We – Muslims and Christians – need to learn to dialogue like this.
I think I’ve written on this subject before, but why not to keep on writing? This post was originally written here.
Suppose you own a Bible, but it’s translated in a style that’s difficult to understand. Or maybe your Bible has simply worn out from years of usage. If so, you can easily walk into any Christian bookstore and pick up a different version of the Bible.
The earliest Christians couldn’t do that.
There was no “Polycarp Standard Version” or “Saint James Study Bible with Limited Edition Camel-Knee Binding” on anyone’s bookshelf, and there were no printing presses or photocopy machines. Early Christians read the Scriptures from codexes and scrolls. These copies of the Scriptures were hand-written from whatever manuscripts the copyists happened to possess when a copy was needed. And so, it was crucial for copyists to reproduce these texts accurately.
But did they? What if the copies of the New Testament were corrupted over the centuries?
Certain skeptics give the impression that ancient copyists changed the biblical texts in ways that ought to worry Christians today (this is certainly the case with Muslims).
Here’s how Bart Erhman describes the status of the New Testament manuscripts:
Not only do we not have the originals [of the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament], we don’t have the first copies of the originals.… What we have are copies made later—much later. … These copies differ from one another in so many places that we don’t even know how many differences there are. … Christianity … is a textually oriented religion whose texts have been changed, surviving only in copies that vary from one another, sometimes in highly significant ways.
Such statements suggest that the process of copying the Scriptures worked something like the Telephone Game (much like skeptics have depicted the oral histories you learned about in a previous chapter). In the Telephone game, of course, you might start with “I like pepperoni pizza” but end up with “Don’t let the purple aliens build pyramids when the zombies attack.”
Could it be that the verses in the New Testament have been similarly corrupted by careless copyists? If so, even if the original New Testament texts told the truth, how can we be sure that what we read in the New Testament today is true, since it may have changed over the centuries? Has the message of Jesus been lost in transmission?
Truth be told, the skeptics’ claims are overblown. The New Testament has not changed significantly over the centuries, and nothing essential to the message of Jesus has been lost in transmission. In the first place, manuscripts weren’t copied a single time and then tossed aside, like the individual sentences whispered around the circle in a Telephone Game. Manuscripts were kept, repeatedly copied, and sometimes used to check later copies.
What’s more, textual critics today don’t start with the manuscripts left over at the end of the copying process, like the last sentence uttered in the Telephone Game. The Greek text that stands behind today’s New Testament is the result of careful reconstruction using the earliest surviving manuscripts, not a few leftovers at the end!
So, yes, copyists made mistakes, and some copyists even altered texts. And yet, such lapses were relatively rare. Copyists worked hard to keep their copies correct and, for the most part, they got it right. Even when they didn’t get it right, most of their mistakes were mere misspellings or slips of the pen—variants that are easy to spot and easily corrected. When it comes to more difficult variants, so many manuscripts and fragments of the New Testament have survived that scholars can almost always reconstruct the original reading of the text. In those few instances where uncertainty about the right reading remains, none of the possibilities changes anything that Christians believe about God or about his work in the world.
So did copyists make changes in the manuscripts? Of course they did!
The copyists were human beings, and being human means making mistakes. Since God chose not to override their humanity as they copied the New Testament, these human beings were every bit as prone to short attention spans, poor eyesight, and fatigue as you or me. They had no eyeglasses or contact lenses to sharpen their vision, and they relied on the flickering light of lamps to see.
Since God did not “re-inspire” the text each time it was reproduced, sometimes the copyists miscopied their sources. Once in a while, they even tried to fix things that weren’t broken by changing words that they thought a heretic might misconstrue. The result is hundreds of thousands of copying variants scattered among the New Testament manuscripts.
One popular skeptic’s much-repeated soundbite is that “there are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament”; this statement is technically true but—unless his listeners are aware of the vast number of New Testament manuscripts that survive today—it’s also a bit misleading.
There are around 138,000 words in the Greek New Testament, and hundreds of thousands of variants can be found scattered among the Greek manuscripts— but that number of variants comes from adding up every difference in every surviving manuscript from the Greek New Testament. Well over 5,000 Greek New Testament manuscripts have been preserved as a whole or in part—more than any other text from the ancient world! With so many surviving manuscripts, it doesn’t take long for the number of variants to exceed the number of words in the Greek New Testament.
