This is part of a complete series of evidences for the major claims of the Bible that God exists, the Bible is God's word, and Jesus is God's Son. This article must be studied in context of the whole series of articles. To start at the beginning of the series, please go to www.gospelway.com/god/evidences.php. For a more basic study, of Christian evidences please go to www.gospelway.com/god/why_believe.php
As we consider the three basic claims of the Bible:
The nature of these claims is such that we cannot take a middle-ground position. We cannot say, "The Bible is just a good book but not the inspired, infallible word of God," or "Jesus was just a great man but not divine." The Bible claims to be God's own word, and Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh. If these claims are not true, then Jesus is a liar and the Bible is a fraud!
Jeremiah 14:14 - If a man presents a man-made idea but falsely claims it is a message from God, that man is a false prophet and deserves to be punished and rejected as a prophet (23:16,26; Ezekiel 13:2-7,17).
Ezekiel 3:26,27 - A prophet was not to speak until God opened his mouth. When God did move him to speak it would be a thus says the Lord God.
Matthew 10:19,20 - Jesus claimed that, when His apostles spoke, it would not be them who spoke but the spirit of the Father speaking in them.
1 Corinthians 2:4,5 - Paul's preaching was not with words of human wisdom, so the faith of those who read the message should not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
1 Thessalonians 2:13 - The message is not the word of men but the word of God.
Galatians 1:8-12 - The gospel did not come from man, but was revealed from Jesus. To preach another gospel is to be accursed. Hence, to preach a message that is human in origin is to bring God's curse upon us.
Revelation 22:18,19 - If men add their teachings to the book, God will add to them the plagues written. The Bible writers claimed, not just that their message contained truth from God, but that it was entirely from God. They were forbidden to add anything human to it.
1 Timothy 4:7 - We must reject "old wives' fables" and instead follow after godliness. [1:4]
2 Timothy 4:4 - Paul warned about some who would not want sound doctrine, but would turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to fables.
2 Peter 1:16,20,21 - Specifically, Peter claimed that the apostles did not follow cunningly devised fables when they made known the power and coming of Jesus Christ. Prophecy never came by will of man, but holy men spoke as moved by the Holy Spirit.
Hence, the Bible writers claimed that they did not write fables, legends, or human doctrines. If Bible writers or if Jesus Himself claimed to speak for God when it was not true, then they would stand condemned by their own teaching. They could not possibly be good men or great teachers, nor could the Bible be a good book. If their claims of inspiration are not true, then they should all be entirely rejected as frauds and false pretenders.
[2 Cor. 11:13-15; 1 Tim. 4:1-3; Acts 20:28-30; 1 John 4:1; Titus 1:9-14; 2 John 9-11; Romans 16:17,18; 2 Peter chap. 2]
Matthew 23:5-11 - Jesus severely rebuked religious leaders who seek to be exalted religiously beyond their proper position.
Acts 10:25,26 - Cornelius fell down to worship Peter. Peter forbade it saying that he himself was just a man. [Rev. 22:8,9; 19:10; Rom. 1:25]
Acts 12:20-23 - Herod allowed people to call Him a god, not a man. He did not make the claim himself, but was slain for simply allowing others to make it on his behalf.
Acts 14:11-18 - When Paul and Barnabas healed a lame man, the idol worshipers called them gods and wanted to offer sacrifice to them. They refused to accept such claims, saying that they were men and not gods.
When applied to such teachings of those of Mohammed in the Koran or Joseph Smith in the Book of Mormon, for example, the above principles would show that we must either accept these books as being inspired by God or else reject them entirely as being fakes and frauds. We cannot take a middle-ground position.
But the same is true of the claims of Jesus and the Bible. If Jesus or Bible writers made untrue claims, or even if they knowingly permitted others to make untrue claims regarding their work, they would stand condemned. There is no middle ground. Either the Bible claims are true, or else we must totally reject Jesus and the Bible as being false and unworthy of our trust.
It is possible to believe in a god(s) without believing in the Bible or in Jesus as the Son of God. However, note how the claims of the Bible and of Jesus mutually support the other claims.
We have already cited passages where the Bible makes these claims. So if the Bible is the inspired word of God, then the claims it makes must be true. Therefore, any evidence that demonstrates the Bible to be the word of God simultaneously validates the Bible's claims that God exists and that the God of the Bible is the true God and that Jesus is the Divine Son of God.
Jesus demonstrated the existence and nature of God.
John 1:14,18 - Jesus was the only begotten of the Father, the eternal Creator who possesses the full nature of Deity, yet came to earth in the flesh (vv 1-3). Although we cannot see God, the only begotten Son has declared Him.
John 14:6-9 - He who has seen Jesus has seen the Father. Jesus' teaching and character reveal and exemplify the character of God.
This means that men have personally seen one who was God in the flesh and who revealed the nature of God. The life and teaching of this One can be investigated by the same means used to investigate the lives and teachings of any other men of history.
Jesus quoted Old Testament Scripture as authoritative revelation from God.
Matthew 15:1-6 - He quoted Old Testament Scripture (v4) as being what God said (v4), the command of God (v3), the Word of God (v6).
Matthew 22:31,32 - He quoted Moses' writing as an accurate record of what "God said."
John 10:35 - "The Scripture cannot be broken."
Matthew 4:4,7,10; 22:23-33; Luke 10:25-28 - Jesus obeyed Old Testament law, taught others to obey it, and rebuked those who did not understand or obey it.
[Matt. 8:1ff; 21:42-45; 15:7-9; 22:41-45; 24:15; 21:13; 13:13-15; Mark 7:6; 12:10; Luke 4:16-21; 2:23; 16:29-31; 4:17ff; 24:27,44-46; John 6:44,45; 8:17ff; 5:39,45-47; 1:45; Matt. 26:54,56; Luke 3:4; 7:27; 18:31; 21:22; 22:37; John 2:22; 7:38; 13:18; 17:12; 19:24,28,36,37; 20:9; Matt. 2:5; 11:10; 26:24,31; Mark 1:2; 9:1-14; Matt. 5:17; John 12:14,16; 15:25]
Jesus also confirmed that the apostles and prophets, who wrote the New Testament, spoke authoritative revelation from God.
