Monday, June 25, 2012

Internal Evidence Pt 2

If you are a Christian, I pray this note will strengthen your faith.  If you are an atheist or a Muslim, or just simply not a believer in Christ, I pray this note will stir some curiosity in you.  The important thing is getting at the truth.  If we don't know the truth and live by the truth, our lives are a colossal waste.

In my previous note about internal evidence I shared some details in the gospels and Acts that verify the authenticity of the accounts.  In this note I will focus on just the gospel accounts, because they are parallel accounts, and because they deal with the most central facet of the Christian faith: the ministry of Christ.  The fact that the gospels are parallel accounts gives us a unique opportunity to test their veracity.  We should expect that they are consistent.  If there are four different witnesses of a crime, you would expect their testimonies to be consistent.  Yet if their testimonies are exactly the same, word for word, you would know something is fishy.  So we should expect the gospels to have slight variations, proving that they did not conspire together.

To prove that the gospels are complexly consistent, I am going to use an argument made by John James Blunt, who wrote a book titled 'Undesigned Coincidences in the writings of the Old and New Testament'.  John wrote the book in the nineteenth century, and it must have been largely forgotten.  From everything I know, this argument has been revived thanks to apologist Tim McGrew (if there are others that deserve credit, I'll let Tim make mention of it).  The undesigned coincidences are bits of information that one gospel writer leaves out but another gospel writer fills us in on.  So in one account some question might naturally arise, and that evangelist doesn't answer the question for us, but another of the four evangelists will.  Its probably easier for me to show you what I mean with examples than it is to explain.

The ascension
If you read the gospel of John, you will get some idea or allusion to the ascension of Jesus (see John 3:13, 6:62, 20:17).  But the actual event is not recorded.  Since John was the last to write a gospel, the ascension was probably so axiomatic it didn't need to be mentioned.  But John mentions the words spoken by Jesus which allude to the ascension.  To see the ascension actually recorded you have to go to Luke's gospel (see Luke 24:51).

Peter's reinstatement
In Luke 22:32 Jesus predicts that Peter would turn back again after he had denied Jesus three times.  If you read on in Luke's gospel, there is no definitive record of this happening.  But if you go to John 21:15-19 you see Jesus reinstating Peter.  The fulfillment of the prediction that Jesus made in Luke's gospel is found in John's gospel. 

Boats from Tiberias
This one might be a little complicated, but follow me carefully.  The story is Jesus walking on water; its found in John 6:16-24.  There was only one boat on the side where they took off, and the disciples used this boat to cross the lake to Capernaum.  There was a storm, and the disciples saw Jesus out there walking on the water.  After this had happened, John's gospel says that some boats came from Tiberias and landed on the shore where the disciples had taken off.  The crowd used these boats to follow Jesus to Capernaum.  John doesn't tell us how these boats arrived; there's many different possibilities.  But Matthew's gospel gives us a very likely answer for how these boats arrived from Tiberias.  Matthew states that the winds were against the disciples (see Matthew 14:24).  So if there were some boats that were not secured at Tiberias, the wind would have driven them to the opposite shore, which is where the disciples had taken off from. 

Great crowds
In the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 Mark tells us that many people were coming and going (see Mark 6:31).  We also know that this was a remote area with only towns and villages nearby (see Mark 6:35-36).  So why was there such a great crowd of people?  Mark doesn't give us any reason for it, but John does.  John tells us that the Passover Feast was near (see John 6:4).  That means people from all over would be making a journey to Jerusalem, which explains the many people coming and going.

Matthew tells us that Jesus was spat on and hit when He was before the Sanhedrin (see Matthew 26:67-68).  And in verse 68 they said to Him, "Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?"  Now that is rather odd that they would say that.  If whoever was hitting Jesus was standing right in front of Him, it would be nothing for Him to identify the person.  But Mark and Luke fill us in on a little piece of information that Matthew leaves out.  They let us know that Jesus was blindfolded when they were doing this (see Mark 14:65, Luke 22:64). 

