The Validity Of The Bible In An Age Of Skepticism – Part 2

Let me give you just a quick review. Last week I started by sharing how C.S. Lewis, who had been an atheist for 31 years of his life, said that there were two events that impacted him and led him to Christ – to faith in Christ. One was reading G.K. Chesterton’s book, Everlasting Man, and the second was having the most militant atheist on the Oxford faculty staff, a guy by the name of T.D. Wilden, admit to him that the historical authenticity of the Gospel seemed to be surprisingly sound. And Lewis said it stunned him. This guy was kind of one of his heroes and it stunned him. In fact, he even used the word it “haunted” him.  And it led him on a journey – a spiritual journey. And he began to read the New Testament. And Lewis, who had spent his life studying ancient manuscripts, was surprised at what he read. And he concluded, these could not be myths and legends as he had always believed and ultimately this was the path that led him to Christ.  Then I talked about Anne Rice, the prominent author who wrote all those vampire novels and she grew up in the Catholic Church, and then, in college, she says, “I departed from the faith, I married an atheist” and then she got rich writing these vampire novels. At about the time that The DaVinci Code came out, she felt motivated to kinda do her own search for the historical Jesus and she was shocked at all that she read and then, I think surprised everybody that knew her when she acknowledged she had become a Christian and was returning to the Christian faith. And it was the historical soundness of the Gospels that played a major role in her spiritual transformation. Now think about this, here you have two people who both believed, and lived, I guess you could say, with the belief that Jesus was a myth. And the reason they believed this was because they were convinced the Bible was a book full of myths. But once they confronted, or were confronted I guess you could say, with the strong possibility that the Bible was historical and true, it led them down a path to Christ. And if you think about it, if the Gospels are true, then Jesus, the Son of God coming into the world would be as even Larry King has admitted, the defining moment in all of history. And so today I want to talk with you about Christianity and the historical record. Probably one of the most respected books on the religions of the world is a book that’s written by a guy by the name of Huston Smith. It sold over a million copies. Bill Moyer says it’s the best book on comparative religion out there because he says it’s very objective and it’s very respectful of all religions. And Smith, the author, who was very well educated, I did some research on, and all I could conclude is he didn’t have any particular religious leaning. Very unbiased. And in the book, it’s a very thick book, when he got to Christianity, he says this, he started with these words, I quote, “Christianity is basically a historical religion that is founded not on abstract principles but in concrete events. Actual historical happenings.” And it’s interesting; he doesn’t say this about any other of the world religions. You see, the Bible, unlike other religious literature, is not centered in a series of moral, spiritual, and liturgical teachings but in what God did in history and what he revealed in history. This is why Peter Moore has said Christianity is the only world religion to make spiritual truth depend on historical events. It’s interesting when you read the Gospels; Jesus is often challenged by the religious leaders to give them a sign. In other words, you know, Jesus, we’ve heard all these great things about you, we’ve heard about these miracles you’ve supposedly performed. We want to see one. We want to see something spectacular. Listen to this; it’s straight from Matthew 12. Listen to what Jesus says, Matthew 12:38, “Some of the Scribes and Pharisees said to him, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.’ But he answered and said to them, ‘an evil and adulterous generation prays for a sign and yet no sign will be given to it except’” and he gives them this cryptic kind of message, he says, except “‘the sign of Jonah the prophet. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.’”  And he was alluding to the fact, and then “he will come forth“. And that word “sign” in the Greek literally means “an attesting miracle”. They wanted an attesting miracle. They wanted him to perform for them. The problem is that Jesus then, just as God does now, he doesn’t perform on our terms. But what Jesus does say is interesting, he says I am going to give you a sign, an attesting miracle. It won’t be a scientific discovery, it won’t be a philosophical argument, he said it will be a single event that would take place during his lifetime, really the end of his lifetime her eon earth, he says it will be an historical event. In fact, the Bible says, at the proper time he came into the world and he died. And he said and I will rise again. That will be the attesting miracle. So what I’m saying is the sign or the attesting miracle that Jesus said he would provide could not be proved by scientific means or by philosophical argument but would have to be proven historically. Now, let me talk to you a minute about the nature of historical proof. And, to do this, I’m going to tell you about an event that took place in my life. I assure you it was not a significant event. It was to me at the time but it took place 45 years ago, February of 1966. I was in the sixth grade, I was 12 years old, and I played in the basketball game. I played for Highlands. It was Highlands Day at the time, we call