Can You Defend What You Believe?

Can You Defend What You Believe?

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Swordplay

Many years ago, when I was in college, I took some fencing classes. No, not courses that teach you how to string barbed wire across your property, but lessons that instruct on swordplay. The class started with the foil, expanded to an epee, and finally, the saber. With some martial arts experience under my belt, I felt I had a slight advantage over some other beginning students. 

Several months down the road, I participated in a local college tournament and earned 2nd place after losing to a young woman in her late 20s. I had a 6-inch reach advantage over her and was as fast as she was, but she had more experience and knew some techniques I was unprepared for. 

I remember being frustrated because I could not score on her, and in my frustration, I moved in closer to press the attack, which is when she would often score. Finally, a few minutes later, she won the match.

Fleche

Fleche is a fencing term that is an explosive attack, ideally unexpected, to take your opponent off guard. So often, in conversations, we give away our advantages by making statements or claims we might have difficulty backing up if we don’t have the knowledge, background, or experience. So many Christians feel the pressure to be bold and evangelize their faith and are called to do so, but the truth is they hope no one will ask them any difficult questions they can’t answer. Then when questions start flying, they’re at a loss on what to say or how to respond. 

It should be obvious you don’t want to make any claims you can’t back up. 

Understandably, most Christians are not vocal about their faith for fear of offending or sounding silly when they can’t explain why they believe what they believe. 

Years ago, a co-worker Jennifer, who knows I enjoy blogging on apologetics and wrestling with tough questions, asked me about the crucifixion. She explained that someone asked her why Jesus was buried in a tomb. When the Romans crucified someone, they were thrown into an open grave or pit. In other words, why was Jesus so special? What made him an exception? What a good question; it does sound somewhat contrived, this whole placed-in-a-tomb-story followed by a resurrection claim.

Listen and Clarify

My initial response to her was to ask how he (her friend) knew that no one was buried in a tomb after being crucified? How did he come to that conclusion? That places the burden of proof on him, not because you are trying to avoid having to respond or that you don’t know the answer, but because you honestly want to know. 

We can’t expect to know all the answers to questions skeptics may ask, and it is essential to be honest when asked something you can’t answer. If you don’t know the answer, tell them. At the same time, when you ask someone how they came to that conclusion or what evidence they have for their reasoning, you may learn something in return. They may have good reasons for their claims, and you want to hear them. What is wrong with hearing their reasons? Nothing, and at worse, you will learn something. Not only from them, but if you then go home and research an answer, you will be better prepared to respond the next time someone asks you.

I had not heard that particular push-back before, and other than pointing out that Joseph of Arimathea was wealthy and a follower of Jesus who asked for his body so he could put Jesus in a tomb, Matthew 27:57, I would not have had anything else to add. So I went home and began my research for a blog post. What I found out surprised me, and maybe it will surprise you, too.

Crucifixions

History is unclear on who invented the crucifixion, but most historians believe it was the Persians. Romans crucified enemies for about 600 years, from 300 B.C. until the Roman emperor Constantine outlawed them in 337 A.D. One of the more famous accounts would be the slave uprising led by Spartacus in 73 B.C. After overpowering the Roman guards, the gladiators and slaves escaped from a gladiator school in Capua. The slave army expanded while pillaging the countryside and won several battles against the Romans until Spartacus and his army were trapped between two Roman legions with a 3rd soon to arrive. In 71 B.C., Spartacus and his army were defeated. Of those captured (over 6000) were crucified along the road from Capua to Rome, over 100 miles in length.((Czeck, Kenneth P. “Ancient History: Spartacus and the Slave Rebellion.” HistoryNet, historynet.com, n.d., http://www.historynet.com/spartacus.htm))

The ancient historian Josephus has multiple accounts of crucifixions; for example, Alexander Jannaeus, the Maccabean king, crucified hundreds while dining with his concubines. Varus, a Roman commander in Syria, crucified over 2000 Jews. Josephus even reported that during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the Romans crucified up to 500 Jews a day until they ran out of timber in the surrounding countryside.((Josephus, Flavius. The Antiquities of the Jews. Trans. William Whiston. Blacksburg: Unabridged Books, 2011. Print.))

