Is the Bible true, and how do we know? This is one of the most profound, most implicative, most controversial, most debated, and yet most vital and relevant questions in all of human history. If the Bible is not true, it means there is no afterlife in heaven or hell, and there is no objective morality with eternal consequences – humanity is accountable to no one, and we are free to do whatever we so desire without moral consideration, because an objective moral standard of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ simply does not exist. But if the Bible is true in all that it affirms, it means there really is an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present creator God who rules in sovereignty over the entire universe. And in holding the office of supreme judge of His creation, He executes objective moral judgment over all things according to His divine will and own good pleasure. It is He who created man in his own image (Genesis 1:27), and therefore has authority over man to both bless and curse according to His divine judgment of good and evil. The implications of how we answer this question are nothing short of profound, for the consequences are eternal, and apply to all people everywhere! Can the Bible’s testimony of history, prophecy, and theology, be trusted as an accurate factual record of the reality in which we all live, or is the Bible merely a collection of allegorical myths and legends invented by the imaginations of mere men which serves no purpose other than simple entertainment, accompanied by the occasional moralistic story? I believe the answer is the former, and not the latter, and here I will explain why…
The scientific method as applied to historical studies has certainly been in favor of the Biblical accounts being literal and historically factual, and has consistently and regularly confirmed the reliability of the Bible’s testimony. There are many accounts in the Bible that can be verified and confirmed by ancient historical records, archeological discoveries, and/or scientific observation. For example: there is plenty of geologic evidence suggesting a global catastrophic flood occurring sometime in earth’s ancient past, which offers great credibility to the account of Noah and the great flood of the sixth and seventh chapters of the Book of Genesis. Archeological digs have found evidence confirming the existence of particular kings, rulers, or other significant historical people, and even entire cities mentioned in the Bible. In fact, numerous archeological finds have been discovered largely because the Biblical account was taken to be literal and historically factual. Explorers have in times past used the Biblical narrative as a collection of clues, or an ancient map, which in many cases has led to the intended discovery, and therefore confirming the historical accuracy of the Biblical account. Though Biblical archeology and scientific methodology do help in confirming the Bible’s historical credibility, there are many accounts in the Bible that simply cannot be proven by scientific examination – things like the origin of the cosmos, the creation of Adam and Eve, Methuselah living to age 969, Noah constructing an ark to save all the animals, the parting of the Red Sea, the virgin birth of Christ, or many of the miracles He performed during his earthly ministry like the transforming of water into wine, the healing of blindness, deafness, lameness, and even the raising to life of a man who had been dead four days. The cry of the modern skeptic demands hard evidence before they will believe, saying “How can I take the Bible seriously if these amazing, and seemingly-outlandish claims cannot be proven or confirmed?” While many continue to look for that “jackpot” of historical archeological or scientific evidence that will hopefully support (or refute) the claims of the Bible, I propose that there is already sufficient evidence to confirm the total reliability of the testimony of the Biblical text.
Jesus of Nazareth:
History records that sometime around the year 30 A.D. a man who lived a life nothing short of remarkable was executed on the charge of blasphemy. Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be the prophesied messiah of the Jewish people, and is recorded to have spent the duration of a three-year public ministry validating this claim with a multiplicity of miracles, healings, exorcisms, signs, and wonders. His teachings were extremely controversial because they challenged the traditions and exposed the hypocrisy of the religious rulers of the time. This caused a great deal of animosity toward him and his ministry from those who held prominent positions of power in the religious community. One of Jesus’ most profound statements to the religious community at the time was a seemingly-arbitrary claim to his future resurrection from the dead. Jesus told the Pharisees, as recorded in John 2:19, “destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.” The Pharisees believed him to be referring to the physical temple in Jerusalem, but Jesus was referring to the temple of his own body – an allusion to his coming crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus more plainly told his own disciples in Luke 24:46, “the Messiah must suffer and must rise from death three days later…”
Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be the prophesied messiah, almighty God himself, and that though he would suffer and die, he would be resurrected from death after three days. The Apostle Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthian church, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” All of Christianity hinges on the claim that Christ was indeed raised from the dead. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then he was a false prophet, which means he was not the messiah, and all of humanity still lies hopeless in sin. But if Jesus really was raised from the dead, then he truly was who he claimed to be – the messiah – God’s spotless lamb slain for the sins of the world! So the question is, “Did Jesus of Nazareth really rise from the dead?”