it Highlands now and we played McElwain Elementary. McElwain was not very good and it was one of those days, maybe if you guys that play golf can relate, it was one of those days where everything goes right for you. Now I was not a great basketball player, I was okay. As I tell my boys, I could shoot, I just couldn’t dribble. That’s the problem; you know in basketball, you’ve got to be able to do both. But it was one of those days that every shot I threw up, went in. And I ended the day, I made 20 points. Probably the only time I ever scored in double figures. Now let’s say, somebody hired you and said I want you to prove that that actually happened. Forty-five years ago. Here this guy is saying he scored 20 points, he could be lying. I guess I could be. But I made 20 points. Now, if you set out to prove this, alright I want to prove this, I guess you could start by going to people who knew me as a kid and ask, Did Richard play basketball as a kid? And you would find them all tell you, oh, he loved basketball. Played all the time, always out in the back yard shooting. Then I guess you could go to McElwain Elementary, I don’t, like I said, I don’t event know if it even exists anymore, and find out were they in existence 45 years ago. Did they have a basketball team? A sixth grade basketball team? You could go to Highlands and you could say was Richard enrolled as a student. Did you exist 45 years ago? You would find all of these to be yes. Then you could go to some of my teammates, as far as I know, all of them are still alive. A number of them live in this town. You could go to them and ask them, eyewitnesses. Do you remember that day, and several of them, let’s assume they say, yes, I do remember that day, he was out of his mind, the way he was shooting. And then let’s say that you found out that the Shades Valley YMCA, this was a YMCA program, has in their basement, all the scores, I don’t know what you’d call them, the scores book from the past. And you go through them and you find the year 1966, you find February, sixth grade basketball, you find the Highlands – McElwain game and you see the name Simmons. Nine baskets, two free throws, 20 points. Let me ask you this question. Based on all of that, could you conclude, reasonably, that I scored 20 points 45 years ago against McElwain Elementary? You see, that’s the nature of historical proof. This is what historical inquiry is all about. This is how you prove something historically. As the famous historian, John Ward Montgomery said, that in the historical arena, we have to accept probability in historical judgments. Based on the historical records and the evidence that is available. You see Christians believe that as wonderful as Jesus’ life and teachings were, they are meaningless if they’re not historically true. In fact, the apostle Paul said that if the resurrection did not actually happen, if it did not take place, the Christian faith is worthless. In fact, because of that, many a scholar over the years, have set out to prove that the resurrection never really happened. Knowing that if they could, it would bring down Christianity. But no one has been able to do it. In fact, I know of three scholars, they’ve all written books, who set out with that objective and in the process, all three of them became Christians. Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, and Frank Morrison. In fact, I would say if any of you know Frank Limehouse down at the Advent, as an agnostic for so many years, the thing that turned his life around and turned him to Christ, was when he was challenged with the veracity of the resurrection. You see, for centuries, scholars have approached the Bible as they would any other ancient historical text. They ask the right questions that any historian would ask. Did this event really take place? Did it happen as described? What are the sources? What evidence is available? And these are legitimate questions. They are questions I began to think about almost 30 years ago. When I stumbled upon a history book of ancient Rome. I was at a used book sale and I found this book, this old textbook on roman history, and I bought it and I took it home, and I found there was a section on Tiberias Caesar. The book said he was emperor from around 14 or 15 A.D. to 37 A.D. Then I went to the Bible and I looked up the verse because I knew the name Tiberias Caesar was in there. And Tiberias Caesar is mentioned right at the time Jesus was starting his public ministry at 30 A.D. Therefore, Tiberias would have been the emperor for about 15 years. And Luke, who was the historian seeking to give the date of the events he was describing said in Luke Chapter 3, verse 1, he begins with these words. “Now it was in the fifteenth year in the reign of Tiberias Caesar.” Now when I read that, I was fascinated. Up until that time, I had never thought much about the Bible being in harmony with secular history. But this little discovery changed me. It created a real curiosity in my life and it resulted in all that I’ll be sharing in this series. Now I need to mention this that so much of the Bible involves spiritual truth. It’s not just a history book. So, for instance, if you read a parable, we’re not wondering if this really happened, but what is the spiritual lesson embedded in the story. On the other hand, when you read that, in Luke 3, you read that Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea and that Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, you expect a high degree of historical accuracy from the Biblical text. Now before I get into the nuts and bolts of this I want to read to you the opening words from the book of Luke. This is Luke Chapter