If only one manuscript of the New Testament had survived, there would have been zero variants (and this single manuscript would probably have become an idol to which people would make pilgrimages today!). But early Christians believed that all of God’s Word should be accessible to all of God’s people. And so, every church seemed to have possessed its own codexes of apostolic texts—and that’s why more than 5,000 whole or partial manuscripts survive today.
Spread across millions and millions of words in more than 5,000 manuscripts, the variations represent a small percentage of the total text. According to one scholar, the New Testament text is 92.6% stable. In other words, all these differences affect less than 8% of the New Testament text! What’s more, the overwhelming majority of these differences have to do with words that are misspelled or rearranged—differences that have no impact on the translation or meaning of the text.
What this means practically is that the text of the New Testament has been sufficiently preserved for us to recover the words that God intended and inspired. What’s more, several portions of the New Testament survive from the second century—a century or less after the time when God first inspired eyewitnesses of the risen Lord to write!
The New Testament is, in fact, the best preserved text from the ancient world. Greek scholar D.A. Carson sums up the issue in this way: “The purity of text is of such a substantial nature that nothing we believe to be true, and nothing we are commanded to do, is in any way jeopardized by the variants.”
Portions of this blog post were contributed by Elijah Hixson.
We know (if you are familiar with what the Muslims claim) that every single book in antiquity has been corrupted. By corruption, I mean that people used to keep on copying the manuscripts, and therefore some errors happened. This is certainly the case with the New Testament. There was never an intention to control the text (check out the debate about the Quran with James White that I posted below). The text needed to get out of Jerusalem so that everybody knew what had happened.
Every single person had a different book (either the letter to the Romans, or to the Corinthians) and they made a copy for themselves or for their family. Nobody was trying to alter them on purpose. It is impossible to think that people would get so victorious at changing the doctrines in the New Testament so perfectly, at the same time – without even being organized. The New Testament Manuscript tradition has thousand and thousands of manuscripts.
The Muslim claim is that the Quran we have now has always been the same ever since Gabriel dictated it to Muhammad. But if we are to apply the same standard – not a double standard – on how we treat the Quran and the New Testament, then the Quran is also corrupt. And if it is corrupted – just like any book of antiquity is – then the doctrine of perfect preservation of the Quran is false. That would mean… many things, I guess. No eternal tablets in heaven, no assurance of what Muhammad and his companions wrote down were actually Allah’s words. No hope that Allah’s language is Arabic or that Islam is the religion that pleases Allah or actually true… The Quran is just another book.
If the perfect preservation of the Quran fails… how can Islam survive? Listen to the questions White raises. Where are the manuscripts of the Quran? There are variations in the text of the Quran? How do you know what the original said? Muslims say there are 450 thousand Quran manuscripts. Fine. Where are they? We want to see the list. We can give you all the list of the New Testament manuscripts, and you can go online and find the entire catalog right now. Where is that for the Quran?
You might also want to read Dr. James White’s What every Christian needs to know about the Quran. It’s very a well documented research on the history of how the Quran came to be from the main Islamic sources. But if you watch the top two debates, I’m sure you’ll get the idea.
 Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), 7, 10–11, 69, 132, 208.
 See also Daniel B. Wallace, “Lost in Transmission,” Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2011), 31–33; Darrell Bock, (Nashville: Nelson, 2010), 71.
 See Bart Ehrman’s scholarly work The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). In those relatively few instances where the text has been intentionally altered, it was not primarily heretics altering New Testament texts to fit their beliefs; it was often the orthodox altering texts for the perceived purpose of preventing misuse of the text by heretics. While one may take issue with some of Ehrman’s specific applications, his overall case is well-argued.
 Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 90.
 Ehrman (Misquoting Jesus, 89) places the high end of his estimate at 400,000. Careful statistical analysis by Peter Gurry has resulted in an estimate between 500,000 and 550,000, not including misspellings (“Demanding a Recount,” presentation, Evangelical Theological Society, 2014).
 The listing in 2003 included a total of 5,735 manuscripts of the Greek New Testament represented in whole or in part (Bruce Metzger and Bart Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament 4th ed. [New York: Oxford University Press, 2005], 50).
