The Resurrection: Fact or Fiction? – A Real Historical Event

Dr. Zukeran presents strong evidence discounting the most common theories given against a historical resurrection. The biblical account and other evidence clearly discount these attempts to cast doubt on the resurrection. Any strong apologetic argument is anchored on the reality of the ressurection of Jesus Christ as an historical event.

Introduction

The most significant event in history is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the strongest evidence that Jesus is the Son of God. This event gives men and women the sure hope of eternal life a hope that not only gives us joy as we look to the future but also provides us with powerful reasons to live today.

Throughout the centuries, however, there have been scholars who have attempted to deny the account of the Resurrection. Our schools are filled with history books which give alternative explanations for the Resurrection or in some cases, fail even to mention this unique event.

In this essay we will take a look at the evidence for the Resurrection and see if this event is historical fact or fiction. But, first, we must establish the fact that Jesus Christ was a historical figure and not a legend. There are several highly accurate historical documents that attest to Jesus. First, let’s look at the four Gospels themselves. The authors Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John recorded very specific facts of the events surrounding the life of Jesus, and archaeology has verified the accuracy of the New Testament. Hundreds of facts such as the names of officials, geographical sites, financial currencies, and times of events have been confirmed. Sir William Ramsay, one of the greatest geographers of the 19th century, became firmly convinced of the accuracy of the New Testament as a result of the overwhelming evidence he discovered during his research. As a result, he completely reversed his antagonism against Christianity.

The textual evidence decisively shows that the Gospels were written and circulated during the lifetime of those who witnessed the events. Since there are so many specific names and places mentioned, eyewitnesses could have easily discredited the writings. The New Testament would have never survived had the facts been inaccurate. These facts indicate that the Gospels are historically reliable and show Jesus to be a historical figure. For more information on the accuracy of the Bible, see the essay from Probe entitled Authority of the Bible.

Another document that supports the historicity of Jesus is the work of Josephus, a potentially hostile Jewish historian. He recorded Antiquities, a history of the Jews, for the Romans during the lifetime of Jesus. He wrote, “Now there was about that time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man.”(1) Josephus goes on to relate other specific details about Jesus’ life and death that correspond with the New Testament. Roman historians such as Suetonius, Tacitus, and Pliny the Younger also refer to Jesus as a historically real individual.

Skeptics often challenge Christians to prove the Resurrection scientifically. We must understand, the scientific method is based on showing that something is fact by repeated observations of the object or event. Therefore, the method is limited to repeatable events or observable objects. Historical events cannot be repeated. For example, can we repeatedly observe the creation of our solar system? The obvious answer is no, but that does not mean the creation of the solar system did not happen.

In proving a historical event like the Resurrection, we must look at the historical evidence. Thus far in our discussion we have shown that belief in the historical Jesus of the New Testament is certainly reasonable and that the scientific method cannot be applied to proving a historical event. For the reminder of this essay, we will examine the historical facts concerning the Resurrection and see what the evidence reveals.

Examining the Evidence

Three facts must be reckoned with when investigating the Resurrection: the empty tomb, the transformation of the Apostles, and the preaching of the Resurrection originating in Jerusalem.

Let us first examine the case of the empty tomb. Jesus was a well- known figure in Israel. His burial site was known by many people. In fact Matthew records the exact location of Jesus’ tomb. He states, “And Joseph of Arimathea took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb” (Matt. 27:59). Mark asserts that Joseph was “a prominent member of the Council” (Mark 15:43).

It would have been destructive for the writers to invent a man of such prominence, name him specifically, and designate the tomb site, since eyewitnesses would have easily discredited the author’s fallacious claims.

Jewish and Roman sources both testify to an empty tomb. Matthew 28:12 13 specifically states that the chief priests invented the story that the disciples stole the body. There would be no need for this fabrication if the tomb had not been empty. Opponents of the Resurrection must account for this. If the tomb had not been empty, the preaching of the Apostles would not have lasted one day. All the Jewish authorities needed to do to put an end to Christianity was to produce the body of Jesus.

Along with the empty tomb is the fact that the corpse of Jesus was never found. Not one historical record from the first or second century is written attacking the factuality of the empty tomb or claiming discovery of the corpse. Tom Anderson, former president of the California Trial Lawyers Association states,

Let’s assume that the written accounts of His appearances to hundreds of people are false. I want to pose a question. With an event so well publicized, don’t you think that it’s reasonable that one historian, one eye witness, one antagonist would record for all time that he had seen Christ’s body? . . . The silence of history is deafening when it comes to the testimony against the resurrection.(2)

Second, we have the changed lives of the Apostles. It is recorded in the Gospels that while Jesus was on trial, the Apostles deserted Him in fear. Yet 10 out of the 11 Apostles died as martyrs believing Christ rose from the dead. What accounts for their transformation into men willing to die for their message? It must have been a very compelling event to account for this.