John 16:13 - Jesus promised the apostles that the Spirit would guide them into all truth. [John 14:26]
Matthew 10:19,20 - The Holy Spirit would give them what and how to speak.
Luke 10:16 - He who hears the apostles hears Jesus; he who rejects them rejects Jesus and rejects God Who sent Jesus.
Jesus was a real individual who lived and walked on earth. His claims can be investigated. If we accept Jesus as being a true spokesman for God, then we must also accept the existence of God and the Bible as the inspired word of God. The claims of the Bible and Jesus stand or fall together. We cannot accept either one and reject the other.
God the Father is invisible (1 John 4:12). We cannot perform laboratory experiments to determine if He exists. Likewise, neither Jesus nor the men who personally wrote the Bible are alive on earth today. But this does not mean we must accept a "blind faith" without evidence.
Romans 10:17 - So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
2 Timothy 3:16,17 - Scripture itself is sufficient to provide us to every good work. If believing is a good work, then the Bible should be adequate to provide what we need.
Acts 9:22; 17:2,3 - The men who wrote the Bible claimed that their teaching proves Jesus to be the Christ. [Acts 15:7]
John 20:30,31 - Bible writers recorded the evidence sufficient to convince us to believe that Jesus is the Christ, so we can have life in His name.
John 17:20 - People believe on Jesus through the word of the apostles.
Note John 7:17; 1 Peter 3:15.
Many authors have offered evidences from outside the Bible itself ("external evidences") to demonstrate the validity of the Bible's claims. External evidences may have some value in confirming and supporting the evidence found in the Bible itself. We will include some of it. But if the Bible is true, it should itself provide us with sufficient evidence to believe. This study will focus primarily on evidence presented in the Bible itself. As we proceed, note how often Bible writers claimed to be giving such evidence.
In our daily lives, all of us determine fundamental beliefs on the basis of historical and logical evidence. This is the principle of belief (faith) based on evidence. Consider some examples:
* A hunter may not see an animal, but from its footprints, he knows it exists and can tell much about its nature. In the same way, God has left His "footprints on the sands of time."
* How many people are convinced beyond reasonable doubt who their parents are? On what basis do they believe this? Do they remember personally seeing their parents at their birth? No, they believe because of the testimony of witnesses. Their parents and many other people tell them who their parents are. Perhaps they have a birth certificate that identifies their parents. But this is simply the written testimony of witnesses.
You accept who your parents are on the basis of faith. Without remembering the event personally, you believe on the basis of the testimony of witnesses. Likewise, the Bible claims to give you written testimony regarding who is your spiritual Father!
* The testimony of witnesses is also used in our courtrooms. A judge and jury do not physically observe a crime. Yet they reach a verdict about what did or did not happen on the basis of the testimony of witnesses. This verdict determines whether or not a defendant will be punished for his crimes. Likewise, the Bible gives eyewitness testimony, and your faith (or lack of faith) in that testimony will determine your eternal destiny.
* Historians also use this principle in writing records of history. They study the statements of witnesses, especially primary evidence from eyewitnesses - i.e., first-hand accounts from people who were personally present. Also of great value are records left by people who personally heard the testimony of eyewitnesses.
* The Bible claims that this is the kind of evidence it gives that its basic claims are valid.
Deuteronomy 19:15 - The guilt or innocence of one accused of a crime was determined on the testimony of two or more witnesses. See also Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:19; Hebrews 10:28.
John 8:17 - Jesus recognized this principle and used it as evidence for His claims.
The Bible claims that Jesus was God in the flesh. He was Divine from eternity, but He came to earth to live as a man. If this claim is true, then God has been seen! He has walked among men, who saw Him, touched Him, and heard Him. Many who saw him have left in the Bible their eyewitness testimony of what He did and said. His life, including his miracles and resurrection, can be investigated like any other historical events. Likewise, the claims of miracles and prophecies by Bible writers can be investigated by logical and historical evidence.
We will see that this is the approach the Bible uses to convince us to believe its claims. It presents evidence which, if examined honestly, will convince us that its claims are true.
But since when is the one who is on trial not allowed to present his case? Simple justice requires us to consider the evidence offered by one who seeks to prove his claim.
If a book claimed to be written by George Washington, who would argue that we must determine the validity of the claim without examining the book itself? On the contrary, examination of the book would be of first priority. We would seek to determine whether or not it contained the kind of information that would be expected to come from the supposed author.
Suppose, after a man's parents die, he finds a written document claiming to be their last will and testament. How would the man determine whether or not the will is genuine? Who would claim that such a determination must be made without ever examining the will itself, and that any evidence presented from within the will should automatically be rejected? What nonsense! There might be external evidence from outside the will that helps determine its authenticity, but we would expect the primary evidence to be found within the will itself. We would expect to find within it the testimony of the man's parents and of witnesses that it was genuine.
Likewise, if the Bible really is a written statement of the will of God, we should expect to find within it the evidence of its authenticity. We should expect the contents of the book itself to be our primary source of evidence.
If all the Bible did was make claims without offering evidence, we should not accept those claims as true. But the Bible does more: it provides evidence for its claims. To refuse to consider the evidence the Bible offers for its claims would be a total disregard of common sense and logic.
So God "did not leave Himself without witness" (Acts 14:17). We will consider the evidence of the witnesses, just as is done by historians, by judges and juries, and by everyone in making common sense decisions about matters we have not personally seen.
