In Defense of the Faith
"Imagine trying to crowd... the tremendous story of the Man of Calvary, if fiction, into a place in history already fully occupied with real and... inseparably linked happenings..."
Irwin H. Linton
A Lawyer Examines the Bible
Jane Fonda was at the height of her popularity when she told an enthusiastically approving audience at Michigan State University on November 22, 1969, "I would think that if you understood what communism is, you would hope, you would pray on your knees that we would someday become communists." Of course, communists don't pray, and have imprisoned or shot those who do.
The Fondas and Ted Turners (along with millions of high school and university teachers, movie writers and directors, entertainers, news commentators, etc.) continue to popularize rebellion against God. Even many so-called biblical scholars support an atheistic view of the Bible. This last Easter the media was filled with scholarly speculation about the "historical Jesus" - speculation denying the basic tenets of Christianity. Tragically, most evangelical churches fail to arm their members against the onslaught of unbelief which they meet at every turn.
How many evangelicals (especially the youth) can convincingly debate and refute atheists, cultists, occultists and liberal theologians? The "faith" of all too many rests in their church or denomination rather than solely in God and His Word. The communist revolution worldwide grew in large part out of resentment against a "Christianity" based upon authoritarianism rather than truth.
Marx was once a professing Christian who turned to atheism. Claiming to be "scientific materialism," communism insisted that nothing existed except the physical world. Like Freud, Lenin believed man was a stimulus-response mechanism without spirit or soul. Behavior was learned from experience and could therefore be reprogrammed through "brain-washing," which psychologists deceptively call "behavior modification" to seduce a gullible public.
As a stimulus-response mechanism, man touches something hot or cold and learns of "hot" and "cold". He is hit by something hard and learns about "hard". All man and his science can know is by stimulus from the physical world. Lenin's theory could be proved by challenging doubters to visualize a new prime color for the rainbow. No one could. Thus nothing could be conceived of that didn't exist, and the material universe was all there was.
There was one embarrassing flaw in the theory: the foolish fantasy about God. Where did that come from? Those despicable clergy invented "God" to deceive the masses. Communism would destroy this opiate of the people! But where did the clergy get this idea if no one can think of anything that doesn't exist? What "stimulus" caused this "God-response"? By Lenin's own theory, God had to exist or no one could ever have dreamed up the idea. Indeed!
No wonder the Bible doesn't waste its time "proving" God's existence. It starts out, "In the beginning, God created," and bluntly declares, "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God" (Ps 14:1; 53:1). Nobelist Linus Pauling acknowledged, "A single living cell is more complex than New York City." Who then could believe that the unfathomable mystery of life and the incredible complexity of living cells, let alone intelligence and personality, could happen by chance? Yet in public schools this lunacy is official dogma, to which no challenge is allowed!
Atheistic humanism was declared to be a religion in a 1961 U.S. Supreme Court decision (Torcaso v. Watkins). It is the official state religion of the United States just as in communist countries, in spite of the Constitutional prohibition against the state supporting any religion. Humanism is forced upon students in public schools, while Christianity has been banned. It is tragic how many "Christian" youth, being unprepared, succumb to this official brainwashing and "lose their faith" in high school or university.
The Bible's claim to be the Word of God is supported by a vast body of evidence so irrefutable that no one has any excuse for doubting. The major proof which the Bible offers is the fulfillment of hundreds of specific prophecies. We have covered some of these in past newsletters and books so won't repeat them now. Let us consider three clear prophecies which are generally overlooked.
God's declaration that Israel would be without a king, priesthood or sacrifices (Hos 3:4) remains true today. Yet God also said that Israel would keep the passover as "a feast by an ordinance for ever" (Ex 12:14); and Jews, in spite of their unbelief, have done so continuously for 3,500 years. Similar claims made by pagan religions have failed. The sacred fires tended by the Vestal Virgins in the temple of the goddess Vesta in Rome, and the sacred Zoroastrian fires of Persia, were never to go out. They burn no longer, but the passover remains.