Third, the Apostles began preaching the Resurrection in Jerusalem. This is significant since this is the very city in which Jesus was crucified. This was the most hostile city in which to preach. Furthermore, all the evidence was there for everyone to investigate. Legends take root in foreign lands or centuries after the event. Discrediting such legends is difficult since the facts are hard to verify. However, in this case the preaching occurs in the city of the event immediately after it occurred. Every possible fact could have been investigated thoroughly.

Anyone studying the Resurrection must somehow explain these three facts.

Five Common Explanations

Over the years five explanations have been used to argue against the Resurrection. We will examine these explanations to see whether they are valid.

The Wrong Tomb Theory

Proponents of this first argument state that according to the Gospel accounts, the women visited the grave early in the morning while it was dark. Due to their emotional condition and the darkness, they visited the wrong tomb. Overjoyed to see that it was empty, they rushed back to tell the disciples Jesus had risen. The disciples in turn ran into Jerusalem to proclaim the Resurrection.

There are several major flaws with this explanation. First, it is extremely doubtful that the Apostles would not have corrected the women’s error. The Gospel of John gives a very detailed account of them doing just that. Second, the tomb site was known not only by the followers of Christ but also by their opponents. The Gospels make it clear the body was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish council. If the body still remained in the tomb while the Apostles began preaching, the authorities simply would have to go to the right tomb, produce the body, and march it down the streets. This would have ended the Christian faith once and for all. Remember, the preaching of the Resurrection began in Jerusalem, fifteen minutes away from the crucifixion site and the tomb. These factors make this theory extremely weak.

The Hallucination Theory

This second theory holds that the Resurrection of Christ just occurred in the minds’ of the disciples. Dr. William McNeil articulates this position in his book, A World History. He writes,

The Roman authorities in Jerusalem arrested and crucified Jesus. . . . But soon afterwards the dispirited Apostles gathered in an upstairs room’ and suddenly felt again the heartwarming presence of their master. This seemed absolutely convincing evidence that Jesus’ death on the cross had not been the end but the beginning. . . . The Apostles bubbled over with excitement and tried to explain to all who would listen all that had happened.(3)

This position is unrealistic for several reasons. In order for hallucinations of this type to occur, psychiatrists agree that several conditions must exist. However, this situation was not conducive for hallucinations. Here are several reasons. Hallucinations generally occur to people who are imaginative and of a nervous make up. However, the appearances of Jesus occurred to a variety of people. Hallucinations are subjective and individual. No two people have the same experience. In this case, over five hundred people (Corinthians 15) have the same account. Hallucinations occur only at particular times and places and are associated with the events. The Resurrection appearances occur in many different environments and at different times. Finally, hallucinations of this nature occur to those who intensely want to believe. However, several such as Thomas and James, the half brother of Jesus were hostile to the news of the Resurrection.

If some continue to argue for this position, they still must account for the empty tomb. If the Apostles dreamed up the Resurrection at their preaching, all the authorities needed to do was produce the body and that would have ended the Apostles’ dream. These facts make these two theories extremely unlikely.

The Swoon Theory

A third theory espouses that Jesus never died on the cross but merely passed out and was mistakenly considered dead. After three days He revived, exited the tomb, and appeared to His disciples who believed He had risen from the dead. This theory was developed in the early nineteenth century, but today it has been completely given up for several reasons.

First, it is a physical impossibility that Jesus could have survived the tortures of the crucifixion. Second, the soldiers who crucified Jesus were experts in executing this type of death penalty. Furthermore, they took several precautions to make sure He was actually dead. They thrust a spear in His side. When blood and water come out separately, this indicates the blood cells had begun to separate from the plasma which will only happen when the blood stops circulating. Upon deciding to break the legs of the criminals (in order to speed up the process of dying), they carefully examined the body of Jesus and found that He was already dead.

After being taken down from the cross, Jesus was covered with eighty pounds of spices and embalmed. It is unreasonable to believe that after three days with no food or water, Jesus would revive. Even harder to believe is that Jesus could roll a two-ton stone up an incline, overpower the guards, and then walk several miles to Emmaeus. Even if Jesus had done this, His appearing to the disciples half-dead and desperately in need of medical attention would not have prompted their worship of Him as God.

In the 19th century, David F. Strauss, an opponent of Christianity, put an end to any hope in this theory. Although he did not believe in the Resurrection, he concluded this to be a very outlandish theory. He stated,

It is impossible that a being who had stolen half-dead out of the sepulchre, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening, and indulgence, and who still at last yielded to his sufferings, could have given the disciples the impression that he was a Conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of life, an impression that would lay at the bottom of their future ministry.(4)

The Stolen Body Theory

This fourth argument holds that Jewish and Roman authorities stole the body or moved it for safekeeping. It is inconceivable to think this a possibility. If they had the body, why did they need to accuse the disciples of stealing it? (Matt. 28:11 15). In Acts 4, the Jewish authorities were angered and did everything they could to prevent the spread of Christianity. Why would the disciples deceive their own people into believing in a false Messiah when they knew that this deception would mean the deaths of hundreds of their believing friends? If they really knew where the body was, they could have exposed it and ended the faith that caused them so much trouble and embarrassment. Throughout the preaching of the Apostles, the authorities never attempted to refute the Resurrection by producing a body. This theory has little merit.