The Case for Christ’s Bodily Resurrection:
- The Empty Tomb: The historical fact attested to by the majority of historians and scholars, both believers and skeptics alike, is that the tomb belonging to Joseph of Aramathia which contained the body of Jesus of Nazareth was discovered empty by some of Jesus’ women followers on the Sunday following his crucifixion. While an empty tomb in and of itself does not prove a miraculous resurrection, it does beg the question, “what is the best explanation for the empty tomb?” Could the body have been stolen? If so, who had a motive? Among those with a motive, who would have had the capabilities of successfully performing such espionage? Or did Jesus really rise from the dead by the miraculous power of God? The resurrection scene can almost seem like an early television episode of C.S.I. as we are examining forensic evidence on the crime scene of a murder case, only in this case the body is missing! Who had a motive for stealing the body? The Pharisees certainly did not – the last thing they wanted was for people to believe that Jesus was the risen messiah, for a resurrection would undermine the entire religious structure in which they held their positions of prominence and power. The Sadducees did not – they did not believe in a physical resurrection, and therefore a supposedly-resurrected body would undermine their teaching and authority. The Roman government certainly did not want people believing in a resurrected Jewish king for fear of rioting and revolution against Caesar and the Roman Empire. The only suspects that possibly had a motive for stealing the body of Christ were His disciples. However, on the night of Christ’s arrest, the disciples were scattered and running in fear for their lives. This was hardly a group of courageous believers who had the intuitiveness and fortitude to take on a group of armed Roman soldiers standing guard over the sealed tomb. However, some have suggested that the soldiers fell asleep while the disciples conveniently removed the body. I suppose it is possible, but extremely unlikely because a Roman soldier’s punishment for sleeping on the job was death! It is highly unlikely that all of the soldiers would risk their vary lives by falling asleep while on duty, and all at the same time. Should we reasonably believe that four Roman guards would risk their lives by falling asleep on post all at the same time? It seems that of the two reasonable explanations for the empty tom (either it was a crafty work of man, or a divine work of God) it appears that the former of the two is not plausible on the grounds that of all of the suspects, only one group had a possible motive, and the one group that had a motive did not posses the power or capabilities of performing such a grand hoax. This rules out the likelihood of the empty tomb being a result of man’s craftiness, which leads me to conclude that a bodily resurrection is the most reasonable explanation.
- Eyewitness Testimony: The accounts of the resurrection do not tell of a risen Christ who simply disappeared into heaven, but of a Christ who’s physical body was raised from the grave and spent 40 days with his disciples, eating and drinking, talking and walking, and being seen of over 500 eyewitnesses! Jesus reportedly appeared to his disciples on more than one occasion. All of them believed they had seen their risen rabbi, though some were skeptical until they had physically touched his body. Paul (Saul at the time) claimed to have seen the risen Christ on his way to Damascus, even though he was the most heinous persecutor of the Christians at the time – an incident that radically changed his life. His testimony of what he saw, though an independent incident from the appearances to the other disciples, was in complete agreement with the testimony of the others. Paul then wrote that over 500 people had seen the risen Christ, many of whom were still alive at the time of his writing. These living references of Paul could have easily refuted such a claim had it not been true. Paul even lists many of these eyewitnesses specifically by name in his writings, which was an open invitation for any skeptic of the day to verify his claims by examining the testimony of the eyewitnesses themselves. However, is it possible that these people were merely “seeing things” or hallucinating as many skeptics have suggested? Is it reasonable to believe that over 500 people, some on different accounts, experienced the exact same hallucination, and then were willing to suffer horrific torture, beating, and even brutal execution for their testimony? It may be, if the fact of the empty tomb was not part of the picture. If all we have are eyewitness testimonies of a resurrection, but no empty tomb, one might believe it to be hallucinations – after all, in the trauma of the death of a loved one, many claim to “see” their deceased friend or family member as if they were alive even after the funeral and burial. Likewise, if all we have is the empty tomb, but no resurrection testimonies, the likely conclusion would be a stolen body. The only way anyone in the 1st century would have believed that Christ had been raised from the dead is if both the empty tomb and the eyewitness testimonies are taken together, which is exactly what history records.
