Does God exist? Is Christianity true? Is the Bible reliable? These are three of the most important questions a person could ever ask.
Even if a skeptic starts with the assumption that the Bible is not reliable, they would probably agree with the Apostle Paul that if Christ has not been raised, then our faith is meaningless (1 Cor 15:14; 17). Basically, what Paul is stating is that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then we are a bunch of idiots who should be pitied! And he’s right. If the resurrection of Jesus was not a real historical event, then Christianity is false and does not correspond to reality.
This is of utmost importance when it comes to the reliability of The Bible. After all, do we merely just believe the Bible is trustworthy because your pastor said so or do we actually have good reasons to think that the Bible really is the Word of God?
For years, when I would tell someone the Bible is the Word of God, I would back it up by pointing out that 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All scripture is God breathed.” Well, that is good. I am glad the Bible does say it is the Word of God, because if it is, it should claim to be so; however, if I am going to use a Bible verse claiming that it is the Word of God, to prove that it is the Word of God, I will be guilty of illogical reasoning. Philosophers call this “begging the question,” or “reasoning in a circle.”
Here is a humorous example of this logical fallacy regarding the internet:
1- They can’t put anything on the internet that is not true.
2- I read that on the internet.
3- Therefore, everything on the internet is true.
Hopefully that attempt at an argument made you laugh. The sad thing is, however, that my fallacious reasoning of the past was quite similar. I would argue in this fashion:
1- If the Bible says it is the Word of God, then it is the Word of God.
2- The Bible says it is the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16).
3- Therefore, the Bible is the Word of God.
4- The Bible says that Jesus rose from the dead.
5- Therefore, Jesus rose from the dead.
6- Therefore, Christianity is true.
Do you see the problem with this approach? I used to assume Christianity was true to argue it was true. Now even though Christianity is true, this is not the reason to think it is. In fact, this argument provided no reason at all because any argument based on a logical fallacy is no argument at all.
Naturalistic atheists are guilty of this kind of reasoning quite often. They assume that nature is all that exists. From that point, they argue that the study of nature (science) is the only way to know reality. Moreover, they usually reject libertarian free will and state that all things – including their thoughts and beliefs – are causally determined via the laws of nature and the initial conditions of the big bang. Now they are left assuming that the laws of nature have determined them to have true beliefs to then argue that their beliefs are true.
This is the epitome of question begging and a logical fallacy that Christians should be careful to avoid. If we are going to show that the Bible is the Word of God, we must approach it with neutrality. We cannot begin with the assumption that it is; rather, we must begin by treating the 27 New Testament books as they were originally written – as individual historical narratives and letters.
Moreover, as the Apostle Paul contends, the salient point – and what almost every issue of Christianity needs to be grounded in – is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Did Jesus really die on a cross and three days later actually come back to life? That is the real question, and Christianity, and the reliability of Scripture itself hangs on this question.
“If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14).
Paul is putting all of his eggs in one basket here. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christians are delusional and wasting their time on Sunday mornings. However, if Jesus really did rise from the dead, then attending church is of great significance!
Knowledge of the Past
Are there solid reasons and historical evidence justifying the Christian faith? Can we really know what happened 2000 years ago without simply assuming that the Bible is the Word of God? Historians have established some guidelines when it comes to reaching conclusions about anything in ancient history. These are called the “Rules of Historical Research.” To establish something of the ancient past as historical, we need converging lines of evidence such as eyewitness data, closeness to the facts, and criteria.
Using these guidelines, historians are quite confident in making claims regarding ancient figures like Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great. How can scholars claim to know facts about these ancient dead dudes? When it comes to establishing historical data, it does not matter if something happened thousands of years ago. What matters is that we have access to events that happened thousands of years ago.
This access is granted through converging lines of evidence such as written and inferential data. Through this evidence, although a historian cannot know events of history with 100 percent certainty, they can come to know historical facts with high degrees of certainty and the inference to the best explanation (similar to what evolutionary biologists do today). It follows that historians are able to make expert claims about what happened when it comes to figures of antiquity like Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, and, incidentally, Biblical figures as well.
What is amazing is that the sources for Jesus are far superior to the sources for Alex and Jules. Think about all the individual letters and biographies collected under the cover of the New Testament. Twenty seven individual documents written over many years by multiple authors (not one book written by one author all at one time). In fact, even trained skeptics and atheist historians will go to the New Testament and use it for their purposes (We are simply going to treat it just as they do).
Bart Ehrman, is probably the loudest and most influential historian arguing against Christianity today. This is what Ehrman has said regarding the Gospels in the New Testament:
The oldest and best sources we have for knowing about the life of Jesus are the four Gospels of the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This is not simply the view of Christian historians who have a high opinion of the New Testament and its historical worth; it is the view of all serious historians of antiquity of every kind, from committed evangelical Christians to hardcore atheists.