The Soldiers Fell Asleep Theory

Thus far we have been studying the evidence for the Resurrection. We examined four theories used in attempts to invalidate this miracle. Careful analysis revealed the theories were inadequate to refute the Resurrection. The fifth and most popular theory has existed since the day of the Resurrection and is still believed by many opponents of Christianity. Matthew 28:12 13 articulates this position.

When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money telling them, “You are to say, his disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.'”

Many have wondered why Matthew records this and then does not refute it. Perhaps it is because this explanation was so preposterous, he did not see the need to do so.

This explanation remains an impossibility for several reasons. First, if the soldiers were sleeping, how did they know it was the disciples who stole the body? Second, it seems physically impossible for the disciples to sneak past the soldiers and then move a two-ton stone up an incline in absolute silence. Certainly the guards would have heard something.

Third, the tomb was secured with a Roman seal. Anyone who moved the stone would break the seal, an offense punishable by death. The depression and cowardice of the disciples makes it difficult to believe that they would suddenly become so brave as to face a detachment of soldiers, steal the body, and then lie about the Resurrection when the would ultimately face a life of suffering and death for their contrived message.

Fourth, Roman guards were not likely to fall asleep with such an important duty. There were penalties for doing so. The disciples would have needed to overpower them. A very unlikely scenario.

Finally, in the Gospel of John the grave clothes were found “lying there as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself separate from the linen” (20:6 7). There was not enough time for the disciples to sneak past the guards, roll away the stone, unwrap the body, rewrap it in their wrappings, and fold the head piece neatly next to the linen. In a robbery, the men would have flung the garments down in disorder and fled in fear of detection.

Conclusion: Monumental Implications

These five theories inadequately account for the empty tomb, the transformation of the Apostles, and the birth of Christianity in the city of the crucifixion. The conclusion we must seriously consider is that Jesus rose from the grave. The implications of this are monumental.

First, if Jesus rose from the dead, then what He said about Himself is true. He stated, “I am the Resurrection and the life; he who believes in me shall live even if he dies” (John 11:25). He also stated, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no man comes to the father , but through me” (John 14:6). Eternal life is found through Jesus Christ alone. Any religious belief that contradicts this must be false. Every religious leader has been buried in a grave. Their tombs have become places of worship. The location of Jesus’ tomb is unknown because it was empty; his body is not there. There was no need to enshrine an empty tomb.

Second, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:54, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” Physical death is not the end; eternal life with our Lord awaits all who trust in Him because Jesus has conquered death.

Notes

1. Josephus, Antiquities xviii. 33. (Early second Century).

2. Josh McDowell, The Resurrection Factor (San Bernadino, Calif.: Here’s Life Publishers, 1981), p. 66.

3. William McNeil, A World History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), p. 163.

4. David Strauss, The Life of Jesus for the People , vol. 1, 2nd edition (London: Williams and Norgate, 1879), p. 412.

For Further Reading

Craig, William Lane. Apologetics: An Introduction. Chicago: Moody Press, 1984.

Geisler, Norman. When Skeptics Ask. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Press, 1989.

Greenleaf, Simon. The Testimony of the Evangelists; The Gospels Examined by the Rules of Evidence. Grand Rapids: Kregal Publications, 1995.

Little, Paul. Know Why You Believe. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1988.

McDowell, Josh. Evidence That Demands a Verdict. San Bernadino, Calif.: Here’s Life Publishers, 1979.

. The Resurrection Factor. San Bernardino, Calif.: Here’s Life Publishers, 1981.

McNeill, William. A World History, Third Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Montgomery, John, ed. Evidence for Faith. Dallas: Probe Books, 1991.

Morison, Frank. Who Moved the Stone? Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1958.

Strauss, David. The Life of Jesus for the People. Volume 1, Second Edition. London: Williams and Norgate, 1879.

©1997 Probe Ministries.




“I’m a Mormon and I Have Questions about Your Article”

I read your article A Short Look at Six World Religions and it said that many of Joseph Smith’s prophecies never came true. Which prophecies are those?

I also read, “Both of these religions teach salvation by works, not God’s grace.” I have been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 8 years of age, and I have always been taught that we are saved by the grace of God. However, salvation is not free. For example, if one chooses to not live the commandments that God has given, then how can he be worthy to live in the presence of God? Here is a quote from the Book of Mormon: “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved after all that we can do.” (page 99-100). Jesus Christ paid the price for our sins, but we must do out part to accept his atonement and live his commandments. Accepting his atonement is not enough. Through the grace of our loving Savior we can be redeemed from our sins and return to the presence of our Heavenly Father clean from all sin, again if we keep his commandments the best we know how. God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ are the perfect examples of mercy.

