They claim that the New Testament was written many years after the events outlined in it and were subsequently modified by copyists over the ensuing years. The also say the Bible is "old fashioned" and not applicable to the 21st Century.
Could these people be right? Could Christians simply be deluded individuals who need the crutch of religion on which to lean?
To investigate these claims we need to go back to the basics of the New Testament. There is sufficient external material, specially from non-Christian sources, to confirm that, yes, there was a man named Jesus who was considered a prophet by many and who was killed by the occupying Roman forces in Jerusalem in or around 30AD (sometimes called 30CE Common Era). The normal punishment for anyone who preached sedition against the Romans (the charge officially brought against Jesus) was death by crucifixion, and that was certainly the death portrayed in the Bible. That much, at least, is rarely contested by serious historians.
Who Was Jesus?
But was this man truly the Messiah long foretold by Jewish prophets (specially Isaiah)? Did he really perform the miracles attributed to him; did he die on the cross; and was he resurrected three days later? If he was resurrected, then the other questions become superfluous because his resurrection was the final proof of his claim to be the "Son of God" (part of the Trinity according to the 4th Century Nicene Creed: "begotten from the Father before all ages, light from light, true God from True God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father.").
If the New Testament account of the trial, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus was a fictional story, then independent analysis of the events, specially through the work of men like Frank Morison (who wrote the book "Who Moved The Stone?") would not stand up to detailed examination. Holes would appear and critics would be able to use those holes to prove that the story was simply a made up myth. There are no holes! Events happened as outlined, within the timeframe mentioned in the Bible, because nothing else fits the known facts!
If you doubt this statement, take the time to read Morison's excellent book which details the four days of the capture, trial, crucifixion and resurrection in miniscule detail, examining the events, both stated and assumed, minute by minute. As a lawyer, Frank Morison set out to write an exposť on how impossible the trial and resurrection was but, after an exhausting study, the book he actually wrote was the opposite. As one book reviewer said: "Just like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes Mr. Morison showed logically and diligently that after all the facts have been weighed, the solution that is supported by those facts however unlikely it may sound or look would have to be the truth."
Surprise, surprise, not one word of the Bible has ever been disproved...
Careful examination of the Scriptures pertaining to this event is consistent with "truth" from every direction we can examine it. No fictional account could be as consistent as the four Gospels, though each was written from a different perspective and none are, of themselves, complete.
This is entirely consistent with them being first hand accounts of the same event! If this was a fictionalized account then the four Gospels would align exactly because no writer of fiction would deliberately add different detail and emphasis to each of the accounts, certainly not to the extent in the Gospels. However, read reports of the same road accident from different eye-witnesses and you will see that each exhibits the same variation in detail and emphasis.
Unlike fictional stories, characters in the Bible are not always shown in a positive light the disciples of Jesus are shown as fools and simpletons, missing the meaning behind the parables and not understanding his mission on Earth. This theme of total honesty, even when it does not show Bible "heros" in a good light, is common throughout both the Old and New Testaments. Again, a fictional account would not show these "heros" with all their blemishes and faults exposed for history to examine. The "skeletons in their closets" would be hidden from public view, as we hide the "skeletons" in our own lives.
Are The Bible Stories True?
Let's step backwards for a moment and look at the totality of the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) and see what we can find out about this amazing book, which has defied the generations and is still the best selling book in the world.
Surprise, surprise, not one word of the Bible has ever been disproved, and there have been many humanistic academics over the years who have searched long and hard to disprove this book (actually a library of 66 books).
Most of the stories of the Old Testament, originally considered myths by historians, have now been proven through archeology. Once thought not to exist, Sodom and Gomorrah are now known to have been real places; and the walls of Jericho not only fell down, but they fell outwards (something which doesn't happen during a siege!). The discovery of oil in the Middle East was from the Bible. A geologist read about Moses being put in a basket sealed with pitch a substance associated with oil. He believed the story and found the huge oil reserves of Egypt...
Try this. Take a group of 10 modern academics and ask them about 10 of the most contentious issues in the world and they would not all agree about even one of those issues!!! Ask another 10 academics, spread historically over a 100-year period, and there would be even more dissension because public morals and attitudes (like towards abortion, homosexuality, etc) change over time. Not only could you not get agreement, opinions would be diametrically opposed on many issues (and these are all educated people).
Now think about the 45 or so different people who wrote the Bible. They wrote it over a period of 1,500 years and were from every class of society from peasants to kings. This book examines every major contentious issue man has debated. Think of this: the entire Christian Bible is now 1,900 years old, yet moral issues raised in it are still valid today! Time has not weakened this amazing publication that is 100% consistent from the first page to the last.