one, the first verse. I want to read it to you real quick, because I want you to look at how he approached his work. Look at his approach. He says, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the exact truth about the things that you have been taught.” I don’t know…I have always been impressed with Luke’s approach. He was seeking to investigate that idea of historical inquiry. And he was seeking to investigate everything carefully and to present it in consecutive order as it happened. Now, we’re not certain who Theophilus was. Most think he was a wealthy Roman Christian, most likely a benefactor who supported Luke in his work as an historian, particularly as Luke accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys that you read about in the book of Acts. But what strikes me are these words in verse 4, “that you may know the exact truth.”  You know, it seems that those who wrote the historical books of the New Testament, particularly the four Gospels and the book of Acts, were indeed interested in history. They saw their responsibility as to describe real people and real events and they clearly were concerned with accuracy and they were very precise in their detail. Furthermore, in the Gospels, three of the writers, Matthew, Mark and John were eyewitnesses to Jesus and to his ministry and to his resurrection. And you know what, they were men of unbelievable integrity. Dr. Craig Blomberg, who is widely considered to be one of the country’s foremost authorities on the history of Jesus’ life says, “In the lives’ of the disciples, we see them reporting the words and actions of a man who called them to as exacting a level of integrity as any religion has ever known. They were willing to live out their beliefs even to the point that 10 of the 11 remaining disciples were put to grisly deaths which shows what kind of character they had. In terms of honesty, in terms of truthfulness, in terms of virtue and morality, these people had a track record that should be envied.”  C.S. Lewis makes an interesting observation and he was a great thinker, had a great mind and he said, the bottom line is, there are two possible views of the Gospel accounts. Not three or four. He says there are two possible views, he concluded. He said, “Either this is reporting of events that actually took place and this reporting is as close to the facts as possible, or some unknown writer in the first or second century, without any known predecessor or successor, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern novelistic, realistic fiction. They would have to come up with a very conscious and very deliberate system of lies.” He said, “They would then have to write it up and send it around the Roman Empire and then those involved in spreading the lies, starting with the disciples, would go out and die for these lies.” Ten of the eleven, left over after Judas, as I read a minute ago, died grisly deaths. They were tortured and killed. He goes on to say, “If you read the history of the Church, it is hard to believe that Jesus’ followers deliberately wrote lies and then died for those lies and then a huge movement followed that eventually transformed the Roman world.” And then like, I think it was 350 A.D., it became the official religion of the Roman world under Constantine. I think Peter Kreeft asks a very penetrating question, he asks this question, “Why would the apostles lie? What would be their motive?” You know, usually you lie because somehow it will benefit you or keep you out of trouble. He says, what do they get out of this? Misunderstanding, rejection, persecution, torture, and martyrdom. Hardly a list of perks. Now before moving on to something I think many of you probably ask, I do want to say, and I mentioned this a second ago, but I want to come back to it, so many of the writers did not say, well, we heard this, they continually remind us, they were eyewitnesses.  As Peter himself said in II Peter 1:16, “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” Now, one of the most common questions that is asked is why are there not more non-Biblical historians who lived during this time who wrote about Jesus. Well, I have two responses. The first is Jesus lived in the most desolate part of the Roman Empire called Palestine. It was an agrarian region where few people could read or write. They depended on the Jewish religious leaders for that, and of course, the Jewish religious leaders didn’t look on Jesus very favorably. However, there are some ancient documents that refer to Jesus as a sorcerer who led the Jews astray. In fact, there is a professor M. Wilcox, who wrote a very scholarly work called Jesus in the Light of His Jewish Environment, and he says this, “The Jewish traditional literature, although it mentions Jesus only quite sparingly, supports the Gospel claim that he was a healer and a miracle worker even though it ascribes these activities to sorcery. In addition, it preserves the recollection that he was a teacher and that he had disciples and that at least in the earlier Rabbinic period, not all the sages had finally made up their minds that he was either a heretic or a deceiver.” But this led Craig Blomberg to respond, “This acknowledges that Jesus really did work some wonder, although the Jewish writers dispute the source of his power.” Now the second response that I would give you is this. There were, in fact, a large number of non-Biblical historians who lived during this time and who did, in fact, write about Jesus. In fact, in his book, The Verdict of History, historian Gary Habermas, details a total of 39 ancient sources. These are sources that document the life of Christ. Now some of these were