were turned away from an inn or simply couldn't fit in the main living quarters, the story is clearly that Mary gave birth in the town of Bethlehem.

But how certain are we that Bethlehem would truly be the location? Is it more likely Jesus was born in Nazareth and Bethlehem became a later invention? Like all historical facts, nothing is impossible but why would someone believe that Bethlehem wasn't the birthplace of Christ? The Gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke are both sources close to the time they record (within one generation), and they had direct access to Jesus's brothers and Jesus's mother. They could ask them directly, which Luke states he did (Luke 1:2).

Further, there are no competing accounts of Jesus's birthplace in any historical record. In fact, as Paul L. Maier notes, even Christian artwork depicting the Nativity shows a wide array of different scenarios that reflect the culture of the artist's day, but everyone seems to agree on some kind of stable or grotto or cave where the animals were kept, just as Luke reports.

The Church of the Nativity Adds Evidence

Interestingly, Maier also believes the Church of the Nativity that thousands of pilgrims visit every year offers good evidence for Bethlehem as the location of Jesus's birth. While the ostentatiousness of its current ornamentation may be off-putting to Western Protestants today, Maier explains that one must look past the modern adornments to the historical tradition of the location itself:
Did it all really happen here—at this spot? Though final proof is necessarily lacking, the surprising answer lurks closer to probably than possibly.

Where there is no direct archaeological evidence—and there could be none in the case of the birth of Jesus—nothing is more important in establishing the authenticity of an ancient site than antiquity: the place must have been regarded as such from earliest times. If the Church of the Nativity had been built here in 600 A.D., for example, its claims to mark the authentic site of the birth of Jesus would be almost worthless. But

Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor of Rome, erected the original Church of the Nativity at this place in 326 A.D., over the very grotto that had been identified as the true site by the early church father Origen and, before him, Justin Martyr, writing in 150 A.D. Justin stated that Jesus was born in a cave that was used as a stable-not the typical stone or wooden stable so familiar in Christmas art. Earlier still, in the 130's the pagan Roman emperor Hadrian tried to desecrate the Jewish and Christian holy places in Palestine, but, ironically, thereby preserved identity!

After he had put down an insurrection by the Jewish nationalist and would-be Messiah, Bar-Kokhba, in 135 A.D., Hadrian expelled the Jews Jerusalem and paganized all known holy places of Jews and Christians, erecting a temple to Venus at the site of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and a grove dedicated to Adonis over the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

After visiting the latter in the early 200s, Origen later wrote: "In Bethlehem the grotto was shown where Jesus was born .... What was shown to me is familiar to everyone in the area. The heathen themselves tell anyone willing to listen that in the said grotto a certain Jesus was born whom the Christians revere" (Contra Celsum, i, 51).1

What Other Accounts Count?

For the Bethlehem location to have been venerated in such a noticeable way that Hadrian would intentionally destroy them in 135 means it had been recognized as such for years or even decades prior. That puts the Bethlehem grotto, like the location of Jesus's crucifixion at what is now known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on very good historical grounds. While the tomb is much more likely to be specifically known by the disciples than his birthplace, there is still both archaeological and written support for these locations.

Give the tradition of Jesus's birthplace goes back to the early second century in respect to the grotto, and back to the first century in the Gospel accounts, holding that Jesus was born in Bethlehem as opposed to elsewhere is the most reasonable belief. Dr. Maier concludes similarly, noting "Some critics doubt that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and argue instead for Nazareth or elsewhere. Such opinions, however, are based only on scholarly conjecture, and no source has been discovered to date that disproves Jesus' birth in Bethlehem."2

Maier's point is interesting and one that happens often with those who wish to dismiss the accounts as given in the ancient sources. They offer a competing conjecture, but without a shred of evidence. Just as those who try to deny Jesus was buried in a tomb have no historical evidence for their claim, neither do those who doubt Jesus's birth at Bethlehem. It's all a lot of hand-waiving by people who wish to deny the fact that Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Michah 5:2. But history argues against them.