Have a good day and thank you for teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is my best friend.

Hello ______,

Jesus is my best friend too! <smile>

I read your A Short Look at Six World Religions and it said that many of Joseph Smith’s prophecies never came true. Which prophecies are those?

I cited a few of them in a response to an e-mail about my article. Your question prompted me to add a link to that article at the end of the one you read, but here’s a direct link for you.

I also read, “Both of these religions teach salvation by works, not God’s grace.” I have been a member of the Chruch of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 8 years of age, and I have always been taught that we are saved by the grace of God. However, salvation is not free.

I would agree that salvation was not free for God, for whom it cost Him EVERYTHING. But it is a free gift for us. Please note Ephesians 2:8,9:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

This scripture is diametrically opposed to Mormon doctrine. We cannot do anything to contribute to our salvation. Isaiah 64:6 says that all our righteousness is as filthy rags; what can we possibly give to God that will overcome the heinous sin of requiring the death of His Son to be reconciled to Him? If someone came in here and murdered one of my sons and then said, “Hey, I don’t want you to be mad at me. . . let me do something to help me get myself in your good graces. Here’s a nickel. . .”—Well, guess what? That wouldn’t work! And it doesn’t work with God either.

______, I pray the Lord will open your eyes to see that trying to earn salvation with our paltry efforts—even WITH His grace—is a slap in the face of our God. He wants us to come to Him with empty hands and the realization that we do not deserve and cannot earn the gift of eternal life that comes ONLY through trusting in the Lord Jesus.

Warmly,

Sue Bohlin
Probe Ministries




Glimpses of Grace: Knocking Down Mental Walls

One of the most spiritually dangerous mistakes we can make is to compartmentalize our thinking into separate sections: Facts/values. Sacred/secular.

Worst of all, God/real life.

If Jesus truly is Lord—and His word says He is—then there is not so much as a solitary atom, much less an entire compartment, where He does not belong. So I love, love, love it when writers and speakers help us tear down mental and spiritual walls to help us live life as a unified whole. And now there’s a new voice to help women think biblically and rightly about how we glorify God in our homes.

This week marks the release of Gloria Furman’s book Glimpses of Grace: Treasuring the Gospel in Your Home. I’ve never read a book that so thoroughly explores the way God’s grace can so fully and vibrantly radiate into even the most mundane and seemingly unimportant parts of life.

This, on top of the fact that Gloria is a mom of three little ones with a fourth on the way, a pastor’s wife, living in Dubai—and her husband Dave’s physical strength is severely compromised, which of course means life is harder for Gloria. So yeah—I’m impressed. But Gloria’s bio doesn’t hold a candle to her wisdom, her grasp of theology, and what I especially appreciate, a breathtaking level of transparency and authenticity that eloquently communicates, “I’m messed up and I desperately need Jesus, but let me show you how He’s so good!”

Her great, dry sense of humor is studded throughout the book, such as: “I need God’s grace and something baked with peanut butter and chocolate.” What’s not to love?

Some of my highlighted passages, which I wanted to share with you:

• When I attended a marriage conference taught by Paul Tripp, he said something that devastated me. Tripp said, “If God doesn’t rule your mundane, then he doesn’t rule you. Because that’s where you live.”

• God can use the ordinary moments in your life to glorify himself by conforming you into the image of his Son. That is precisely what he intends to do. Dirty dishes in the sink or red crayons smushed into an electrical socket by a curious toddler are not just worrisome ordeals in your otherwise uneventful day. They’re opportunities to see glimpses of grace.

• Jesus apparently believes that the most satisfying thing for us in all eternity is to behold his glory in his very presence. He is not absent from our noisy, chaotic lives. He is with us, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20). And if he’s with us even to the end of the age, then he is with us even to the end of our carpooling route. He’s with us even to the end of the meat in the fridge when grocery day isn’t for another four days. He’s with us even to the end of a long night of waking with a crying baby. He’s with us even to the end of a party that we’d rather not be at or be hosting, for whatever reason. He’s with us even to the end of a hectic morning of rushing around trying to get out the door. He’s with us even to the end of a dreadful day when nothing seemed to go as planned.

• God’s efficacious grace could be described in terms of the different ways you put pajamas on a baby. My son prefers to streak after he takes baths. He even tries to climb out of the tub early before everyone is soaped up and rinsed in order to increase his odds of getting to run around in his birthday suit. . . . But it’s all fun and games until a naked baby has an accident on the carpet, so I quickly chase him down to put on his diaper. Some nights he runs away shrieking and hides under tables and behind chairs trying to avoid the inevitable. Some nights he quietly lies on the bed while I diaper him, and he might even stretch his legs into the pajamas I hold up. Either way, whether I have to wrestle his clothes onto him or he peacefully submits to the work I am doing, that boy has never gone to bed without a diaper and pajamas on. Of course, we should love to submit to God’s efficacious grace as he purposes to make us more like Christ! But sometimes we’re like a naked baby hiding behind the couch, reluctant to hold still and thankfully allow God to work in our hearts and get us ready for what he has next.