Now, many of these folks who are devoted atheists will “pick and choose” their New Testament data that they twist but avoid scriptures that proves otherwise. I say we use the entire New Testament. With this in mind, the New Testament is a collection of historical biographies and letters and it is recognized as such. Skeptics arbitrarily choose to ignore parts that have anything to do with the supernatural simply because they presuppose naturalism (remember, this is begging the question). Skeptics are guilty of what we are being careful not to do. We are not assuming the Bible is God’s Word to argue it is. Atheistic naturalists are assuming nature is all there is to exclaim there is no God.
The 27 individual writings which were gathered over time, and eventually comprised under one “folder” we call the New Testament, cover plenty of data to gain access to the Ancient Near East a couple of thousand years ago. But wait, there is more! We also have several non-Christian sources referring to Jesus over the course of the first century. There is also archeological sources, plus other Christian sources not included in the New Testament.
After accumulating all of this data together, we have an abundance of historical evidence and information regarding the man of history, Jesus of Nazareth!
But non-historians still complain how can anyone gain knowledge about anything that happened 2000 years ago? These folks fail to understand that the length of time between the moment of the event and today is not a primary concern, but rather the gap of time between the historical event and the evidence about the event. As William Lane Craig said,
If the length of time between the event and the evidence for the event is short then it does not matter how long the evidence and the event itself have receded into the past. Good evidence does not become bad evidence, just because of the passage of time.
In the case of Jesus of Nazareth, the time gap is extremely short. In fact, if you want to do your own study, I highly recommend getting started with a book co-authored by Mike Licona and Gary Habermas entitled, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. After that, graduate to Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.
Examine a passage of the letter the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians. It has huge implications (remember, I am only treating this letter as ancient literature, nothing more). Consider this piece of significant evidence in the pre-biblical, oral tradition that was handed down to the Apostle Paul, which he then records around 55 A.D. in 1st Corinthians 15:3-5.
This creed states that Jesus was crucified to pay for our sins, that He died and was buried, that He rose from the dead on the third day and that He was seen by eyewitnesses.
Historians have noted that it is obvious from the wording used in this creed that it is not originally from the author of 1st Corinthians. This is even accepted by the vast majority of skeptical, atheist, and non-Christian scholars, that Paul must have received this creed by someone else in Jerusalem (most likely Peter and James) anywhere from two to eight years after the crucifixion. Paul makes it clear: “I gave you what I was given.”
Since this saying already existed when it was first given to Paul, we can logically conclude this creed was established even earlier, and therefore, these beliefs would, in fact, pre-date the oral tradition itself, which many historians believe brings us back to the year of the cross in 30 AD.
The historian, James D.G. Dunn, reaches the conclusion that the latest this creed could have been developed is a mere six months after the crucifixion. That is extremely early evidence, even by today’s standards. The German historian (and atheist), Gerd Leudemann, reluctantly admits that this creed can be traced back to one to three years after the cross and even the most skeptical of skeptics affirm this creed developed by 50 AD.
Early documentation also exists that many people, hundreds and hundreds of people, saw the Risen Jesus and gave testimony of this within months of the crucifixion. This provides warrant to affirm the claims stated in this creed are probably true. However, if one is still committed to their skepticism, consider the illogicality of a creed being invented and accepted in the same town Jesus was reported to have lived in – not to mention publicly executed in – if this Jesus story is just a myth. Imagine the following scenario provided by Amy Orr-Ewing:
Suppose you decide you would like to start your own religion (because there is a lot of money in it), so you invent the story of an amazing man named Hobart. You head off to Los Angeles and start proclaiming that just a couple of years ago, Hobart had, in that very city, done countless miracles. Hobart also caused such an uproar that, eventually, the city officials got involved and held a public execution (on Venice Beach). But then, Hobart—amazing as he was—rose from the dead and made many appearances.
How many followers would you get? Besides Tom Cruise, you would be lucky if you got one! Let alone thousands who would be willing to die for this story. Everyone in Los Angeles would have no recollection of such a man or these events. The movement would never gain enough followers to gain momentum. Such a scheme is obviously ridiculous and doomed to fail.
However, this is exactly what “Jesus mythers” claim today. These committed atheists assume this Hobart scenario occurred successfully in first century Jerusalem—a city with significantly fewer people than Los Angeles. This is not the inference to the best explanation.
Historians come to conclusions regarding Jesus through multiple testimonies of people who were either companions of Jesus or had first-hand knowledge of Christ. This is fantastic and extremely early evidence, that historians would consider a goldmine regarding any other event of ancient history.
Facts & Method
Historians seek independent sources, such as, eyewitness accounts, both positive and embarrassing. These sources are plentiful when it comes to the life of Jesus and his resurrection! Mike Licona states that we have as much evidence of the resurrection, if not more, than we have of Julius Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon in 49 BC. Even the harshest skeptical and atheistic historians admit several things as historical fact about Jesus. For example:
- Jesus existed.
- Jesus died by crucifixion.
- Jesus’ disciples (at least) really believed that Jesus rose from the dead, and appeared to them.
- The church persecutor, and Christian hunter, Saul was radically transformed into the Jesus preaching Paul.
- The skeptic James (the brother of Jesus) was suddenly changed into someone who was willing to die for the gospel.