References

1. Maier, Paul L. In the Fullness of Time: A Historian Looks at Christmas, Easter, and the Early Church. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991. Print. 38-40.
2. Maier, 1991. 32.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Why the Gospels Cannot be Dismissed as "Religious"



Yesterday, I was part of a panel answering questions at the local college. A member of the Secular Students Alliance approached us and asked about the historical nature of the resurrection of Jesus. As I explained to him, the vast majority of New Testament scholars from the most conservative to the most skeptical (think Bart Ehrman, John Dominic Crossan, and other Jesus Seminar scholars) hold to certain central facts about Jesus, namely his death by Roman crucifixion, his followers truly believed he rose from the dead, the dramatic conversion of the apostle Paul from church persecutor to Christian evangelist, and even how most hold to Jesus's tomb being empty. 1 These count as evidence towards his resurrection.

However, the student kept rejecting the Biblical accounts as legitimate sources of knowledge. He waved off the accounts as "a single source" from "a religious book." But his dismissal is simply wrong for a couple of reasons, both of which should be clear to anyone who wishes to approach the evidence thoughtfully.

The Bible Isn't a Single Source

The first and most flagrant error the student made is to assume the Bible is a single source documenting Jesus's life on earth. This is simply an error of his modern mindset. As I've said, the Bible isn't a single work; it's a collection of sixty-six books written by about forty authors over a 1500 year span. When counting independent sources that discuss the resurrection, one would count at minimum Mark, John, and Paul's account in 1 Corinthians 15. Matthew and Luke draw from Mark's Gospel so scholars may not count them as independent, but dependent on Mark. However, as Michael Licona in summarizing N.T. Wright notes, "dependence may be also be an illusion resulting from a 'natural overlap' in oral tradition or the presence of terms that would be common even if all four Gospels were completely independent when they included reports of women going to the tomb, discovering it empty and being told by an angel that Jesus has risen from the dead."2

Regardless of whether Matthew and Luke (and even the theoretical "Q") count as independent sources, historians would still agree that we have at least three independent sources that describe the resurrection. Multiple attestation is a huge deal when trying to uncover ancient historical events; it's the best data we have and shouldn't be dismissed so easily. The Biblical accounts of Jesus's resurrection by any measure cannot me seen as a single source.

Bias against Religious Texts

The other reason the secularist dismissed the biblical accounts is because they were what he deemed "a religious work."  On this point I tried very hard to make him understand that such a classification is misplaced. As Licona explains, prior to 1990 there were a large segment of New Testament scholars who believed the canonical Gospels fell into a literary genre of their own, a kind of mythical approach to the life of a real person written in order to advance a belief system.3 However, since that time, scholarship has changed dramatically.

In his book The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Craig Keener reviews the different literary genres used at the time the Gospels were written and demonstrates that they fit the category of ancient biography especially well. Keener also notes that skeptical scholar Richard Burridge (who sought to disprove the notion that the Gospel accounts are biography) fits the genre better than any other. Keener comments "So forceful is Burridge's work on the gospel genre as biography that one reviewer concludes, 'This volume ought to end any legitimate denials of the canonical Gospels' biographical character.'"4

It is only because the Gospels are understood as religious texts today that the student's bias has any weight in the mind of others. But using modern glasses to view ancient texts is a poor way to do history. The fact that my interlocutor would not accept my explanations to him concerning the classification of the accounts of Jesus's life says a bit more about his biases than it does the reliability of the Gospels themselves.

References

1. For detail on this, see Gary R. Habermas, and Mike Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004. Print. 48-77.
2. Licona, Mike. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010. Print. 207.
3. Licona, 2010. 201.
4. Keener, Craig S. The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009. Print.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Gospel Variations and Ancient Biography


Much gets made by skeptics these days about the supposed contradictory accounts of Jesus's life in the four Gospels.  They ask about the timing of the events (how could it have been three days and three nights), how many women were at the tomb, and other facts that seems to be reported differently by the Gospel authors. Sometimes, the errors are an example of expecting robot reporting or snubbing style to force meaning.

A couple of years ago, I was able to sit down with Dr. Michael Licona and discuss how the accounts of Jesus's life differ and what that actually means. You can view the entire interview on YouTube, but the Baptist Press gave a nice summation of it in their publication. One portion I'd like to focus on particularly is Dr. Licona's work in comparing the Gospel accounts to other ancient biography that was written at the same time:
In an interview with Lenny Esposito of Come Reason Ministries at the Evangelical Theological Society's annual meeting, Licona, a former apologetics coordinator at the North American Mission Board, said it had not necessarily ever bothered him that some facts reported in the Gospels appeared to be contradictions.

