Monday, January 26, 2015

Do we believe in Jesus because the Bible says so or trust the Bible because Jesus said so?

For this week's newspapers, I answered a question about whether we build belief in Jesus on the Bible's reliability or rely on the Bible because of Jesus Resurrection:

Q:  For someone exploring the authenticity of Christianity, what is the best way to proceed when having doubts about the Bible’s reliability as a book? 

This reveals what is perhaps a disadvantage we North American Christians have in understanding the Christian Scriptures:  that we approach them as a single book. 

Because we lack the connection to the history and the original languages that Christians in other parts of the world, such as Greek-speaking Christians or Middle Eastern Christians, our intuitive approach to the Bible is often to look at the Bible as a single volume, but in reality, it is composed of 66 books written by 40 or more authors over the course of over 15 centuries. 

When we hear a preacher or a Christian proclaiming, “The Bible is God’s Word” or “The Bible is without error”, it’s like skipping to the answer of a complex math problem without showing the work it took to get there.  While the Bible-honoring preacher might be correct, simply stating this to be true is not, and should not, be adequately satisfying to a person who does not yet trust Jesus or believe the Bible to be reliable. 

If we narrow the question to simply determining whether it is reasonable to believe the claims of Christianity, we can start by looking only at the events of the four Gospels:  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Everything of Christianity’s authenticity relies on a single event from these historical records—the Resurrection of Jesus. 

Jesus Himself set this event as the criterion by which to trust in His claims or to write Him off as a fraud or lunatic when He responded to challenges to His authority saying, “Destroy this temple [referring to His body], and in three days I will raise it up again.”  So, the first step is to examine Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John’s historical accounts in light of their number (how many copies we have available to us) and their accuracy (how old and how similar the available copies are). 

Upon recognizing that the Gospels we know are identical or nearly-identical to the original editions written by the authors, we can examine them in light of known history from other sources, from which we will find that, while some names and events have no other confirmation, many of them, such as Pontius Pilate, Herod, and Caesar Augustus did exist at the time and place specified. 

It also comes to light that Roman historians report within decades of the life of Christ that Christians were worshiping Jesus as God and claiming that He was raised from the dead, indicating that this was not a later exaggeration of the story.  When examined in the light of motives and typical human behavior, it becomes additionally evident that the only reason the Disciples would continue to defend the story of the Resurrection in the face of harassment, torture, and death is if they sincerely believed they witnessed it. 

Combining all these elements, it becomes apparent that it is more reasonable to believe the Resurrection occurred than that it did not.  From that foundation, the rest of the Bible can then be defended.  The Old Testament can be found reliable, because Jesus, who proved His authority by rising from the dead, endorsed its books during His ministry. 

Peter, John, and the other eyewitnesses who wrote much of the New Testament can be relied upon because they were commissioned by Jesus before He ascended into heaven, and wrote their letters as explanations to new communities of Christians about what Jesus taught and how that applies to their circumstances.  And Paul, who wrote the remaining books of the New Testament, was examined by the Apostles, as explained in the books of Acts and Galatians, and found to be faithfully preaching the same message which Jesus had delivered to them. 

Finally, with regard to other challenges to Biblical records of events, such as the time and method of creation, the Resurrection answers these as well, because if Jesus was genuinely raised from the dead, and an all-powerful Father in Heaven exists, as He describes, then in light of the seemingly-impossible event of the Resurrection, the improbability of these remaining event becomes insignificant in comparison. 

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