UCTAA churchlight

Site Search via Google

Discussion 2 to Meditation 38
The Historical Evidence for Jesus Christ?
A Further Response to Meditation 38

by Reverend Mark Crane

To add to this discussion (or any other,) please use the Contact form. This discussion has been continued.

Commenting on the uniqueness of the New Testament's claim for Jesus, Micahel Green has observed, It is all about the Jesus of history. Remove him from Christianity and nothing distinctive is left. Once disprove the historicity of Jesus Christ, and Christianity will collapse like a pack of cards. For it all depends on this fundamental conviction, that God was made manifest in human flesh. And that is a matter not of ideology or mythology but history. 1

Just how well founded the claim for the historical Jesus is will be seen in the evidence as follows.

1. Micahel Green Runaway World, Inter-Varsity Press, p. 12.

>From Pagan Sources

Palestine of the first century has been referred to as an unimportant frontier province in the Roman Empire. Those provincial governors assigned to that region of the world were often thought to have received hardship posts. Too, those who wrote the history of Rome were in the upper strata of Roman society and usually had a personal dislike of Orientals, disapproved of their religions and looked upon their superstitions as very un-Roman. 2 This partially accounts for the little trickles of information that comes from their pens about the Christian religion. They wrote about it only as it forced its way into the mainstream of their view. Yet what they did write is proof positive that Jesus Christ was both a real person and that he had made such an impact upon society that the Roman world found it increasingly difficult to disregard him.

2. Ibid., p. 12.

1. Thallus

Our initial witness makes a contribution of a unique sort inasmuch as he had no intention of making Christianity to appear genuine. To the contrary, Thallus, a Samaritan-born historian who lived and worked in Rome about A.D. 52, wrote to offset the supernatural element which accompanied the crucifixion. Though the writings of Thallus are lost to us, Julius Africanus, a Christian chronographer of the late second century, was familiar with them and quotes from them. In a comment on the darkness that fell upon the land during the crucifixion (Mark 15:33), Africanus says that "Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun."3 Africanus stated his objection to the report arguing that an eclipse of the sun cannot occur during the full moon, as was the case when Jesus died at Passover time. The force of the reference to Thallus is that the circumstances of Jesus' death were known and discussed in the Imperial City as early as the middle of the first century. The fact of Jesus' crucifixion must have been fairly well known by that time, to the extent that unbelievers like Thallus thought it necessary to explain the matter of the darkness as a natural phenomenon. Will Durant observed that Thallus' "argument took the existence of Christ for granted."4 Neither Jesus nor the darkness at his death were ever denied as factual. Durant summed up the matter of Christ's historical existence for himself by saying that it never occured to the early opponents of Christianity to deny the existence of Jesus.5

Ironically, Thallus' efforts have been turned into the mainstream of historical proof for Jesus and for the reliability of Mark's account of the darkness at his death.

3. F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents, Eerdmens, p. 113.

4. Will Durant, Caesar and Christ, Simon and Schuster, p. 555.

5. Ibid.

2. Mara Bar-Serapion: F.F Bruce, Rylands professor at Manchester University, tells of a manuscript in the British Museusm preserving the text of a letter sent to his son by a Syrian named Mara Bar-Serapion. In prison at the time of the writing, the father pleads with his son to be wise. He illustrated the folly of persecuting wise men like Socrates, Pythagoras, and the wise king of the Jews, which the context obviously shows to be Jesus.

What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their king?

It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger, the Samians were overwhelmed by the seas; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise King die for good; he lived on in the teaching which He had given. 6

6. British Museum Syriac Mss., F.F. Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament, p. 31.

Some inaccuracies exist in the letter, says Bruce, about Samos and Athens, but the references to Christ and to the Jews are undeniably accurate, and there is no denying the historical existence of the three men mentioned. By the time this letter was written, Jesus had already received a place of recognition equal to the sages of the ages. Jesus was as real a person of history as was Socrates and Pythagoras.

