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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Most Important Advice in Defending the Faith

Sometimes people will ask me what they should know in defending their faith to others.  There are, of course, many ways to answer that question – learning theology, apologetics, debating tactics, current events, and so on.  However, before you seek to do anything else, the most important admonition comes from the Apostle Paul to the Corinthian church.  This is key to successfully sharing the gospel on any level.

"We are giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited, but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God,

in much endurance,
in afflictions,
in hardships,
in distresses,
in beatings,
in imprisonments,
|in tumults,
in labors,
in sleeplessness,
in hunger,
in purity,
in knowledge,
in patience,
in kindness,
in the Holy Spirit,
in genuine love,
in the word of truth,
in the power of God;

by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left,
by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report;

regarded as deceivers and yet true;
as unknown yet well-known,
as dying yet behold, we live;
as punished yet not put to death,
as sorrowful yet always rejoicing,
as poor yet making many rich,
as having nothing yet possessing all things." (2 Corinthians 6:3-10)

Give no one the ability to dismiss the message because of the failings of the messenger!  Are you willing to live as Paul did above, knowing that you may suffer insults, discrimination, mocking or worse - and you don't retaliate? Are you willing to take on difficulty because you love the lost enough that you know it's worth it? Are you ready to believe that your true worth is not found in the comforts of this world but in obedience to your master? This is what the heart of ministry looks like in a Biblical worldview.May the Lord grant us such hearts as we seek to save a lost world.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Celebrating Holidays in Graveyards

As I was driving to Easter services this morning, I passed a cemetery. It started me thinking about our culture’s popular reaction to cemeteries. Graveyards are supposed to be kind of spooky places we wouldn't want to be stuck in at night. But this morning I looked at the cemetery with new eyes. You see, the very first Easter was celebrated in a cemetery. Jesus appeared to Mary there. John and Peter saw the empty tomb there. And I thought to myself, “cemeteries are really paper tigers for the Christian.” It looks like it’s the end, but we know that death is swallowed up in victory. A graveyard could not hold Jesus and it cannot hold any of His children. So we read “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?"

Tomorrow, most of the world will go back to work, back to their daily lives. They will once again think of cemeteries as places to dread. But we know better. Death is the ultimate threat against a person, and if death cannot hold the Christian, then how can it be fearful? However, not all of those graves will be opened to victory, as many who will fall do not know the risen Jesus. So, when you go back to work, dear Christian, think of the graveyards – and seek to widen the victory Christ has already obtained by sharing it with others. To the Corinthians Paul said “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” Let us take this message beyond Easter. Let your friends and loved ones know that we celebrate our most holy day by looking to a graveyard.; We do so because we know it is to us only a paper tiger. It can be for them, too.

Image courtesy Parrot of Doom (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL]

Friday, April 02, 2010

The Fact of the Resurrection Part 5 - The Empty Tomb

As we end our recent study on the resurrection as a fact of history, we look at one of the most daunting problems posed to the skeptics - the empty tomb of Jesus. The absence of Jesus' dead body from its burial place gives incredible support to the disciples' claims that He had risen from the dead. It is therefore not surprising that this point is attacked continuously by doubters. Was the tomb empty? And if so, could it have become empty through some other means than Jesus' resurrection?

If we can show that the empty tomb did in fact exist and that there is no good naturalistic explanation for Jesus' missing body, then we have strong evidence for a supernatural explanation. This not only argues for God's existence but also legitimizes the truth of Christianity.

Was the Tomb Empty?

There exist many objections to Jesus' tomb being empty at all. Most notably, the Jesus Seminar's John Dominic Crossan puts forth the belief that Jesus was never buried in a rock tomb but his body was placed in a common grave and probably eaten by dogs.1  However, Crossan fabricates this explanation because there is absolutely no evidence on which to base his specific account. Although, as Crossan himself admits, burial for crucified criminals was rare it did occur and we have both written and physical evidence to support it. 2

Tomb commonly assumed empty by both Christians and Jews.

