F. The Bible’s scientific acceptabilityThe Bible is not as directly related to science as it is to history. But if God makes mistakes about scientific things we know about, how can we be sure He is right about spiritual things we do not know about? There were many incorrect scientific ideas in the time the Bible was written; how did the writers avoid putting these ideas in the Bible?
The Bible does not use modern scientific terms. If it did, earlier generations would not have understood it, and neither would generations after us. It simply describes events as they appear: the sun rises, the surface of the earth appears flat, the ground feels solid and stationary beneath our feet, diseases appear with no visible reason. This is not a mistake; we still speak in the same terms.
The only major “problem” between science and the Bible at present is the creation/evolution issue, including the date of creation. These are discussed in several other places in this book, mostly sec. II of this chapter and ch. 7, with the conclusion that neither one is in fact a conflict between the Bible and nature. Therefore they are not a barrier to faith.
All these cautious “no problem” disclaimers notwithstanding, there are some positive things to be said. There are some amazing hints that the Bible comes from a source who knew things that scientists have only recently discovered. For example, Moses gave the Israelites many laws of living and food. These are now known to follow principles of sanitation and nutrition. God promised them that if they obeyed His laws they would not have the diseases the neighboring nations suffered. This cannot be attributed to Moses’ educational background in Egypt. Scholars have found medical documents from ancient Egypt, and they describe some truly frightening treatments. If you weren’t sick before you went to an Egyptian doctor, you would be afterwards, in fact lucky to survive. Nor did any other nation in the area have practices like those Moses taught. If we assume he learned them from observation, then he was truly unique in the entire known ancient world.
The Bible talks about the uncountable number of stars and their great age. It mentions the water cycle. The design of Noah’s Ark is consistent with the modern theory of ship stability and efficient use of materials. And so on. We are not sure how much was generally known about such things at that time.
This topic too is somewhere between necessary and sufficient as a condition for concluding that the Bible is a revelation from God.
G. The Bible’s fulfilled propheciesThe Bible contains at least several hundred predictions of future events, and not one has yet failed to be fulfilled. In the Bible God Himself mentions this as one of the most important proofs that He is the one true God as distinguished from all other gods, which are not gods at all but are false gods. It also proves that the Bible writers really had a message from Him as distinguished from all the false prophets (for instance, in Isaiah 40 to 50). God is outright sarcastic, challenging the other gods and prophets to foretell events as He has done. Therefore the stated purpose of Biblical prophecy is the authentication of the genuine message and messenger. A secondary purpose was to prepare people for coming events. It was rarely given as a response to an inquiry about the future. It was not fortune-telling, nor entertainment. It was not given to satisfy our curiosity.
A study of these prophecies may lead to dissatisfaction at first. Prophecy is not simple to interpret. It is not as direct as having tomorrow’s newspaper today, but is mostly figurative and symbolical. Different subjects are mixed together. It is neither totally clear nor totally unclear. People were usually not able to understand exactly what the prophecies meant at the time they were given, but later when events happened it was plain that they fulfilled the prophecies. Thus it is the most convincing possible kind of evidence that it is from God. If it were totally unclear, we could not even be sure that events fulfilled the prophecies. If it were totally clear, we could not be sure that people did not just read it and figure out a way to stage it themselves and deceive people. As it is, only God could have written the prophecy and produced the fulfillment.
I classify prophecies into three types, which I call short-range, long-range fulfilled, and long-range unfulfilled. This is strictly my own terminology; it is not in any reference book I have seen.
1. Short-range prophecies
Short-range prophecies are ones which we cannot now prove were written before the events they described. In some cases the Bible says the prediction was made only hours before the event. In other cases it was several centuries. Examples include battles, weather, famine, birth, death, fates of cities and nations. Examples include Genesis 41; II Kings 7, 9, 10; Jeremiah 28:16, 27; Ezekiel 26; Daniel 11; Nahum 1:8, 14; 2:6, 13; 3:17.
For short-range prophecies, there are only four possible explanations. They were written either before or after the events. If they were written before, the author was either receiving a genuine message from God or he was not. If he was, he was a prophet. If not, the fulfillment was just good luck, and the writer was either a lucky lunatic or a lucky liar. If they were written after the events, the writer was an ordinary liar.