With crucifixion such a common practice for centuries, you would expect there to be an overflowing amount of skeletal evidence for this practice. But unfortunately, besides the multiple ancient historical accounts (Josephus is only one of many), we only have one archaeological piece of evidence, which happens to have been found in a tomb.

His name was Yehohanan, a young man in his mid-twenties who, around the time of Christ, did something to offend the Romans. For this offense, he was crucified. Because he was from a wealthy family, he was placed in a tomb, and after a year his bones were gathered together and then placed in a stone box called an ossuary. Two thousand years later, in 1968, a Jewish archeologist made the discovery, which is now on display in a museum in Israel.((Friedman, Matti, “In a stone box, the only trace of crucifixion.” The Times of Israel, timesofisrael.com, 26 March 2012, http://www.timesofisrael.com/in-a-stone-box-a-rare-trace-of-crucifixion/))

Why is there little Evidence for the Crucifixions?

The reasons for the lack of evidence are not necessarily apparent at first but substantial when you give it some consideration. First, nearly all crucified were not placed in a tomb but tossed into an open grave or left for animals to devour.

Second, it is a Jewish custom not to leave someone hanging up overnight, and often the bodies were taken down after several hours by the Jews. Deuteronomy 21:22-23. The bones would be scattered over time with little evidence remaining, and often they were criminals (at least in the view of Romans) and were not placed in tombs.

Third, injuries were often through soft tissue, not piercing bones, but if the bones were damaged, it would be difficult to tell from damage animals may have caused by gnawing on the bones. And not all who were crucified were nailed; some were just tied to the cross. 

Finally, crucifixion nails were considered magical or held special healing properties and were often collected when found. Consequently, the hardiest, longest-lasting evidence was often removed from the location of the crucifixion. The wooden crosses and the victims themselves would not last centuries, unlike the nails used.((Killgrove, Kristina. “This Bone Is The Only Skeletal Evidence For Crucifixion In The Ancient World.” Forbes, forbes.com, 8 December 2015, http://www.forbes.com/sites/kristinakillgrove/2015/12/08/this-bone-provides-the-only-skeletal-evidence-for-crucifixion-in-the-ancient-world/#10012eee403c))

I find it ironic that the claim, “No one crucified was ever buried in a tomb,” is not only false but the ‘only’ physical evidence we have for the ancient practice of crucifixion was found in a tomb of someone who was crucified.

Why Apologetics?

What you just read is an example of apologetics in action. Do you know what apologetics is? Apologetics is not apologizing for your faith – it is defending your faith. It stems from the Greek word apologia and means a verbal defense. Christians should be able to defend verbally why they are a Christian.

If someone asks you why you are a believer, can you give them reasons or evidence? Unfortunately, many Christians pull the experiential card, often based on feelings, emotions, and first-person experiences. Not to say those shared experiences don’t move others, but even the Mormons speak of a ‘burning in the bosom’ as a confirmation of their faith. If that is all two opposing views can offer, they seem to cancel one another out in my opinion. 

Why should a church engage in apologetics? Why should pastors teach apologetics? Why should youth groups be exposed to apologetics? There are several reasons:

  • 1 Peter 3:15
  • It builds the faith of believers. 
  • It feeds certain congregation members who may be more evidentially minded in their faith.
  • It prepares youth to hear arguments, reasoning, and conclusions counter to their faith. The first time they listen to claims counter to their belief should be before they move away.
  • Those who are confident in their answers are more willing to engage the culture and move beyond their comfort zone of fellow believers in conversation.

Your Style of Evangelism

I recently finished a book titled “Contagious Faith” by Mark Mittelberg. Mittelberg describes five styles of evangelism, and most of us favor one or two of the styles he describes. Not all of us are bible-thumping street evangelists, and to push some in that direction when it is not their natural style of evangelism can be a massive turn-off to sharing their faith. 