3. Tacitus, Pliny, Suetonius

Three Roman officials, who held stature with emperors as well as with the empire, wrote of Jesus in such a way as to take his historical existence for granted. Their writings appeared at the turn of the century.

The first of these, usually rated as the greatest of Roman historians, was Cornelius Tacitus, who was born about A.D. 52-54. At about the age of sixty, while writing of the reign of Nero (A.D. 54-68), he told how the Christians were made scapegoats for the Great Fire of Rome in A.D. 64. It had been rumored that Nero had himself started the fire so that he could attain to glory by rebuilding the great capital city in more glorious fashion. When Tacitus wrote about this, he mentioned Jesus by the name of Christus:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus. 7 To Tacitus, a pagan who knew little or nothing of Jewish messianism, "Christus" was more than likely only a proper name; but to him, Christus was as real as the Roman procurator who executed him.

C. Plinius Secundus, called Pliny the Younger to distinguish him from his uncle, the elder Pliny, was governor of Bithynia about A.D.112. He often wrote to the Emperor Trajan asking his Imperial advice on how best to deal with the problem of the Christians in his province. According to him, they were causing trouble. In one of his letters, he spoke of Christ as he reported of some information which he extracted from some Christian girls by torture, "They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang an anthem to Christ as God, and bound themselves by a solemn oath not to commit any wicked deed . . . after which it was their custom to separate, and then meet again to partake of food, but food of an ordinary kind."8

7. The Annals and the Histories, 15:44. From Britannica Great Books, Vol. 15, p. 168.

8. Epistles, 10:96.

Pliny seemed to be perplexed by the innocence of the whole matter, and perhaps to keep from countermanding any governmental policies about Christians, he thought it best to write to the Emperor before taking any action.

There is also a testimony to the historical Jesus from Suetonius, annalist and court official of the Imperial House during the reign of Hadrian. About A.D.120, he wrote the Life of Claudius. From this work comes his most famous statement: "As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he (Claudius) expelled them from Rome."9 The reason for the fame of this quotation is due to the fact that Luke, some sixty years earlier, had recorded this same incident as the reason for the apostle Paul yoking up with a Christian Jewish couple named Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:1-2). Again, the mention of Christ in the historical context is observed in extra- biblical literature.

After having referred to the above three Roman officials as an evidence for the actual existence of Jesus Christ, Durant explains that while these references prove the existence of Christians rather than of Christ, unless we assume that Christ did indeed live, we will be driven to the "improbable hypothesis that Jesus was invented in one generation; moreover we must suppose that the Christian community in Rome had been established some years before 52, to merit the attention of an imperial decree."10

9. Life of Claudius, 25:4.

10. Durant, Caesar and Christ, p. 555.

When this evidence is compiled in the company of such an historian as Tacitus and with Roman officials of the stature of Pliny and Suetonius, it makes the historical reality of Jesus as certain as that of any outstanding figure of antiquity.

FROM JEWISH SOURCES

1. The Talmud

There are two separate books of writings dealing with Jewish law called the Talmud. The first of these is the Mishnah, which is the Jewish code of religious jurisprudence. It began to be compiled sometime after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and was completed about A.D. 200. This great body of newly codified case law became the object of Jewish study from which grew a body of commentaries called Gemaras. Together, the Mishnah (the law book) and the Gemara (the commentary) are called the Talmud. Being Jewish, suffice it to say, all references to "Yeshu'a of Nazareth" in the Talmudic writings are unfriendly, but nevertheless sufficient in number to establish beyond doubt his historical reality.