• We’re destined for joy forever because of Christ’s exquisite hospitality in opening a way to God through his own body. We can serve others with gladness, knowing that the carrots we peel and the diapers we change are as unto the Lord. . . . When we show hospitality in this way, we can see how “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may about in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8). Our role is to serve with the strength God supplies, and it’s God’s role to do with our service whatever he pleases. He supplies the strength, and in his abundant hospitality he also gives us joy! God’s grace in Christ is for us to enjoy and share with others. When I have this grace in mind, I can see my possessions and others’ needs in light of eternity.

• My disgusting kitchen floor and its propensity to absorb filth is a picture of our hearts. No matter how hard we scrub, we cannot erase our iniquity. The shame of our sin is like the phantom stain on a shirt that reappears after you’ve dried it. The stain is deep in the fibers of the shirt, and when the right temperature of heat is applied, the stain rises to the surface of the fabric. The stain is permanent.

• Not making an idol out of our homes is tricky. I’ve personally experienced what it feels like to be obsessed with the idea of organization in my home. I thought I was being driven by the maxim “God is a God of order and not chaos.” I thought that if everything had a place, then my heart would feel at peace because strict orderliness is godly. But instead of worshiping God, I just wanted to be in control. I was worshiping my image and thought it wouldn’t be so bad if others admired me, too. . . .I’ve also had struggles with the idol of self-expression, seeing my home primarily as an extension of myself. If something was out of place or not just so, then I felt it reflected poorly on my personhood or character. Again I was serving my own image—not God’s.

• Jesus is the sovereign Lord over every square centimeter in your home—from the pipes to the television to the mattresses. He is Lord over it, and he desires that you use what he’s given you to glorify him. That doesn’t mean that your home needs to be perfect by the world’s standards or even by your own personal standards, but consecrated by God’s standards. . . . In Romans 12:1-2 we see a description of what it means to set ourselves apart for God: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Since Jesus is lord over all things and God is subjecting all things under his feet (1 Cor. 15:27), including our homes, by his grace we use our homes to worship him.

See why I loved this book? Let the gospel permeate every square inch of your heart and your home. I bet Glimpses of Grace can help.

 

This blog post originally appeared at blogs.bible.org/tapestry/sue_bohlin/glimpses_of_grace_knocking_down_mental_walls on June 4, 2013.




Bringing the Truth of Christ to Your Generation

Are you a believer wondering if you’re part of a dwindling population? Do people who follow hard after Christ—and show it by their actions and attitudes—seem to be a vanishing breed? Do you get the feeling that we’re living in a post–Christian culture? We’re not announcing the end of the Church in America and the West, but there is much cause for concern. We have the evidence straight from the mouths of believers—many of them caught up in captivity to the culture.

Here at Probe, we have been analyzing both existing and new original survey data to obtain a better grip on the realities of born-again faith in America today. Although the evangelical church has remained fairly constant in size as a percentage of our population over the last twenty years, these surveys show its impact on our society has continued to decline as the percentage of non–Christians has grown considerably over the same period. We see two reasons for this change:

1. The increased acceptance of pluralism removes the felt need to share our faith with others. In our new Barna survey, almost one half of all born-again 18- to 40-year-olds believe that Jesus is one way to eternal life, but Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, etc. when followed well, will also result in eternal life.

2. Captivity to the culture rather than to Christ’s truth shapes believers’ perspectives on nearly every aspect of life. The recent National Study of Youth & Religion, a survey of 18- to 23-year-olds, shows that only a quarter of those affiliated with an evangelical church have a consistent set of biblical theological beliefs and that less than 2% of them combine those theological beliefs with a consistent set of biblical beliefs on behaviors and attitudes.

A combination of pluralism and cultural captivity eliminates both the reason for and the evidence of changed lives needed to effectively share the great news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, these problems are not unique to our time and country. In fact, these problems were key issues addressed in the letters of Peter, John and Paul back in the first century. In this article, we will use the writings of Peter to introduce Paul’s response to this problem as laid out in the book of Colossians with special emphasis on Col. 4:2-6.