 K. Martin Heide, “Assessing the Stability of the Transmitted Texts of the New Testament and The Shepherd of Hermas,” The Reliability of the New Testament, ed. Robert Stewart (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2011), 138. This percentage coheres well with the seven percent figure for variants suggested by Paul Wegner, A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2006), 231.
 Wallace, “Lost in Transmission,” 20–21.
Last time, we discussed the eyewitness testimony for Jesus by demonstrating the validity of the Gospel records. Such an endeavor was important to establish particular witnesses found within the Gospel accounts. We have seen that one holds good reasons for accepting that the apostle Matthew had, at least in part, a hand in the writing of the First Gospel; that John Mark wrote down the information found in the Second Gospel; that the physician and co-hort of Paul—Luke—wrote the third Gospel; and that the apostle John wrote the Fourth Gospel. But, how does this influence the eyewitness testimony that one holds for Jesus of Nazareth?
The Testimony of Peter
As noted last week, Irenaeus notes that “Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter.” Thus, the church unanimously accepted that John Mark recorded the testimony of one Simon Peter.
The Gospel of Mark does focus quite a bit on the life of Simon Peter. Of the information in Matthew’s Gospel believed to have been taken from Mark, the majority of the shared material deals with the life of Simon Peter. Thus, the believer has essentially the eyewitness testimony from one of the inner circle disciples—Simon Peter.
The Testimony of John
Last time, we noted that despite the skepticism of some modern scholars, the majority of internal and external evidence for the Fourth Gospel demonstrate that the apostle John wrote the text. It has always amazed me how one misses John’s imprint in the Fourth Gospel. In John 21:1-2, the writer lists Jesus’ appearance to seven disciples “Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together” (John 21:1-2). It is interesting that John the son of Zebedee is never explicitly listed, but rather this “disciple who Jesus loved” (John 21:7). It was Peter and this mysterious disciple who traveled to the tomb of Jesus. Who else would one imagine accompanying Peter to the tomb other than John the apostle? In fact, John the apostle is linked to being the caretaker of Jesus’ mother after Jesus’ death by the early church fathers.
Among the writings of the early church fathers, there is a letter written by Ignatius to John the apostle. These writings are normally attributed to the late first-century. Nevertheless, Ignatius writes, “There are also many of our women here, who are desirous to see Mary [the mother] of Jesus, and wish day by day to run off from us to you, that they may meet with her, and touch those breasts of hers which nourished the Lord Jesus, and may inquire of her respecting some rather secret matters.”
Even if the letter is spurious, it demonstrates the early acceptance of the idea that John the apostle assumed the role of caretaker of Mary, the mother of Jesus. This mysterious disciple whom Jesus loved is also linked with being the caretaker of Mary, the mother of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel (John 19:26-27). Then, the Gospel states as a postscript, “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know his testimony is true” (John 21:24). What this tells us is that we have another witness by an inner circle disciple. Even if John was written by a disciple of the apostle, we would still have eyewitness testimony about Jesus since the apostolic witness would have been recorded.
The Testimony of Matthew
As we noted last week, good reasons exist to hold the apostle Matthew as the author of at least part of the First Gospel. It seems quite odd that the early church would choose Matthew, a tax-collector, as the author of the First Gospel if it were in fact not based upon truth. I could provide further reasons for holding Matthean authorship. But suffice it to say, that if one accepts the apostle Matthew as the writer of the First Gospel, then one has another apostolic eyewitness for Jesus of Nazareth.
The Testimony of the Early Church
We have already noted the existence of pre-New Testament material in the letters of Paul and, some would say, in the Gospels. This is particularly the case in Luke’s Gospel where Luke notes that he used the testimony of those “who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word [who] have delivered them to us” (Luke 1:2). Thus, in Luke’s Gospel, one will find a panoply of eyewitness testimonies from various individuals used by Luke to construct his Gospel account.
The Testimony of Mary the Mother of Jesus
The first few chapters of Luke’s Gospel relays information pertaining to the birth of Jesus and the experiences that Mary, the mother of Jesus had before Jesus’ birth. Robert Stein states that “It is clear from the first chapter of Matthew as well as the traditional nature of the material in Luke 1–2 that Luke did not create all this material.”