We will see that many Bible writers repeatedly claimed they were giving testimony intended to convince people to believe the claims of the Bible. However, the Bible often acknowledges that witnesses may give false testimony (Exodus 20:16). So how can we have confidence that the testimony of the Bible writers is valid? Several criteria should be considered when evaluating the strength and persuasiveness of witnesses. Consider how these apply to Bible writers.
As already discussed, the Bible writers plainly acknowledged the need for a plurality of witnesses to establish the validity of any historical event. See Deuteronomy 19:15; John 8:17 [Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:19; Hebrews 10:28]. Since anyone can make unsubstantiated claims, one witness alone cannot conclusively prove a fact. A plurality of witnesses is more convincing. And as the number of witnesses increases, the more convincing the evidence becomes (until we reach a saturation point).
The Bible consists of 66 books written by 40 different men over a period of 1500 years. These men were of widely different backgrounds, separated by time and distance. There were kings, slaves, fisherman, physicians, etc. They lived in Palestine, in Babylon, and in Rome, from 1400 B.C. to 100 A.D.
Nearly all of these writers, at some point in their writings, provide evidence that helps confirm the Bible claims. We will consider evidence from many of these writers (though not all of them). As we study various line of evidence, please observe the number of different witnesses who offer testimony. We will make note of the numbers of witnesses from time to time.
The strength of the evidence depends, not just on the number of witnesses, but also on the number of confirming events. For example, if one person claims a man robbed a bank, the evidence is relative weak. But the evidence is much more conclusive if dozens of witnesses claim to have seen the same man rob banks on numerous occasions in different places.
So the Bible claims to give many evidences for its claims.
John 20:30,31 - Jesus did so many signs that not all were recorded. But enough have been recorded to convince the honest person to believe.
John 21:24,25 - John wrote his testimony and affirmed it to be true. But Jesus did so many other things that the world could not contain the books that could be written.
Acts 1:3 - The Bible provides "many infallible proofs."
Our study of these proofs will include six different major lines of evidence with many specific examples in each category. This will include many evidences for creation, many examples of fulfilled prophecy, many examples of miracles done by Jesus and other inspired men, and many events in which Jesus appeared to people to prove He was alive again after His death.
The more distant the witnesses are from the events they record, the less convincing their evidence becomes. There is little value in hearsay evidence passed from person to person, or in legendary claims recorded generations after the alleged events occurred. Most convincing is first-hand eyewitness testimony, in which people testify about events they personally saw and experienced. Nearly as important are historical statements recorded by people who personally interviewed the first-hand eyewitnesses.
Notice just a few of the many passages showing that Bible writers were first-hand eyewitnesses of the events they wrote about or else they carefully recorded accounts they heard or read from those who were eyewitnesses.
* Statements from Luke
Luke 1:1-4 - Luke wrote a history of the life of Christ and a history of the early church in the book of Acts (cf. Acts 1:1-3). He did not claim to be a personal eyewitness of Jesus' life, but he served as an historian to record events that were witnessed by the apostles and others. He himself was, however, an eyewitness of many events in the early church (note his use of "we").
Note that Luke did not write legends handed down for generations. Rather, he wrote what had been told him by eyewitnesses, so we could know that these things are "certain" (v4), not myth or fable. As an historian, his reputation is well established.
* Statements about the apostles
The apostles followed Jesus personally, traveling all over Palestine with Him for a period of over three years. They personally observed His miracles and saw Him alive again after His death. They repeatedly claimed that their statements were based on personal eyewitness testimony, and that in fact God chose them specifically for that purpose.
Acts 1:1-3 - Jesus presented Himself to His apostles, so they saw and spoke with Him for a period of forty days following His death. In this way He demonstrated Himself to be raised from the dead by "many infallible proofs."
Acts 1:8 - Jesus told the apostles they would be His witnesses throughout the earth.
Acts 1:21,22 - To be an apostle one had to be an eyewitness of Jesus' resurrection.
Acts 2:32 - Peter stated that he and the other apostles were witnesses that God had raised Jesus. They saw Him die and they saw Him alive again. This was preached, not hundreds of years later, but fifty days after the events occurred (Pentecost was fifty days after the Passover).
Acts 10:39-41 - Peter and the other apostles were witnesses of all things Jesus did. The people killed Him, but God raised Him up on the third day, and showed Him openly to witnesses. The witnesses ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.
Acts 9,22,26 - Luke spent much time traveling with Paul on his preaching trips. As a result, he often witnessed miracles done by Paul's hand. He also often heard Paul's testimony regarding Jesus' appearance to him on the road to Damascus. Note that other men were present who could verify details of that event.
* Statements from John
John 20:30,31 - John recorded Jesus' miracles in writing so we could believe and have life in His name. The miracles were done in the very presence of the disciples, so John had personally witnessed them. [20:19,20; 21:1]
John 21:24 - John wrote his personal testimony and testified that it was true. [Cf. 19:35]
1 John 1:1-3 - He bore witness about what he and others heard, saw with their eyes, and handled with their hands.
* Statements from Peter
2 Peter 1:16-18 - Peter testified that, rather than following fables about Jesus, the apostles were eyewitnesses of His majesty. Specifically he testified regarding the transfiguration that they heard the voice that spoke on the mountain, saying that this was the Son of God. [5:1]
* Statements from Paul
Acts 9:22 - Luke records that Paul went about "proving that this Jesus is the Christ." (Cf. 17:2,3.)
1 Corinthians 15:1-8 - Paul declared the gospel he had preached, including the resurrection of Jesus and his appearances. Paul lists various appearances, including the one to him. Paul's testimony is also that of an eyewitness. He names other eyewitnesses, and claims that most were still alive at the time he wrote. 1 Corinthians was one of the first books Paul wrote, just 20-25 years after Jesus' death. Paul says the other witnesses were still alive and could be examined.