Scripture says that the commemoration of Christ's death, burial and resurrection will not cease until His return (1 Cor 11:26); and Christians to this day keep this remembrance with the bread and wine as he commanded. Furthermore, the unbroken continuance of the passover and Lord's Supper offers a unique proof of the validity of the Bible. More than 100 years ago a Christian apologist named Leslie identified certain criteria which, if met by any event recorded in writing, establish it as truly historical:
1) that the original event be visibly witnessed by many and be widely reported at the time;
2) that a commemoration start from the very beginning and continue publicly; and
3) that this commemorative act be performed continuously from that time to the present.
Christianity meets all three.
The Gospels, Acts and most of the Epistles were written while multitudes were still alive who would have disproved from the facts as they knew them. Imagine attempting, in the small country of Israel and so soon after the supposed events, to publish a fictitious account of alleged miracles, naming persons and places. Multitudes of people who were still alive from those regions would have rejected such tales as lies.
Remember, Christianity began in Jerusalem. It was based upon the claim that this Jesus, who was hailed by multitudes as the Christ and whose miracles were spoken of all over Israel and whom the Romans had crucified, had risen from the dead the third day. The very fact that 3,000 converted on the day of Pentecost in the heart of Jerusalem, and that thousands more continued day after day to join this "new faith", is indisputable evidence that these events really happened. The opposition did not deny the facts. Christianity was opposed only because it contradicted the authority and teachings of the rabbis.
Christianity was not a religious movement based upon ideology but upon events which had to have actually happened. The claims could not have been presented (that Jesus of Nazareth had healed the sick, opened blind eyes, raised the dead and Himself resurrected, leaving behind an empty tomb) right there in Jerusalem and throughout Judea unless the events had verifiably occurred. For that reason Jesus told His disciples to begin their preaching in Jerusalem, to establish the church there first of all.
That short walk outside the city wall to verify that the tomb which all Jerusalem well knew had been guarded by Roman soldiers was indeed empty must have been taken by many skeptics. The word quickly spread in confirmation of this greatest of miracles; it had put God's stamp of approval upon the claims of Jesus Christ.
Paul appealed to the knowledge of the facts possessed by the Roman officials whom he faced. Felix, the governor, had "more perfect knowledge of that way" (Acts 24:22). Far from seeing anything contrary to the truth in Paul's testimony, "Felix trembled" as Paul reasoned with him (v 25). And to King Agrippa, Paul declared,
"For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner." (Acts 26:26)
The last two criteria Leslie prescribes prevent the fabrication of a fictitious story years after the supposed date of the alleged event. Mark Hopkins (President Garfield's ideal university was a log with a student on one end and Hopkins on the other) applied this logic to the founding of Christianity:
"For any man to have invented the New Testament after the time of Christ, and to have attempted to cause it to be received, would have been as if a man had written an account of the Revolution, and of the celebration of this day [July 4, 1776]... when [in fact] no revolution was ever heard of, and no one had ever celebrated the Fourth of July. Nor, when such a festival was once established, would it be possible to introduce any account of its origin essentially different from the true one.
But the case of... Christian[ity] is even stronger; because we have several different institutions which must have sprung up at its origin; because baptism and the Lord's Supper have occurred so much more frequently; and because the latter has always been considered the chief rite of a religion to which men have been more attached than to liberty or to life."
There is no refuting these arguments, which secular historical evidence also supports. There is overwhelming corroboration of the New Testament in the non-Christian writings of that period, including even those of Christianity's enemies. Hopkins reminds us,
"The Talmud [compilation of oral rabbinic tradition dating to about A.D. 200]... speaks of Christ, and of several of the disciples, by name... of His crucifixion... that He performed many and great miracles....
[Flavius] Josephus [Jewish historian c. A.D. 37-100] lived at the time many of these events... happened and was present at the destruction of Jerusalem... [and] he confirms the accuracy of... all that is said [in the New Testament]... of Pharisees, and Sadducees, and Herodians... [and of Christ's death and resurrection].
