The Verdict of Reason
After a couple of weeks off: We’re back! The last time we were talking about the historical accuracy of the New Testament. In the course of things we looked at archaelogy, as well as the writings of ancient Jewish commentators as well as pagan historians. We found inscriptions that confirmed New Testament facts and a belief that Jesus was God dating back to about ten years after the Resurrection. We saw references in the Talmud, – ( documents written by the rabbis who were out to stamp out Christianity) – that testify to the reality of the person of Christ. Even the darkness that fell at the time of Chist’s crucifixion was confirmed by independent, non-beieving sources. Today we’ll begin to unfold the motivation of the New Testament writers themselves. Just what could be their angle?
TESTING THE AUTHORS
When considering the gospel writers or the record of the apostles in general, we see a group that had little to gain and certainly much to lose by promoting this new religion. By their own testimony they were flawed, weak men. Peter denied Jesus three times during the crisis of his ministry. The others seem to have abandoned Christ completely at his time of trial. Yet not having understood why Jesus had to die, just a short time after his crucifixion they were speaking out boldly for the truth of his resurrection from the dead. They did so in the face of institutional opposition that they knew was not beyond seeking their very lives. And to what gain? There was no financial gain. None of them got rich. To the contrary, many faced persecution wherever they went.
Look at it this way. While Jesus was with them during His ministry, the twelve Apostles would be evaluated on the world’s standards as pretty much a bunch of losers. James and John tried to set aside for themselves the choice places of power and prestige in the Kingdom. (Mark 10:35-37, Matthew 20:20-21) Peter could walk on water and was the first to recognize that Jesus was ― “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Yet just minutes later Peter sustained a stinging rebuke from Jesus for trying to divert Him from the purpose of His ministry; – our Lord saying : “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me” (Matthew 16:13-23) During Christ’s trial, Peter denied Him three times. Most of the other’s just ran away. In sum,
Jesus’ closest disciples were; weak, vacillating and scheming. They had been witnesses to His many signs and wonders, His healings, His mastery over nature. Still their faith failed. Then something changed. They saw the risen Christ! It was the Resurrection that changed them. They had seen Jesus beat the very forces of death, fulfilling the ancient prophecies.
They were witnesses to His crucifixion and burial. But once they had seen Him, and touched Him, and eaten with Him, and later received the Holy Spirit, – they were transformed. The Truth was alive in them. They witnessed the martyrdom of many contemporaries of their movement. Yet they persisted. And when they preached they called as witnesses the people to which they spoke. In their message they pointed to the public miracles Christ had performed. And the movement grew because the people knew that evidence first hand. They sought no position, no monetary gain. There was no plausible motivation for lying. Not even torture or the threat of death could shake their resolve. Save for John, who survived a boiling in oil, all the remaining Apostles went to their deaths proclaiming the reality of Jesus and His message. Peter was crucified in Rome, – upside down. Nathaniel was whipped to death in Armenia. Andrew hung on a cross for two days, preaching to his executioners all the while. Thomas was speared to death in India. Jesus brother James, (not an apostle but a major church leader), was thrown from the top of the Temple and then beaten to death with a club.11 Matthew was martyred in Ethiopia, Gospel author Mark was dragged by horses through the streets of Alexandria, Egypt. James the son of Zebedee was beheaded in Jerusalem, his example serving to convert the officer that accompanied him to his death. Almost all could have saved their lives by recanting their Faith. None would. Would they have given their lives so willingly to follow a lie? No! The authors of those documents were convinced of the truth of the Gospel. Jesus is risen! (20) They knew that the Truth was even more powerful than death. Christ had vanquished that imposter.
There is something else. ‘The Faith’ Grew Up In Jerusalem. Christianity was born right there where Jesus conducted much of His ministry: Where if it weren’t true, – it could have easily been destroyed. After the claimed Resurrection the authorities could have produced the body and put an end to the young movement. They didn’t: Because they couldn’t! If the apostles were telling lies, the Christian Faith could have never got off the ground. But it did. In fact it grew by leaps and bounds in the face of violent opposition from both the Jewish and Roman authorities.
Not two months after Christ’s Resurrection, Peter relied on the very fact that Jesus’ ministry andvmiracles were publicly performed in Jerusalem. “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22) The miracles of the recently crucified Christ could serve as a tool only because they were so widely known and accepted by the populace. “As you yourselves know,” said Peter in addressing the crowd. Jesus’ miracles were not denied by His enemies because they could not be. Even non-believers had witnessed Christ’s wide mastery over the forces of nature.
Paul later used the widely known and attested fact of Christ’s rising as evidence to the skeptics of his day. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul in effect challenged his readers to check out the evidence by naming some of those who witnessed the risen Christ. “He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.” (1Corinthians 15:5-7) Paul was naming names; saying in effect: ‘You go talk to them!’