15:14,15 - Paul acknowledged that, if Christ was not raised, Paul and others were false witnesses, because they testified that He was raised.
[Acts 13:31; 22:15; 26:16]
These and other Bible writers claimed to write what they personally witnessed or what they had personally heard from personal eyewitnesses. Please notice the emphasis on this kind of testimony as we study specific lines of evidence. We will comment regarding this from time to time.
1 Corinthians 15:15 - Paul acknowledged that, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, he and other apostles would be false witnesses, since they testified that He had been raised. Sometimes the testimony of a witness may be discredited on the grounds that he is known to be a liar, deceitful, or dishonest. Is there evidence that the Bible writers were dishonest, or should we consider them to be honest, truthful witnesses?
Bible writers repeatedly spoke against religious teachers who taught error or made false claims.
Bible writers clearly knew it would be wrong to give false testimony, and they strongly professed to be opposed to false teaching in religion. See passages about this listed previously. If their own testimony is false, then they are deliberately wicked and hypocritical men. Does the character of all these Bible writers fit the pattern of deliberately wicked, hypocritical men?
Matthew 7:15-23 - Jesus taught that false teachers can be known by their fruits. We can observe the teaching and lives of men and know whether they are good or wicked. What is there about the lives of the Bible writers that proves them to be wicked?
Bible writers revealed the highest moral standard ever known.
Is it reasonable to believe that deliberately dishonest, hypocritical liars and deceivers could have revealed the moral standard found in the Scriptures?
Matthew 12:33-35 - Good things come from good sources. Bad things come from bad sources. How could the obviously righteous moral standard found in the Bible have come from wicked, evil men?
Bible writers honestly recorded their own faults.
They did not hide their own faults or the errors they saw in one another. Rather, they openly admitted them. Consider some examples in which Bible writers calmly record their errors:
Confusion and inability to understand Jesus' teaching - Matthew 15:15,16; 16:5-11 [Matthew 26:6-13]
Failure to understand the need for Jesus to die - Matthew 16:21-23; Luke 9:43-45 [Mark 9:30-32]
Desire for personal exaltation in the kingdom - Mark 9:33-37; Luke 9:46-48; 22:24-26
Sleeping in the garden, after Jesus asked them to pray - Matthew 26:36-46
Forsaking Christ at His arrest, trials, and crucifixion - Matthew 26:56
Peter's denials of Jesus - Matthew 26:31-35,69-75
Apostles' doubts about the resurrection - Luke 24:11; Mark 16:12-14; John 21:2-4
Thomas' doubts about the resurrection - John 20:24-29
Paul's persecution of Christians - 1 Timothy 1:12-15; Acts 8:1-3; 9:1,2; 22:4,5; 26:9-11; 1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13; Philippians 3:6
Peter's hypocrisy regarding converted Gentiles - Galatians 2:11-14
Why would men admit their own errors and faults unless they sought to be honest? Note that they tell these errors with the same calm honesty with which their other testimony is given.
[Cf. Luke 5:8]
Bible writers required substantial evidence to convince them to believe.
They were not gullible nor easily persuaded by weak or deceitful evidence. They required proof before they would accept the facts.
Thomas had doubts about the resurrection until he personally saw proof- John 20:24-29
The apostles had doubts about the resurrection till they saw convincing proof- Luke 24:11; Mark 16:12-14
Paul persecuted Christians till Jesus appeared to him personally- 1 Timothy 1:12-15; Acts 8:1-3; 9:1,2; 22:4,5; 26:9-11; 1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13; Philippians 3:6
Sometimes people are skeptical because so much of our evidence is given by personal friends of Jesus. Actually we will see that enemies also give much useful evidence, though we would not expect them to do so willingly. However, the apostles themselves were doubters and unbelievers until they were convinced by the evidence that they personally witnessed.
These men were not easily persuaded to believe the message they later preached. Only overwhelming evidence would have led them to believe such amazing events. Their refusal to believe, except on the basis of strong evidence, not only demonstrates their honesty, but also provides additional certainty to their testimony to us.
The message they preached made great changes in the lives of the Bible writers.
As already noted, the apostles were confused, unbelieving, self-seeking men until Jesus died and arose. Much of what Jesus taught confused them, because they had misconceptions about His kingdom. They sought personal glory instead of Jesus' purpose. They fled when Jesus was arrested, and Peter denied Him repeatedly while He was on trial. Then they refused to believe the evidence of His resurrection after they began to hear people say they had seen Him alive.
Acts 2:14,22-24,36; 3:13-15; 4:8-13,19,20; 5:26-32,40-42 - Less than two months later, however, those same men stood boldly before the very same people who had crucified Jesus and proclaimed to them Jesus as the resurrected Lord and Christ. When arrested for this message, they stood before the highest council of the Jewish leaders and openly rebuked them for having unjustly slain Jesus. When beaten and commanded not to continue preaching about Jesus, they rejoiced to suffer for His cause and boldly continued preaching openly.
Acts 9:1-30 - Paul traveled great distances to find Christians to imprison and persecute. He blasphemed and voted to put Christians to death. Suddenly, he ceased his opposition, was baptized, and immediately began preaching Christ in the synagogues. This amazed people, because they knew he was preaching the very message he had previously sought to destroy. Cf. Acts 22:1-21 (especially. v18-20); 26:1-23.
What can possibly explain this swift, overwhelming direct turnabout in these men? Their explanation was that they truly had seen Jesus alive from the dead and He (and the Holy Spirit) had revealed to them the proper understanding of the events surrounding His death and resurrection. What other explanation can honestly and adequately explain such changes?
Bible writers faced overwhelming persecution, yet never recanted.
If these men did not really receive the revelations they claimed to receive, and if they did not really witness the things they claimed to witness, they would have been false teachers, liars, deceivers, and hypocrites, and they would have known this to be the case. Consider now the treatment they received for their preaching and testimony. Would they have been willing to continue to preach this message under these circumstances, knowing that it was not true?
