Chapters 5 & 6 from a small group study I conducted in church on Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ.
At this point in our study, we have come to observe three very important things about the case for Christ:
- The biblical writers were concerned about the objective truth of Scripture and the evidence for Jesus.
- Scripture claims to record eyewitness accounts for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and that evidence can stand up to scrutiny when put to the tests of internal consistency.
- The case is made stronger by the facts that (1) there is evidence outside of the NT which corroborates important facts about Jesus and (2) we have very good reason to believe that what we read in the Bible today has not changed over time, but represents exactly what the writers wanted us to know.
As Christians, our desire should be to go as far as we possibly can when it comes to understand the truth of our worldview. While it is true that we live in a time when people are hurting and they need the Lord, it is also true that we live during a time of increasing skepticism.
Natasha Crain observes in her recent book, Faithfully Different:
If you have a biblical worldview, you’re now in a worldview minority. • The dominant worldview of the culture around us—a strident secularism—is fundamentally at odds with the biblical worldview. •This opposing and often hostile secularism is putting extensive pressure on (1) what Christians believe, (2) the ways our beliefs inform how we think, and (3) how we live out our faith. We must each regain clarity on what it means to be faithfully different from today’s world for (1) the health of our own relationship with the Lord and (2) our ability to effectively be salt and light to others (Matthew 5:13-16).
Put another way, our beliefs are on trial in the public square. So as we continue looking at the case for Christ, what other ideas can we examine that will bolster our case?
A version of that question motivated Strobel to interview experts in two additional fields, which we will now consider: Evidence from science, and evidence that claims to rebut the observations we’ve covered thus far.
The Scientific — or, Archeological — Evidence
While we ultimately must rely upon testimony to know much about history at all, evidence from the physical world can help confirm or deny whether the testimonial evidence stands up in court.
Archeology is a scientific discipline that is directly related to what we know about history. It is a discipline that quite literally examines the sands of time and seeks to “sift” out truth from error.
Strobel puts it this way:
Sometimes called the study of durable rubbish, archaeology involves the uncovering of artifacts, architecture, art, coins, monuments, documents, and other remains of ancient cultures. Experts study these relics to learn what life was like in the days when Jesus walked the dusty roads of ancient Palestine.
Given the biblical worldview’s insistence upon an accurate view of history, it should be no surprise that many Christians have taken on advanced studies in archeology. There are many societies and groups which seek the harmony of Biblical studies and archeology, and indeed, the discipline has lend credibility to the claims of the Bible time after time.
What Archeology Can — and Can’t — Tell Us
If we are going to be honest and truthful, we must seek to understand and communicate what disciples such as archeology can and cannot tell us.
Expert Dr. John McCray, whom Strobel interviews for this chapter, notes:
If we dig in Israel and find ancient sites that are consistent with where the Bible said we’d find them, that shows that its history and geography are accurate. However, it doesn’t confirm that what Jesus Christ said is right. Spiritual truths cannot be proved or disproved by archaeological discoveries.
In other words, archeology is not a “silver bullet” that will prove Christianity to be true. In fact, such a “silver bullet” is not really what we should be looking for when undertaking a study of the evidence for the biblical worldview.
That might sound strange, but the testimony of Scripture seems to confirm that we should be willing to take God at his Word. We do not look for evidence outside of Scripture to “prove” the biblical worldview. Instead, we affirm the biblical worldview through faith and evidence of the Holy Spirit’s witness in our lives, and we examine the world around us with that in view.
It should not be surprising that what we know from science and history support the biblical worldview, because it’s true! Physical evidence can help us understand whether we are understanding Scripture accurately, but the Word of God is our ultimate authority and provides a solid foundation for our lives.
What archeology can accomplish for us, though, is similar to how experts test elements of testimony in other fields as well. If the little details in a story can be tested and found truthful, it does not prove the entirety of the testimony. However, it does enhance the credibility of the witness.
If a person of history makes a claim, and the archeological evidence can bear that claim out, that is a “feather in the cap” of the witness. In our context, if the biblical writers were able to communicate truthfully and accurately about the geographical, sociological, and linguistic minutiae of the world around us, it is logical to think that we can trust them to report accurately about matters which were considerably weightier to them.
McCray provides an example in the Jewish historian Josephus:
For a long time people questioned the validity of a statement by Josephus, the first-century historian, that this harbor was as large as the one at Piraeus, which is a major harbor of Athens. People thought Josephus was wrong, because when you see the stones above the surface of the water in the contemporary harbor, it’s not very big. “But when we began to do underwater excavation, we found that the harbor extended far out into the water underground, that it had fallen down, and that its total dimensions were indeed comparable to the harbor at Piraeus. So it turns out Josephus was right after all. This was one more bit of evidence that Josephus knew what he was talking about.
Luke, for example, is noted by all as an exceptionally accurate historian.
It is difficult to imagine that Luke could be so careful to report accurately on the smallest of details, getting them all right, and then report so carelessly or hyperbolically about Jesus, something which was far more important to him.