Mittelberg also recognizes it is not just a matter of having answers but a spiritual battle. “You see, helping people come to Christ is not just a matter of giving them good information or answers to their questions and objections. Neither is it just about being passionate or persuasive-though all of these can be important. It is, at bottom, a spiritual struggle that is being fought at an unseen level…”1

I recommend Contagious Faith for anyone curious about their natural style of sharing the good news. But no matter what your style of evangelism is, knowing what you believe and why you believe it is essential. 

Whether or not you want to admit it, you are walking the streets with a sword hanging from your hip. You are walking by others who are also armed. These swords are not called foils, epee’s, or sabers but by the more familiar names of explanation, ideas, reasons, evidence, justifications, beliefs, assertions, faith, and truth. 

When someone makes a truth claim, and you cross swords, you have two choices and only two choices. Learn from the experience, sharpen your skills, or remain the same; no better swordsman than you were before you engaged them. Which kind will you be?

Creative Commons License
Can You Defend What You Believe? by James W Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

  1. Mittelberg, Mark. “Reached by God to Reach Others.” Contagious Faith, Grand Rapids, Zondervan Reflective, 2021 pg16 []
Stealing Jesus

Stealing Jesus

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Above Image by Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay

The resurrection story has several theories that you might hear from those who don’t embrace the Christian view. One of the more common ones is the stolen body theory. When you consider the possibilities of who would have stolen his body, it falls into three categories: the Romans, the Jewish authorities, and the disciples. 

The Romans

After the crucifixion, Pilate ordered that Jesus’ tomb be guarded so someone would not steal the body and claim he came back to life. He did this because the chief priests and Pharisees were worried someone would steal his body. They had recalled that Jesus said He would rise again after three days, they shared their concern with Pilate. “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard. Matthew 27:65 

So the question is, what motive would the Romans have for stealing the body? Indeed, they did not want any more trouble with the Jews than they already had. Besides, after the resurrection claim, the disciples began to preach the Good News boldly and without fear. Obviously, this angered many Jews. The Romans were in charge of keeping peace in Palestine, and had the Romans been the ones to steal the body, they certainly could have produced it. The evidence of the body would have shut up the claims of the disciples.((Story, Dan. The Christian Combat Manual. Chattanooga: AMG, 2007. Print.)) The problem was, the Romans could not produce a body.  

The Jews

What would motivate the Jewish leaders into stealing the body of Jesus? They were the ones who approached Pilate with concerns about someone stealing the body. The Jews were the ones who ensured the tomb was secure with a posted guard. Matthew 27:62-66 The Jewish leaders did not want anyone, least of all the disciples, making claims that Jesus had risen from the dead after three days.  

After the resurrection, many Jews became Christians, and if the chief priests and Pharisees had stolen the body, possibly so the disciples could not steal it first and claim He rose, they would have produced it to end the foolishness of this new cult. 

In Acts 4:1-3, Peter and John were arrested because they claimed Jesus had been resurrected. The elders and chief priests were amazed at how bold yet uneducated Peter and John were but were unable to persuade them to stop announcing the resurrection of Christ. Acts 4:13 

David Limbaugh, author of Jesus On Trial wrote concerning the stolen body theory, “Also, Matthew 28:11-15 relates that the Jews proposed an alternative theory for the empty tomb (“tell the people the disciples stole the body”), which proves they didn’t dispute that it was, in fact, empty.”1

If the body remained in the tomb, then the Jewish leaders would have simply had the Roman guards roll the stone and deliver the body of Jesus as decisive proof that He was still dead. If there was a body, history has not recorded any debate or dispute over the identification of Jesus’ body. Quite the contrary, the discussion revolved around the disappearance of the body, not its identification. 

The Disciples

Many have claimed and still do, that the disciples stole the body to gain power, influence, and celebrity status. Limbaugh wrote, “The disciples had nothing to gain by staging some elaborate hoax in order to start a new religion; in fact, they all faced ridicule, hardship, persecution, and many suffered martyrs’ deaths.”((Limbaugh, David. “Truth, Miracles, and the Resurrection of Christ.” Jesus On Trial, Regnery Publishing, 2014, p.282)) So for some reason, the disciples stole the body of their Lord so they could be beaten, abused, insulted, stoned, beheaded, and crucified.