2. Josephus

The most important references to the historical Jesus from a Jewish source is from a former Jewish general turned historian by the name of Flavius Josephus. In his writings he tells us who he was, what he did, and his own evaluation of a historian. He wrote of many of the outstanding persons we read of in the New Testament: Pilate; Quirinius of Syria (during whose governorship Rome enrolled the Empire for taxation purposes); the Caesars; the Herods; the Pharisees and the Sadducees; Annas and Caiaphas, who had Jesus crucified; Felix and Festus, under whose governorships the apostle Paul was arrested and before whom he spoke of Jesus; Jesus' brother, James; and John the Baptist.

Most significant is his reference to Jesus himself in the following words:

And there arose about this time Jesus, a wise man, if indeed we should call him a man; for he was a doer of marvelous deeds, a teacher of men who receive the truth with pleasure. He won over many Jews and also many Greeks. This man was the Messiah. And when Pilate had condemned him to the cross at the instigation of our own leaders, those who had loved him from the first did not cease. For he appeared to them on the third day alive again, as the prophets had predicted and said many other wonderful things about him. And even now the race of Christians, so named after him, has not yet died out. 11

11. Antiquities, 18, 3.3.

All attempts to discredit this reference to Jesus as having been dressed up by a Christian copiest have failed. The reference is included in all of the manuscripts of Josephus, including the copy from which the fourth-century historian, Eusebius, read and quoted.

At the close of his excellent book offering evidence for the historical reliability of the New Testament, F.F. Bruce has observed,

Whatever else may be thought of the evidence from early Jewish and Gentile writers . . . it does at least establish, for those who refuse the witness of Christian writings, the historical character of Jesus himself. Some writers may toy with the fancy of a 'Christ-myth,' but they do not do so on the ground of historical evidence. The historicity of Christ is as axiomatic for an unbiased historian as the historicity of Julius Caesar. It is not historians who propagate the Christ-myth'' theories.

The most descriptive account of the crucifixion of Christ was written over 1,000 years before Jesus was born. This vivid detail of the anguish of Jesus as He bore our sins leaves little doubt that the crucifixion was a part of God's plan from the beginning. As a part of this Easter season, I want to take a closer look at the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I don't only want to look at this in light of scripture, but in light of history as well. What evidence outside the Bible validates the biblical account? Obviously, in a short study like this, I can only hit the highlights of this subject. I want to take a brief look at history and the biblical account that gives reasonable evidence to believe. I often hear skeptics say that they will not believe Jesus existed without irrefutable proof. This is completely illogical. To put this in perspective, you can't prove absolutely that anyone in history has existed. To say that there can be no room for question discounts every argument on every subject. A person of reason will look at the evidence and based on that evidence, he or she will determine which is credible. With Christianity for some reason, that rule is disregarded. One common argument is that there is no evidence outside the Bible that verifies the Bible's claims. In this study we also will look at historical accounts that are widely accepted as credible by both biblical scholars and secular historians. Lets take a brief look at the Life, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus.

The Life of Jesus

How do we know that Jesus really existed? How do we know that Abraham Lincoln existed or George Washington or the founding fathers who signed our declaration of Independence testifying that they were all eye-witnesses to this history and agree to its contents? We know they existed because historical documents tell us they existed and we hold these as credible testimony. As individuals, very few of these men are mentioned in great detail. Mostly their names show up in history as having been at an event but little is known about them as individuals. Where is Jesus mentioned in history?

Obviously, the Bible will give the detailed description of Jesus because He is the central figure of the Bible. However, Jesus is accounted for in many other historical documents.First, lets look at the Talmud. The Talmud is a historical document that includes commentaries on the Jewish books of the law and civil and religious records. The Talmud is very hostile to Jesus. The Talmud praises the trial, conviction and execution of Jesus. The Talmud also refers to Jesus as a bastard son of Mary. The account of Jesus in this historical document was clearly written by those who were openly enemies of Jesus. In a courtroom, if your enemy testifies on your behalf, willingly or unwillingly, it is a highly credible testimony. The Talmud testifies on behalf of many of the Bible's claims about Jesus. It verifies the existence of Jesus, that Jesus was a teacher, the trial of Jesus as instigated by the religious leaders, and the conviction and crucifixion of Jesus. Even more importantly, the Talmud verifies that Jesus performed many healings and miracles. It claims that Jesus did these through sorcery, but the key evidence is that the enemies of Jesus do not dispute the miracles. They testify that Jesus indeed performed the miracles that the Bible recounts for us. If your enemy validates your works, that is a strong testimony, even if he judges your intentions as evil.Josephus the great Jewish historian wrote about Jesus. Josephus also claimed that Jesus was a teacher that wrought many surprising feats. He won over many Jews and Greeks.