Matthew 23:29-36; 5:10-12; Acts 7:51-60; John 15:18-21; 16:1-4 - Prophets in every age were persecuted and even slain, including those who preached to God's chosen nation Israel. Even Moses, although he was greatly honored by later generations of Jews, had been continually criticized and disobeyed by Israel during his own lifetime. Jesus repeatedly warned that similar treatment would be given to His apostles and disciples.
Acts 4:13-21; 5:17-42; 12:1,2 - Exactly as Jesus had predicted, the apostles were imprisoned, beaten, and even slain for preaching the gospel.
2 Corinthians 11:22-28; 1 Corinthians 4:9-13 - Paul was an eminent example of one who suffered for his testimony regarding Jesus. Read the record in Acts from his conversion in chapter 9 till it ends with Paul a prisoner awaiting trial in Rome in Acts 28. In virtually every city where he went, he was persecuted, imprisoned, beaten, and/or had to flee for his life.
None of the apostles ever became wealthy, none was ever held in high esteem by society in general, none was ever elected to high political office, none was ever honored as a great social or military leader. Instead, all suffered a lifetime of persecution, imprisonment, beatings, rejection, and ridicule, and nearly all died for their testimony regarding Jesus. Who would willingly suffer a lifetime of opposition and even martyrdom for a testimony he knew to be a lie?
What evidence can be presented that convincingly demonstrates the Bible writers to be false witnesses? Where is the proof they were dishonest, deceitful liars? If there is none, then surely we should recognize their testimony as a convincing attempt to honestly state the facts they truly experienced as eyewitnesses.
Related to the last point is the possibility that a witness may give untrue testimony if they expect some personal gain or benefit. Such ulterior motives make the testimony doubtful at best.
Matthew 28:11-15 - The soldiers, who had been responsible to guard Jesus' body in the tomb, testified that the body disappeared because the disciples stole it. But they were paid a large sum of money to make this claim. And furthermore, they were given assurance that, if they gave this testimony, they would not die for having lost their prisoner (as was often done - note Acts 12:19). So their testimony is worthless, because they had obvious ulterior motives.
What evidence is there that the Bible writers had ulterior motives for their testimony?
Bible writers often gave testimony that contradicted their own expectations.
* Personal exaltation - Mark 9:33-36; Luke 9:46-48; 22:24-26. As already discussed, during Jesus' lifetime the apostles anticipated great personal glory and exaltation when Jesus came into His kingdom. But by the time they actually began preaching Jesus' resurrection, they had humbled themselves to realize this would never happen.
* The nature of the kingdom - John 18:36. Originally, the disciples believed Jesus would establish a great earthly civil government in which He would defeat His enemies, reign as king, and raise the nation of Israel to worldwide prominence, such as had occurred under David's reign. Instead, they ended up preaching that Jesus came to establish a spiritual kingdom, the church, which exists to help people worship and serve God so they can have eternal life.
* Failure to understand the need for Jesus to die - Matthew 16:21-23. Their expectations of an earthly kingdom had confused the disciples so that they objected when Jesus said He had to die. They had no desire for a Messiah who suffered and died at the hands of His enemies. They sought for Him to instead defeat His enemies and have a long, glorious reign over an earthly kingdom. But they ended up preaching a message of a suffering Messiah, rejected by the people, who died to save men from sin and who reigns over a spiritual kingdom the church.
If the apostles had acted on the basis of false motives, they would have preached anything but what they actually ended up preaching. What they preached was a thorough contradiction to all their personal desires. How could they possibly have ulterior motives for preaching what they did? All their motives would have led them to believe and preach just the opposite!
Opponents gave testimony contrary to their own desires.
Paul was an adamant opponent of the gospel - Philippians 3:3-11; 1 Timothy 1:12-15; Acts 8:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13. He was well educated and highly honored, with great expectations of high position among the Jews. The last thing he expected or wanted was to believe in Jesus and preach His gospel. But in the end he turned his back on all he had held dear, dedicated his life to testifying what he had personally witnessed regarding Jesus, and eventually gave his life for that testimony. What possible motive could he have had, other than the reason that he gave: he sincerely believed that he had really seen Jesus alive.
As we proceed we will learn about men who never accepted the gospel, yet their words or deeds fulfilled clear Bible prophecies. We will read of Jesus' enemies who admitted His miracles and give testimony that helps confirm His resurrection. Surely such men did not have ulterior motives for giving such testimony. All their motives would have led them to do the opposite.
Whether friends or enemies of the gospel, had the witnesses followed natural inclinations, they would have testified against the gospel. When, instead, they testify for the gospel, there can be no possible grounds for rejecting them as unreliable witnesses.
Some witnesses are unconvincing because they become angry, upset, aggressive, antagonistic, etc. They may exaggerate, embellish the account, or otherwise demonstrate that they are not giving a calm, thoughtful statement of the facts of what they observed. Such conduct makes us wonder if maybe they are hiding something, they are prejudiced, or their objectivity has been overwhelmed by emotion or personal desires.
Some subjects naturally are so emotional or amazing that we expect a degree of excitement to enter the account. But testimony is more convincing when the witnesses present their case with a sense of factual conviction, simply recounting the facts of the case.
Some witnesses are unconvincing because their language implies they themselves may not be certain what they saw or how well they saw it. They say "maybe," "I think," "it seems," "it could be," etc. But other witnesses are convincing because they speak definitely, with confidence, plainly affirming that they really did see and know that they are speaking the truth.
We will see that Bible writers describe events of amazing importance, awe-inspiring miracles, and events of heart-wrenching emotional impact (such as the crucifixion of Jesus) all with calm, reasoned care, without embellishment or exaggeration. Their tone is always factual, with no evidence of any doubt. They absolutely affirm what they saw as definite fact.