There have been claims that Romans blamed the disciples, but how would they know? How would he know who took the body if the guard was sleeping? How could the disciples have gotten past him if he was not sleeping? The penalty for either would have been death for the Roman guard. 

We have accounts of Christian martyrs who have died for their faith in Christ over the centuries, but in recent years, we have had evidence of others dying for their faith. For example, the Taliban and the suicide bombers have made headline news hundreds of times since the 911 attacks. They obviously believe and are willing to die for their belief. But there is a significant difference between dying for what you believe to be true, and dying for what you know to be true. 

The disciples knew they did not steal the body and also knew no one else had a reason to. They experienced firsthand evidence in seeing, talking to, and touching their resurrected Lord. Mary Magdalene saw, heard, and touched Christ. John 20:10-18. In Luke 24:36-49 and John 20:19-23, other disciples saw, heard, and touched Christ. In John 20:24-31, eleven apostles saw, heard, and touched Christ.((Geisler, Norman. Turek, Frank. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist. Wheaton: Crossway 2004, Print.)) These close followers knew their Lord and were willing to die for him. Not for what they believed to be true, but for what they knew to be true. 

William Lane Craig wrote, “One of the most remarkable facts about the early Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection was that it flourished in the very city where Jesus had been publicly crucified. So long as the people of Jerusalem thought that Jesus’ body was in the tomb, few would have been prepared to believe such nonsense as that Jesus had been raised from the dead.”2 

The burden of proof was on the Romans and the Jewish leaders, and apparently, no one could produce a body because He had risen. Craig continued, “The disciples could not have believed in Jesus’ resurrection if His corpse still lay in the tomb. It would have been wholly un-Jewish, not to say stupid, to believe that a man was raised from the dead when his body was known to be still in the grave.”2 Even if the disciples had boldly professed the resurrection out of ‘blind-faith’ once someone produced the body, this new religion would have died right then and there.  

Finally, in his book, Know What You Believe, Paul Little points out that people will die for many things they believe to be true. I have already pointed out the 911 attacks and the belief of those terrorists but flip the coin. How many people do you know that will die for something they ‘know’ is false?((Little, Paul. Know What You Believe. Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2003. Print.))

The Roman and Jews could not produce the body, but the disciples would have wanted to, if doing so would have saved them from beatings, stonings, and crucifixions. 

Have you talked about the resurrection with your children beyond Easter eggs, ham, and family gatherings? Or the church activities that go beyond children making little paper tombs that represent the empty tomb? How much more impactful would it be if you sat down with your young children and gave them something beyond what seems to be the annual Easter bedtime story and shared the evidence of the resurrection with them?

Since birth, today’s teens and young adults have been saturated with market media. They recognize, but may not be able to articulate, the world’s sales pitch to purchase everything from cereal to shoes. Religion, specifically Christianity, markets ideas as much as Ford selling the F150 and General Mills selling Lucky Charms. So if you don’t want the Christian ideas to end up in the ‘junk mail’ folder or being ‘unfriended,’ you better give them reasons for the sale beyond what is typically offered. 

Jedd Medefind, president of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, wrote, “We must make truth touchable. The Good News must be as tangible as the wood of a cross. Without a visible expression, words like transformation, grace, and radical discipleship will be quickly dismissed as just another hyperbolic sales pitch.”3

The apostles were not adverse to giving reasons or evidence for their faith. 1John 1:1-2 With some guidance, our children can move beyond the Walmart end caps full of colorful eggs and white bunnies to explain why they celebrate what we recognize as the truth of the resurrection to their unchurched or unbelieving peers at school. Go beyond the Easter egg hunt and give them reasons for believing. 

