Back in January, I set out a goal of writing four blog posts giving evidence that the Bible is more than just a book about God, rather it is a book that is from God. Did this as part of our series Eat this Book, which was on the importance of Bible intake in the life of the follower of Jesus. Finally getting to part four, took a little longer than I had planned. This question is significant for us. There are thousands of books giving information about spirituality and the quest for the divine. Every religion has a major book claiming to have information about God, and there are myriads of other books making the same claim. If the Bible is just a book full of stories, rules, and ideas about God, then it is just one of that huge collection. But we do not believe that. We believe that the Bible is not just about God, it is literally from Him. That God is the primary author of Scripture, giving us the revelation of Himself through the pens and mouths of the human authors of Scripture. Divine inspiration is the mark that causes the sixty six books contained in the Bible to be unique and completely separate from all other books. As I have mentioned in this series of posts, my goal is to give evidence for this very lofty claim. In previous posts I have mentioned the unity of the Bible, and the prophecies contained in the Scriptures as significant proofs of divine inspiration of the Bible. In the third post I argued that the sources for the stories about Jesus contained in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament are eyewitnesses, giving credibility of the authenticity of the story and truthfulness of the accounts. If the stories of Jesus that are given in the Gospels are true, they are speaking of God revealing Himself in the person of Christ, God coming in the world in human form for our redemption and reconciliation of God. And truthful testimony of Jesus, if Jesus is the God-Man has to be divinely inspired.
This last post is similar to the third, arguing that the testimony of Jesus is authentic and truthful, inspired by the Holy Spirit as the authors write truthfully about the person, work, mission, and passion of Christ. I remember sitting in a seminary class (which is supposed to be a place to study the Scriptures, but at the time my classes were being taught by people who rejected divine inspiration) and hearing the professor speak that the stories of Jesus in the New Testament are more the work of creating a legend rather than truthful testimony. The goal, as he stated it, was to pick the nuggets of truth from the overblown stories written to make Jesus bigger than life. C’mon, a person who raises the dead, heals leprosy, walks on water, these have to be tales from a group of people to convince the simple minded that Jesus was more than he really was. In this view, the stories in the New Testament function more like tall tales we all learned in elementary school.
You know what I am talking about, stories of Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed, John Henry, and Calamity Jane, with their giant oxe and axes, mythical railway building skills and tree planting abilities. The thing about the tall tales is that all of them are based on actual historical people who lived at a specific time in history. They were key figures in the early American story who had an impact on issues in our expanding country. Then, after their death others turned them into bigger than life characters whose feats are mythical. And then we read them in third grade. Of course, the authors and original tellers of these tales were not claiming to be telling historically accurate stories, but they were given to inspire bravery, a hard work ethic, perseverance, and belief. So, is the Jesus figure we read about in the Bible really little more than this? Is he just a human being who inspired people, with some believing He was the messiah. But that ended when he was executed by the Jews and Romans? Yet, his early followers told tales that made Jesus bigger than life, hoping to inspire belief and hope. If this is what is going on, what we actually have is a hoax of the worst possible type, as people throughout history have chosen to accept their own torture and execution under the belief that the Jesus of Scripture is historical and his resurrection a fact. So, how to do we know?
I don’t know if you have ever heard this argument, but the truth is that this is really easy to refute, and the refutation makes the credibility of the New Testament documents more glorious. Basically, the dating of the books containing witness of Christ are way to close to the actual events for the authors to make Jesus a legend or tall tale. First fact, Jesus died around 30-33 AD. We know that almost all of the books in the New Testament had been penned by 70 AD, or no more than 40 years after this event. And many of them were penned much earlier, as early as the late 40’s through early 60’s. Second fact, none of these authors write as if they are embellishing the stories. Rather, they are careful to state that their stories are truthful accounts of the actual life of Jesus. For example, at the end of John’s Gospel and editorial comment ending the book says, “This is the disciple (the Apostle John) who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true (John 21:24).” Furthermore, the New Testament authors are making the claim that belief in this Jesus is necessary for salvation, and to reject anything they are reporting is equal to rejecting God and His truth. Which means that if the stories of Jesus contained in the New Testament about him are not true, then it was an intentional conspiracy intended to deceive people into believing a made up story with false things about a man named Jesus while offering the hope of heaven based on this false belief.