Luke records the Magnificat (Mary’s Song of Praise) in Luke 1:46-55. In addition, the Evangelist records particularly intimate details about Mary such as the time when Mary “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Since this material is not original to Luke, and since pagan myths do not account for the inclusion, it seems to me that the most likely explanation is that Luke received the eyewitness testimony of Mary, the mother of Jesus for the beginning of his Gospel.
Thus, I would argue that one has the eyewitness testimony of Mary in Luke’s Gospel, which further adds to the testimony found within the Gospel narratives.
Undoubtedly, there are many more witnesses than those presented in this article. Nevertheless, one may still remain skeptical. It is quite apparent that not everyone will accept all of my conclusions in this article. But let it be said that even if one does not accept the evidence listed in this section of our presentation, one still must accept the early eyewitness testimony found in the pre-New Testament creeds and formulations.
Therefore, when coupled with the Gospel accounts, the eyewitness testimony for Jesus of Nazareth is quite good. Jesus of Nazareth passes the eyewitness testimony examination of the historical method.
Our investigation is not quite yet complete. Next time, we will examine two other areas of historical research offered by New Testament scholar Michael Licona. Thus far, Jesus of Nazareth has withstood the scrutiny of the historical method. Will he continue to remain standing after these final two areas of research?
Ignatius of Antioch. “The Epistle of Ignatius to St. John the Apostle.” In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.
Irenaeus of Lyons. “Irenæus against Heresies.” In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.
Stein, Robert H. Luke. The New American Commentary. Volume 24. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992.
 Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 414.
 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).
 Ignatius of Antioch, “The Epistle of Ignatius to St. John the Apostle,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 124.
 Robert H. Stein, Luke, vol. 24, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 81.
 See Stein, Luke, NAC, 81.
When it comes to messianic expectations at the time of Jesus, Christians can be unaware that other names were used to describe the messianic person other than the “Messiah.”
Two of these names are “Son of God” and “Son of Man.”
The “Son of Man” (bar nash, or bar nasha) expression is seen in Jesus’ earthly ministry (Mk. 2:10,28; 10:45; Matt. 13:37). But even in His earthly ministry, Jesus speaks of His authority on earth because the Son of Man has received his authority from God in heaven (as depicted in Dan. 7:9–14). For example, Jesus says to the scribes who question His presumption in declaring the paralyzed man’s sins forgiven: “… that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mk. 2:10). 1
Having received His authority from heaven, Jesus now exercises it in His ministry on earth. Even authoritative claims such as, “the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (Mk 2:28) would cause a Jewish hearer to remember that God is the only one who commanded his people to respect it (Exod. 20:8–11).2 While Son of Man is used to refer to the the suffering, death, and and resurrection of Jesus (Mk. 8:31;9:31;10:33), it also refers to eschatological judgment (Matt. 25:31-36; Mk.14:60-65).
Jesus spoke of this function in the following texts:
When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with him, then He will sit on his glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations , and He will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and He will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father , inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…’ Then He will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels….’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Matt. 25: 31-36).
You, who have persevered with me in my tribulations, when the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne will also sit upon thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (cf. Matt. 19: 28; Lk. 22: 28-30).
One of the most pertinent issues is Jesus’ use of Son of Man in the trial scene in Mark 14.
We DO NOT want to minimize why Jesus earned the charge of blasphemy here.
According to Jewish law, the claim to be the Messiah was not a criminal or capital offense. If this is true, why was Jesus accused of blasphemy? Jesus affirmed the chief priest’s question that He was not only the Messiah but also the Coming Son of Man who would judge the world and would sit at the right hand of God.
This was considered a claim to deity since the eschatological authority of judgment was for God alone. Hence, Jesus provoked the indignation of his opponents because of His application of Daniel 7:13-14, and Psalm 110:1 to Himself. Let’s look at Daniel 7:13-14
I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a Son of Man, and He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
In this text, the figure is given a rule over God’s kingdom. All people groups are seen as seen as serving and worshiping this figure. Yet, in some sense the figure is divine yet in human form who is a second divine figure who reigns alongside the Ancient of Days (the term for God in the text).
Son of God and Son of David
When it comes to the question as to whether Jesus is the Messiah, both Christians and Jewish people agree that the Messiah has to be a descendant of David. The area of disagreement is when Christians make the claim that Jesus is the divine, Son of God. What Christians tend to forget is that when Jewish people think of the Davidic King as the Son of God, it has very little to do with thinking the Son of God is the second person of the Trinity.