Three days
Jesus is accused of saying that He can destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days in Matthew 26:61.  No where in Matthew's gospel does Jesus say this or anything like this.  But we find out where it comes from by reading John's gospel (see John 2:19).

King of the Jews
In John 18:33 Pilate asks Jesus, "Are you the king of the Jews?"  If you read the previous verses in John, you'll see no where that the Jews or anyone is accusing Him of claiming to be a king.  So why does Pilate ask Jesus this question?  Well, we find out from reading Luke's gospel that they did accuse Him of being a king (see Luke 23:2).

Found no guilt
In Luke's gospel, right after Jesus is accused of claiming to be a king, Pilate asks Him if He is a king, Jesus says yes, and then Pilate says, "I find no basis for a charge against this man."  Now isn't that odd?  Jesus just admitted to claiming to be a king and Pilate finds no guilt.  But if we read John's gospel, we get the missing part of the conversation (see John 18:33-38).  We find out that Jesus said His kingdom was from another place, so Him claiming to be a king was no threat to Caesar or the Roman Empire.  That's how Pilate could say that he found no basis for a charge against Him.

When evening came
In Matthew 8:14-17 Jesus is at Peter's house and He heals Peter's mother-in-law.  Right after that it says that when evening came the demon-possessed and sick were brought to Jesus to heal.  Why would they wait until evening?  We find the answer to that in Mark and Luke.  It was the Sabbath, and it was unlawful to heal on the Sabbath, so the people had to wait until evening (sunset is the end of each day in Jewish culture) for the Sabbath to be over (see Mark 1:21, Luke 4:31).

Following Jesus
In Matthew's gospel and in Mark's gospel, when Jesus calls Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew, they leave everything and follow Him.  It seems really odd: Would you leave everything at once when someone comes to you and says, "follow me"?  But we find the reason in Luke's gospel (see Luke 5).  Luke gives us the rest of the story, which Matthew and Mark left out.  He tells us of this miraculous catch (see Luke 5:6).  This explains why Simon and Andrew were willing to leave everything they had and follow Jesus. 

Remaining silent
In Luke's gospel, right after the transfiguration, Luke tells us that the disciples (Peter, James and John) kept it to themselves; they didn't tell anyone (see Luke 9:36).  Why would they keep something like that to themselves?  We find the answer in Mark 9:9.  Jesus told them not to tell anyone about it.  A little detail that Luke left out, but Mark included.

So what do these examples show us?  They show us how the gospels compliment each other.  They show us how the gospels are consistent.  And its pretty obvious that this was not designed by men.  How would someone think to intentionally have such coincidental and complimentary details in four different accounts?  And the fact that the four accounts are so complexly interwoven.  We can only expect this kind of evidence from four independent accounts of actual events.  So in that way they are signs of authenticity.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Internal Evidence

When it comes to evidence and arguments supporting the Bible's veracity, there are a number of angles to take.  In general, these fall into the categories of archaeology, manuscripts, secular sources and internal evidence.  Internal evidence can be prophecies confirmed to originate before their fulfillment, consistencies that are too difficult to forge, and certain details that prove the authenticity of the text.  This note is about those certain details.

The overall argument goes like this: We know that many people in Judea, Samaria and Galilee, where the events recorded in the gospels took place, believed what the earliest Christians were preaching.  The founders of Christianity, and those who wrote the books of the New Testament, were to a large degree believed.  That's why Christianity is such a large religion today.  We also have a quote from Tacitus - a secular source - confirming this.

"Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Jud├Ža, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular."

A couple things we can take from this quotation: 1) Tacitus was not a friend of Christianity, and therefore had no reason to give helpful testimony (that is now used 1900 years later).  2) Christianity had spread all the way to Rome at the time of Nero's reign (54-68 AD), and it was popular.  And most relevant to this note, 3) Christianity originated in Judea.  Now why does this matter?  Because we have manuscript evidence that places practically all of the books of the New Testament, and especially the four gospels and Acts, in the first century.  And you would be hard pressed to find a credible scholar to argue otherwise.  If we know that the gospel accounts were written in the first century, and we know that many people believed them in the first century - in the region that the events took place - there is great evidence of their veracity.