Christian historians, but they were non-Biblical, but most of them were not, many of them were not, I would say. But this is what’s interesting to put this in perspective. There are only nine ancient sources that mention Tiberias Caesar. Only nine. Here’s a guy that was the emperor of Rome for 22 years and there are only nine ancient sources that mention him and talk about him where there are 39 that mention Jesus. Now some of them mention Jesus just in a paragraph or two. Now we don’t have time for me to go through all 39. But let me just share some words from three of them. The first was Cornelius Tacitus. He was born in 57 A.D., considered the greatest historian of the Roman Empire. In fact, the Cambridge book of Ancient History says, Tacitus’ writings are by far the most comprehensive and reliable ancient source of information of the Roman government, particularly during the time of Tiberias. Tacitus wrote a history of Rome and at the time of Nero, he wrote about the emperor’s horrific decision to burn Rome down.  Now listen to these words of Tacitus. He says, “Therefore, to stop the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits and punished with the utmost refinements of cruelty a class of men loathed for their vices, whom the crowd styled as Christians. Christ, from whom they got their name, had been executed by sentence of the procurator, Pontius Pilate, when Tiberias was emperor, and the pernicious superstition was checked for a short time, only to break out afresh, not only in Judea, the home of the plague, but in Rome itself, where all the horrible and shameful things of the world collect and find a home.” Here, Tacitus corroborates the existence of Jesus, his followers are called Christians, he was executed by Pontius Pilate, and he lived during the reign of Tiberias Caesar. Justin Martyr, a second historian, lived from 65 A.D. to 110 A.D.  We read this description of the early church. He said on the day called Sunday there is a gathering together to one place of all those who live in cities or in the country and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as long as time permits. Martyr, who was a Christian historian, in his writings, he often quotes the gospels, and he’d begin his citations with these important words, “It is written” or “God has said“. You see therefore, at a very early date, the Gospels were recognized to have spiritual authority. And probably one of the most interesting writings about Jesus comes from a Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, born in 37 A.D. He’s touted as the greatest Jewish historian of antiquity. He’s famous for a work that is now known as The Antiquities of the Jews. And in this massive work, The Antiquities of the Jews are these words. “Now they have caused some controversy, and I’m going to tell you why. But everybody attributes these words to Josephus. He says, about this time, there lived Jesus, a wise man, indeed if one ought to call him a man, for he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people to accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him, accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those that had in the first place, did not give up their affection for him. On the third day, he appeared to them restored to life for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, has still to this day, not disappeared.” I think I need to mention, Josephus was born right at the time that Christ died so he lived in that period. Now this is where the controversy is. Clearly, Josephus makes these remarks about Jesus there in the books that he wrote. But Jewish scholars and now, I think even Christian scholars, and I probably would agree with them, that, as authentic as it is, there are a couple of interpolations in there. An interpolation is where the early copyist inserted some phrases that a Jewish writer like Josephus would not have written. I mean, think about it. Here he is Jewish, he wasn’t a Christian and he said, “Jesus was the Messiah.” Josephus wouldn’t have said that, in all likelihood. Because you read in other places, he says, he was called the Messiah, which sounds like something a Jewish historian might say. People called him the Messiah. Now when it talks about the resurrection on the third day, appeared to them, restored to life, it probably originally said, “his disciples allege that he rose“, that’s the way history deals with it now, his disciples and the early believers allege that he rose again on the third day. Yet, nevertheless, Edwin Yamauchi, who Lee Strobel says is one of our country’s leading experts in ancient history, says this about that passage, “It’s a powerful passage, even if you change and correct the interpolations.” He says that Josephus clearly wrote these words. There’s no doubt about it with the exception of those interpolations. He says, “But even if there are these interpolations, Josephus corroborates important information about Jesus, that he was the martyred leader of the Church in Jerusalem, and that he was a wise teacher who had established a wide and lasting following, despite the fact that he had been crucified under Pontius Pilate, at the instigation of some of the Jewish leaders.”  