Could this man, crucified by the Romans for sedition, have truly risen again from the dead and still be alive today?
"Pretend" religious books must be constantly updated in the light of new teaching and changing public morality (like the Book of Mormon), but the Bible has not been changed!!! What it said 2,000 years ago is what is says today and it is just as accurate today as it was then!
How do we know it hasn't been changed? Because we have found manuscripts of much of the Old Testament which date to a period well before Jesus was born, and we have segments of the New Testament which date from about 110AD. There are complete manuscripts of the New Testament from around 200AD. We have thousands and thousands of fragments and complete manuscripts from those early years, and thousands and thousands of documents that either quote from, or attest to events in, the New Testament. Be not deluded, it happened!
Was Jesus Resurrected?
But how about Jesus. Could this man, crucified by the Romans for sedition, have truly risen again from the dead and still be alive today? Wasn't the whole resurrection story simply a plot by the Apostles to keep the myth about Jesus alive after his untimely death?
If this was a plot then it was the most ill formed plot ever devised because the people who supposedly propagated it were, themselves, persecuted and killed for what they taught about the resurrection. Would you, as a rational person, knowingly perpetuate a myth that would see you tortured and killed? I think not, and the writers of the New Testament Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, James, Jude and, of course, Paul suffered enormously but retained their belief that Jesus was resurrected. Of the New Testament writers we have knowledge about, only John and Jude were not killed for their faith. John was banished to the island of Patmos where he wrote Revelation, we aren't sure what happened to him after that, and Jude claims to be Jesus' half brother but nothing more is known about him.
If Christianity was a lie then that would be revealed from a close examination of the Bible.
The writers of the Bible, and specially the New Testament, must have been very talented individuals to have created, and perpetuated, such an enormous hoax. That they died for this hoax makes it all the stranger if, indeed, it was a hoax. Normal people do not sacrifice themselves for a lie!
While the Bible teaches that we must have faith, and faith is "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (Hebrews 11:1 NIV), the Bible also teaches that we must not simply accept what others say but must be like the Bereans who "received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what [they were taught was] true." (Acts 17:11 NIV)
Should You Be A Cynic?
If the Bible was simply a history book, or an outdated book on philosophy, then two billion Christians worldwide are deluded. If they are deluded then, quite possibly, they are using their faith as a crutch because they are emotionally weak. However, if they are right and Jesus not only died on the cross for us but was resurrected and still lives, then the lie is in the hands of the people who deny the truth of the Bible. I believe that the Bible, as it was originally written, is the inerrant Word of God.
Yes, I am a cynic. If Christianity is a lie then that would be revealed from a close examination of the Bible. However, what a close examination of the Bible reveals is that it is not a lie because, as a history book, the Bible has been shown to be accurate. As a book on philosophy, the Bible has been shown to be accurate and is still relevant after 2,000 years. The Bible is the Truth that will set you free.
Yes, I am a cynic; therefore I am a Christian...
If you are ready to commit to the Lord do it here and now!
If you are interested in this subject I suggest you read two excellent books:
A copy of the 4th Century Nicene Creed can be found at the Anointed Christian Links site.
Extracts from Who Moved The Stone?
It should be noted that the Gospel of Mark is recognized as the first Gospel written and is therefore the earliest written account of the life of Jesus.
ď[T]he Gospel of St. Mark stand[s] like a great rock far out to sea in advance of the distinctively Christian literature. It arrests even the uncritical reader by the granite sharpness of its detail. And nowhere do we feel its realism more than in the strangely graphic description of the last hour of Christís freedom. This is surely no merely literary creation of a secondary age. Who would have invented the story of the disciples falling asleep out of shear weariness in the gravest hour of their Masterís peril; or that touch about the twice-repeated awakening as He returned softly to them at intervals from His communing under the distant trees; or His permissive words, when His personal crisis was past and the peace of decision had come to him : 'Sleep on now, and take your rest', to be followed shortly, as the glare of the advancing torches becomes visible, 'Arise, let us be going: behold, he that bretrayeth me is at hand'?"
"Personally, I am convinced that no body of men or women could persistently and successfully have preached in Jerusalem a doctrine involving the vacancy of that tomb, without the grave itself being physically vacant. The facts were too recent; the tomb too close to that seething centre of oriental life. Not all the make believe in the world could have purchased the utter silence of antiquity or given to the records their impressive unanimity. Only the truth, in all its unavoidable simplicity, could have achieved that."
This article was featured in the Web Evangelism Bulletin during August 2006.
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Last Updated: Tuesday, January 03, 2017