- The Rise of the Christian Church: If Christ had not been raised bodily from the dead, where then did the institution of the Christian Church and Christianity as a worldview come from? What was it that transformed this small group of eleven simple Jewish fishermen cowering in fear for their lives into a powerful movement that not even the most brutal of persecution could suppress? Worldviews take time to develop and evolve, yet the fundamental tenants of the Christian worldview appear instantly and fully developed immediately following Christ’s crucifixion. Where did this worldview come from? Why were so many convinced to abandon their previous worldview traditions in favor of this new faith that had never been heard of before? We are all deeply committed to our worldviews and are never willing to give them up on a whim – we hold to them, trust in them, and defend them with great intensity. Only after strong consistent and constant scrutiny over prolonged periods of time do we then begin to loosen our grip on our worldview in favor of another, yet the first Christians preached and taught a fully-formed worldview that was completely foreign to any other group or culture of their time – many of whom, including eleven of the twelve disciples, were more than ready and willing to give their lives for their testimony of a risen Christ. If it was a hoax perpetrated by the disciples, would they really have been willing to suffer such brutality at the hands of their persecutors, all the while knowing that their testimony was a lie? Perhaps one or two might have been crazy enough to do such a thing, but for all of them to be in agreement of a knowingly-false testimony and be willing to die for it is highly unlikely. Skeptics may claim that a mere willingness to die for one’s beliefs does not prove those beliefs to be true, and they would be correct (after all, many Muslims are more than willing, and even eager to give their lives for the cause of Islam), but they must still come up with a reasonable explanation for the rise of Christianity as a fully-developed faith and worldview apart from the bodily resurrection of Christ if they wish to justify their skepticism (keyword being “reasonable” as opposed to “possible”). However I believe the skeptic would be hard pressed to present such a reasonable explanation for the rise of Christianity apart from a resurrected Christ, and that the resurrection of Christ is the only reasonable explanation for the beginning and rapid spread of Christianity.
The Best Explanation:
Can scientific and historical data ever prove beyond a shred of doubt that Christ was, indeed, raised from the dead by the power of God? – Probably not. But given all of the historical facts, considering all of the evidence, and pondering all the reasonable explanations (again, the keyword being reasonable as opposed to possible – millions of possible explanations could be invoked, but just because something is a possible explanation doesn’t mean it’s a reasonable one), I propose that it is more than reasonable to believe that the best explanation for the empty tomb, the eyewitness testimonies of a risen Christ, and the rise of the Christian church as a fully-formed faith and worldview, is that Jesus of Nazareth was resurrected from death to life by the power of God; and thereby proving that Jesus of Nazareth is exactly who he claimed to be – the messiah – the Divine One himself, the Almighty God incarnate in human flesh and blood! The power of death and sin has been conquered, because the debt of sin has been paid by the blood sacrifice of Christ upon the cross on behalf the sinners of the world!
The Resurrection’s Testimony of the Scriptures:
I have presented a case for the bodily resurrection of Jesus to provide a foundation for answering the original question in the introduction of this article. The question proposed in the earlier portions of this work was in regards to how the more metaphysical claims of the Bible, such as Methuselah living to age 969, the parting of the Red Sea, the virgin birth of Christ, and miracles of the such, can be proven to be true if they cannot be scientifically tested and verified. How can we trust these claims to be true when there is no scientific methodology that can test the validity of these claims? I made the claim that there is indeed sufficient evidence to prove these claims, and the evidence is the personal testimony of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ believed that the words of scripture were entirely true – every single one of them. He said in prayer to the Father, “your word is truth.” (John 17:17). Jesus testified to the reliability of the writings of Moses on numerous occasions, implying them to be a trustworthy and final authoritative source. Jesus quoted from 24 of the Old Testament Books on 78 occasions, including a reference from Deuteronomy 8:3 saying, “man shall not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Mathew 4:4). The logic is as follows: If Jesus is risen from the dead, then he was indeed exactly who he claimed to be – the Messiah, God incarnate – and if he was indeed the Messiah, then He was and is by necessity without any sin – and if he was without sin, he therefore has never, nor ever will lie – therefore, if Jesus, being perfectly sinless and incapable of speaking anything other than truth, testified to the truthfulness of the scriptures, what more testimony do we need? The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is all the evidence we will ever need to validate His claims which fully support the trustworthiness of the Bible! We can believe that Methuzelah lived to be 969 year old because Jesus said it was true! We can believe the waters of the Red Sea were parted by Moses because Jesus said it was true! We can believe that Mary conceived as a virgin because Jesus said it was true! We can believe that heaven and hell really do exist because Jesus said so! And we can also believe that by the grace of God in the through the substitutionary sacrifice and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, our sins can be forgiven, the righteousness of Christ can be given to us, we can be justified in the holy sight of God despite our sinfulness, and we can spend eternity in Heaven living in perfect loving relationship with Jesus… because Jesus said so!
The resurrection testifies of the authenticity of Jesus, and Jesus testified of the authenticity of the scriptures, and therefore: the scriptures can be trusted from Aleph to Omega, and every jot and tittle in between! Glory to God for the Word, and for the risen Christ!