Why is that?  Well, if someone wrote a fictional account about your hometown, saying something like your high school principle was miraculously cured of cancer, and the mayor's son was raised from the dead, there's no way you would believe it unless you talked to the principle or the mayor's son.  Even if the story was written 50 years after it allegedly took place, you would know if such a story was false or true.  Any story that includes such details as names of prominent people, specific locations, the time of year that things happened, and plenty of miraculous events, if it is fiction trying to be sold as reality, has zero chance of being believed.  The gospel accounts do include such details, AND they were believed.  We must ask ourselves, how?

Let me illustrate the argument with specific examples:

John the Baptist
John the Baptist is a major figure in the gospel accounts.  We learn about his lifestyle ( Matthew 3:4, Mark 1:6).  We know the name of his father and mother (Luke 1:57-66).  We can read at least some of his teaching (Matthew 3, Mark 1, Luke 3, John 1:19-27 and John 3:23-36).  We can read how he died (Matthew 14:1-12, Mark 6:14-29).  And something that would really catch the reader's attention, the gospels claim that he was believed to be a prophet (Luke 20:6).  If a person read this, he would expect John to be a well known figure (John the Baptist was mentioned by Josephus the Jewish historian).  He would expect people who could confirm or deny the description of John that the gospel writers provide.  And as I mentioned, the gospel writers provide a pretty thorough description.  So if what they said about John the Baptist - including his testimony concerning Jesus - was false, their credibility would be shot.  Disciples of John would come forth and say, "no, that's not how it was."  If John the Baptist never existed, the forgery would be that much more obvious, considering the renown of John in the gospel accounts.  If what the gospel writers said about John the Baptist was true, even second and third generations would have heard about him.  The first century reader would expect this, given the description that the writers provide.

Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimethea
The gospel writers surely did not shy away from making mention of prominent people in their area.  There are two members of the Sanhedrin (the central Jewish court and legislature) in the gospels, and both have a significant role.  We read about Nicodemus in the third chapter of John's gospel.  He was sneaking away to talk to Jesus, almost certainly because he was afraid of losing his position on the Council.  We also read how Joseph of Arimethea, a member of the Sanhedrin, requested Jesus' body and buried it.  We read that Nicodemus accompanied him (John19:39), that he was secretly a disciple (John 19:38), and Mark says he went "boldly" to Pilate (Mark 15:43).  Now if Joseph and Nicodemus were secretly disciples up until this point, and something like the unusual darkness at the crucifixion (Mark 15:33) strengthened their faith, it would make sense for Mark to note his boldness in requesting Jesus' body.  And the fact that Nicodemus accompanied him, it implies that both of these men were no longer secret disciples, but out in the open disciples.  We do not read what happens to them after that, but it is a reasonable guess that they lost their positions on the Sanhedrin.

The point is this: These were not obscure men.  Many people would have known who these guys were.  If they had children, people would know who their children were.  And the people of Judea could have asked them if the things recorded were true.  At the very least, some record or some rumor would include these men.  Its like you would not become a member of Congress without your name going down in a public record.  This is another example of something the first century reader could investigate for himself and find out the truth.

