Divine Inspiration – How we Know the Bible is from God (Part 3) – Eyewitness Testimony

This is third post in a series of blogs seeking to give evidence that the Bible is more than just a book about God, it is actually from God, inspired by God .  Scripture is God’s self-disclosure, the revelation of Himself, His purposes, His ways, His acts, and His character.  The last two lines of evidence I will make are primarily arguments from the New Testament and the testimony it gives of Jesus Christ.  These arguments relate to the central story we find both in the Gospels and also echoed in the rest of the New Testament.  That story speaks of a specific man who lives in history, a Galilean peasant who became a rabbi with a significant following in the First Century.  Jesus of Nazareth is claimed, by the New Testament authors, to be born of a virgin, baptized by John the Baptist, a worker of miracles and unbelievable healer of diseases.  Jesus had authority over sickness, death, the weather, and demons.  But it is the content of His teaching that is most vital, as Jesus clearly made claims to deity.   This is an unbelievable claim.  If true, this claim first of all asserts that there is a God, and that God now exists in human form.  A person who makes this sort of claim, as C. S. Lewis asserts is either a madman and lunatic, a liar and horrible human being, or He is who He claimed to be.  Jesus claims that He and God the Father are One (John 10:30), that He was the way, truth, and life (John 14:6), and that to follow Him and honor Him was the same as honoring God.  Jesus also claimed prerogatives that only belong to God, including the right to forgive sin and have his disciples pray in His name.  This is just a few of many extraordinary claims made by Jesus.  This man, then was arrested by the Jews, crucified at the hands of the Romans, and buried in a simple tomb.  Had this been the end of the story, then we could go on with our lives, but the testimony of the New Testament writers is that three days later Christ was resurrected from the grave, physically alive as a defeat of death, hell, and the grave.  The resurrection accounts testify that Jesus made multiple appearances including on appearance to around 500 people (1 Corinthians 15:6).  All of these accounts are consistent in the claim that Jesus was dead and is now alive.  And not is some bizarre spiritual sense.  Jesus was physically alive, as is demonstrated by asking Thomas to touch his body and later eating fish with his followers. This is the clear and consistent story told by the New Testament authors.  It is also the story that was repeated over and over again in the New Testament church as they sought to share the Gospel with the Greco-Roman world.

Now, if this is just a made-up or embellished story, then the message of Jesus can be thrown in on the pile of all the other religious stories making unbelievable claims about human religious leaders.  But, if this story is true, if the events actually happened, then we have something completely different here.  We have God bursting forth in the person of Christ to make Himself known, to reveal Himself within human history.  If true, our lives are defined by how we respond and relate to the story of Jesus.  Therefore, truthful testimony about the person, life, and work of Christ would be God’s revelation of Himself.  On top of this, Jesus intentionally called a band of followers with the intentions of passing this story on to them so that after His death, resurrection, and ascension, they would proclaim this message throughout the world.  It is these stories that were eventually written down so they would never be lost and could be used throughout history to make Jesus known.

So the question, then, is what exactly do we have in the pages of the New Testament?  The answer is that we have truthful and authentic stories about Jesus, and for the most part, these stories come from direct eyewitnesses of the events.  And the early church received the books we now have in the Bible because they came from the apostles and eyewitness accounts of the events.

Now, there are huge books that give deeper explanation of these things, but let me explain about the sources of the four Gospels.  First, the Gospel of Mark was penned by a man named John Mark, whose story is told in Acts.  For a while he is a traveling companion with Paul, but has a falling out because John Mark bailed on the trip.  In the end, Paul and Barnabus part ways because of John Mark.  So, in one way, this person ends up being defined by his failure and the fact that he did not see his initial mission through.  Yet, later in life Mark ends up in Rome and is acknowledged in letters by both the Apostles Paul and Peter.  Peter even calls him, “Mark my son (1 Peter 5:13).”  So Mark is in Rome (called Babylon in this verse) with Peter, and is hearing the preaching and teaching of the apostle.  Eventually, Mark pens the Gospel bearing his name, but the source is actually the Apostle Peter, the fisherman and disciple who followed Jesus for three years.  In fact, a Second Century Christian named Justin Martyr makes the claim that the Gospel of Mark is actually the memoirs of Peter. The second Gospel, Matthew, is attributed to one of the twelve, the apostle Matthew.  He is also called Levi, was a tax collector who was called by Jesus and followed Him.  This makes him an eyewitness.  The third Gospel writer is Luke.  Luke is not an eyewitness, but the goal of his Gospel account is to give a faithful and accurate testimony of Jesus’ life to a Gentile skeptic named Theophilus.  Luke acknowledges the existence of at least one other Gospel account that had already been written and is being read as Scripture (probably Mark’s Gospel, and maybe Matthew).  But he also says that the sources for his book were, “Those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word (Luke 1:3).”  The claim is simple, Luke is saying that he obtained much of his material from people who were actual eyewitnesses of the events and have since been proclaiming these stories.  The fourth Gospel is the Gospel of John, penned by John the Apostle.  Not only was he a follower of Jesus, but John was also probably Jesus’ closest earthly friend.  His account ends with an editorial affirmation from the early church that John is the one who penned it, he was a participant in the events, and that because of this, the readers can know the accounts are true (John 21:24).  In a letter penned by John, he says that he is sharing, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands concerning the Word of Life (1 John 1:1-2).  Here’s the point, all four Gospels find their source in eyewitness testimony.

Eyewitness testimony does not prove the truthfulness of any story.  But what we have in the Gospels is a consistent story that is actually a bit absurd when looked at from a human point of view.  Think of it this way.  If someone told you they had lunch last week former President George H. W. Bush, would you believe him?  Of course not, because the former President passed away.  Our human experience tells us that dead people stay, well, dead.  But if stories started popping up all over Twitter claiming that this meal took place we would have to figure out what is going on.  And just because a few eyewitnesses claim it happened does not make it so.  But what would happen is eyewitness rebuttal and refutation from other people who attended the President’s funeral or recently visited the grave site of the President, as well as people who would have been in the restaurant on the night in question.  In other words, when eyewitness testimony is false it would not take long to destroy the story.  For example, here we have all four Gospel writers claiming Jesus fed 5,000 people with the equivalent of a Lunchable.  This amazing miracle obviously left a mark on the Gospel writers, because it is the only miracle outside of the resurrection that is included in each account.  What would happened if this claim was false.  Well, at the time of the writing it would be easy to refute the claim.  First, if there were 5,000 people (and they may have just been counting men), and this is a false story, you could find someone who was there to say, “Yeah, I was there.  Jesus did all that teaching, but as the day went I was getting hungry.  So we ordered pizza for everyone from Little Caesars.”  Here’s the point, we have eyewitness testimony making these claims, but there is no “eyewitnesses” in the First Century who refute them.

Add to this the fact that thousands of people in Jerusalem quickly believed this testimony, following Jesus,  and began sharing the story as historical and true.  Furthermore, the outcome of this testimony was changed lives of these eyewitnesses in the face of massive persecution.  The early followers of Jesus proclaimed that Jesus was God in the Flesh, the promised Messiah, a crucified Savior, and a resurrected Lord.  They proclaimed this in a world where the leading religious power in Israel (the Jewish leaders) and leading political power in the world (the Roman government) sought to persecute the messengers and destroy the message.  This meant that people lost their place in families and damaged their businesses to remain Christian.  And, the eyewitnesses who gave us the New Testament sealed their testimony with blood.  All of them were massively persecuted because their proclamation of Christ, and most would die a martyrs death.  And in each case they are given the option, refute and renounce your story and life, hold on to it and die.  They were crucified, beheaded, burned at the stake, yet, they would not recant.  They knew the story was true.  They were there, and saw it with their own two eyes.  The New Testament documents contain the testimony of these eyewitnesses, and their testimony is true.  And if true, then God is speaking through the story about Jesus, the eternal Son who became one of us.

The eyewitness testimony of the Gospel writers and other New Testament authors is another evidence about the nature of the Bible.  God inspired this book.  He is the ultimate source of the story and every word telling it.

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