So was there a tomb that Jesus was buried in? Crossan and others argue that the whole tomb event had to be added later because the most primitive reports of the resurrection never cited it. However, this is an argument from silence. Even though Peter doesn't specifically mention the empty tomb in his speech in Acts 2, that doesn't mean it didn't exist. It is quite likely that an empty tomb didn't need to be stated because it was "front page news" if you will.

J.P. Moreland says, "In the early speeches of Acts, no mention is made of the empty tomb... Why is the empty tomb not mentioned in those speeches? The best answer seems to be that the fact of the empty tomb was common ground between believers and unbelievers."3

Likewise Paul's recount of the resurrection belief in 1 Corinthians does not prove that there was no empty tomb, but just that the writer felt no pressing need to mention it. The tomb was assumed to be empty - a fact we can derive from our next point.
The stolen body story corroborates Jesus' tomb being empty.

Another explanation given is the women in Mark's account simply went to a random tomb or found the wrong tomb. However, the early accusations by the Jews of Jesus' disciples stealing His body demonstrate that this cannot be the case.

Dr. William Lane Craig writes,

In Matthew 28, we find the Christian attempt to refute the earliest Jewish polemic against the resurrection. That polemic asserted that the disciples stole away the body. The Christians responded to this by reciting the story of the guard at the tomb, and the polemic in turn charged that the guard fell asleep. Now the noteworthy feature of this whole dispute is not the historicity of the guards but rather the presupposition of both parties that the body was missing. The earliest Jewish response to the proclamation of the resurrection was an attempt to explain away the empty tomb. Thus, the evidence of the adversaries of the disciples provides evidence in support of the empty tomb.4

As we mentioned in a previous article, because the Jews were opposed to the idea of Jesus being raised, this lends credence to Jesus' tomb specifically being empty. It makes no sense for the Jews to lie about Jesus' body being stolen when producing the body or showing the tomb would be their strongest argument against the resurrection. The same is true for the women being mistaken. We must conclude that the tomb of Jesus was truly empty and it was available for all to examine.

How Do You Explain it?

So, if the tomb of Jesus really was empty, how is it explained? Did the disciples steal Jesus' body? Given Matthew's account of the tomb being sealed and a guard placed there, it wouldn't seem likely. There's also the problem of the disciples having to roll back that huge stone in order to accomplish their goal , and they would have had to do so without being detected. However it seems to be the best naturalistic explanation, so many doubters claim it must be so.

But Dr. Craig notes the biggest obstacle to believing this scenario. "Perhaps the most serious objection to [the idea of someone stealing Jesus' body] is that it seeks to explain only half of the evidence (namely, the empty tomb) and completely ignores the other half (that is, the appearances). A second hypothesis to explain must be added. But if explanatory scope is the criterion for preferring one hypothesis to another, then the resurrection... is to be preferred."5

In looking at the evidence: the historicity of the resurrection accounts, the trustworthiness of the reports from the disciples, the fact that eyewitnesses saw the resurrected Christ, their changed lives and the fact of the empty tomb, one can see that it is reasonable to believe that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. Since He claimed He would do as much beforehand, it also shows that His claims of deity are true and that the Christian God exists.


1. See: Crossan, John Dominic PhD. Who Killed Jesus? San Francisco: Harper, 1996.
2. Crossan, John Dominic PhD. "Was Jesus Buried?"
3. Moreland, J.P. PhD. Scaling the Secular City.
Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1987 pg 162.
4. Craig, William Lane; PhD.. "Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ." June 16, 1998.
5. Craig, William Lane PhD. In Defense of Miracles. Ed. R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas. Downers Grove, Il.: InterVarsity Press, 1997 pg. 260. Image courtesy Frank Swift and licensed via Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Fact of the Resurrection Part 4 - The Changed Lives Of The Disciples

In our studies of the resurrection of Jesus, we've shown how the resurrection accounts must be considered as written documentation of an historical event. Many skeptics of Christianity will argue against these premises vehemently, because to admit them would mean that Jesus was who He claimed to be - the only Son of the living God.

Today, I'd like to examine a proof for the resurrection that most skeptics won't deny - at least initially. That is, how the lives of Jesus' followers were radically and completely changed after the resurrection event. The disciples faced some of the most unspeakable tortures and persecutions because they believed Jesus was resurrected and they would not admit otherwise.

Now, many people undergo a change in lifestyle when they adopt a new belief system, but that's not really what I'm talking about. In order to more clearly demonstrate the uniqueness of the disciples' transformation, we'll examine three prominent figures of the early church: Peter, James the brother of Jesus, and the apostle Paul.


Peter is one of the most well-known of Jesus' early followers. All four gospels show him to be a man who was impulsive; one who would react to a situation first and analyze it later. Sometimes he benefited from this, as when he proclaimed Jesus as the Christ in Matthew 16. Other times it was to his detriment, as when he denied the Lord three times.

However, throughout all the accounts we see Peter as completely human, and because of that we can relate to him so well. So, what happened to Peter that changed him from the person who fled with the other disciples at Jesus' capture (ref. Matt 26:56)to the strong believer we read about in the book of Acts? One who would not give up his faith in the face of beatings, jail and even an excruciating death?

Peter's shortcomings are clearly documented throughout the Scripture.  Is it reasonable to believe, then, that he would admit to a falsified resurrection when faced with repeated punishment? He would, unless the resurrection accounts were true and Peter could not deny them because he knew them to be true. He says as much in Acts 5 when he explains why he continues to preach Jesus raised from the dead:
"We must obey God rather than men."


Some critics may object at this point and say that Peter still had a vested interest in wanting to believe the resurrection to be true. After all, he had spent three years under Jesus' teachings and was either not ready to give that up or was in denial. However, when we look at James, the Lord's brother, we find an entirely different scenario.

James didn't follow Jesus throughout his years of ministry. John 7:6 tells us that James did not believe in Jesus. As J.P. Moreland writes "What could cause a Jew to believe his own brother was the very Son of God and be willing to die for such a belief? It certainly was not a set of lovely teachings from a carpenter from Nazareth. Only the appearance of Jesus to James (1 Cor. 15:7) can explain such a transformation." 1


Even more amazing than James' conversion is that of Saul of Tarsus.  Paul was a well-schooled Pharisee, not easily given in to fables. He was also so wholly devoted to Jewish law that he sought out Christians to persecute them. He became so good at it the Bible says he "laid waste the church (Acts 8:3)".

So how can anyone explain his complete and immediate reversal? What, other than the real appearance of Jesus to him, would be so convincing that he would abandon a lifetime of convictions and join the very group he hated most? In summarizing Lloyd Littleton, Josh Mc Dowell writes "If Paul's twenty five years of suffering and service for Christ were a reality, then his conversion was true, for everything he did began with that sudden change. And if his conversion was true, Jesus Christ rose from the dead, for everything Paul was and did he attributed to the sight of the risen Christ." 2

When examining the lives of not just these three, but all the eyewitnesses of Christ's resurrection, we find that the situation is the same. Not one person exposes Jesus' being raised as a fraud.  They all truly believe they saw Jesus and every one is willing to die because of that belief. There is no explanation for such a steadfast faith among such a divergent group other than Jesus really did rise from the dead and show Himself to his disciples, to James, and finally to Paul.

Tomorrow, we'll talk about the last point in our resurrection series - the stone that was rolled away from the tomb. If you're enjoying these features, would you write and tell us? Until then, God bless.


1. Moreland, J.P. Scaling the Secular City. ; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1987.179.
2. McDowell, Josh A Ready Defense.  San Bernardino, CA: Here's Life Pub., 1990. 434.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Fact of the Resurrection Part 3 - Eyewitnesses

The last few days we've been studying the resurrection of Jesus as history. Of course, the resurrection is the most compelling evidence we have to show that it is the Christian God to whom we refer when we speak of God's existence. It validates Jesus' teaching and His claims of deity.