He was condemned under Pilot and killed. He appeared restored after three days and his followers were called Christians after Him.Roman governor Pliny the Younger wrote about sending Christians off to be executed for "stubbornness and unshakable obstinacy that ought not to go unpunished...". "They would not recant and they worshipped and honored Christ as if he were a god".There can be no reasonable doubt that Jesus did in fact exist and other historical documents hold testimonies that do not contradict the biblical account.

The Crucifixion

We have already seen that Josephus and the Talmud validates the crucifixion. Lets look at the picture of the crucifixion. In an essay on a popular atheist website, the writer makes the comment, "On the cross Jesus said, 'My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?' That doesn't sound much like Jesus' plan went as he expected". As we have seen from the opening passage of this study, if this atheist had been knowledgeable in what the scriptures say, he would have known that this indeed was the plan and that the Jesus' sacrifice for sin has been foretold since the beginning of the Old Testament. Not only did God foretell of Jesus' death for sin, but even foretold of the method of execution 1,0000 years before this method of torture was conjured up. The historical account of Matthew 27:46 matches the prophecy of Psalm 22. Matthew 27:46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" that is, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"

To add to the historical significance of the crucifixion, look at the following passages:

Luke 23:44 Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.

45 Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two.Matthew 27:50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.

51 Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split,

History validates these accounts as well. Thallus and Phlegon, though they did not witness the crucifixion, they were both eye witnesses to these events. Look at their accounts:

Thallus finished his historical account of the world since the Trojan war in 52 A. D. His work was destroyed but quoted by Julius Africanus in AD 221. Julius gives a commentary on Thallus' AD 33 record of the darkness across the land. "Thallus in the third book of his histories, explains away the darkness as an eclipse of the sun - unreasonably as it seems to me."

A Greek author from Caria named Phlegon wrote about the darkness that occurred in the 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad (equivilant to 33 A.D.). "There was the greatest eclipse of the sun. It became as night in the sixth hour of the day (noon) so that the stars even appeared in the heavens. There was a great earthquake in Bithynia and many things were overturned in Nicaea".

Thallus' account did not mention an earthquake but Phlegon did, however both reported the same darkness. The earthquake was regional, but the Bible says that the darkness was over all the land. Thallus was not close enough to feel the earthquake. This is why Julius Africanus commented that Thallus' eclipse of the sun was unreasonable. To put this in perspective, look at how an eclipse occurs. If Atlanta gets a full eclipse, Texas will only get a partial eclipse. So by the same token, if two records of the same event occurred thousands of miles apart, an eclipse cannot explain it. Not to mention that even a full eclipse darkens the sky to the point where the stars are clearly seen. Another point of question is that the Passover celebration was carefully planned to coincide with the full moon. It is impossible for an eclipse to occur at the full moon because the sun must pass behind the moon. The moon can only reflect the light of the sun if it is opposite of the sun. Jesus died at the season of the Paschal new moon. Though these men may have sought natural causes to explain the darkness, they clearly validate the biblical accounts.