In other words, at the time of Jesus, “Son of God” didn’t necessarily denote divinity. Even though divine sonship appears in the Jewish Scriptures with regards to persons or people groups such as angels (Gen 6:2; Job 1:6; Dan 3:25), and Israel (Ex. 4:22-23; Hos 11;1; Mal. 2:10), the category that has special importance to the Son of God issue is the Davidic king. While God promised that Israel would have an earthly king (Gen. 17: 6; 49:6; Deut.17: 14-15), he also promised David that one of his descendants would rule on his throne forever (2 Sam.7:12-17; 1 Chr.17:7-15). In other words, David’s line would eventually reach it’s climax in the birth of a person who would guarantee David’s dynasty, and throne forever.
In Psalm 2 which is a coronation hymn, (similar to 2 Kings 11:12) is the moment of the king’s crowning. God tells the person to whom He is speaking that He is turning over the dominion and the authority of the entire world to Him (v 8). While David did have conquest of all the nations at that time, (Edom, Moab, Ammon, Philistia, Amalek, etc-1 Chron. 14:17; 18:11) in Psalm 2, one day God will subjugate all the nations to the rule of the Davidic throne.3
In Psalm 89, the Davidic King is elevated over the rivers and seas (v.24- 25) and is the most exalted ruler on earth (v. 27). He also will be the “firstborn” and enjoy the highest rank among all earthly kings. In Psalm 110, the Davidic King is invited to sit at God’s “right hand” (vs.1) and his called called “lord” (vs.1) and called a “priest” after the pattern of Melchizedek.
Keeping this in mind, let’s look at Romans 1:1-5
Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints:Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
In this text, Paul says through the resurrection, Jesus is installed (by God) as the Son of God (Rom. 1:4). Paul is not saying Jesus is being appointed as The Son of God is a change in Jesus’ essence. Thus, Jesus is “designated” or “declared” as the Son of God, the Lord—the anti-type of the previous “sons” in the Old Testament (Adam, David, Israel).”4 Paul’s goes on to reference Jesus as the incarnate Son who dies and is raised from the dead (see Rom. 5:10; 8:3, 29, 32; Gal. 1:16; 4:4–6; Col. 1:13; 1 Thess. 1:10).
To summarize, Jesus did consider Himself to be both the unique Son of God and the Son of Man. When we understand the cultural context of these names for the Messiah, it becomes evident that Jesus is both divine and human. Because of this, He is the only one who can provide both atonement for our sins as well as a covenantal relationship with God through his death and resurrection.
REMEMBER THIS WHEN YOUR MUSLIM FRIENDS TELL YOU JESUS NEVER CLAIM TO BE DIVINE, OR THAT THE NEW TESTAMENT NEVER PORTRAYS JESUS AS GOD.
1.Craig A Evans, From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 49.
3. Herbert W. Bateman IV, Darrell L. Bock, and Gordon H. Johnston, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing The Promises, Expectations, And Coming of Israel’s King ( Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2012), 80.
4. C.W Morgan and R.A. Peterson, Theology in Community: The Deity of Christ(Wheaten: Crossway, 2011), 119.
Some people are skeptical to the dating of some New Testament texts. Part of this skepticism stems from extreme liberal beliefs concerning the biblical texts originating from textual criticism gone wild. However, unbeknownst to many, such skepticism is far from unanimous in biblical scholarship. In fact, the scholarly world is coming to the understanding that the texts of the New Testament may be much earlier than previously anticipated. In fact, two radical scholars, John A. T. Robinson and W. F. Albright, have accepted an early dating for the New Testament writings.
Albright noted that “We can already say emphatically that there is no long any basis for dating any book of the New Testament after about A.D. 80, two full generations before the date between 130 and 150 given by the more radical New Testament critics of today.”
This article will not address every early document that we have pertaining to Jesus of Nazareth. Rather, this article will examine some of the earliest testimonies we have pertaining to Jesus of Nazareth. We will begin with, perhaps, the most important testimony we possess.
Throughout the New Testament, one finds early Christian documentations that predate the New Testament writings. These documentations date to the earliest times of the church.