Consider a few examples:
John 21:24 - The disciple (John) wrote and testified these things, "and we know that his testimony is true."
Acts 1:3 - Many infallible proofs
Luke 1:1-4 - Luke wrote what he had received from the eyewitnesses, having "perfect knowledge of all things from the very beginning," so we "may know the certainty of those things" which were taught us.
2 Peter 1:16-19 - Peter affirmed that he did not follow cunningly devised fables but was an eyewitness of what he saw and heard. So we have a prophetic word made more sure.
1 John 1:1-4 - John bore witness of what he (and others) had seen, handled with his hands, and heard, so we may have fellowship with God and Christ.
We cited many other examples previously when discussing the witnesses' opportunity to observe what they testified about. We will also observe other evidence of the factual tone of Bible writers as we consider specific evidence.
The testimony of the Bible writers is valid only if we are assured that our present records of their testimony have been accurately preserved. Could the text of their testimony have become lost or corrupted over the years since it was written? This is a separate complete study of itself, but consider the following summary of evidence.
Bible writers themselves claimed that God promised to preserve their writings for people of all future generations.
See Psalm 119:152,160; Isaiah 40:8; 30:8; John 12:48; 2 John 2; 1 Peter 1:23-25; 2 Peter 1:12-15; 2 Timothy 3:16,17.
The Old Testament as evidence of God's preservation of the Bible
The books of the Old Testament were written, copied, circulated, preserved, protected, and translated in exactly the same way as the books of the New Testament. They claimed to be inspired, and all were viewed as inspired Scripture by people in their day and afterward. As shown above, books of both testaments claimed that God had promised to preserve them.
The preservation of the Old Testament through the years till the first century demonstrates the accuracy of the preservation of the whole Bible down through subsequent centuries till today. Jews of the first century accepted the Old Testament books they had as being accurate and authoritative. These books were so viewed by Jesus and His apostles and disciples as well as by all other Jews, including Jesus' opponents. Jesus rebuked His opponents on every point in which they were in error. Had there been any dispute about the preservation or accuracy of the Jews' Scriptures, this would surely have been discussed. Instead, the Scriptures were quoted and respected without controversy as an accurate record of the writers of Old Testament writers.
But the New Testament was written, copied, circulated, collected, translated, and preserved in exactly the same way as the Old Testament had been. The accurate preservation of the Old Testament through the years till the first century gives us confidence that the whole Bible has been similarly preserved through the centuries till today.
Modern evidence for the original text of Scripture
We today do not have any of the "autographs" - the original manuscripts of the Bible in the very handwriting of the authors. But men carefully preserved the Bible through the years. As a result, we today have volumes of evidence to establish what the original texts said.
* We have more than 4500 handwritten copies of the Bible in the original languages.
These manuscripts were copied by men such as the "Scribes" of Jesus' day, who were fanatically precise in their work. They checked their work by counting number of letters and words per line, per page, etc. No errors were tolerated.
Some of the manuscripts that we have preserved till today are complete, others are partial or fragments. Some of them are dated to within a few centuries of the time of the New Testament writers, and a few are dated to within a few decades of their time. Records of the life of Jesus are included among the oldest manuscripts we have.
* We have many ancient translations of the Bible into other languages.
* We have thousands of Scripture quotations found in ancient non-inspired writings. In fact, all but a few New Testament verses could be reproduced just from these uninspired quotations.
The volume of evidence for the original text of the Bible is overwhelming. While there are variations between the manuscripts, few of these variations in any way affect the meaning of the text. "Significant variations," which would affect the meaning of the New Testament, make up less than 1/1000 of the total text. If all of them were put together, they would take up less than half a page. And none of them affect our understanding of the text, because the same teaching is presented elsewhere in other passages whose authenticity is unquestioned. So the text of the Bible writers has been preserved so accurately that there is essentially no doubt today about what the text originally said.
Some statements regarding the preservation of Scripture
Compared to the writings of other ancient authors, our evidence for the Bible's content is overwhelming. For other writings, "convincing evidence" may consist of just a few manuscripts dated within 1000 years of when the men lived. But with the Bible we have thousands of manuscripts dated less than 1000 years of when the authors lived, many manuscripts dated within just a few centuries, and even fragments dated to within 25-50 years.
Sir Frederic Kenyon, who served 21 years as Director and Principal Librarian of the British Museum (which houses many significant ancient manuscripts of the Bible) said: "The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation that he holds in it the true word of God, handed down without essential loss from generation to generation throughout the centuries."
He also said: "In no other case is the interval of time between the composition of the book and the date of the earliest extant manuscripts so short as in that of the New Testament." (Quoted by Chumbley, p. 25)
"The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors, the authenticity of which no one dreams of questioning. And if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt." (F.F. Bruce quoted by Chumbley, p. 26)
"...no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as is the New Testament." (J.W. Montgomery quoted by Chumbley, p. 26)
Many similar statements can be quoted from other such men.
For a detailed study, visit our Bible Instruction web site at www.gospelway.com/instruct/ and study the article about the preservation of the Bible.
We would not expect everything in the Bible to be confirmed by sources outside the Bible. However, other sources do sometimes confirm statements of Bible writers regarding historical events. If the Bible writers were reliable, we would expect these other sources to agree with their record. Consider a few sources that effectively confirm the accuracy of the Bible writers.
Confirmation by archaeologists
Note a few examples in which archaeologists and modern historians have confirmed the accuracy of Bible records, especially in cases where "scholars" once disagreed with the Bible.
* The Hittite nation
The Bible frequently mentions this ancient nation (2 Sam. 11:3ff; Gen. 15:19-21; Num. 13:29; Josh. 3:10). But for years skeptics said the Bible was wrong because they found no other confirmation. Then in 1906, Hugo Winckler excavated Hattusa, the capital city of the Hittites. We know now that, at its height, the Hittite civilization rivaled Egypt and Assyria in glory! Whole museums are now devoted to the Hittite civilization. (See Biblical World, pp 290ff.)