Two other pieces of significant evidences are the account of the pierced side and the tomb of the prominent rich councilman, Joseph of Arimathea. After Jesus died on the cross, Joseph went to Pilot and asked for the body so he could bury Him with honor. Pilot sent a soldier to verify that Jesus was already dead. The soldier verified Jesus was dead and pierced His side. The spear clearly went through to the heart and John 19:34 says that blood separated from the water poured out. The only way the blood could separate is if circulation has stopped and the blood begins to clot and separate. It is highly unlikely that John could have known this to be evidence of death and fabricated it. This era had little medical knowledge and those present could not have known.

Isaiah 53:9 foretells that Christ would die with the wicked but would be buried in the rich man's tomb. This was fulfillment. (See Mark 15:43 and Luke 23:50-51) Joseph of Arimathea was a rich, prominent member of the council that condemned Jesus to die. Fabricating the story of Joseph would have been a fatal blow to any 'conspiracy'. If the disciples were going to make up a story to fulfill this prophecy, as some have claimed, they would not have picked someone out of the council that tried Jesus. If it were a lie, they would be the first to protest and would have the public platform to dispute the claim. There is no reasonable doubt that Jesus was crucified, died and was buried in the councilman's tomb.

The Resurrection

This is the most controversial part of the biblical account of Jesus. If Jesus was not bodily resurrected, He was not God, He was not Savior and Christianity is a lie. Symbolic resurrection is not compatible with the Christian faith. The resurrection is the evidence that Jesus gave as a sign that He was who He claimed to be. The resurrection is the proof that Jesus conquered death. It is also what gives Jesus the authoritative claim that He is the resurrection that we all will experience if we are found in Christ. This alone separates Christianity from religion. The apostle Paul states that if the resurrection is not a fact, then we are false witnesses before God. He sums it up this way, "if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!" 1 Corinthians 15:17. If Jesus could not rise from the dead, He is not our savior and our faith is a lie. However, if Jesus were God in the flesh as He claimed to be, then taking up His body would be a small thing.

Lets finish this study by examining the proof of the resurrection.

To clarify the resurrection, lets first look at the arguments against it. There are many alternative views as to how skeptics believe that the disciple's pulled it off, but only two even remotely make sense. Most are so weak that no one who uses reason would consider them valid. Even the two more common views are so weak that most skeptics don't even give them credibility. Most skeptics try to argue Jesus out of history so that they avoid the debate all together. History does not support them, but that doesn't seem to be a deterrent.

The Swoon Theory. This alternative explanation has been repackaged with many variations. The most popular variant was 'The Passover Plot' published in 1965. The basic argument is that Jesus and His disciples conspired to fulfill messianic prophecies by faking Jesus' death on the cross. They managed to manipulate the Jewish leaders into trying Him, the people into demanding the crucifixion and the Roman government into executing Him. The legal manipulation would have been a miracle in itself. Before being nailed to the cross, Jesus was given a drug that appeared to make him look dead and trick the soldiers into removing Him from the cross while he was still alive. The cool damp air of the tomb revived Him and He appeared alive to His followers. By just using simple logic, this argument fails miserably. The first obvious flaw that jumps out to me is, how did they know Joseph would offer his tomb? If you can believe that Joseph and Pilot were a part of this conspiracy, there are plenty of other flaws to fight through. Jesus was beaten so badly that He was too weak to carry His own cross and a bystander was commissioned for Him. He had nails driven through His wrists and feet. The blood loss is hard to escape. The blood poured out His feet, hands, back from the beating, and finally between His ribs when the spear pierced His heart.

If someone can get past the impossible odds of survival, there are a few more problems. How does a man who has had spikes driven through his limbs get up and walk? Somehow Jesus revived, untangled himself and pushed a massive stone away from the entrance of the tomb without any guards seeing it and ran away unnoticed. Not only did he escape, but he also walked seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus with two travelers who did not notice he was wounded. How is it that most people can't walk with minor pain in their feet, but Jesus was able to walk with holes in His? He had full use of His hands because he took over the evening meal and broke bread. We could come up with dozens of functions that would cause Him excruciating pain if this was a faked resurrection. Not to mention how weakly He must have looked. It seems a little hard to get the multitudes fired up by seeing a half-dead Jesus.