The crucifixion
A crucifixion is not a private event.  Jesus' crucifixion, and the events leading up to it, definitely were not a private event.  It involved the governor, Pilate, and a crowd shouting "crucify him."  It involved scourging, carrying a cross, a man named Simon of Cyrene who had sons named Alexander and Rufus (Mark 15:21; Rufus was possibly the same Rufus in Romans 16:13, and since its believed that Mark wrote his gospel in Rome, that could be why he, alone of all the gospel writers, makes mention of Rufus and Alexander), and an exposed place outside the city named Gogoltha.  One thing is for certain, anyone reading these accounts of the crucifixion would expect plenty of witnesses.  At the very least there would be rumor of a Jesus that was crucified under Pontius Pilate while Caiaphas was high priest.  If it never happened, there would be zero basis even for a rumor and zero chance that anyone would believe such an extraordinary story.  If it did happen, but the gospel writers adjusted the details in order to fulfill Psalm 22, then there would be witnesses coming forth to say, "I was there, and that's not how it happened." 

Jesus feeds 5000
With the story of Jesus feeding 5000, one conclusion can easily be made: There should be at least 5000 witnesses.  Now the gospel writers tell us that it was near Bethsaida (Luke 9:10).  And we learn that it was right before the Passover (John 6:4), which explains why there were so many people passing through a rather remote area (Jews journeyed to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast).  So the reader knows the location and the time of year that it happened.  And the reader can expect to hear at least some rumor of this event in and around Bethsaida.  Clearly, with at least 5000 witnesses, word of it had to have gotten around.

Pretty much everybody knows, Lazarus was the friend of Jesus that died, and three days later Jesus raised him from the dead.  What's interesting to note, Lazarus was a rich man, and he lived in the small town of Bethany.  Bethany was only about a mile or so outside of Jerusalem.  So really, there could only be one rich man named Lazarus in such a small town (what are the chances that there were two?).  And being that it was so close to Jerusalem, people in Jerusalem could go and see Lazarus for themselves.  Indeed, that's what was happening (John 12:9-10).  If we push it forward to the time that John's gospel was written, then the children and grandchildren of those in Bethany would probably have heard stories told about the time Lazarus rose from the dead (I mean, who wouldn't want to tell that story?).

Malta is a small island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.  I have always found it fascinating that Luke not only mentions this obscure island in his Acts of the Apostles, but he also includes such details as the depth of the water just offshore (Acts 27:28), the presence of superstitious natives (Acts 28:2-6; I find it amusing that the natives swiftly change their opinion of Paul from being a murderer to being a god), and the chief official of the island, Publius (Acts 28:7).  Now one has to wonder, where is Luke getting his information?  If this did not actually happen, and Paul is not relaying this story to Luke, how does Luke know all this stuff about an island in the middle of the Mediterranean? 

I have maybe something like twenty or twenty-five examples that I could elaborate on, but this note would become very long if I did that.  Instead I will just give a brief mention of some examples in the gospels and Acts.  Read them over and think about how these stories would be received by first century Judeans.

-Healing the sick at Gennesaret (Matthew 14:34-36)
-Triumphal entry; it was a public event, and it was fulfillment of prophecy
-Clearing the temple; it was certainly public, and very memorable
-Healing a blind man named Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, just outside of Jericho (Mark 10:46-52)
-Healing the ear of the high priest's servant, Malchus (John 18:10, Luke 22:51)
-The dream that Pilate's wife had (Matthew 27:19)
-Raises a widow's son from the dead in Nain (Luke 7:11-17)
-Raises the daughter of a synagogue ruler named Jairus from the dead (Mark 5:22), and news of it spread (Matthew 9:26)
-Women who were cured of evil spirits, including Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod's household (Luke 8:2-3)
-Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector in the city of Jericho (Luke 19:2-3)
-3000 were baptized on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41)
-Peter heals people (Acts 3:6-7, 4:16, 9:33-34, 9:40-41)
-Cornelius, a centurion in the Italian Regiment, who lived in Caesarea (Acts 10)
-The incident on Cyprus, involving the procounsul, Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:4-12)
-Dionysius, member of the Areopagus, believed Paul and followed him (Acts 17:34)
-Paul makes the claim that over 500 people witnessed the risen Christ, many of whom still living (1Corinthians 15:6)
-And more cities named in the book of Acts than I care to list, all the way from Judea, to Asia Minor, to Greece, to the Italian Peninsula.