So how do we know this is not what happened? A few things. First, realize that if these stories were fabricated, they would have been refuted in the First Century. Long before there were written accounts, the message of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is being circulated by followers of Jesus offering the hope of redemption in this man. In the first thirty years of the Christian story, the message of the Gospel had spread from a band of 120 people in Jerusalem to a Roman-Empire wide phenomenon, reaching every major city in the Empire. Churches had been founded and scores of people were coming to faith in Jesus through the preaching of the Apostles and early church leaders. And, the focus of their preaching was the story of Jesus that would eventually be written down in the Gospels. In fact, the sum total of the Christian faith was the rejection of other belief systems and turning to a person who lived and died in their lifetime as their hope. So the preaching of Christ, his miracles, sinless life, crucifixion, and resurrection is spreading all over the Empire, even before these stories were penned by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Meanwhile, two social forces responded to the spread of the church with passionate enmity. First, by the mid first century, Jewish leaders both in Israel and throughout the Roman Empire began to fight against this belief, rejecting the core message and persecuting those who became Christians. Second, the Roman Empire itself grew more and more hostile toward those who were making these claims. Persecution against Christians began in regions very early in the story of the church, and by the middle of Nero’s reign in the mid-sixtys AD the threat was empire wide. Now get this. Both Jewish and Roman leaders were seeking to kill the growing impact of Christianity. The belief system of these Christians is based on accepting as true the story of Jesus, and his death and resurrection. And the early church continues to point to eyewitnesses who saw these things happen. They are claiming an empty cross and tomb, and a living man who had been executed. They are claiming this man did the miracles reported in the Gospels.
IF THESE STORIES ARE NOT TRUE, THEY WOULD HAVE BEEN EASILY REFUTED IN THE FIRST CENTURY, AND CHRISTIANITY WOULD HAVE DIED A QUICK DEATH AND DRIFTED AWAY. In other words, if both Rome and Jerusalem want to end Christianity, all they have to do is produce Jesus’ body, take you to his occupied tomb, or bring forth witnesses who were in attendance on the days the miracles were supposed to happen. Any of these would have refuted the Gospel story and ended the spread of Christianity. All four Gospels tell us the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. This story is so crazy, but it also had such an impact that all four writers included it in their accounts. But if it didn’t happen it would have been so easy to refute. If there were 5,000 men, there could have been 10k or more people actually there. When the stories were spread and the Gospels written there were still tons of people alive, living in those regions who had to be there that day. If the event did not happen it would have been so easy for Jewish or Roman readers to destroy this account. All they needed was a few people who were there to bear witness and say, “Miracle? Naw, that’s crazy. What really happened is that the disciples had pizza delivered.” Even easier to refute is the resurrection. We know that the story of Jesus’ resurrection were spreading within days, not weeks, days of the event. It was egg on the face of Roman leaders, and the bane of the Jewish leaders existence. But if it did not happen it would have been so easy to find Jesus’ body, or get the Roman soldier who robbed the tomb and threw his body to the dogs to testify.
Here’s what we do have, multiple voices affirming the historical truthfulness of these events, including the inspired accounts in the four Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. But we also have affirmation of these stories about Jesus from others outside of the Bible. What we don’t have is any eyewitness testimony that refutes any of the stories in the Gospels, and not a single viable alternative explanation to refute the stories.
Let me illustrate this argument like this. Let’s imagine that we are part of a weird cult that wants to make John F. Kennedy into a saving figure. We want people to make much of JFK and to put their hope in him. So we gather together and make up a story, with the plan of spreading it all over the world. In our version, yes JFK got shot on that day in Dallas, and yes, he actually died. But what happened in that Dallas hospital is that after the priest said the last rites, his eyes opened, the wound closed, and JFK sat up on the table. He spent the next few years teaching close followers how to live in the world, and get to the moon. And he is still alive and living in a secret remote location in the Northwest. But we have his teachings for the world. What would happen as we go out trying to spread this conspired story? The answer is simple, it would be refuted in minutes. The reason is that we are too close, there are people who are still alive who were alive on that day. People who saw the events unfold, who watched the funeral, and who know where JFK is buried. Furthermore, if the whole story ran amuck, it would be easy to exhume his body to ultimately refute the made-up story. We are still too close to the events of JFK, even fifty years after his death, because other eyewitnesses would kill our story.
So what we have is that the only truly viable explanation is that the writers of the Gospel are telling truthful testimony about Jesus. He was authentically born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, performed miracles, gathered a band of followers, but eventually got sideways with the Jewish leaders, and executed on a cross at the hands of the Romans. Yet, three days later he rose again, leaving the grave empty, yet filling His Kingdom with followers. And his claims that He was God in a body are confirmed by the resurrection. If God became a person, and lived among us, the book containing this story is more than a book about God. It is the clearest and most beautiful way God has revealed Himself. And Jesus own testimony is that all of the books contained in Scripture are from Him, and to be read as His very Word. So we better keep our nose in it.