This blog is part of a series. You can start the series by going back to the September 1, 2014 Introduction called A Case for Christianity: Why do we need one?
For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. The Apostle Peter (2 Peter 1:16)
Lee Strobel is a phenomenal Apologist and Author who has been so instrumental in my search for truth in the Christian faith. His work as a journalist and his journey from atheism to belief in the God of the Bible has had a profound influence on me. In his work, especially The Case for Christ, he looks at the evidence as if it were to be presented in a court of law. He does not deviate from his training as an investigative journalist and his honesty with both his wife and his audience deserves high respect. One of the most important types of evidence presented in any case would be that of an eyewitness, and having multiple eyewitnesses makes the case even stronger. Does the Bible contain eyewitness testimony? Strobel said, “The real issue is whether the sources we do have are credible – and in the case of the New Testament, they certainly are! And keep in mind that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John report what Jesus’ contemporaries knew to be true about him.” These guys were not just eyewitnesses but were close companions of Jesus or knew very well his inner circle. The reports on Jesus’ life were by people who were with him during his all important three-year ministry. I am going to focus on the New Testament in particular here, but I think that the same can be implied for the Old Testament as well.
“Do we have any records from first-century ‘journalists’ who interviewed eyewitnesses, asked tough questions, and faithfully recorded what they scrupulously determined to be true?” –Lee Strobel
The answer to Strobel’s question is yes! Luke the author of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. Luke has been heralded by both Christian and non-Christian scholars as one of the best historians to ever write. His investigative reporting contains such strong evidence to the facts of history that there would be no reason to doubt any other part of his account.
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. Luke 1:1-4
Let’s look at some of the categories that give the Bible an undeniable standard of excellence in witness documentation:
From Direct Eyewitness Accounts:
- The Bible authors were people who had eyewitness experiences and first-hand testimonies.
- The Bible authors received direct revelation from God; Angels sent from God; through Jesus Christ and through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
- Many of the eyewitness accounts are in multiple not singular experiences.
Could they have fabricated or imagined these accounts?
- The eyewitnesses to the life of Christ (and the other events in the Bible) were people of good reputation; they were not considered to be liars; they had nothing to gain by fabricating their stories; they had testimony that upheld the other witnesses; and they had clarity of the events.
- There were more than 500 eyewitnesses who were recorded to have seen Jesus after His resurrection and this fact completes the resurrection testimony.
“I went to a psychologist friend and said if 500 people claimed to see Jesus after he died, it was just a hallucination. He said hallucinations are an individual event. If 500 people have the same hallucination, that’s a bigger miracle than the resurrection.” -Strobel
- There were many who accompanied Jesus during His ministry, and bystanders, that were still alive at the time of the New Testament writings and therefore could have disputed their claims, but they did not.
- There is an unexplained and drastic change in the attitudes of the apostles and disciples immediately after the resurrection.
- Fabrication of these accounts seems impossible since they had nothing to gain and everything to lose (prison, beatings, torture, execution).
- All of the New Testament writers except John were martyred and none ever recanted their testimonies.
- The authors of the Bible were brutally honest, especially about their own shortcomings and mistakes.
- The Bible includes events that would have been considered socially unacceptable in their culture. The Bible writers could have changed them, but they did not. For example: The story of women finding the empty tomb first; Gentiles and women being equally accepted as the Jewish men by Jesus; Gentiles and women playing important roles in the early Church; and the many stories that make the authors themselves look bad.
There were many non-Christian historians who wrote about the early New Testament times that help to confirm the Bible authors’ accounts, For example…
- Thallus, a Greek historian, writes of the crucifixion and mentions the day that suddenly turned dark.
- Tacitus, a Roman historian, echoes the Gospel account of the death of Christ including the mention of the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate.
- Josephus, a Jewish historian, writes about the death of Jesus, the martyrdom of James, the martyrdom of John the Baptist and the resurrection three days after the crucifixion.
- Suetonius, a Roman historian, mentions the expulsion of Christians from Rome. This corresponds with the account in the book of Acts.
- Pliny the Younger, a Roman authority and administrator, writes of the early Christian community in Asia Minor.
From Hostile Eyewitnesses:
The enemies of Christianity (the Jewish and Roman authorities) did not try to contradict the claims of Christianity, especially the resurrection, but instead tried to offer other explanations, for example…
- Matthew 28:12-15 speaks of the Jewish leaders plotting and paying off the guards to tell people that Jesus’ body was stolen (similar stories are still used today).
- Early Roman, Greek and Jewish historians like Josephus, wrote of these events but did not claim to be part of the early Christian movement.
- The conversion of Jesus’ half brothers who did not believe in him, especially James who became the first leader of the early Church.
- The conversion of Saul of Tarsus, who persecuted the early Church, but became the Apostle Paul and major contributor to the New Testament Epistles.
James and Paul had nothing to gain and everything to lose, why would they convert?
Personal Testimonies As Eyewitness Accounts:
Beginning with James and Paul countless people over the centuries have personal stories of changed lives they attribute to Christianity and specifically the resurrection and saving grace of Jesus as the promised Messiah.
For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life…Anyone who accepts his testimony can affirm that God is true. John 3:16, 33
Why are personal testimonies important as evidence?
- Personal testimonies cannot be refuted because the evidence is in the changed lives—this can be the most powerful witness for God’s saving grace.
- Personal testimonies often include evidence of miracles and the supernatural power of God acting in a person’s life.
- Personal testimonies, it has been said, are the only way many will ever see Jesus. They will see Him in you and your life’s examples.
Let me know what you think: What is your personal testimony? Share it with me on this blog especially if you have come from an atheistic or agnostic background, or perhaps from another faith.
Join us next week as we continue to examine evidence for the reliability of the Bible.
Over the next several blogs I am going to continue to present logical reasoning and sound scientific evidence not found in the public school textbooks.
Always be ready to give an answer for the hope that you have in Christ Jesus as Lord.
1 Peter 3:15