The stolen body theory. This is the only counter-argument that is even remotely logical. It also has flaws that can't be explained. First, who stole the body? It is undeniable that the body of Jesus was no longer in the grave. The disciples, Jews and Roman soldiers all concurred that the body was missing. As one historian put it, "history's silence is deafening concerning the body of Jesus. No one has ever claimed to see the body of Jesus after the resurrection." If the Jews or Romans stole it, they would have produced it. All of the efforts to squelch Christianity and the determination to explain away the resurrection would have ended quickly if someone produced the body. We know that the soldiers did not have it or they would have surely produced it. They were paid for their silence, how much would they have been paid if they produced the body? There would have been no need to think up and rehearse the story of the disciples stealing it if the soldiers had it. We know the Jews didn't have it, because they would have been the first to put it on display. This only leaves the disciples or the resurrection.

Lets look at the possibility that the disciples took Jesus' body. When Jesus was arrested, the disciples scattered like cowards. Peter was the boldest of the 12 and he denied Jesus 3 times. To show how cowardly he was at this point, he was afraid of a servant girl who probably had no say in that culture at all. Yet when she confronted Peter he called cursed down upon himself to prove he did not follow Jesus. They were too afraid to come forward to take Jesus down and help with the burial. How is it that they would suddenly be bold enough to risk certain death and sneak among the guards, break the seal, move the stone without rousing anyone and take the body. Also consider that the head cloth was neatly folded and laid beside the burial cloth. Anyone sneaking into the tomb would be hastily retreating after getting the body. They would not take the time to fold the cloth. Most likely they would not remove the cloth at all. It was also at night in an unlit tomb. This argument also does not hold water.

The final possibility is that Jesus was resurrected. We see that the evidence against the resurrection fall short, but what evidence lends credibility to the resurrection? Let's begin by examining the disciples. These men fled in all directions when Jesus was arrested and they did not offer any defense on His behalf. After the resurrection there was a dramatic change in their lives. These men who were afraid to be present at Jesus' burial now were going into the very city where the crucifixion occurred and were boldly proclaiming His resurrection at their own peril. The crowds were still present and so were the council members that tried Jesus and soldiers who crucified Him. Why would they suddenly have such a change of heart that they would preach the same Jesus that they had just denied? Not only did they preach the resurrection, but they also condemned those responsible for His death and called them to repent so they could be forgiven. To create a legend, you don't go where the eyewitnesses are and exaggerate when the facts are still fresh. Legends are born by carrying the story to a distant land or waiting until the facts have faded. The disciples went to where the iron was still hot. They proclaimed the resurrection before those whom they knew would examine the facts.

There were many eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ. Look at Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 15:

6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.

7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.

8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.

Paul presented his claim before those that could question him and in fact is inviting them to question. He is saying, most of these witnesses are still alive and available to examine. People may be willing to die for what they believe to be true, but who would die for what they knew to be a lie? The eleven disciples saw Jesus die. They gained absolutely no financial gain from this faith. Just the opposite, they lost everything except their joy and the hope of heaven. When Jesus was alive, their hope was their expectation of an earthly kingdom. After the resurrection, they lived for Christ with reckless abandon as they were committed to the hope given to them for the life and the kingdom to come. Only John died of old age however he was beaten, imprisoned and banished to the isle of Patmos. This island was where criminals were sent to die - from starvation or from the hands of other criminals. Each of the other disciples were beaten repeatedly and killed. Look at how Jesus' disciples died and see if this sounds like men clinging to a lie:

All of these men could have lived if they had said one statement: "He is dead". But they refused. Above the accounts of their deaths, this doesn't account for the tortures they endured. Paul was stoned 3 times and survived. He was beaten with 40 strips from a cat of nine tails on 5 occasions, and imprisoned repeatedly. Similar stories follow the other apostles. They lived lives that would be considered sheer misery by the world, yet they ejoiced in their sufferings. Not one of them caved in and chose the easy life. Can anyone believe that not one of these men would deny his resurrection unless they absolutely witnessed the resurrected Christ? What did they have to gain by forming this kind of religion? They lost property and often were abandoned by friends and family. Even if you could believe that these men were willing to suffer for a lie, would they be willing to draw their own friends and families into suffering? They may have suffered for Christ on the outside, but they rejoiced openly and lived with joy and peace that their captors did not have and could not understand. Throughout history, many of the very people who have persecuted Christians have become Christians. As they saw the strength, joy and peace that defied logic, they saw their own lives as meaningless. There are many testimonies of captors who witnessed persecution who said, "I want what that person has".

If they had stolen the body of Jesus in hopes of being religious elitist, they would have quit their quest to found a religion around Him when the illusions of grandeur proved to be a failure. If it were a lie, they would quickly have tired of the beatings. Look at James, the brother of Jesus. He rejected Jesus during His life. I am sure that he thought of his older brother as just another sibling and a delusional one at that. Yet after seeing the resurrected Christ James was a changed man as well. He no longer called himself the brother of Jesus but a bondservant of Christ. Not a single critic ever questioned that the tomb was empty. There was no doubt of this fact. The real question is, which testimony do you believe? Those who reject Christ or those who were eye witness testimonies to His resurrection and GLADLY suffered for their proclamation of this truth?

Are the gospels reliable? What about the differences? One of the biggest arguments against the gospels is that they have slight differences. The irony is that if all the gospels were identical, they would have zero credibility. These same critics would say they were written by the same person. Critics of the gospels argue both sides and don't see their own contradiction. Skeptics claim that the later church doctored the manuscripts to support their beliefs and then these same critics point out the differences as proof of error. First, if the later church had doctored the manuscripts, why didn't they fix the differences? Second, we know the manuscripts were not doctored because we now have documents dating back before the 'questionable' era and there are virtually no differences. By all standards, even the harshest critics agree that the scriptures have maintained an incredible accuracy over the centuries.

Also consider the testimonial aspect. If three witnesses testified to being eyewitnesses to an event and their stories matched completely with the exception of a few supporting details, would that evidence be valid? By all standards it would. In fact, if there were no differences, it would raise serious doubts to their credibility. The scriptures provide Matthew, Mark and John as eyewitness accounts to the life of Christ and they all agree. Luke comes in as a character witness that makes an airtight case. Luke was not an eyewitness. Luke wanted to do two things. He wanted to give Theophilus a complete explanation of who Jesus was and he wanted to compile all the testimonies that had been handed down 2nd and 3rd generation from eyewitnesses. This is an extremely important testimony. This is how we know if the word and doctrine handed down agrees with the events that actually occurred. The gospels were not widely known at the time. If Luke had known of the other gospel accounts, he would have provided these to Theophilus.

The differences in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and John prove that the apostles each one was written without knowledge of the others. The gospel of Luke proves that the gospel was accurately handed down without becoming sensationalized. There is virtually no difference between Luke's account that was passed by testimony and the apostle's accounts that were witnessed directly. These three witnesses and the character witness of Luke would hold up under any cross-examination.

The earliest apostle writings can be dated back to eyewitnesses. You can't make that claim from other religions. Christianity was written down closer to the actual events than other religions. The Gathas of Zoroaster were estimated around 1000 BC but didn't make it into writings until after the third century AD and the most popular Parsi biography was written in 1278. Buddha lived in the sixth century BC, but the scriptures of Buddha were not written until the first century AD. Muhammad died in 632 AD but his sayings were not written for more than 100 years, 767 AD. Unlike other religions, outside the Bible there are many supporting witnesses that verify the accuracy of the accounts of scripture.

Without the Bible, we can prove through historical evidence that: