The arguments against historical validity
deny the historical validity of this mass of evidence two main arguments
are made: (1) that the whole resurrection story was a deliberate
fabrication, and (2) that the historical documents are not trustworthy.
In considering both it is important to keep in mind that, for either
of them to succeed, it is necessary to show, not only that the resurrection
accounts in each of the four gospels and the Book of Acts are false,
but that Jesus predictions of his resurrection are false,
the accounts of the apostles preaching and encounters with
the Sanhedrin are false, and the apostles doctrine as revealed
in the epistles rested on a false premise. To put it another way,
those who would edit the resurrection out of the Scriptures must
not only delete the final chapters of the four gospels and the beginning
of the Book of Acts, but they must also delete all the other Scriptures
listed in the Appendix.
one of the early church fathers, has an appropriate comment about
those who would edit out parts of Scripture:
you believe what you like in the Gospel and reject what you do
not like, it is not the Gospel you believe but yourself."
The argument that the resurrection account was a fabrication
addressed this very issue. He wrote, "If Christ has not been
raised... we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for
we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead."
He went on, "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead"
(1 Corinthians 15:14-15, 20). Paul put his own credibility on the
line on this issue. Are we to say that Paul is a false witness about
shred of evidence has been produced that any of the disciples said
"lets make up a story" or "this is the story
we all must agree on." There is no evidence of a fabrication;
the fabrication argument is simply an inference. It says, "The
story could not have been true; therefore it must have been fabricated."
Jewish religious leaders - the Sanhedrin, the High Priest, the Pharisees,
Sadduccees and teachers of the law - must have wanted desperately
to disprove the resurrection. Matthew tells us that they tried to
bribe the Roman guards to tell a false story (Matthew 28:11-15).
For many years they put heavy pressure on the disciples - arrests,
imprisonments, beatings, threats. Acts speaks of "persecution."
Some, like Stephen and James (the brother of John), were killed.
But we are asked to assume that, over a period of years, none of
the disciples cracked under this pressure and admitted that the
supposed fabrication was false. Paul wrote, "If there is no
resurrection, ...why do we endanger ourselves every hour?"
(1 Corinthians 15:29-30). Is it credible that Paul would have endured
everything he did for the sake of a fabrication and a lie?
Colson has an interesting comment on this. He was part of a conspiracy
to tell a false story of what happened in the Watergate incident
during Nixons presidency. The conspirators had all the power
of the White House behind them, and were subjected to none of the
kinds of pressures mentioned in the preceding paragraph. Yet the
conspiracy held together for only a few weeks, and then one of its
members admitted it. Colson comments that it is very difficult to
conceal a conspiracy to tell a lie.
disciples loved, admired and worshiped Jesus. They devoted their
lives to his teachings, giving up their families and normal livelihoods.
Church tradition and history tells us that ten of the disciples
suffered martyrdom, often very painfully, and that John was boiled
in oil and exiled. Paul was flogged five times, beaten with rods,
stoned and left for dead, imprisoned, shipwrecked, set upon by highwaymen,
and endured many other hardships for the sake of the gospel. Is
it credible that they would have endured all this for what they
knew to be a fabrication?
we assume the fabrication theory, is it credible that hundreds,
even thousands, of Christians would endure this suffering and see
their fellows suffer and not one of them would break and reveal
said that he is the truth, that it is the truth that sets men free,
and that the devil is the father of lies (John 14:6, 8:32, 44-45).
He and the apostles warned against deceivers (Matthew 24:4,24; 2
Corinthians 11:13-15; 1 Timothy 4:1). The apostles taught that they
must "put off falsehood and speak truthfully" (Ephesians
5:25; see also verse 15 and Colossians 3:9). They taught that liars
will be sent to a fiery lake of burning sulfur (Revelation 21:8).
Is it credible that they would have so far departed from the teachings
of Jesus, and their own teachings, as to rest their gospel on a
deliberate lie? Jesus also said that we show our love for him by
obeying his commandments (John 14:15,21). Is it credible that the
disciples would have thought they were showing their love for Jesus
by putting forward a lie in the name of the one who is the truth?
The answer to all these questions is clearly, "No!"