Creative Commons License
Stealing Jesus by James W Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

  1. Limbaugh, David. “Truth, Miracles, and the Resurrection of Christ.” Jesus On Trial, Regnery Publishing, 2014, p.282 []
  2. Craig, William L. On Guard. Colorado Springs: David C Cook Publishing, 2010. Print [] []
  3. Kinnaman, David. You Lost Me – Why Young Christians are Leaving Church. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011. Print. []
How do you Defend your Faith?

How do you Defend your Faith?

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Above image by andreydmv from Pixabay

Many years ago when I was in college I took some fencing classes. No, not classes that teach you how to string barbed wire across your property, but classes that instruct on sword play. The class started with the foil, then expanded to an epee, and finally the sabre. With some martial arts experience under my belt, I felt I had a slight advantage over some of the other beginning students. Several months down the road, I participated in a local college tournament and earned 2nd place after losing to a young woman who was also in her 20’s. Despite her having a reach 6 inches less than mine, I lost. She was as fast as I was, but had more experience and knew some techniques I was unprepared for. I remember being frustrated because I could not score on her, and in my frustration I moved in closer to press the attack, which is when she would score. A few minutes later she had won the match.

So often in conversations we give away our advantages by making statements or claims we might have difficulty backing up if we don’t have the knowledge, background, or experience. Many Christians feel the pressure to be bold and evangelize about their faith and are called to do so, but the truth is they hope no one will ask them any difficult questions they can’t answer. Then when questions start flying they’re at a loss on what to say or how to respond.

The other day a co-worker Jennifer, who knows I enjoy blogging on apologetics and wrestling with tough questions, asked me about the crucifixion. She explained that someone asked her why Jesus was buried in a tomb. “Everyone” knows when the Romans crucified someone, they were thrown into an open grave or pit. In other words, why was Jesus so special? Sounds rather fishy, this whole placed-in-a-tomb-story which is followed by a resurrection claim.

My initial response to her was to ask how does he know that no one was buried in a tomb after being crucified? How did he come to that conclusion? That places the burden of proof on him, not because you are trying to avoid having to respond or that you don’t know the answer, but because you honestly want to know. We can’t expect to know all the answers to questions skeptics may ask, and it is important to be honest when asked something you can’t answer. If you don’t know the answer, tell them. At the same time, when you ask someone how he came to that conclusion, or what evidence he has for his reasoning, you may learn something in return. He may have good reasons for his claim and you want to hear them. Worse thing that can happen is you will learn something. Not only from him, but if you then go home and research an answer, you will be better prepared to respond the next time someone asks you.

I personally had not heard that particular push-back before, and other than pointing out that Joseph of Arimathea was wealthy and a follower of Jesus who asked for his body so he could put him in a tomb, Matthew 27:57, I would not have had anything else to add. So I went home and began my research for a blog post. What I found out surprised me and maybe it will surprise you, too.

History is not clear on who invented crucifixion, but most scholars believe it to be the Persians. Romans crucified enemies since 300 B.C., until it was outlawed by the Roman emperor Constantine in 337 A.D. One of the more famous accounts would be the slave uprising led by Spartacus in 73 B.C. After overpowering the Roman guards, the gladiators and slaves escaped from a gladiator school in Capua. The slave army expanded while pillaging the country side, and won several battles against the Romans until Spartacus and his army were trapped between two Roman legions with a 3rd soon to arrive. In 71 B.C., Spartacus and his army was defeated. Those who were captured, (over 6000), were crucified along the road from Capua to Rome, over 100 miles in length.1

The ancient historian Josephus has multiple account of crucifixions; for example Alexander Jannaeus, the Maccabean king, crucified hundreds while dining with his concubines. Varus, a Roman commander in Syria, crucified over 2000 Jews. Josephus even reported that during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the Romans were crucifying up to 500 Jews a day until they ran out of timber in the surrounding countryside.2

With crucifixion such a common practice for centuries, you would expect there to be an overflowing amount of skeletal evidence for this practice. Other than the multiple ancient historical accounts, (Josephus is only one of many), we only have one archaeological piece of evidence, which just happens to have been found in a tomb.