- The tomb of Jesus was found empty by his women followers.
Licona makes his case even stronger by utilizing a “minimal facts” approach that does not even reference the Gospels, meaning that even if the Gospels did not exist these facts about Jesus remain:
- Paul was an eyewitness (hostile)
- Paul knew Jesus’ disciples
- Paul taught what the disciples taught
- They taught appearances to individuals and groups, to friend and foe alike
- They and Paul taught (and believed) Jesus was physically raised from the dead.
1-4 are accepted FACTS regarding Jesus and the fifth, although not accepted by most skeptics, remains unrefuted. So, when it comes to the historical method we need to ask the following: What hypothesis best accounts for all of these facts? The resurrection hypothesis accounts for all of these facts; no other naturalistic hypothesis offered accounts for all of these together. The best explanation of the facts is the hypothesis which makes sense of all of them together. The resurrection hypothesis is the only one left on the table.
Mike Licona once told me, “The main objection to the resurrection, is not a lack of historical evidence [we have that]; rather, it’s a matter of worldview, because the resurrection of Jesus requires a supernatural being to exist.” Remember, assuming God does not exist to argue that God cannot raise Jesus from the dead is begging the question, which is a logical fallacy.
One of my research focuses is on the Kalam Cosmological Argument, which demonstrates sound philosophical evidence supported by scientific data that a supernatural cause of the universe does exist. If we have evidence for a supernatural creator of the universe (from nothing), then the resurrection of Jesus would be mere “child’s play” for the creator of the universe. Therefore, one has no grounds to reject the historical evidence in regards to the resurrection of Jesus Christ based on their atheistic assumptions.
The evidence supports God’s existence and the resurrection of Jesus by supernatural means. Since dead men do not rise from the dead naturally, as David Hume argues, the inference to the best explanation of the historical resurrection is that God raised Jesus from the dead. If God raised Jesus from the dead, then Christianity is true! Moreover, if God raised Jesus from the dead, we seem to have a divine stamp of approval regarding everything that Jesus claimed and taught.
What did Jesus teach?
It is important to note that Jesus not only taught out of the Old Testament but he also gave his stamp of approval on the “law and prophets” (Matt. 5:18). Moreover, a case can be made that the resurrection validates the teachings of Jesus’ hand-picked apostles (Luke 6:12-16; Acts 9:15) who wrote or provided the information found in the books and letters of the New Testament. Given the abundance of multiple and early attestation of the Gospels, we have high degrees of historical certainty when it comes to knowing what Jesus taught. Therefore, one has good reason to trust that the New Testament in your hands, which is based on thousands of early copies of the original Greek manuscripts, is not only trustworthy, but the authoritative Word of God.
(1) Jesus’ resurrection validates the teachings of Christ and His hand-picked apostles.
(2) The New Testament was written by Jesus’ hand-picked apostles or those who knew them.
(3) The text of the Bible is pure enough.
(4) In the New Testament, Jesus gave His stamp of approval on the Old Testament.
(5) Given 1-3, we have good reason to regard the New Testament as trustworthy and authoritative and, given 4, we have a good reason for regarding the Old Testament as trustworthy and authoritative.
Go read your Bible!
*A special thanks to Mike Licona for your teaching, guidance, and friendship.
 Bart D. Ehrman, Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code (Oxford: OUP, 2004), 102.
 Edit (8-1-16): I noticed the videdo hyperlinked to “Jesus Mythers” above has been deleted from Youtube. Here is Bart Ehrman’s quote:
Questioner: “I do not see evidence in archaeology or history for a historical Jesus!”
Bart Ehrman: “Well, I do. I mean, that’s why I wrote the book. I HAVE A WHOLE BOOK ON IT! There is a lot of evidence; there is so much evidence [for the existence of Jesus]!
I know in the crowds you all run around with it is commonly thought that Jesus did not exist. Let me tell you, once you get outside of your conclave, there is nobody, I mean, this is not even an issue for scholars of antiquity. IT IS NOT AN ISSUE FOR SCHOLARS OF ANTIQUITY!
There is no scholar at any college or university in the western world who teaches classics, ancient history, New Testament, early Christianity – any related field – who doubts that Jesus existed!
Now, that is not evidence, that is not evidence. Just because everybody thinks so doesn’t make it evidence. But, if you want to know about the theory of evolution versus the theory of creationism – and every scholar, at every reputable institution in the world believes in evolution, it may not be evidence, but if you’ve got a different opinion you had better have a pretty good piece of evidence yourself.
The reason for thinking that Jesus existed is because he is abundantly attested in early sources. That’s why, and I give the details in my book. Early and independent sources indicate that certainly Jesus existed. One author that we know about KNEW JESUS’ BROTHER, and knew Jesus’ closest disciple, Peter. He’s an eyewitness to both Jesus’ closest disciple and his brother.
So, I’m sorry. I respect your disbelief, but if you want to go where the evidence goes? I think that atheists have done themselves a disservice by jumping on the bandwagon of mysticism because frankly, it makes you look foolish to the outside world. If that’s what you are going to believe, you just look foolish.”