Some of these details demonstrate an intimate knowledge possessed by the writer, like the cities that Luke names and sometimes describes in Acts.  Some of these details are ripe for scrutiny, and if they weren't true, just begging to be exposed.  They are miraculous events involving specific people, not some obscure Joe the Plumber.  Sometimes they involve prominent people.  They are public events, of which the reader would expect to find witnesses.  Oftentimes they include details like the time and place of the events, which invite people to investigate their claim.  The bottom line is this: If what the gospel writers wrote was false, it would have been so easy for people living in first century Judea to see right through it.  And when you put on top of that the fact that their accounts are hard to believe in the first place (people do not normally walk on water or rise from the dead), the only way anyone would have believed their accounts is if they were actually true.  If the accounts were true, then there was witnesses; lots of witnesses.  And when lots of people are saying the same thing, you might actually be inclined to believe something extraordinary.  Even then it can be difficult (particularly considering the persecution that early Christians experienced).

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Value of Sorrow

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  -Jesus in Matthew 5:3-4

These are a couple, among many, of the things that Jesus said which revolutionized my way of thinking.  I used to think, like most people naturally do, that being happy is good and being sad is bad.  But Jesus turns the world upside-down: according to Him, the first are last and the last are first.  According to Jesus, we are blessed when we are sad and blessed when we mourn.  After much study and meditation I have come to understand it, and what Jesus says makes perfect sense.

If a person is poor in spirit, it means they are down in the dumps.  Depressed.  Sorrowful.  And this is exactly the kind of person that you would say, has nothing to lose.  The person that has hit rock bottom, he can't go any lower; that's why its called "rock bottom".  So he's desperate for something, some hint of hope.  Even atheists, when they are desperate for hope, pray to God.  If you combine this with what Jesus said in Matthew 7:7 ("seek and you will find"), a person that is desperate for hope will seek God, and he will find.  So David says in Psalm 51:17...

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

God sees the pain.  God knows a contrite heart.  He does not ignore it.  And sometimes, in some situations, a broken spirit is exactly what the doctor ordered.  That's exactly what we need to make ourselves whole.  This might seem mysterious, but I will explain.

I can think of nothing more beautiful, except God Himself, than a sad face.  The beauty of a sad face is not skin deep; it goes beyond that.  A sad face stirs up sympathy in our hearts, compassion in our souls.  A sad face forces us to exercise these wonderful traits, and it is actually good for us.  When we exercise compassion and sympathy because of someone's mourning, we feel a kind of deep satisfaction.  Not joy of course, but a kind of contentment in our soul.  Its too hard for me to explain.  But I'm sure many people know what I'm talking about.  Solomon did; he says in Ecclesiastes 7:3-4...

Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.  The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.

Sorrow also has the affect of making our lives more balanced, maturing us and building character.  What do I mean by balance?  Well, if all you ever experience is happiness and pleasure, it will be sure to make you jaded.  You will never be satisfied by it.  But if you experience real sorrow, then you can take joy in even simple goodness.  The warmth of sunshine takes on a new meaning: it is a gift from God.  What do I mean by maturing?  A person who has experienced sorrow understands.  He sees the world for what it is.  He knows that there is no hope on this earth, and he knows that he must look to Heaven.  What do I mean by building character?  You become a better person because of the sorrow you experience.  You are able to sympathize with the downcast.  Love grows in your heart because of it.  Just like Jesus; He loved and cared for us, because He experienced sorrow and knew mourning.

A true man can worship God with joy and singing.  A true man can also worship God in silence, with tears and his head to the ground.


About Me

Unimpressive in person. But always praying that these letters I write will be weighty and forceful. I serve the Almighty as a servant of Christ. I strive to conquer hearts and minds with the word of God. I am nothing, but the Holy Spirit living inside me is omnipotent. By Him I can run and not grow weary, or walk and not be faint. All glory and honor be to God and to Jesus the Christ.