This means prophecies which were certainly written before the events they described. The largest group of this kind of prophecies is in the Old Testament, predicting things that were fulfilled during Jesus Christ’s life. These are listed at the end of this section.2. Long-range fulfilled prophecies
One fascinating prophecy is not included in the list below. Daniel 9:24-26 predicts a time period of 70 weeks of years, or 490 years. The first 69 weeks begin with the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, and end when the Messiah will be cut off. The 70th week is described separately, and is generally believed to be the still-future end of the world. The book of Daniel claims to be written more than 400 years before Christ. Whatever one may believe about that, the Dead Sea Scrolls prove it was written at least 200 BC (sec. J). Some scholars have analyzed the dates in such a way that it demonstrates that Daniel predicted the crucifixion of Jesus precisely to the day. There is some uncertainty in the date of issuing the decree to rebuild Jerusalem, and in the date of the crucifixion. But this prediction undeniably comes remarkably close.
Another type of long-range fulfilled prophecy is the prediction that a certain city will be destroyed and never rebuilt; that is a dangerous prediction to make! Examples are Ezekiel 26 about Tyre; Jeremiah 50, 51; Isaiah 13:19-22 about Babylon. Actually, since “never” has not yet ended, these prophecies could also be placed in the third type. Actually, prophecies about Babylon do refer to its being rebuilt in connection with events just before the end of the world, which has not yet occurred.
Another type of long-range prophecy is related to the Jewish race. Many promises were given to Abraham and David, and to the nation. Many of these have been fulfilled, while others have not yet been fulfilled. Many Christians throughout past centuries decided that these unfulfilled promises were not meant literally, and applied them in a spiritual sense to Christianity. However, since many of the promises were fulfilled literally, it does not seem to make sense to say that some of them were not meant literally. It makes better sense to say the fulfillment is still future. We cannot yet prove that these prophecies are true, but if the Jewish race had been destroyed these promises could not possibly be fulfilled. The Jews have survived, and their survival is one of the most amazing stories in history. It appears that God is not finished with them yet, and all the promises could yet be fulfilled.
For long-range prophecies, there are only three possibilities: the writer was a prophet, lucky lunatic, or lucky liar. He was not an ordinary liar.
Is this category actually a loophole through which we “explain” prophecies that failed? No, these prophecies have very specific subjects: the end of the present world system, the Second Coming of Christ and His rule of the world for 1000 years, the peace and prosperity of the nation of Israel, the final judgment, and eternity in heaven.3. Long-range unfulfilled
For centuries these prophecies were considered impossible, and even many Christians assumed they must only be figurative. But in 1948 Israel was reestablished as a nation. Global disasters are no longer laughed at, but it is feared that it is impossible to avoid them. We are capable of accomplishing them ourselves, and this may be how the fulfillment will be accomplished, though of course God is capable of doing them more directly Himself. The prophecies are not yet fulfilled, but the world seems to be getting ready for it.
Those who say the writers were lunatics or liars must explain why they produced the world’s highest moral standards, and in many cases willingly died martyrs’ deaths for saying what they did. And they must also explain why the Jewish nation, after killing the writers, carefully preserved and honored their writings as a holy message from God.
Those who say that the fulfillment of prophecies was just lucky must estimate the probability of this good luck. The improbability of all these prophecies being good luck, by any estimate, is an astronomical number which is equivalent to impossibility. The alternative is that there is a God Who knows the future and has sometimes told us about a little bit of it. On the range from necessary to sufficient evidences about the supernatural origin of the Bible, fulfilled prophecy comes very close to the sufficient end. The probability of any other explanation is infinitesimal.
Good books that give further information on this subject include:
Prophecy, Fact or Fiction, by Josh McDowellMany Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled by Christ during His life and death. Here are some of the clearest ones. Could there possibly be another person in the history of the world who even came close to fulfilling all these predictions? Could it all be coincidence, or even pre-meditated plan on Jesus’ part? These are quoted in the New Testament, so their meaning and fulfillment is certain for those who accept the inspiration of the New Testament:
Evidence for Faith, edited by John W. Montgomery, Part 4.