Tacitus [Roman historian and proconsul of Asia, c. A.D. 55-117] tells us that Christ was put to death by Pontius Pilate... under Tiberius, as a malefactor; that the people called Christians derived their name from him; that this superstition arose in Judea, and spread to Rome, where... only about thirty years after the death of Christ, the Christians were very numerous... [and] that the Christians were subjected to contempt and the most dreadful sufferings... some were crucified; while others, being daubed over with combustible materials, were set up as lights in the night-time, and were thus burnt to death. This account is confirmed by Suetonius, and by martial and Juvenal....
Pliny [the younger] was propraetor of Pontus and Bithynia [A.D. 112].... Many [Christians] were brought before him for their faith in Christ... [and] he condemned them to death....
How strong must have been that primitive evidence for Christianity which could induce persons of good sense, in every walk of life, to abandon the religion of their ancestors, and thus, in the face of imperial power, to persist in their adherence to the one who had suffered the death of a slave!
We might also refer to Celsus, and Lucian, and Epictetus, and the Emperor Marcus Antoninus, and Porphyry - who all throw light on the early history of Christianity, and all confirm, so far as they go, the accounts in [the New Testament]... as do coins, medals, inscriptions."
One becomes a bit weary of the propaganda which is taught in universities and even in many seminaries and promoted in books and the media by "experts" who declare with an air of indisputable authority that the New Testament wasn't written until centuries later and that no writers of the time confirm it. The account Josephus gives of Christ's death and resurrection, even calling Him "the Christ," has been attacked unsuccessfully by modern skeptics. Far from being refuted by his contemporaries, Josephus was honored with Roman citizenship, a statue was erected to his memory and his writings were admitted into the Imperial Library in Rome.
Fanatics have always been willing to die out of loyalty even to a secular leader or political ideology or in hope of attaining paradise thereby (the case with Muslim suicide bombers today). Even Ingersoll, however, the famous nineteenth-century atheist, admitted that no sane man would die for a lie. Yet the apostles and early Christian martyrs died testifying to facts (the miracles, resurrection, etc.) when they could have saved their lives by denying them.
Miracles? Hasn't science proved that miracles cannot occur? On the contrary, science can only deal with natural phenomena; and miracles, by very definition, are super-natural. In fact, miracles are inevitable if God is to interfere at all in the downward course of human affairs and of nature. Whenever God reaches in from outside to effect anything that is not according to the normal course of events (such as the Incarnation, salvation or raising the dead), it is a miracle.
Christianity isn't embarrassed by the recital of miracles in the Bible. On the contrary, Christianity (unlike Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, et al.) requires miracles and is based upon the greatest miracle of all, the resurrection of Christ. Next to that, feeding the multitude or healing the sick or even walking on water follow easily.
The Resurrection is the very heart of Christianity. Yet according to the latest Barna poll, 30 percent of those who call themselves "born-again Christians" do not believe in the physical resurrection of Christ. Obviously, they lack the essential conviction that the Resurrection is a proven fact. Without that conviction, one is not a Christian!
The arguments above are a small sample from my latest book, In Defense of the Faith: Biblical Answers to Difficult Questions, just coming off the press and offered in this newsletter. Some readers may object that no further proof of Christianity is needed than the witness of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of those who personally know Christ as Savior and Lord. But what about those who do not know Him?
The Bible teaches that faith must be founded upon fact, not upon feelings, intuition or emotion - much less upon blind submission to some religious authority. Paul wrote, "Prove all things" (1 Thes 5:21). God himself says, "Come now, and let us reason together" (Is 1:18) and has provided abundant factual evidence in the universe around us and in His Word. Jesus, after His resurrection, "shewed himself alive... by many infallible proofs" (Acts 1:3). Surely, then, we must be prepared to use the God-given evidence in answering the honest questions of sincere seekers. Let us meet the challenge of unbelief both within and without today's church! TBC