The argument that the historical record is not trustworthy
argument of untrustworthiness focusses on the gospel accounts. It
asserts that by the time they were written recollections of what
Jesus said and did would have become inaccurate, and colored by
a body of myths or wishful thinking that would have built up.
dates when the gospels were written have been the subject of much
discussion. One common view is that the first three gospels were
written in the early 70s A.D., about 40 years after Jesus
death (which is estimated at either 30 or 33 A.D.) , and that the
gospel of John was written about 90 A.D. A good argument can be
made that the first three gospels were written somewhat earlier
than this, in the late 50s or early 60s A.D. (See Appendix II).
Whichever dates are adopted, the first three gospels were written
at a time when many were still alive who had seen and participated
in the events which they record.
think we can take all four gospels as based on eyewitness accounts.
Matthew is generally believed to have been written by Matthew the
tax collector, one of Jesus 12 disciples, a participant in
the events he records. John claims (John 21:24) to have been written
by the disciple John, whom Jesus called "the beloved disciple."
If not actually written by him it was based on his recollections.
Mark was written by John Mark, at whose mothers house the
disciples met for an important time of prayer not long after the
crucifixion (Acts 12:12). (John Mark may well have been the "young
man" referred to in Mark 14:51, which would place him at Jesus
arrest.) John Mark was a close associate of Peter (1 Peter 5:13)
and the tradition of the early church was that his gospel was based
on Peters teaching. We know that he was active in the early
church, was a traveling companion of Paul on his first missionary
journey (47-48 A.D.), and was with Paul near the end of Pauls
life (Col 4:10, 2 Tim 4:11). Luke tells us that his gospel was based
on the accounts of "eyewitnesses," which he collected
and carefully investigated (Luke 1:3-4). As a companion of Paul
during his journeys and his two-year imprisonment in Palestine,
Luke would have had ample opportunity to speak to those who were
eyewitnesses. As already noted, the early apostolic preaching emphasized
that they were eyewitnesses of Jesus resurrection appearances.
This same emphasis on eyewitness testimony is found in 1 Corinthians
15:3-7; 2 Peter 1:16-18, and 1 John 1:1-4.
begins his gospel with the following statement, "Many have
undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled
among us, just as they have been handed down to us by those who
from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore,
since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning,
it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most
excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the
things which you have been taught" (Luke 1:1-4). Luke took
"many" existing eyewitness accounts (his wording suggests
that some of these may have been written), investigated them carefully,
and wrote an orderly account so that the one to whom he addressed
it could "know the certainty" of the things reported.
Lukes stated purpose was to investigate carefully and be as
factually accurate as possible. That purpose extended to his second
volume, which we know as the Book of Acts. Sir William Ramsey, a
British archeologist and historian, who started by assuming that
Acts had no historical value, after comparing Lukes record
with every archeological artifact and historical document he could
find, concluded that Luke was a "historian of the first rank."
Those who doubt the accuracy of the gospels are asking us to believe,
either that Luke was a fabricator, or that he allowed his factual
record to become corrupted by a large mass of myths or wishful thinking.
have gone to great lengths to construct hypotheses as to how the
genuine facts might have become corrupted. Such as I have seen are
pure speculation, with no objective evidence that what they suppose
to have happened in the writing of these accounts actually occurred.
C.S. Lewis makes an interesting comment about this kind of reconstruction
after the fact. He says that critics who have applied similar techniques
to his own writings have been 100% wrong. He asks why we should
believe that a methodology which doesnt work when applied
to contemporary writings coming out of the same culture, would nevertheless
be valid when applied to 2,000 year old writings coming out of a
very different culture. It seems to me that we are on much safer
ground to accept the historical documents on their own terms, rather
than rely on speculative reconstructions, most of which are evidently
colored by their authors difficulty in fitting the reported
facts into their 19th or 20th century Western mindsets.
noted, Lukes statement suggests that there may have been earlier
written accounts, now lost, which he used. Others of the gospel
writers could also have used such accounts to verify the accuracy
of their own recollection. Moreover, in the Near East of that time
it was not uncommon to carry considerable bodies of fact by oral
tradition. Jesus deliberately cast much of his teaching in forms
that would be easily remembered. Events of this magnitude and extraordinary
character would fix themselves indelibly in a persons memory.
Common experience tells us that equally powerful, and indeed much
lesser, events can be remembered accurately after a number of years.
For example, I remember quite clearly the time, place, circumstances
and details of the occasion when I proposed to my wife, and she
accepted, over 60 years ago. Recently our daily newspaper published
a very detailed account of the landing at Omaha Beach in June 1945,
as experienced by one Army Reserve unit. The account, written by
a news reporter who, like Luke, had consulted with eyewitnesses
who survived the landing, rang true. No one suggested that this
account, of events which occurred 55 years earlier, must necessarily
have been faulty, unreliable, encrusted with mythology, etc..No
one suggested that the survivors could not possibly have recalled
accurately the events of the most terrifying days of their lives,
or that the compiler could not have been motivated by the desire
to give the most accurate account possible. I see no reason to assume
that the historical records we have of Jesus resurrection,
most of them written about 30-40 years after the event, could not
have been factually accurate.
itself addresses this precise issue. Peter, one of Jesus closest
companions, wrote, "We did not follow cleverly invented stories
when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,
but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and
glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic
Glory, saying, This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am
well pleased. We ourselves heard this voice that came from
heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain" (2 Peter
1:16-18). Anyone who reads the account of the Transfiguration (Matthew
17:1-13) can well believe that the details of it would still have
been clear in Peters mind some 30 years later when he wrote
also emphasized that his teaching was based on eyewitness experience:
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which
we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands
have touched - this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The
life appeared, we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim
to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared
to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you
may have fellowship with us" (1 John 1:1-3; see also John 1:14,
21:24). "We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard"
- I think this statement fairly characterizes the whole of the gospel
gospel accounts and the Book of Acts are historical records. They
are not "cleverly invented stories" nor are they to be
dismissed as an accumulation of inaccuracies, wishful thinking and
myths that grew up over many years. Some are eyewitness accounts
and the others are based on eyewitness accounts, written by men
of proven character who had every incentive to report accurately
and who wrote when many were still alive who had been there. As
historical documents they are entitled to be believed and trusted.
am trained as a lawyer; I came to Jesus Christ late in life (in
my 60s), and the more I study the Scriptures the more impressed
I become with how internally consistent they are and how believable
the accounts are, once you overcome the initial skepticism that
God is capable of acting supernaturally.
we do not have to stop there. We have references to Jesus
resurrection in letters by Paul written in 48 and 50 A.D., less
than 20 years after Jesus death, and they treat the fact as
one that is well-established and understood. In 1 Corinthians 15:6,
written about 55 A.D. Paul says that Jesus resurrection was
seen by over 500 people "most of whom are still alive."
This does not sound like a mythical distortion of the historical
historical record in Acts, going back to the Day of Pentecost, 50
days after Jesus death, records the disciples in-your-face
preaching of resurrection, and the attempts of the Jewish leaders
to suppress it. These accounts do not read like mythical accounts
someone made up many years later. They have a ring of authenticity
about them. And even using a late dating of Acts, they were written
when many would still have been alive who were present at these
epistles over and over refer to the resurrection of Jesus as a well-established
historical fact. Are we to conclude that in writing thus Paul, Peter
and the author of Hebrews were participants in, or had been fooled
by, a deliberate fabrication? Or that they were misled by a tissue
of myths and wishful thinking so as to base much of what they said
on a falsehood? On what basis should we conclude this, other than
a philosophical assumption that the resurrection of Jesus could
not have occurred?
emphasize the differences in the resurrection accounts as evidence
of untrustworthiness. Many of these so-called differences arise
because different writers chose to report different ones of a considerable
number of occurrences. There is no inconsistency is saying that
Jesus appeared at the tomb, on the road to Emmaus, in Jerusalem,
at Lake Galilee and at a mountain in Galilee; he could perfectly
well have appeared at all of these places and at others which were
not reported. Jesus appeared to the disciples over a period of forty
days; there could well have been a large number of separate appearances
at various locations. Similarly, in the accounts of the empty tomb,
the is no inconsistency in the fact that one writer chooses to focus
on Mary Magdalene, while others mention that Mary the mother of
Jesus, and others, were also there. This is just a difference in
focus. Without attempting a detailed analysis of these asserted
differences, let me simply say that if you approach the issue with
an open mind I believe you will conclude that they are the kind
of differences in detail that one would normally expect from eyewitness
accounts and that they do not detract from the basic agreement of
all the accounts on the essentials of the occurrences.
the ordinary standards of historical writing all of these resurrection
accounts have a ring of authenticity about them. I submit that the
attempt to deny their authenticity stems, not from any defect in
the accounts themselves, but from a mindset that insists that nothing
like this could possibly have occurred, which causes one to reject
the very credible evidence that it did in fact occur.