Habermas notes that “It is crucially important that this information is very close to the actual events, and therefore cannot be dismissed as late material or as hearsay evidence. Critics not only admit this data, but were the first ones to recognize the early date.”
Several of these early traditions are documented throughout the New Testament writings. It is important to note that these traditions date to the earliest church. For your consideration, I have attached a formulation (listing out key historical events), a hymn (a song relating theological information), and a confession (listing out a statement to be said in confessing a belief).
In this formulation, perhaps one of the most important historical pre-NT traditions, Paul relates what he received when he first became a Christian and met with the apostles. This is what Paul records:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
In this formulation, one will note the emphasis placed upon Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and resurrection appearances. This tradition provides HUGE historical support for resurrection claim.
2. Hymn: Philippians 2:6-11
In his letter to the Church of Philippi, Paul recounts an early hymn that predates his writing. This hymn records several important Christian beliefs pertaining to Christ.
“who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).
Here again, one will find early testimony for the crucifixion of Christ and implicitly for the resurrection. Also of great importance is the early attribution of divinity that the church placed upon Jesus of Nazareth.
3. Confession: Romans 10:9
To the Church of Rome, Paul provides an early confession that predates his writing. Paul notes that “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Paul’s confession notes, again, the death and resurrection of Jesus.
These early testimonies are so important that NT historian Michael Licona noted that “Paul and the oral traditions embedded throughout the New Testament literature provide our most promising material.” Therefore, these traditions which number far more than the three listed are of extreme value to the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth.
So much information was compiled by Pastor Brian for the early testimony of Jesus that the article had to be broken into two sections. Next week, his examination of early testimony will continue as we take a look at the dating of the Gospels and the three earliest Epistles in the New Testament.
For my own writing’s sake, I just want to address one more thing – although I am almost sure Pastor Brian will mention it. These early testimonies are EXTREMELY important when it comes to Muslim-Christian apologetics. There’s a myth surrounding the apostle Paul.
He is charged by the Muslims to have made Jesus into a God. The Gospels – according to Muslim apologists – never show Jesus as God (never mind Jesus saying He is the Son of Man of Daniel 7, or Jesus receiving worship by Thomas and not rebuking him, among other examples).
If someone is to blame, it has to be Paul. There’s an excellent debate here on who gives us the truth about Jesus – Paul or Muhammad?
But the datings of this early testimonies are extremely important. The book of Romans, for example, was written around A.D. 57. Phillipians was written around A.D. 62, and 1 Corinthians around A.D. 53-55. Why is this important? It is important because this means that the disciples of Jesus were alive when Paul wrote his letters to the different churches.
The Gospel of Matthew was written in the late 50s or early 60s. The Gospel of Mark – although not a disciple of Jesus, but a friend of Peter – was written in the late 50s. The Gospel of Luke was written by a physician (and Paul’s companion) sometime before A.D. 65. The Gospel of John was written between A.D. 70-100.
All the people associated with Jesus – the eyewitnesses – were still alive by the time Paul’s letters were in circulation. Galatians was written in A.D. 48. Colossians, Philemon and Ephesians were written around the same time of Phillipians – A.D. 62. Besides all this, the epistles mention the other apostles. Paul knew Peter and James personally (Galatians 1).
If Paul was making all this stuff up, CERTAINLY the disciples would have said something. Don’t you think?
Jesus’ own brother James wrote his letter around A.D. 40-45 – way before Paul’s writings. And seriously, what did it take for James to accept that his half-brother was actually God in the flesh? James turned from being a skeptic to a leader in the church based on his meeting with the resurrected Christ.
My point is this: Paul did not make up the divinity of Jesus. Everybody who knew Jesus personally was still alive, and could have called Paul out on this, but they didn’t. Why? Because Paul was telling the truth even before the synoptic gospels were written.
Stay tuned for next week 🙂
Bibliography for Complete Article
Albright, W. F. Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1955.
Habermas, Gary. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996.
Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010.
Richardson, Kurt A. James. The New American Commentary. Volume 36. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997.
Rydelnik, Michael, and Michael Vanlaningham, eds. The Moody Bible Commentary. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014.
Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013.
 W. F. Albright, Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands (New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1955), 136.
 Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996), 30.
 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).
 Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010), 275.
I’m currently studying the Book of Revelation at Bible Study Fellowship (BSF). It is going great. It’s going to be some thirty-something weeks of deep learning into Scripture.