Deuteronomy 18:15 - a prophet like Moses (John 1:45; 6:14; Acts 3:22-24)Some others are not directly quoted in the New Testament but are beyond question:
Psalm 16:8-11 - will not leave my soul in Hades, not let the Holy One see corruption (Acts 2:25-28)
34:20 - no bone broken (John 19:36)
68:18 - ascended, gave gifts to men, led captivity captive (Ephesians 4:8)
69:9 - the zeal of your house has consumed me (John 2:17)
78:2 - speak in parables (Matthew 13:35)
110:1 - The Lord said unto my Lord,... (Matthew 22:43, 44; Acts 2:34)
118:22, 23 - rejected stone is chief cornerstone (Matthew 21:42)
Isaiah 7:14 - virgin birth, named Immanuel (Matthew 1:22, 23)
9:1, 2 - Gentiles have seen a great light (Matthew 4:14-16)
35:5, 6 - blind see, deaf hear, lame walk, dumb talk (Matthew 11:5, 6)
40:3 - a voice in the wilderness, forerunner (John the Baptist) (Matthew
3:3; Mark 1:3)
42:1-4 - my servant, gentle, hope of the Gentiles (Matthew 12:17-21; 17:5; Mark 1:11)
53:4 - took away our diseases (Matthew 8:16, 17)
61:1 - good news to the poor (Matthew 11:5, 6; Luke 4:16-21)
62:1 - say to Zion, your king comes (Matthew 21:1-5)
Jeremiah 18:2; 19:2, 11 - potter’s field a place for burial (Matthew 27:9, 10)
31:15 - Rachel weeping for her children (Matthew 2:16, 17)
Hosea 11:1 - out of Egypt have I called my Son (Matthew 2:14, 15)
Micah 5:2 - born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:5, 6)
7:6 - enmity within families (Matthew 10:35, 36)
Zechariah 9:9 - king comes riding on the foal of an ass (Matthew 21:1-5)
13:7 - strike the Shepherd, the sheep scatter (Matthew 26:31)
Malachi 3:1 ? the Messenger sent ahead (John the Baptist) (Matthew 11:10; Mark 1:2)
4:5 - Elijah who is to come (John the Baptist) (Matthew 11:14; 17:12, 13)
Psalm 22 - detailed description of the crucifixion, written long before it became a common form of executionMany people simply do not believe these stories, especially the resurrection. But that is blind unbelief. The resurrection story is the crucial point of Christian faith, so we will concentrate on considering it carefully. The story exists, so it had an origin. No matter whether we believe it is true or false, we must explain its origin. But we must begin with at least a summary of the origin and content of the record of Jesus’ life, as the background of that story.
69:21 - vinegar to drink (Matthew 27:48)
Isaiah 50:6 - slapped his face, etc. (Matthew 26:67)
53 - despised, rejected, considered as stricken by God, suffered for our sins, did not open his mouth before his killers, buried with the rich, innocent, prolong his days, numbered with the transgressors
Zechariah 11:12, 13 - bought for thirty pieces of silver, thrown to the potter (Matthew 26:15; 27:3-10, quoting Jer. 19)
H. The record of Jesus Christ’s life, miracles, and resurrection
This story was preached by the apostles (which simply means messengers) beginning from the time and place of Jesus’ life, first-century Palestine. The apostles claimed to be eye-witnesses of these events. They were not mystics who saw a vision many years later in a faraway place, nor recorders of legends transmitted through many generations. According to historical traditions that are probably correct, all the apostles except John died horrible martyrs’ deaths because of their preaching, and John also was willing to die but was supernaturally protected. He was then imprisoned on an island, Patmos, where he wrote the book of Revelation, the final book of the New Testament.1. The facts
The New Testament was all written before the end of the first century, and there is no direct evidence against accepting it as having been written by the apostles and their close associates (sec. J). The earliest known church leaders accepted the four gospels as written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew and John were disciples during Jesus’ preaching ministry. Mark was an assistant of Peter, considered the leader of the disciples, so this gospel is a summary of the teaching of Peter. James and Jude were probably Jesus’ younger brothers who did not believe Him until after the resurrection, and then became leaders of the early Church. They are the mostly likely authors of the epistles bearing their names, but there is some uncertainty because those were common names at that time. There were also disciples with those names. Paul arrived in Palestine shortly after Jesus’ death, and was the first active leader of persecution of Christians but then suddenly became a believer a few years later and wrote many of the epistles (sec. I, following). Luke was an assistant of Paul, and says he did a research project interviewing many eyewitnesses, producing his gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.