We've already shown how the resurrection accounts read more like history than myth, and how the written accounts are so close to the proximity of the events they record that any myths or legends creeping into them is highly improbable. Today, I'd like to more closely examine the idea of eyewitness testimony and how it also supports the resurrection as a matter of historic fact.

Eyewitness Testimony From Live Witnesses

The four gospels are believed to be written by eyewitnesses of Jesus' ministry, death, and resurrection (Matthew and John) or by people who spoke directly with eyewitnesses (Mark and Luke). The gospels themselves contain reports of Jesus appearing to many different people in the forty days after He was raised from the dead.

Some skeptics believe that the gospel writers fabricated the resurrection in order to help them establish their new religion. Others claim that the witnesses were suffering from some type of mass-hysteria or communal hallucination. But a careful study of the gospels shows why these theories don't make sense.

Because the gospels were written approximately 30 to 50 years after the events they record, many of the people who are offered as witnesses to the resurrection were still alive when they were circulated. This means that as people heard or read about the resurrection, they weren't left to "just take the matter by faith." Anyone who had reason to doubt the resurrection could ask the witnesses themselves if the events recorded in the gospels were true. Because the many different witnesses were available to corroborate the testimony of the gospels, any hallucination or wishful thinking would be quickly pointed out and the claims made by the apostles would be dismissed.

Now, because the testimonies by Jesus' disciples agree doesn't make that testimony unimpeachable. It doesn't rule out the idea of a conspiracy to lie about the resurrection. However there exists an even more compelling argument that answers this objection - the existence of hostile witnesses.

The Existence of Antagonistic Eyewitnesses

Because Christianity represented a danger to the power structures of the Sanhedrin, the leaders and chief priests did everything they could to extinguish this new movement within Judaism. They were vehement in stopping the apostles from spreading tales of the resurrection. They beat and imprisoned Peter and John and stoned Steven to death.

However, the easiest way to quash this new religious movement would have been to demonstrate that the apostles were lying when they claimed that Jesus rose from the dead - by producing a corpse! The Sanhedrin could easily counter the testimony of the eyewitnesses by saying "Look, you know that we took the body and put it in a potter's grave" or "here is the tomb where Jesus' body lies." They said nothing of the kind. They admitted that His body was no longer in the tomb when they created the story of the apostles' stealing it. (There are many reasons why this is implausible which we will cover in an upcoming post.) By claiming that Jesus' body was stolen they corroborate the fact that Jesus' tomb was indeed empty.

In fact, any discrepancy or inaccuracy from Jesus' disciples would have been immediately exploited by the Jewish leaders of the day as proof that the tales told by the believers were false. Considering that not only were these leaders intimately involved with the crucifixion and its resulting events, but they had every opportunity to counter the claims of Jesus' followers and offered nothing tangible in their defense, the truth of the resurrection is compelling.

Appeal to the Facts

The last group of witnesses we will examine are the multitudes in Jerusalem. Jesus attracted many disciples, most of whom did not continue to follow Him after His death. He also was known by many more of the general public. His crucifixion, a public execution before a high feast-day, would have been a very visible spectacle.

If the disciples were playing fast and loose with the truth, the people they were preaching to would have objected, knowing that their tale was fictional. However in Acts 2:22 we see something completely different. The disciples appealed to the knowledge of the crowd in order to support their claims of resurrection. Peter used the phrase "as you yourselves know" when speaking at Pentecost. He knew what he was saying was true and the facts were on his side. Even more telling was that the people listening responded to his claims by being "pricked in their hearts" and repenting, not by contradicting them.

The fact that we have many first-hand accounts of Jesus' resurrection makes the argument for the resurrection credible. The fact that these eyewitnesses were giving testimony while facing a hostile audience makes it stronger. The fact that the enemies of the apostles could offer no evidence to contradict their testimony makes it beyond merely reasonable to hold the belief that Jesus rose from the dead. The resurrection becomes as trustworthy a piece of history as any other. Next time, we'll look at how the changed lives of the disciples also bolster our case. God bless until then
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