"I believe in biblical inerrancy, but I also realize that biblical inerrancy is not one of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. The resurrection is," Licona told Esposito. "So if Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is still true even if it turned out that some things in the Bible weren't. So it didn't really bother me a whole lot even if some contradictions existed. But it did bother a lot of Christians."

Licona recalled a student in a class he was teaching at Southern Evangelical Seminary who, with tears forming in her eyes, wanted to know whether there were indeed contradictions. A majority of the class, he said, raised their hands to indicate they were troubled by apparent contradictions. Then he realized it was something he should address.

As he studied the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Licona began keeping a document of the differences he noticed. The document grew to 50 pages. He then read ancient biographies written around the time of Jesus because New Testament scholars often regard the Gospels as ancient biographies, he said.

Licona focused on Plutarch's biographies. The assassination of Julius Caesar, he noted, is told in five different biographies by Plutarch.

"So you have the same biographer telling the same story five different times. By noticing how Plutarch tells the story of Caesar's assassination differently, we can notice the kinds of biographical liberties that Plutarch took, and he's writing around the same time that some of the Gospels are being written and in the same language—Greek—to boot," Licona told Esposito.

"As I started to note some of these liberties that he took, I immediately started recognizing these are the same liberties that I noticed that the evangelists take—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John," Licona said.1
There's a difference between a contradiction and a stylistic change meant to emphasize one aspect of an event in one account, while another account may stress different aspects of the same event. As I've stated, these differences actually work in favor of the validity of the eyewitness accounts.

References

1. Roach, Erin. "HBU's Licona Addresses Bible's 'contradictions'" Baptist Press. Baptist Press, Southern Baptist Convention, 13 Feb. 2013. Web. 25 Sept. 2015. http://www.bpnews.net/39699.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Why Archaeology is Important for the Christian (video)



The Bible is unique among sacred texts in that it is set against a historical backdrop. Do recent archaeological discoveries validate or discredit the Biblical accounts? In this introductory video to the series, Lenny explains the relationship between archaeology and biblical studies, as well as how archaeology bolsters the faith of the believer.


Image courtesy Hans Splinter and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

What Friends' Phoebe Can Teach Us About the Empty Tomb



The linchpin of Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus. Simply put, the entire belief system hangs on this fact of history; destroy the resurrection and you've destroyed Christianity as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:17.

However, there is really good evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. As William Lane Craig has noted for years, New Testament scholars across the spectrum agree that Jesus of Nazareth died by crucifixion, was buried in a tomb and that tomb was later found empty. That means New Testament scholars who are liberal and even those do not themselves identify as Christian themselves will agree that these points are valid history.

Of course the percentage of scholars accepting of each of these points differs a bit. While Jesus's death by crucifixion is nearly unanimous, the number holding to the empty tomb are about 75%.1 This is partially because a reference to the empty tomb doesn't appear in the creedal tradition of 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. 1 Corinthians is the earliest of the New Testament books, being written sometime around spring of AD 54.2 But in the 1 Corinthians 15 passage, Paul uses language that denotes it is a creed, saying "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received..." As Paul was converted sometime between 1-5 years after Jesus's crucifixion, and he received this creed early in his instruction, we can know the creed had been in use within a few years after Jesus's death.3

Given all this, scholars place great weight on the creedal passage as being very early and yet the creedal passage doesn't talk about the empty tomb. It mentions the burial of Jesus but not the women finding the tomb empty on Sunday morning. That has led to some skeptics to doubt the empty tomb story entirely. Here's the thing, though. The story of Jesus's death, burial in a tomb and the later discovery of that tomb being empty is a single narrative. It is one story where the goal of telling about Jesus's death is to establish his resurrection.