Thus we have a variety of types of writers: direct eyewitnesses, a follower of an eyewitness, and a latecomer who collected information from numerous eyewitnesses. Anyone who finds none of these acceptable is being very hard to please. The writers do share the common trait of being believers when they did their writing. But this cannot be used as grounds for rejecting them as hopelessly biased. Why did they believe? They certainly gained no profit, or even comfort, from their believing and teaching. Who would be acceptable as unbiased? A non-believer is either inadequately informed, or has a bias too. Belief alone is not proof of incompetence; these writers at least deserve a hearing and fair evaluation.
Jesus’ friends and enemies agreed that He did many miracles. Their only disagreement was over the power by which He did them, God or Satan.
After He was gone, His friends said that He lived a perfect life; He never sinned. They said He claimed He was the one true God, Creator of heaven and earth, on earth as a man, and they believed it. They believed that after being executed on a Roman cross He conquered death by returning to life. These people had lived with Him day and night for at least three years, and a few were relatives who knew Him from childhood. Also, they were Jews whose previous beliefs about God seemed to rule out such a thing. It would have taken some very strong reasons to overcome all their barriers to such an idea. He did not at all fit the Jews’ accepted job description for their expected Messiah, yet these people believed He was exactly that.
No one else in history has made the impression on his closest followers that Jesus did. Jesus was only a traveling teacher, unknown outside His own country, opposed by local religious leaders. Others were great leaders, teachers, soldiers, artists, etc., were admired and respected, and many of them deserved this recognition. But no one ever believed in them the way Jesus’ followers believed in Him.
It is commonly claimed that the concept of Jesus’ deity was invented by His followers posthumously, and that He Himself made no such claims. It is pointed out that He is never recorded as stating explicitly “I am God,” though He comes close in His statement to the woman at the well (John 4:26) and at His trial (Luke 22:66-70). But it is contradictory to assert that the disciples invented this concept but failed to insert it in their accounts. It is in fact a natural, almost unconscious implication of many recorded incidents. He taught with His own authority, not quoting others. He forgave sins, a prerogative of God. He accepted worship, especially after the resurrection. Perhaps the greatest proof that He claimed deity is that His enemies understood His claims more clearly than His followers did, and this is precisely the crime for which He was sentenced to death. All He would have had to do to avoid a horrible death is say “Wait a minute, you misunderstand. That is not what I mean.” But He did not say that, and His followers immediately, in the very place where it all happened, began preaching that He claimed deity and proved it.
No one has even imagined a perfect person in fiction. No other religion makes such claims for its gods or leaders. Where did such unique concepts come from?
There have been countless attempts to explain the origins of Christian beliefs about Jesus Christ, trying to disconnect the Christ of faith from the Jesus of history. The latest well-publicized one is the Jesus Seminar, a small group of “scholars” who picked from the gospels the small part that they considered authentic history, based on their anti-supernatural preconceptions. Their methods and conclusions never did represent the scholarly community as a whole, and have been thoroughly criticized by both Christian and non-Christian experts.
The resurrection storyWhat theory best explains the origin of the resurrection story? There have been many theories in the last 2000 years. A theory must explain the historical background, the lives and deaths of the apostles, and the contents of the story: It must be simple, consistent with all the facts, and reasonable.