As advocates of apologetics and a biblical worldview, we often focus on 1 Peter 3:15, which exhorts us to always be ready to give a defense for the hope of the gospel to anyone who asks. However, Peter points out that our testimony for Christ, goes far beyond our ability to make a reasoned defense. In the first chapter of his letter, Peter provides an excellent description of the hope of the gospel. He makes it clear that only through the resurrection of Christ can we can receive eternal life. He then goes on to describe the ways that we are called to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.” Specifically, we are told to proclaim Christ through:

• our excellent behavior (1 Peter 2:11-17),

• our right relationships with others (1 Peter 2:18–3:14),

• a verbal explanation of why we believe the good news (1 Peter 3:15-16), and

• sound judgment for the purpose of prayer (1 Peter 4:7)

As our behavior and relationships cause observers to ask us to fully explain the hope that is driving these actions, we have the opportunity to speak the truth to them with words empowered by prayer (1 Peter 3:15-16). So Peter makes it clear that pluralism and cultural captivity are counter to the message of the gospel as portrayed in the lives of genuine believers.

Given this message from Peter, let’s take a more in–depth look at how Paul addresses this topic in his letter to the Colossians. In the first two chapters, Paul gives an in–depth description of what the gospel is and what it is not. In the New American Standard version, the reader is told to “set your mind on the things above” where we are living with Christ. Because we are residents of heaven, we need to consider our life on earth from that eternal perspective. From this point on in the letter, Paul lays out the same four instructions as Peter laid out on how we are to share Christ in this world.

In Colossians 3:5–17, we are given the standard for excellent behavior that our new self is being renewed to live in accordance with. As Paul makes clear in the first two chapters, this excellent behavior is not a qualification for heaven; after all, according to Colossians 2:9,  the audience of believers is already “complete in Christ.” Rather, the purpose of our excellent behavior is so the world can get a savory taste of heavenly living.

Then, in Colossians 3:18–4:1, Paul instructs us on the importance of good relationships in our families and at work. It is through our good relationships that the world can see the true meaning of “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” As Paul points out, in all of these relationships “it is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”

Paul then points to the remaining aspects of fully proclaiming Christ: through our prayers and our words. He addresses our prayer life as follows:

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving;  praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak (Col. 4:2-4).

First, we are to devote ourselves to prayer, making it a strong player in ordering our lives. I think that “keeping alert in it” gives us the idea that we are to be ready to take something to prayer at any time during our busy daily schedule. Prayer is not to be strictly relegated to a set prayer time, but rather a real–time, always–on communication with God in response to the interactions and challenges of our day. Paul also indicates we should not be praying as a rote habit, but rather with an attitude of thanksgiving, knowing that God hears and responds to our prayers.

Secondly, Paul gives us a consistent topic for our prayers: that God would open up a door for the word in the lives of those who need to hear. We may live a life characterized by excellent behavior and good relationships. But, if we are not praying that God will use our lives to open up a door for the gospel, then we are short–circuiting the purpose of God in our lives. Let me say it directly to you: If you are not seeing doors opening for the word through your life, perhaps you should ask, “What am I praying for? Am I praying that God will open up opportunities for me to share Christ with others?”

Note that in the first chapter of Colossians, Paul explains the mystery of Christ we are to “speak forth” saying,

. . .That I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:25-27).

We are praying for an open door to speak forth so that everyone can receive the promise of eternal glory through receiving Christ in their lives. In other words, we need to actively ask God to give us entrée into others’ lives to communicate the gospel so they can receive the riches of eternal life along with us. Do we really want this? It’s a prayer God is sure to answer. If so, we’re living according to a biblical worldview in one more essential way. If not, we risk the loss of succeeding generations.

Finally, Paul addresses the importance of our words in fulfilling our purpose as followers of Christ:

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person (Col. 4:5-6).

We need to be wise in our relationships with those who don’t know Christ. The verse literally says we are to redeem the time spent with unbelievers. As followers of Christ, we have the privilege of taking the most temporal and earth–bound thing in the world, time, and converting it into something of eternal value through our behavior, our relationships, our prayers and the words we speak.

We are to make the most of each opportunity to season our speech with the grace of Christ. If our speech is regularly salted with references to God’s grace in our lives, we can tell from someone’s reaction how we should respond to them. If we are not looking for it, how can we know when God answers our prayers to provide an open door for the gospel? And why would we be praying for it unless we value what God is saying to us here?

In summary, we must make clear to upcoming generations of evangelicals that we have a consistent message from Christ and His apostles on these two points:

1. Jesus Christ is the unique Son of God and the only possible way to eternal life. Religious pluralism just doesn’t work.

2. We are called to live distinctly different lives—as captives of Christ not our culture—in our behavior, relationships, prayers and speech. Why? In order to be representatives of the good news of Jesus Christ in a world that desperately needs Him.

If we choose to live our lives as if these statements are untrue, we have allowed ourselves to be deceived by the persuasive arguments of the world. Let’s make the choice not to be taken captive and, instead, be bold and caring in proclaiming the truth for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

© 2011 Probe Ministries




“Was Jesus Actually a Pharisee?”

[I am] an Indian Christian, residing in southern India. I shall be grateful if you could help with a question. The other day I ran into the following quote from “The Passion” From a Jewish Perspective:

“I would suggest that Jesus argued so much with the Pharisees because he was closest to them and it is not by chance that they are absent from the Gospel Passion narratives. Indeed, Jesus may even have been a Pharisee.”

Could you please let me know if Jesus was indeed a Pharisee, as suggested? Also, could you please let me know the things I need to know pertaining to the [other] question at hand? I thank you beforehand for your patience in helping me with my request.

Thanks for your letter. No; I don’t think it likely that Jesus was a Pharisee. Consider the following:

1) Jesus is nowhere called a Pharisee in the New Testament. With as much talk of Pharisees as we find there, this would be a very strange omission indeed! There is simply no positive evidence to support this thesis.

2) The Pharisees are mentioned quite often in the Gospels during Passion Week (the week before Jesus’ death).

3) The Pharisees are mentioned in John 18:3 as part of the group that came to arrest Jesus. It seems to me that this could be considered as evidence that the Pharisees are indeed mentioned in the passion narratives.

4) Consider how Jesus often speaks of the Pharisees. Read Matthew 23 and note how the Pharisees are spoken of by Jesus. He says to His disciples, do what they tell you but not what they do (Matt. 23:2-3). He repeatedly calls them “hypocrites,” etc.

5) Finally, in passages like Matt. 9:14 Jesus seems to be distinguished from the Pharisees. The passage says, “Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” If Jesus was a Pharisee, then why weren’t His disciples fasting as well? Jesus seems to be distinguished from the Pharisees by the way the question is asked.

In all these ways (and others I’ve not mentioned) the New Testament gives repeated indications that Jesus was not a Pharisee.

Shalom in Christ,

Michael Gleghorn

See also the Probe resources on the historical Jesus listed under related posts.

© 2008 Probe Ministries




“Why Do the Gospel Accounts Contradict Each Other?”

I understand that if 4 people saw an accident, they would each have a different story. You said that was why Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John had slightly different accounts of the resurrection. But isn’t all of the Bible inspired by God? Didn’t He tell those four guys what to write? And also, some parts still seem a bit different… like inside of the tomb… how many angels were there and did they sit or stand? I know that’s probably not very significant, but it still bothers me.

Yes, the four gospel writers are inspired of God and provide different but not contradictory details of the life of Jesus. Inspiration does not mean they must have identical accounts. Inspiration means they have different but not contradictory accounts. When put together, they complement nicely and fill in details the others leave out. Let’s consider the example of an accident. If one witness stands to the north side of the accident, he sees the accident from his vantage point. Now the other witness stands on the south side, the opposite side of the street, he sees different details because of his angle. Now would both men have identical accounts? Of course not, the one on the south side cannot see what happens on the north side of the accident nor can the man on the north side see what happens on the south side. However, when you put the two accounts together, you get a more complete picture of the accident. Both men include different details but they should not be contradictory.

That is what we have in the gospels. The writers include different, but not contradictory, details. Inspiration does not mean the four gospels must be identical in every way. That would be quite boring to read four accounts tht are exactly the same. Each writer includes details he feels are necessary for the audience he is addressing. Matthew, writing to the Jews, must include all the Old Testament prophecies, while Mark, writing to the Greeks, does not include many prophecies but writes on the action of Jesus’ life. Is that a contradiction? No, it’s just that each writer included details he felt were necessary and left out others he felt would not be necesary for his audience. Alleged contradictions are explained when one studies the accounts and puts each event of Christ in its chronological order.

Matthew records one angel, Luke and John record two. The answer is this. Where there are two there must be one. Get it? There were two angels at the tomb but Matthew only writes about one in his account. Is this a contradiction? No, because where there are two, there must be at least one. Luke includes two, but Matthew only includes the one that spoke with Mary. He keyed in on that one and left the other angel out. Luke and John include the other one. We do that in our reporting. If Clinton and Gore appear on the podium but only Clinton talks and Gore says nothing, some newspapers will say “Clinton appeared and said such and such” and not mention Gore. Other papers will say, “Clinton and Gore appeared and Clinton stated ….” Is there a contradiction? No, just some reporters mentioned one person while another chose not to.

Hope this helps. Keep studying the word!

Patrick Zukeran
Probe Ministries




“Where is the REAL Eyewitness Account of the Resurrection?”

I read your article “Evidence that Jesus Didn’t Become the Christ Till Centuries Later?” You cited two or three historians but no eye-witness accounts. I wonder if you can provide me with an eye witness account of someone (e.g. Pontius Pilate) who was alive at the time of the resurrection and within five years wrote an account of that (considering people forget details and add details with time). I understand that the gospels cannot be taken as eye-witness accounts as the first one wasn’t written till maybe 40 years after Jesus’ death, and supposedly the original copy doesn’t exist.