Now what’s interesting, guys, if we had no Bible, if we had no Bible to go on, and all we had was ancient secular history to go by, this is what we would know about Jesus, of all the ancient sources, this is what we would know, Jesus lived during the time of Tiberias Caesar, he lived a virtuous life, he was a wonder worker, he had a brother named James, he was acclaimed to be the Messiah, he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he was crucified on the eve of the Jewish Passover, darkness and earthquake occurred when he died, his disciples believed he rose from the dead, his disciples were willing to die for their belief, Christianity spread rapidly as far as Rome and his disciples denied the Roman’s god, the Roman gods and worshipped Jesus. Yamauchi says, put all this together and you’ve got persuasive evidence that corroborates all the essentials found in the biographies of Jesus. Even if you were to throw away every last copy of the Gospel, you would still have a picture of Jesus that’s extremely compelling, in fact, it’s a portrait of the unique Son of God. Dr. Norman Geisler says this runs even deeper because of what it says about the New Testament. He says here you have these ancient secular historians, collectively revealing a storyline, congruent with the New Testament record. I questioned whether I ought to read this next part to you, but I’m going to really get into this when we get to the part on ancient documents, but Geisler says something very interesting and I want to read it to you real quick, and then I’m going to close this up. He says, “Beginning in February of A.D. 303, the Roman emperor Diocletian ordered three edicts of persecution upon Christians because he believed that the existence of Christianity was breaking the covenant between Rome and her gods. The edicts called for the destruction of churches, the destruction of all manuscripts and books, and the killing of Christians.” He says, “Hundreds, if not thousands of manuscripts were destroyed across the Roman empire during this persecution which lasted until A.D. 311.” But he says this, “Even if Diocletian had succeeded in wiping away every Biblical manuscript off the face of the earth, he could not have destroyed our ability to reconstruct the New Testament. Why? Because the early Church Fathers, such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, and others, quoted the New Testament so much, in fact, 36,289 times to be exact, that all but 11 verses of the New Testament can be reconstructed just from the quotations from these writings.” In other words, you could go down to your local public library, check out the works of the Early Church Fathers, and read nearly the entire New Testament, just from their quotations of it. So, we have not only thousands of manuscripts, but thousands of quotations from those manuscripts. In conclusion, I want to share something that I think is very powerful. You know, in the New Testament, Luke who writes the book of Luke and the book of Acts, which is a total of about 52 chapters, a great deal of the New Testament, you see incredible detail. He was a physician and a historian and in the book of Luke, as we read a few minutes ago, he got most of his information from other eyewitnesses and he did that detail historic inquiry. But in the book of Acts, particularly the last part, he was an eyewitness. And it’s interesting as you read the book of Acts, you see an incredible array of knowledge of local places, names, environmental conditions, customs, and circumstances. They could only be described by an eyewitness who was there. Classical scholar and historian Colin Hemmer chronicles Luke’s accuracy in the book of Acts verse by verse with incredible detail. In the last 16 chapters of Acts, he identifies 84 facts that have been confirmed by historical and archeological research. And I can provide that list for you if you’re interested in it. This leads to my last thought this morning. One of the great archeologists, who did all of his work in the Middle East, was a man by the name of Sir William Ramsay. He was English. He was an Oxford scholar and he was an archeologist. Ramsay was an atheist and he was the son of atheists of great wealth. He received his doctorate at Oxford and committed his entire life to archeology. He was convinced that he could undermine the validity of the Bible. And the way he set out to do this was to discredit the book of Acts. And he felt like he could do it because it had so much in there that could be discredited. Interesting. After 30 years of study, he realized he couldn’t do it, because he clearly recognized that Luke, the author of the book of Acts, and these are Ramsay’s own words, “was exact down to the most minute details“. In his diggings and through his study, Ramsay uncovered hundreds of artifacts which confirmed the historicity of the New Testament record until finally in one of his books, he revealed that he’d become a Christian. Which obviously stunned the archeological world. But listen to what Ramsay said about Luke. It’s fascinating. He said, and I quote, “Luke is a historian of the first rank. Not merely are his statements as facts trustworthy, this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.” Now guys, these are strong words and they are so important because remember how we started. Christianity is the only world religion where spiritual truth depends on the veracity of certain historical events.

Let me close with prayer. Father, we’re truly grateful that you have not left us out in the dark but that you’ve given us the scriptures, the Bible, which is light for our lives. Lord, I pray that you would continue to teach us through the scripture and help us to have open minds as we go through this series to ask the question, is this truly the Word of God, and, if it is, how does it relate to my life? Lord, I thank you for all these men and their lives and their friendship and their support. I thank you for them being here this morning. In Christ’s name, Amen.

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Reflections on the Existence of God


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