Jesus’ predictions before His death that He would be crucified and would rise from the dead the third day
The role and attitude of the Jewish leaders who demanded His crucifixion by the Roman authorities
Peter’s denials of Jesus during His trial
The other disciples’ panicked disappearance
Professional Roman executioners
His side pierced with a spear, blood and water running out
The women watching while He was placed in a nearby tomb before sunset
Professional (Roman or Jewish) soldiers guarding the tomb
The stone rolled away from the door of the tomb when the women arrived early Sunday morning
The empty tomb
The empty grave-clothes, still there, neatly folded, just empty
The appearances: to individuals and groups, men and women, many places, day and night, unexpected, including to Paul on the road to Damascus several years later.
The Ascension, rising to heaven while the disciples watched
The disciples’ transformed lives and preaching, beginning in the city of the crucifixion a few weeks later
James, Jesus’ (half-)brother, who thought He was crazy during His preaching years but was a leader of the early church and probably author of the Epistle of James in the New Testament
The Jewish leaders’ inability to disprove the resurrectionThere are only four basic possible explanations. Accepting the account of His crucifixion and burial, the first question is whether He was later alive. If so, either He had died or He had not. If not, either the apostles knew He was not alive, or they did not; they were either lying or believed it.2. Discussion
First, consider the possibility that the apostles were liars. It would be impossible for eleven men all to face horrible deaths for something they knew was a lie. Also, if they were lying about the story, they would not make up a story in which they themselves were cowards who ran away, and Peter denied that he even knew Jesus. Lying also does not explain the empty tomb or the appearances. Finally, if the apostles were liars, how did they practice and preach the world’s highest ethical standard?
The New Testament says the Jewish leaders bribed the guards at the tomb to say they went to sleep and the disciples stole the body (Matthew 28:11-15). This story is obviously suspicious. It is ridiculous to say professional guards all went to sleep, and if they did, how did they know who stole the body? Even if they went to sleep, the disciples were not the kind of people who would take the risk of sneaking past armed soldiers. This story was obviously concocted in a panic before the leaders had thought it through adequately. This is really a variant of the theory that the disciples were liars.
No one (except the contemporary Jewish leaders) has ever seriously promoted the theory that the apostles were liars. It is included here only for logical completeness. So we can proceed to the other three possibilities.
If it was true that He was alive, then either He had died or He had not. The theory that was popular among 18th-century intellectuals in Europe was the “swoon theory.” They said Jesus only lost consciousness on the cross, and revived after a couple of days in the cool, quiet tomb. This must reject the item about the spear in Jesus’ side, and blood and water flowing out. If true, this means the membrane around His heart was pierced, if not His heart itself, and only immediate modern emergency surgery and intensive care could have saved His life. It is unlikely that professional Roman executioners would be mistaken in saying that He was dead. This story does not explain the stone rolled away from the door of the tomb. Even if Jesus regained consciousness with no food or water for three days in a cold, dark tomb, it is unlikely He could even stand up and walk out at all, let alone remove the heavy stone. And He would need to tear apart the grave clothes in which He was wrapped, leaving Him with no clothes at all. If His disciples found Him in such a condition, they would have honored and cared for Him, but would not be convinced that He had conquered death nor worship Him as their Lord andGod. So we can eliminate the swoon theory. This leaves two possibilities.
If it was not true that Jesus was alive, then could the apostles be mistaken? There are many suggestions; this is the only open-ended aspect of this subject. If you want to invent a new explanation of the resurrection story, work on this possibility.
One theory is hallucination, to explain the appearances. But this cannot explain the groups of people who saw Him all at once, nor all the different times and places. Nor can it explain the empty tomb, empty grave-clothes, open door, or ascension. The apostles did not act like they were mentally unstable.
Perhaps the women went to the wrong tomb. Perhaps the “angel” was actually the gardener, pointing at the empty tomb saying, “He is not here,” then pointing at another tomb and saying, “See the place where they laid Him.” But this leaves out the angel’s words “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is risen.” (Luke 24:5, 6) It does not explain the appearances, nor the Jewish leaders’ inability to disprove the resurrection story. If the body was still somewhere available, they would have found it and that would have ended the apostles’ preaching. Finally, the Bible emphasizes that the women watched while Jesus was buried before sunset; they would be unlikely to make a mistake.
Perhaps someone else stole the body. Who? Why? How did they get past the armed guards? It certainly wasn’t the Jewish leaders; if they knew where the body was.... And there are the appearances to explain.