Along with most other conservative scholars, I actually do believe that the Gospels contain eyewitness testimony about the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. Many conservative scholars hold that the Gospel of Mark was written as early as the 50’s or 60’s of the first century. Furthermore, there is evidence from Mark’s passion narrative that he may have relied on a source dating to within seven years of Jesus’ crucifixion.

It’s true that we do not have the original manuscripts of any New Testament book. However, we have copies dating to the early second century and later. Also, it’s worth saying that we don’t have the original manuscripts for ANY book of the ancient world (not Plato, Aristotle, Tacitus, Pliny, Josephus, etc.). The New Testament manuscripts that we do possess are both earlier and more numerous than is true for any other book of antiquity.

Finally, about a non-Christian eyewitness source dating to within five years of Jesus’ death. There is none. The earliest non-Christian writings we have are probably those of Josephus, the Jewish historian, who was writing near the end of the first century.

Shalom,

Michael Gleghorn
Probe Ministries




“How Can I Share the Gospel with Jehovah’s Witnesses?”

How can I deal most effectively with Jehovah Witnesses? I specifically want insights on how to really reach the hearts of these dear people. I am not interested in just winning an argument, but would like to present the Gospel in a way that will make an impact.

I commend you for seeking to reach those lost in the JW organization. Yes indeed, our goal is not to win an arguement but to win them to Christ.

The best thing we can do is study the scriptures diligently and ask them questions regarding the nature of Christ and the integrity of the organization. The key is to get them to start asking questions and start seeking the answers. When JW’s run into a Christian who knows his/her Bible, they often seek answers from the elders. When the elders cannot answer, they often try to find the answers on their own, reading the Bible for the first time without the Watchtower magazines. As they seek and look for answers, many come to find that the JW Jesus is not the God of the Bible. This takes a while but with patience and perseverence, it will one day bear fruit. So the key is to get them to start asking questions about the Bible and their organization. Keep on witnessing, brother. We’ll be praying for you here at Probe.

 

Patrick Zukeran
Probe Ministries




“Apostle John: Senile Upon Writing Gospel?”

“Could John Have Been Senile When He Wrote His Gospel?”

1) Approximately how old would the Apostle John have been when he wrote his Gospel?

2) I assume he would have been very old; would his age have affected the reliability of his Gospel and thus render it not very reliable, i.e by becoming senile because of old age [sic]?

3) What exactly are the effects of being senile?

4) Does everyone elderly become senile, or is it possible to be old and not senile?

5) Approximately what age do people usually become senile?

 

John was probably very young when Jesus called him to be His follower. If John was around 20 years old at the time of Jesus’ death, and if Jesus died around 33 A.D., and if John wrote his Gospel around 90 A.D., then John would have been approximately 77 years old when he wrote his Gospel. This is a reasonable estimate.

There is no reason whatever to suppose that John was senile when he wrote his Gospel. The author of John’s Gospel is clearly someone in full possession of his mental faculties. There is absolutely no indication that the author of this Gospel was senile. Please note: Deut. 34:7 says that even at age 120, Moses was still a vigorous man.

As for your questions about senility, I will leave you to explore that on your own. WebMD has a search engine which will allow you to research senility and old age. You can find it at: http://www.webmd.com/.

Hope this helps.

The Lord bless you,

Michael Gleghorn
Probe Ministries




“How Can Computers Be Used to Share the Gospel?”

I teach technology in a private Christian school. I am putting together a list of How Computers Can Be Used To Share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Any help or insights you might have would be greatly appreciated.

Since we are really an apologetics ministry and not evangelistic, we’re not really in that loop a whole lot. I would suggest you go to Google.com and type in the keywords “internet evangelism” and follow some of those links.

One thing that does come to mind is the fact that almost 100% of young people are online, and they are looking for relationships, even cyber-relationships, and looking for spirituality. So sharing the gospel in the context of developing online friendships in chat rooms (although one has to be waaaay careful there), online discussion groups, and blogging sites (weblogs. . . sort of personal diaries: see xanga.com) is a good strategy for sharing the gospel online.

I turned to our great friend of Probe, Keith Seabourn, Chief Technology Officer of Campus Crusade for Christ, for help in answering this question.

I have been using computers and the internet to share Jesus for over 10 years. We in Campus Crusade have found it to be extremely effective. I have several suggestions.

1. Visit Tony Whitaker’s excellent Online Evangelism guide at www.web-evangelism.com/

2. For stories and statistics over several years, visit my personal website at www.seabourn.org. Specifically, visit my newsletter archives on that site. Many newsletters tell stories. For compilations of responses and statistics, see the End of Year Reports for 1999 or 2001.

3. For a broad overview of what Campus Crusade is doing to use the Passion of the Christ movie for online evangelism, see www.seabourn.org/newsletters/0401/thepassion.html.

These are some initial ways for you to explore. There are many, many more.

Hope you find this helpful.

Sue Bohlin

© 2004 Probe Ministries