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Evidence for Christianity

February 26th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

There are many who believe being a Christian requires blind faith. Others claim that believing in God is like believing in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

If you reject Christianity for purely intellectual reasons then you demonstrate a lack of understanding and/or prejudice. There is intellectual material available for both sides.

Dr. Simon Greenleaf, the Royal Professor of Law at Harvard University was one of the greatest legal minds that ever lived. He was determined once and for all to prove that the resurrection of Jesus was a hoax using the jurisdiction of legal evidence. When we was finished he came to the opposite conclusion and wrote a book about it: An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists: By the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice. The book is a dry read mainly because it’s a lawyer building a case using the jurisdiction of legal evidence.

Lee Strobel in The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus makes some very powerful arguments and introduces a lot of evidence. I highly recommend his book.

So what is the evidence?

Let us first examine the resurrection of Jesus because it’s a corner stone of the Christian faith.

The first piece of evidence is the ancient writings of Tacitus, a Roman historian from around the 2nd century A.D. In Annals 15.44 he mentions Jesus being crucified by Pontius Pilate. Here is direct evidence from an early non-Christian source that Jesus was crucified.

So now we have evidence that Jesus was a real person and was crucified, but how do we know he rose from the dead?

The New Testament says that Jesus was buried in a tomb then 3 days later his body had risen, disappeared. The claim is that Jesus’ followers stole his body. Let’s say for example that this is the case, Peter, James, John, et al. stole Jesus’ body then started making claims they saw him risen from the dead. This theory falls apart once these guys start getting killed, because this would imply that they died to protect a lie. Who dies to protect a lie? What would their motive even be? If Christ didn’t die and resurrect then we have to imply that James, John and Peter all died to cover up a lie. That sounds pretty unlikely. Consider that Peter said he didn’t know Jesus (Matthew 26:71-75) when he faced an angry mob. Yet this all changed after he saw Christ risen from the dead.

How do we know any of them died? A good example is Jesus’ brother James. Josephus was a 1st century historian who worked for the Romans. According to a passage in his Jewish Antiquities dated to 62 A.D. said: the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James met his death after the death of the procurator Porcius Festus, yet before Lucceius Albinus took office (Antiquities 20,9). Here we have a non-Christian source mentioning the death of James. According to Hegesippus, another early Christian historian, wrote:

They came, therefore, in a body to James, and said: “We entreat thee, restrain the people: for they are gone astray in their opinions about Jesus, as if he were the Christ.

Here we have a group of people approaching James to calm an angry crowd because they had opinions that Jesus was Christ. To their dismay James declined.

To the scribes’ and Pharisees’ dismay, James boldly testified that Christ “Himself sitteth in heaven, at the right hand of the Great Power, and shall come on the clouds of heaven.”

So what happened next?

threw down the just man… [and] began to stone him: for he was not killed by the fall; but he turned, and kneeled down, and said: “I beseech Thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

You have James being stoned to death yet he will not tell a lie to the crowd and deny Jesus Christ. Would he do this to cover up a lie? Very unlikely.

How do we know the tomb was empty? Lee Strobel in his book The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus mentions the criterion of embarrassment: if writer of ancient document is telling something that embarrasses themselves then they are telling the truth about it.

Josephus says:

But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex…..; since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment.

(Joshephus, Antiquities 4.8.15)

Jewish Talmud says:

Any evidence which a woman [gives] is not valid (to offer), also they are not valid to offer.

In the first century a woman’s word was worthless, yet the New Testament reports that a woman discovered the empty tomb. If they were making this stuff up they would have never said a woman discovered the empty tomb, it hurts their case and is embarrassing. Surely they would have said Peter or John discovered the empty tomb.

There is much more to say about the evidence regarding Jesus Christ.

For further reading I recommend these books:
The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict Fully Updated To Answer The Questions Challenging Christians Today

Jesus Is Alive!: Evidence for the Resurrection Children’s Edition

The Real Jesus: A Defense of the Historicity & Divinity of Christ

The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus

The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity

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