In fact, Across Luke, John, and Mark, many details have been questioned, only later to be proved correct by archeological evidence.
Here are just three examples:
- The amount of porticoes at the pool of Siloam (John 5:1-15)
- The existence of “politarchs” in the First Century (Acts 17:6)
- Marks geographical descriptors of Jesus’ trip to Decopolis (Mark 7:31)
Some Examples are Not Black and White
There are some times when skeptics propose a contradiction or detail of the text that has not been confirmed by outside sources. Or, perhaps a detail that is a bit tricky to resolve given what we do know from other outside sources.
The issue of Quirinius being the Governor of Syria during the reign of Herod the Great (see the census mentioned in Luke 2) provides a helpful case study in noting how to handle an objection that has multiple possible solutions, but no concrete ones supported by other historical documents.
In brief, the problem is that there’s no record of a census that was taken by Quirinius during the time it would have been in order to make sense of the details in the biblical account. Quirinius was not even governor until a couple years after Herod died, which is when historical documentation holds the census was held.
Strobel points to at least four scholars who have proposed ways to explain this problem. In other words, we do not yet have a concrete answer, but it is incorrect to say this provides a contradiction or the account is untruthful.
Noted New Testament scholar, Darrell Bock concludes:
It is clear that the relegation of [the census account in Luke] to the category of historical error is premature and erroneous.
Further, we must continually avoid the temptation to read our modern thinking into historical situations. For example, some wonder why there is no historical corroboration for the slaughtering of all babies in Bethlehem, but when you consider the lack of modern technology, the size of the village, and who Herod was, it’s quite reasonable to think that would not have been all that “newsworthy” in ancient times.
It is interesting to note that we are not “sharpshooting” on a certain religion or philosophy. These same tests can be applied to other religions as well, such as Mormonism, and found wanting.
The New Testament is different. It is, as “…prominent Australian archaeologist Clifford Wilson wrote, “Those who know the facts now recognize that the New Testament must be accepted as a remarkably accurate source book.”
Have Other Scholars Proved These Scholars Wrong?
Through a powerful personal anecdote, Strobel shows that sometimes even ones personal testimony is nothing more than mere assertion. Evidence can be presented that overwhelming rebuts another view.
In this chapter, Strobel highlights Greg Boyd’s response to the Jesus Seminar, a minuscule group of so-called scholars (active from about 1985 through the early 2000’s) who attempt to paint a portrait of the “real Jesus” that is different from the Jesus of “faith.”
A general lesson is to be wary of fringe groups, no matter what side of the aisle. While an appeal to the majority is not always good practice, it always wise to look at the reasons for and against certain claims and get to the bottom of why certain groups do or don’t accept ideas.
The Jesus Seminar in particular were nothing more than mere naturalists. Their goal was to strip away any need for an appeal to the supernatural by ruling out supernatural elements of the New Testament prima facie.
This chapter is one you really have to read in order to fully appreciate. Strobel and Boyd go back and forth in an almost “rapid fire” fashion discussing some of the Jesus Seminar’s claims and showing how and where they fall short.
They discuss, for example:
- The fallacious criteria used by the Jesus Seminar to arrive at their conclusions
- Whether Jesus was like so-called “wonder working Rabbis” of his day (Boyd quickly dispels this notion by appealing to the utter uniqueness of Jesus, his claims of divinity, the radical nature of his miracles, etc.)
- Whether the Jesus tradition is merely a copycat of other mystery religions about dying and rising gods
The point: Most of these are nothing more than grasping at straws using spurious quotes or ideas, none of which do a thing to discredit the gospels or show that Christianity is a sort of copycat religion.
Boyd closes with a profound quote:
For me, it comes down to this: There’s no competition. The evidence for Jesus being who the disciples said he was—for having done the miracles that he did, for rising from the dead, for making the claims that he did—is just light-years beyond my reasons for thinking that the left-wing scholarship of the Jesus Seminar is correct. What do these scholars have? Well, there’s a brief allusion to a lost ‘secret’ gospel in a late-second-century letter that has unfortunately only been seen by one person and has now itself been lost. There’s a third-century account of the crucifixion and resurrection that stars a talking cross and that less than a handful of scholars think predates the gospels. There’s a second-century Gnostic document, parts of which some scholars now want to date early to back up their own preconceptions. And there is a hypothetical document built on shaky assumptions that is being sliced thinner and thinner by using circular reasoning. No, I’m sorry…I don’t buy it. It’s far more reasonable to put my trust in the gospels—which pass the tests of historical scrutiny with flying colors—than to put my hope in what the Jesus Seminar is saying.
In summary, the claims of the New Testament are not only sound and internally consistent, but they are backed by scientific evidence and stand up to scrutiny against a whole host of challenges.
Those who deny the veracity of the New Testament do so against a mountain of evidence that demonstrates otherwise.