Rewriting Old Yeller

Stories are a continuum. If the empty tomb isn't part of the story, the whole meaning of the story changes. It reminds me of a popular episode of Friends, entitled "The One Where Old Yeller Died." You can watch a YouTube clip here, but basically in the episode Phoebe comes upon her friends watching the Disney movie Old Yeller and she can't understand why they're crying. She believes it's a happy movie, where Old Yeller saves the family from a rabid wolf and all live safely forever. She believes this because her mother would shut off the television before the film's end, where it's revealed that in the act of saving the family, Old Yeller sacrificed himself and contracted rabies. Yeller's owner Travis is forced to shoot the now mad dog.

The point of Old Yeller turns on its sad ending. As film critic Scott Wienberg notes, "by upping the ante and allowing this beloved beast to meet an unpleasant demise, the message is softly-delivered but crystal clear. Death, like love, is an integral and inescapable part of life, so the earlier you learn to accept and embrace both, the quicker you'll be able to appreciate one and deal with the other."4 That message is never communicated to Phoebe who believes its only about "family fun!" The story relies on the ending to make its point. Without the ending, it simply isn't the classic film it has come to be.

Similarly, the empty tomb of Jesus is just as critical to the point the early church was trying to tell. While the creedal passage of 1 Corinthians doesn't specifically mention the empty tomb, it is certainly inferred as the passage contains both the empty tomb and the resurrection account along with the testimony of Jesus being seen alive by many witnesses. Add to this that all four gospels, including the early Gospel of Mark leverage the empty tomb as part of their narrative and its validity as part of history is not a stretch, especially when the tomb is first discovered empty by women, whose testimony was discounted in that culture.

The empty tomb is part of a larger narrative of Jesus dying, being buried, and being seen alive after his resurrection. To eliminate the empty tomb from the story is akin to jumping up and stopping a movie because you are uncomfortable with the next scene. But that doesn't mean the story isn't reliable. It means that you want to close your eyes to the implications.

References

1. See Gary R. Habermas and Mike Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004. Print. 70.
2. Wallace, Daniel B. "7. 1 Corinthians: Introduction, Argument, and Outline." Bible.org. Bible.org, 26 June 2004. Web. 25 Aug. 2015. https://bible.org/seriespage/7-1-corinthians-introduction-argument-and-outline#P95_28390.
3. See Gary R. Habermas, "Evidence for the Historical Jesus: Is the Jesus of History the Christ of Faith?" - available free of charge from www.garyhabermas.com/evidence
4. Weinberg, Scott. "Old Yeller 2-Movie Collection." DVD Talk. DVDTalk.com, 13 Nov. 2005. Web. 25 Aug. 2015. http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/18680/old-yeller-2-movie-collection.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

How Archaeology Confirms the Bible: Jericho (video)


Everyone know the story of Joshua's army marching around the walls of Jericho until they collapsed, allowing the Israelites to take the city. It's a famous story, and if true would provide evidence for both God's existence and the validity of the Bible.

Archaeologists have known for years where Jericho is and they've conducted many excavations at the site of the city, searching to reconstruct its history along the way. Was there a battle in Jericho like the one describe in the Bible? In this video, Lenny explores recent finds in archaeology and how they support the biblical accounts.



Image courtesy Salamandra123 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Can You Trust the Bible? (podcast)


Christians hold that the Bible is God's revealed word given to us. But critics argue that the Bible was written by men and changed over the years to suit their purposes. Is there a way to tell? In this podcast, Lenny Esposito demonstrates how we can have assurance that the Bible is indeed the Word of God.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

How Archaeology Confirms the Bible: Hazor, Joshua, and Solomon (video)



Did Joshua really exist and conquer the Canaanite lands? Were King David and King Solomon myths invented to encourage returning Israel exiles to look for a glorious united kingdom that never existed?

Watch this short video where Lenny explains how more and more of the biblical accounts are confirmed by evidence discovered with the archaeologist's spade.


Image courtesy Ian Scott [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, August 01, 2015

How Archaeology Confirms the Book of Daniel (video)



The Bible contains many prophecies such as those in the book of Daniel that tell of future kingdoms with remarkable accuracy. This has lead some skeptics to claim Daniel was invented after the fact, making up the stories it reports in order to gain credibility.

In this short clip, Lenny explains just one minor detail from the book of Daniel that demonstrates the book was written by someone with first hand knowledge of the inner workings of the Babylonian government and therefore could not be fabricated centuries later.

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