* Pithom and Raamses
The Bible says the Israelites built these cities while they were slaves in Egypt (Ex. 1:11). They used bricks made of clay mixed with straw, then clay mixed with stubble, then clay alone (Ex. 5:10-21). In 1883, Naville examined the ruins of Pithom and found all three types of brick. (See Biblical World, pp. 458,459.)
* The Book of Acts
Sir William Ramsay was a skeptic who sought to disprove Acts by studying the record of Paul's journeys. The result of his examination made him a firm believer in the accuracy of the book! The turning point came when he proved that, contrary to accepted scholarship, the Bible was right when it implied Iconium was in a different region from Lystra and Derbe (Acts 14:6). (See Archaeology and Bible History, Free, p. 317.)
* Consider these quotations from prominent archeologists:
"...it may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or in exact detail historical statements in the Bible. And, by the same token, proper evaluation of Biblical descriptions has often led to amazing discoveries." - Dr. Nelson Glueck (Rivers in the Desert, p. 31)
"...archaeology has confirmed countless passages which have been rejected by critics as unhistorical or contradictory to known facts ... Yet archaeological discoveries have shown that these critical charges ... are wrong and that the Bible is trustworthy in the very statements which have been set aside as untrustworthy ... We do not know of any cases where the Bible has been proved wrong." - Dr. Joseph P. Free (Archaeology and Bible History, pp. 1,2,134)
Confirmation by ancient historians
We would not expect unbelievers to defend Jesus' claims as being valid. Why should they defend what they did not believe? Nevertheless, many of them at least mention as historic fact the existence, teachings, and claims of Jesus and His followers.
Chumbley (p. 32) cites evidence accumulated by F.F. Bruce regarding pagan and Jewish sources, from the first or second century AD, that refer to Jesus, to Christians, or to other characters mentioned in the New Testament, such as John the Baptist. The Jewish sources include Josephus and the Talmud. The non-Jewish sources include Seutonius, Tacitus, Gaius Pliny Secundus (Pliny the Younger), Thallus, and Mara bar Serapion.
He also quotes Gary Hberman as follows:
Within 100 to 150 years after the birth of Christ, approximately eighteen non-Christian, extrabiblical sources from secular history ... mention more than one hundred facts, beliefs, and teachings from the life of Christ ... [including] almost every detail of Jesus' life, including miracles, the Resurrection, and his claims to be deity. (via Chumbley, p. 32)
Interestingly, many people accept the records of these ancient historians as persuasive historic fact. Yet the evidence in the Bible itself is far more extensive and is based on far better textual evidence than any of these other ancient sources. [Cf. Jenkins, pp 119,120.]
Confirmation by appeal to witnesses who could be consulted at the time
Acts 2:22,36 - Peter and the other apostles gave their testimony as eyewitnesses beginning just fifty days after Jesus' death and resurrection (Pentecost was fifty days after the Passover). He claimed that the people themselves had witnessed Jesus' signs, wonders, and miracles. If the people did not know these things, why did they not speak out against Peter's message? Instead, many were cut to the heart and asked what to do about their guilt, and 3000 obeyed the gospel.
Acts 26:26- Paul expressed confidence that King Agrippa knew about Jesus, because he said "these things were not done in a corner." So even many years after Jesus' death, Paul could speak with confidence that events involving Jesus were well known.
1 Corinthians 15:6 - Paul said that, on one occasion, Jesus appeared to over 500 people, most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote. The clear implication is that people could go to these people and question them about these events.
2 Corinthians 12:11,12 - Paul claimed that he did signs, wonders, and miracles in the presence of the people to whom he wrote; so they would have known whether or not his testimony was accurate.
Quotations such as these demonstrate that the apostles gave their testimony even while other people were alive who could verify their testimony. They were not citing legends that had developed gradually over many generations since the events. Other people could personally speak to other witnesses to substantiate the apostles' claims. Why would they make such statements, unless they knew people could really verify their accounts? If instead, people were alive who could falsify the apostles' claims, why did those people not speak up?
Confirmation by our own observations today
Some points of evidence we will consider involve things we today have observed or can observe for ourselves. In these matters, we need not consider what others testify but can base conclusions on our own personal observations.
The testimony of the Bible writers themselves will be our main source of evidence. But there is additional evidence to confirm that they were honest, truthful witnesses. Where is any evidence that convincingly demonstrates them to be dishonest witnesses?
Mark 14:55,56 - One proof that the witnesses who testified against Jesus were false witnesses is the fact that their testimony was inconsistent - they did not agree among themselves. If the testimony of some witnesses clearly contradicts that of other witnesses, then the testimony of them all becomes doubtful. We don't know who to believe, so we doubt them all.
As with any eyewitness records, Bible accounts may vary from one another in their details. It is characteristic of eyewitness testimony that different witnesses will observe and remember different details. But these variations can be harmonized by taking all the accounts and putting them together. When such variations occur, there is no proof of contradiction unless there is no explanation that can reasonably harmonize the accounts.
So long as no real contradiction exists, variation in the details of accounts actually serves to strengthen the testimony. The various details cause the accounts of the witnesses to strengthen and support one another, thereby providing the plural witnesses that valid history requires.
"Nothing is more commonly known in the department of civil jurisprudence than that testimony, given by different witnesses, whose statements too closely resemble each other, is invalidated thereby. It looks like collusion; it casts suspicion of fraud..." (Moses E. Lard, via Chumbley, p. 30)
As we examine the various lines of evidence, we will observe how the testimony of the witnesses harmonize to support and strengthen one another without contradicting one another.
Consider, for example, the "witnesses" to the Book of Mormon.
In an attempt to validate the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith obtained testimony from two sets of witnesses.