His name was Yehohanan, a young man in his mid twenties, who around the time of Christ did something to offend the Romans. For this offense he was crucified. Because he was from a wealthy family, he was placed in a tomb and after a year his bones were gathered together and then placed in a stone box called an ossuary. Two thousand years later in 1968, a Jewish archeologist made the discovery, which is now on display in a museum in Israel.3

The reasons for the lack of evidence is not necessarily obvious at first, but substantial when you give it some consideration. First, nearly all who were crucified were not placed in a tomb, but rather tossed into an open grave or left for animals to devour.

Second, it is a Jewish custom not to leave someone hanging up overnight, and often the bodies were taken down after several hours. Deuteronomy 21:22-23. Over time, the bones would be scattered with little evidence remaining, and often they were criminals, (at least on the view of Romans), and were not placed in tombs.

Third, injuries were often through soft tissue, not piercing bones, but if the bones were damaged it would be difficult to tell from damage animals may have caused by gnawing on the bones. Some were not nailed, but only tied to the cross.

Finally, crucifixion nails were considered magical or as holding special healing properties and collected when found. Consequently, the most hardy, (long lasting), evidence was often removed from the location of the crucifixion. The wooden crosses and the victims themselves would not last centuries, unlike the nails used.4

I find it ironic that the claim, “No one crucified was ever buried in a tomb” is not only false, but the ‘only’ physical evidence we have for the ancient practice of crucifixion which spanned roughly 500 years was found in a tomb of someone who was crucified.

What you just read is an example of apologetics in action. Do you know what apologetics is? Apologetics is not apologizing for your faith – it is defending your faith. It stems from the Greek word apologia and means a verbal defense. Christians should be able to defend verbally why they are a Christian.

If someone asks you why you are a believer, can you give them reasons, evidence, or are you going to pull the experiential card, which is often based on feelings and emotions.

Why should a church engage in apologetics? Why should pastors teach apologetics? Why should youth groups be exposed to apologetics?

  • 1 Peter 3:15
  • It feeds certain members of the congregation who may be more evidentially minded in their faith.
  • It prepares youth to hear arguments, reasoning, and conclusions counter to their faith.
  • Those who are confidant in their answers are more willing to engage the culture and move beyond their comfort zone of fellow believers in conversation.

Whether you want to admit it or not, you are walking the streets with a sword hanging from your hip. You are walking by others who are also armed. These different swords are not called foils, epee’s, or sabre’s but by the more familiar names of explanation, ideas, reasons, evidence, justifications, beliefs, assertions, faith, and truth. When someone makes a truth claim, and you cross swords, you have two choices, and only two choices. Learn from the experience, or remain the same; no better swordsman or swordswoman, than you were before you engaged them. Which kind will you be?

Sources:

1. Czeck, Kenneth P. “Ancient History: Spartacus and the Slave Rebellion.” HistoryNet, historynet.com, n.d., http://www.historynet.com/spartacus.htm
2. Josephus, Flavius. The Antiquities of the Jews. Trans. William Whiston. Blacksburg: Unabridged Books, 2011. Print.
3. Friedman, Matti, “In a stone box, the only trace of crucifixion.” The Times of Israel, timesofisrael.com, 26 March 2012, http://www.timesofisrael.com/in-a-stone-box-a-rare-trace-of-crucifixion/
4. Killgrove, Kristina. “This Bone Is The Only Skeletal Evidence For Crucifixion In The Ancient World.” Forbes, forbes.com, 8 December 2015, http://www.forbes.com/sites/kristinakillgrove/2015/12/08/this-bone-provides-the-only-skeletal-evidence-for-crucifixion-in-the-ancient-world/#10012eee403c

Skeptical Claims about Jesus

Reading Time: 6 minutes

I have been working through a book titled, ‘A Manual for Creating Atheists’ by Peter Boghossian. In it he wrote, “Gary Habermas, for example, exemplifies this cognitive malady. Habermas alleges to believe-and I think he actually does believe-that there’s sufficient evidence to warrant belief in an historical Jesus, and the miracles attributed to him, and that Jesus rose from the dead. Yet when confronted by basic, rudimentary objections, (people lied, someone ransacked the tomb, the witnesses were unreliable), he takes the most remote logical possibility and turns that into not just a probability but an actuality.” 1

If you have not heard of Gary Habermas, he is a Christian historian, philosopher, apologist, and author of several books about the resurrection of Jesus, including, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Boghossian mentioned three, as he called them, basic, rudimentary objections that I will briefly take a look at. If someone was to be skeptical about the resurrection of Jesus, three simple objections would include, people lied, the tomb was ransacked, and the witnesses were unreliable.