Phillips reminds us that "The modern intelligent mind has got
to be shocked afresh by the audacious central fact that as a sober
matter of history God became one of us." The same can be said
about the resurrection. The modern intelligent mind has got to be
shocked afresh by the audacious central fact that as a sober matter
of history, after Jesus died and was buried, God raised him from
the dead and he lives today. The disciples were shocked by it. They
could not take it in, despite the fact that Jesus had told them
repeatedly that it would happen. But when they were finally convinced
that it had happened, it turned them around. They used that conviction
as proof to themselves and others that Jesus was indeed God who
came to earth for us, and they based their preaching and teaching
on that conviction. It is not surprising that, to many today, the
assertion that Jesus was resurrected from the dead is shocking and
seems incredible. But that is no ground for rejecting it.
tells us that Gods thoughts are far higher than ours, and
his ways are far higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). This is the very
nature of God. If Gods thoughts were limited to the level
of our thoughts, and if God could only do what we can do, he would
not be God, and we would all be in very sad shape! It should not
surprise us that God does things that are totally beyond anything
we have ever experienced or seen. Scripture tells us that "nothing
is impossible with God" (Luke 1:37). The God who created the
entire physical universe out of nothing and sustains it with his
word is capable of raising Jesus from the dead. Once we can accept
the idea that the resurrection could have happened, then I think
we must conclude that the available record gives compelling evidence
that it did happen.
Scriptural References to Resurrection
Old Testament Suggestions
Psalm 16:10; Isaiah 53:11; Daniel 7:13-14, 12:52. There may be
Jesus Predictions of his own Resurrection
different gospels refer to the same event, I shall list all but
the first in parentheses)
16:21; (Mark 8:31-2; Luke 9:22).
17:22-23; (Mark 9:31-32).
20:18-19; (Mark 10:33-34; Luke 18:31-33).
The Resurrection Accounts
28; Mark Chapter 16; Luke chapter 24; John chapters 20-21; Acts
Other references in the Gospels
(Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-40).
5:21, 25, 28-29.
6:39, 40, 44, 54.
(Mark 6:14-16; Luke 9:7).
Apostolic Preaching and Teaching
2:24, 31-32; 3:15; 4:10; 5:29-32; 10:40-41
Acts 13:30-37; 17:3, 18, 31-32; 23:6; 24:15; 26:8, 23.
Acts 4:2, 33.
Other references in the Book of Acts
each epistle indicate approximately when it was written. For Pauls
epistles I have used the dates in F.F. Bruce, Paul, Apostle
of the Heart Set Free, Eerdmans. 1980. For other epistles
I have used those in Robert H. Gundry, Survey of the New Testament,
48 A.D. Galatians
1 Thessalonians 1:10; 4:14-16; 5:10.
1 Corinthians 6:14; chapter 15.
A.D. 2 Corinthians 1:9, 4:11,14, 5:15; 13:4.
Romans 1:4; 4:24-25, 5:10, 6:4-5,8-10; 7:4; 8:11,34; 10:9; 11:15;
A.D. Ephesians 1:20, 2:6; 5:14.
A.D. Philippians 2:2:9; 3:10-11
A.D. Colossians 2:12, 3:1.
2 Timothy 2:8-9
A.D. Hebrews 6:2, 7:24-25, 10:12, 11:35, 13:20
A.D. 1 Peter 1:3, 21, 3:18-22.
1:5, 18; 2:8; 20:5-6.
Note on Dating of the First Three Gospels
account in Acts ends with Paul in prison in Rome. (Paul went to
Rome in 60 A.D.) Luke says nothing about the great persecution in
Rome during Neros reign, nor about the martyrdom of Paul and
Peter in Rome in about A.D. 65, nor about the destruction of Jerusalem
in A.D. 70. Many believe that Paul was released from prison and
later reimprisoned again, before his execution in 65; Lukes
account says nothing of those events. Hence it seems reasonable
to date the writing of Acts before all these events, i.e. 64 or
65 A.D. at the latest and perhaps as early as 62 A.D. Lukes
gospel is earlier than Acts. Marks gospel is generally thought
to be earlier than Lukes and Matthews about contemporaneous
with Lukes.This would gove us dates for the first 3 gospels
in the early 60s or late 50s A.D.
Mark and Luke all record Jesus prophesy of the destruction
of the Temple in Jerusalem as a future event. If those gospels had
been written after the Temple was destroyed one would have expected
some statement that the prophecy had been fulfilled. The absence
of any such statement suggests that they were written before 70
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