A group of eight witnesses testified that they had seen, handled, and "hefted" the plates from which Smith claimed to have translated the book of Mormon. They claimed that the plates appeared to be gold with engravings that appeared to be ancient work and curious workmanship.
Another group of three witnesses testified that an angel brought the plates before them so they saw the plates and the engravings on them, and a voice told them that Smith was translating the plates by the gift and power of God.
To help us understand the power of the testimony of witnesses let us examine this evidence.
* The group of eight witnesses actually proves nothing except perhaps that Smith had some plates that looked like gold and had curious workmanship on them. How does this prove they were from God or that they were properly translated? Faking such plates is surely possible. And if Smith really had them, why allow only eight men to see them? Why not hundreds more (like the hundreds who saw Jesus after His resurrection)? And if Smith personally possessed them, why did it take an angel to convince the other three men that he possessed them?
* Nine of the eleven witnesses were closely related to one another or to Joseph Smith himself. Five of them were Whitmer men and a sixth (Hiram Page) was married to a Whitmer girl. Three others were Joseph's father and brothers (cf. No Man Knows My History, Fawn Brodie, p79). If Smith really had these plates, why could he not produce more independent witnesses?
* The book Articles of Faith, by Mormon author James Talmage, published and distributed by the Mormon Church, acknowledges on page 504 that four of the eleven witnesses eventually left the Mormon Church, two by excommunication and two by withdrawing from the church. He could only claim four witnesses who remained faithful in the church (that leaves three others for which he made no claim that they continued in the church). So of the eleven witnesses, Talmage could cite only four who remained in the church, and at least that many left the church altogether! What kind of witnesses are these for the Book of Mormon?
Specifically, of the three witnesses who claimed to hear the testimony of the angel, Brodie documents that all three later followed a young seeress who, like Joseph Smith, claimed to use a stone to receive revelations, but Smith opposed her revelations! Furthermore, all three left the church at one time or another (p. 78, 205,217; it is unclear whether one or two may have eventually returned and stayed in the church - see also the next point below). By way of contrast, of the thirteen apostles (counting Paul) who testified to Jesus' resurrection, not one ever left Jesus' church or in any way remained untrue to his testimony.
* Brigham Young later acknowledged that some of the witnesses (included some who allegedly saw the angel) came "to doubt and to disbelieve that they had ever seen an angel." Furthermore, there is much evidence that Joseph Smith and numerous Mormon leaders repeatedly accused various ones of the witnesses (including the three who "saw" the angel) of lying, cheating, swindling, stealing, and even making counterfeit money (Mormonism - Shadow or Reality, Jerald & Sandra Tanner, pp 50-54). If the Mormons themselves viewed these men as being so dishonest, why should we believe their testimony regarding the golden plates? When were Jesus' apostles ever accused of such things, especially by other Christians?
* And this is the strongest eyewitness testimony Mormonism offers. Why don't the Mormons have eyewitness testimony of hundreds of miracles and dozens of examples of fulfilled prophecies to confirm the Book of Mormon, like we have for the Bible? Why is it that so many Mormon witnesses were not independent at all but closely related, yet as often as not they left the faith they bore witness to?
Compare this to the kind of evidence we will offer to substantiate the Bible's claims. As we consider the evidence for the Bible, ask yourself why there is no such evidence for the claims of the Book of Mormon or the Koran or other books that claim to be revelations from God.
The fact is that, in any other area, the men who wrote the Bible would be considered ideal witnesses. Had they written about other historical topics, they would be accepted as models of historical evidence. Only one thing prevents people from accepting their testimony: People don't like what the witnesses say! They are not willing to believe that miracles and the resurrection really occurred. They don't want to obey the commands of Scripture or meet the demands of discipleship to Jesus. So they reject the testimony of the Bible witnesses, not because there is any fault in the witnesses or any weakness in their testimony, but because the hearers don't want to accept the consequences of the evidence.
We are now ready to call God's "witnesses" to testify. We will present hundreds of specific examples of evidence grouped under six major headings. One of our goals will be to heap up and multiply the evidence. This will involve considering numerous Scriptures and details regarding each of the main arguments we consider. We hope the result will impress honest hearts with the great volume of evidence that exists.
As you consider each specific example (each specific prophecy, each specific miracle, etc.), you may find some examples more convincing than others. But remember that most of these specific examples are independent of the others. It would not be fair or honest to reject the whole weight of the evidence simply because you find some specific example(s) to be unconvincing. As in reaching a verdict in a courtroom, your decision should be based on the preponderance of the evidence. Do you find the evidence convincing when taken as a whole?
You may compare it to a trapeze artist swinging from a bar. If that bar was held by just one rope and that rope broke, he would be in trouble. But we will demonstrate literally hundreds of examples of evidence supporting our faith. If you find one or a few of them to be weak, please remember that our "bar" still has hundreds of other ropes holding it up!
As we study, notice how often Bible writers refer to such terms as "witness," "testimony," "sign," "confirm," "proof" and "prove" (Acts 1:3; 9:22), "demonstrate" (Acts 17:2,3), etc. God knew we would need evidence on which to base our faith. He does not expect us to believe simply because our parents, a preacher, or some other believer tell us to believe. Nor is faith a blind leap. God expects us to develop an honest conviction that Bible claims are true on the basis of abundant evidence in Scripture sufficient to convince anyone who will seriously examine the evidence with an honest heart.
And remember that faith in these basic Bible claims is essential to salvation. The verdict you reach will determine your eternal destiny!
This is part of a complete series of evidences for the major claims of the Bible that God exists, the Bible is God's word, and Jesus is God's Son. To continue with the next article in the series, please go to www.gospelway.com/god/evidences-creation.php To start at the beginning of the series, please go to www.gospelway.com/god/evidences.php.
Copyright 2006 David E. Pratte
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