Let’s look at the people surrounding the death of Christ and what motives they might have for lying about his death. We could categorize those surrounding the resurrection in three groups. The Romans, the Jews, and the believers.

Romans
What would the Romans have to gain from lying about the death of Christ? Certainly not the Roman guards. The penalty for losing a prisoner was not write up, a dock in pay, or even the fear of being fired, but death. Besides, the guards were posted because the Jews warned the Romans that the disciples might try to steal the body and make claims of resurrection. (Matthew 27:62-66)

The Romans hated the Jews, and as for the followers of Christ, they were considered nothing more than a cult. Tactus, a Roman historian, wrote concerning the punishments of Christians by Nero, “Suppressed for a time, the deadly superstition erupted again, not only in Judea, the origin of this evil, but also in the city of [Rome], where all things horrible and shameful from every-where come together and become popular… They were covered with the skins of wild animals and torn to death by dogs; or they were crucified and when the day ended they were burned as torches.” 2

What possible gain could the Romans find by lying about Christ and spreading the rumor he was resurrected? The Jews were a conquered people, and somehow siding or aiding this small cult would do nothing to help the Romans.

Jews
Suggesting the Jews somehow lied about or fabricated the resurrection is absurd. They were the ones who wanted Him crucified and warned the Romans about the resurrection possibility. The Jewish leaders saw Christ as a threat and the sooner he was dead, buried, and forgotten, the better. It was not the first time Jewish leaders had made attempts on his life, but this time they were successful and would not want to do anything that would undermine their authority with their own people.

At that time, the Jews did not have the right to administer the death penalty, so they had to display Jesus as a threat to the Romans. William Lane Craig wrote, “Historians are unanimous that Jesus of Nazareth, having been condemned by the Jewish authorities for blasphemy and delivered to the Roman authorities on the pretext of treason, met His death by crucifixion.” 3

Believers
Finally, we have the disciples who some suggest lied about the resurrection. To what gain? Without exception they all suffered, and most died for their proclamations that Christ was King and he was the answer to eternal life. The disciples and their followers were persecuted and often paid the price with their life as you read above.

Some may argue that countless numbers of people have died for beliefs that were not true. A common example are the Taliban terrorists who flew planes into the twin towers, the Pentagon, and targeted Congress in the hopes of taking as many American lives with them as possible. The 911 terrorists gave their lives for what they believed to be true, but that is the significant difference with all believers from all other religions, and even believers in Christianity. We may suffer persecution, spend lives in the mission field, work in third world countries to spread our beliefs, but the disciples did not die for what they believed to be true, they died for what they knew to be true.

Up until the resurrection, the disciples were hiding, and frightened about what the future held. Keep in mind they were eye witness’ to numerous miracles already. Jesus walking on water, feeding thousands with just a few loaves and fish, healing the lame and blind and lepers, raising the dead, miraculous catch of fish, and the casting out of demons. Despite seeing and hearing about these miraculous signs and wonders, once Christ was arrested, flogged, and nailed to the cross, the disciples scattered. skepticsThen they saw their resurrected Lord and it changed everything. They gave everything to bear witness to his life, message, and resurrection. Power, money, influence, women, status, land, wealth in any form, meant nothing to them.

Boghossian’s second rudimentary objection was someone ransacked the tomb. For what purpose? No accounts that I have ever read suggested that Christ was buried with any riches. If someone was to ransack the tomb, could it be for the purpose of stealing the body? I have already briefly outlined how the major players had nothing to gain from stealing the body of Christ to somehow give the illusion of resurrection. The tomb was sealed and guarded.