Many other theories could perhaps be invented. But each would need to be evaluated in the same way we have evaluated these. None has ever earned general acceptance. Any attempted explanation or combination of explanations must contain highly incredible assumptions about human behavior and/or fortuitous circumstances.
That leaves only one other possibility. The only theory that is simple, reasonable, consistent with all the data, etc., is that the story is true: Jesus died and returned from death. The only basis for rejecting this as improbable beyond credibility is to make restrictive assumptions about the existence and activity of God, which we have already discussed extensively in previous chapters.
The Bible says the resurrection story has sufficient evidence: Acts 1:3; 2:23,24,32; I Corinthians 15:1-8; I John 1:1-3. This comes as close to sufficient evidence as it is possible to get. The resurrection of Jesus proves Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God, Romans 1:4, and God’s power to care for us now and forever, Ephesians 1:18-20. Jesus conquered death for us. If this is true, then the only reasonable thing to do is to believe Him.
We must briefly point out that Jesus’ resurrection is unlike the concept of reincarnation which is taught by some other religions. After His resurrection He was still Jesus; He did not return as someone else, or as some sort of animal.
Several of the books listed at the end of ch. 5 have a chapter on the record of the life of Jesus, and specifically the resurrection account. So do some of the books listed in sec. D, 3. Many books have been written specifically about this subject. A few examples are:
Ben Hur, by Lew Wallace. Many editions. This author was a Civil War general. He did not start out disbelieving, just unsure, and began studying the subject in response to a challenge from the atheist Robert Ingersoll. The result was a confirmation of his faith.
Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morrison. London: Faber & Faber, 1930. Later editions by Zondervan and InterVarsity. Raised on skepticism, he intended to use historical research to disprove the resurrection, but to his surprise became a believer by the time he completed his research.
Christianity: the witness of history A lawyer sifts the evidence for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, J. N. D. Anderson. London: Tyndale Press, 1969. SBN 85111-305-2
Evidence that Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell, has a chapter on the resurrection.
The Resurrection Factor, Does the historical evidence support the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Josh McDowell. Campus Crusade, 1981. ISBN 0-918956-72-2
He Walked Among Us, Evidence for the Historical Jesus, Josh McDowell & Bill Wilson. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1993. ISBN 0-8407-4277-0
The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, Craig Blomberg. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity. ISBN 0-87784-992-7.
Cynic Sage or Son of God? Recovering the Real Jesus in an Age of Revisionist Replies, Gregory A. Boyd. Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, Bridgepoint, 1995. ISBN 1-56476-448-6. An exhaustive response to the claims of the Jesus Seminar.
Jesus Under Fire, Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus, ed. Michael J. Wilkins, J. P. Moreland. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995. A detailed reply to the theories that question the historical accuracy of the New Testament account of Jesus’ life.
The Truth about Jesus, ed. Donald Armstrong. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1998. ISBN 0-8028-3855-3. The contents of the 1997 Anglican Institute Conference, Birmingham, Alabama.
The Resurrection Report, A Journalist Investigates the Most Debated Event in History, William Proctor. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1998. ISBN 0-8054-6372-0
The Case for Christ, A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus, Lee Strobel. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1998. An excerpt from
The Case for Faith. ISBN 0-310-23653-3
Faith on Trial: Would the testimony of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John stand up in court? An attorney analyzes the evidence for the death and resurrection of Jesus, Pamela Binnings Ewen. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1999. ISBN 0-8054-2026-6
Finally, so as not to be totally one-sided, one book representing a viewpoint definitely sympathetic with the Jesus Seminar, though not quite totally agreeing with it:
When History and Faith Collide: Studying Jesus, Charles W. Hedrick. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999. ISBN 1-56563-235-4The resurrection of Jesus is the center of Christianity. If this is true, then everything else about Jesus Christ and the Bible is easy to believe. If it is not true, then everything else is amazing but not important, and Christianity is merely a package of pious principles with no essential distinction from other religions. Buddhists make great ado over a few purported teeth of Buddha. If a tooth of Jesus is ever found, Christianity will collapse.