Certainly the friends or family of Jesus had nothing to gain from stealing his body. What logic is their in stealing the body of your leader or teacher, then proclaim his resurrection, only to be persecuted to the point of death. And his enemies, the Jews and Romans, would gain nothing by faking the resurrection. Maybe they stole his body to flush out the remaining believers, but why would the remaining believers suddenly and boldly proclaim the message of Christ without having actually seen the physical body of their risen Lord? It was his physical body, his physical presence, that altered the minds of the disciples in such a way that they became fearless.

Finally, Boghossian suggested the witnesses were unreliable, but giving the historical testimony a good look, just the opposite is true. J Warner Wallace is an expert on eye witness testimony. In fact, his specialty is researching cold case homicides. In his book Cold-Case Christianity, Wallace outlines the reliability of the witnesses. He looks at if they were present and if their testimony was corroborated. There are many other factors to consider, but I will just look at those two.

Were They Present?
Life of Jesus – AD 1-33
Mark writes his gospel – AD 45-50
Luke writes his gospel – AD 50-53
Paul quotes Luke – AD 53-57
Luke writes Acts – AD 57-60
Death of James, Peter, and Paul – AD 61-65
Siege of Jerusalem – AD 67-70
Temple destroyed – AD 70 4

The gospel accounts listed above do not mention the siege of Jerusalem, or the destruction of the temple; both would have weighed heavily on the disciples and undoubtedly would have been mentioned in the gospel accounts. This tells historians that these accounts were written before the siege of Jerusalem, and of course after the resurrection. This is just over a 30 year period for the gospel writers to document their experiences and spread the good news they witnessed.

Was their testimony corroborated?
The gospel accounts have been verified and supported by numerous historical accounts outside the New Testament. Josephus, once a Jew who became a Roman historian, wrote Antiquities of the Jews, mentions John the Baptist, James the brother of Jesus, and Jesus Himself, including that three days after his crucifixion he was reported to be seen alive. 5 Other historical accounts corroborated information within the New Testament, Thallus, Tacitus, and Mara Bar-Serapion to name a few.

One little mentioned piece of evidence used is the use of personal names in the gospel accounts. Some skeptics might claim that the accounts were legendary. For legend to take place, you need a large gap of time between the actual event and when the legends were written. There was not enough time for legendary accounts to have been written by the New Testament authors as you have seen above, but also the use of personal names is not usually found in legendary accounts of historical events.

Richard Bauckham researched this and compiled hundreds of names in three distinctly different cultures in that time period, and studied their use and frequency in each culture. The three cultures were the Palestinian Jewish community, the Diaspora, (scattered Gentile Jewish) community, and the strictly Gentile community. Bauckham found the use and frequency of the names in the New Testament correspond with the Palestinian Jewish community, which would be the community that surrounded the life and times of Jesus. 6

Boghossian suggests that people lied in the gospel accounts, that the tomb was ransacked, and that the witnesses were unreliable. Volumes have been written dismissing this claims by skeptics, and if you are interested in reading up on them yourself, I will recommend three books that would enable you to address any claims by atheists or skeptics that cast doubt on the resurrection of Jesus.

Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace
On Guard by William Lane Craig
The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel

Sources:

1. Boghossian, Peter. A Manual for Creating Atheists. Durham: Pitchstone Publishing, 2013. Print.
2. Van Voorst, Robert E. Jesus Outside the New Testament. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000. Print.
3. Craig, William Lane. On Guard. Colorado Springs: David C Cook Publishing, 2010. Print.
4. Wallace, James Warner. Cold-Case Christianity. Colorado Springs: David C Cook Publishing, 2013. Print.
5. Josephus, Flavius. The Antiquities of the Jews. Blacksburg: Unabridged Books, 2011. Print.
6. Moreland, J P. Love Your God With All Your Mind. Colorado Springs: Nav Press. 2012. Print.

Pin It on Pinterest