Some weeks ago, I was sharing with my group how “affected” I have been by Apologetics – I’ve described it as dating Jesus and marrying Jesus. When I became a Christian, everything was awesome. I was so on fire for God, and I spent so much of my time reading my Bible. Reading my Bible was all I did all day long – literally.
I’ve never worked because of my visa status, and I didn’t have children, so I had tons of time in my hands. Of course I’m not blaming India or Islam or any other thing that might have happened, but it is true that ignorance is bliss – for everything.
Studying apologetics has deepen my faith, but it also has challenged it. Actually, the challenge of studying apologetics is what has deepen my faith. It is really great. Do not get me wrong, apologetics is not bad at all. It’s awesome. Last year was very challenging, tough.
Circumstances changed for me, and the spark of my love for Christ was gone. At least the ‘feeling’. I remember crying and calling Jesus a liar. Oh my goodness… I am writing these things because I don’t want to forget how I felt. I want to remember. I want my children to remember with me. I never called Jesus any name – other than a cheater. I really thought He had lied to me, and that He was not my Savior.
I mourned for Him. I clearly remember telling Him that if He was not who the Bible portrayed Him to be, I seriously did not see any reason whatsoever to follow Him, or any other religion for that matter. I felt betrayed because I had reorganized my entire life – my whole worldview – based on His teachings. But if His teachings were a lie, then my life was just a show.
I knew Muslim apologists might argue that Jesus was a great prophet of Islam, so it would still be worth it to follow His great moral example. But while I called Him a cheater, I also didn’t find any other role model better than Him. So if not Jesus, then who? Who was I supposed to follow?
So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’
I am just glad Jesus never took to heart my against Him. And even though that feeling of being born-again gets lost somehow, this week I felt amazed at how directly Jesus can still speak to me.
This is when I go WHOA because the Bible comes alive .
I [Jesus ] know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first…
Revelation 2: 2-5
I felt comforted that Jesus has seen things that I have endured. It’s encouraging to know that He is with any one who endures hardships for His sake. And I also felt convicted, because even when the feeling is gone, Jesus doesn’t want the spark to be gone. He commands us to repent, and to come back to the love we had at first.
He wants me to love Him again like I used to 🙂
How does this look for everybody? I don’t know, but lately, I am trying to sing a lot. I remember that was one of the things that made me fall in love with Jesus. I used to sing. So today before going to my Bible Study, I listened to this song. It made me smile, and my attitude changed.
I just wanted to share the song with you. It might be corny, but it’s full of Truth 🙂
Bring your tired, bring your shame, bring your guilt, bring your pain
Don’t you know that’s not your name, you will always be much more to Me
Everyday I wrestle with the voices that keep telling me I’m not right,
But that’s alright…
‘Cause I hear a voice and He calls me Redeemed
when others say I’ll never be enough
And greater is the One living inside of me than he who is living in the world
Bring your doubts, bring your fears, bring your hurt, bring your tears
Every time I fall, there’ll be those who will call me a mistake. Well that’s ok…
There’ll be days I lose the battle, Grace says that it doesn’t matter
‘Cause the cross already won the war
And it makes me love Him more and more
Abdu Murray was Muslim – a very serious Muslim. His story really impacted me last year. It impressed me that people were willing to go years looking for Truth. Why wouldn’t I do the same? It took Abdu nine years – nine years – to investigate the historical, philosophical, and scientific underpinnings of the major world religions and views. Abdu became Christian.
I was a Christian! Yet, here I was doubting. I have heard testimonies of people becoming Christians because the evidence for Christianity compelled them. What was that about? I just had to know. I was about to jump ship on Jesus. Being honest, I never had the conviction in my heart of Mohammad being a prophet. And all due respect to Islam, I don’t think there is anything new or anything kinder or gentler or more compassionate in Islam’s teachings than what I had already learned from Jesus.
If I almost left Christianity, it wasn’t because I thought Islam was true. I almost left Christianity because I didn’t know how to handle my doubts. Not knowing what the TRUTH was consumed me day and night.
In all equality, I also heard many testimonies of Christians becoming Muslims. You know what, tough? It was never the evidence for Islam what made these people accept Islam. They always left Christianity – at least the people I watched – because no one was able to answer their questions. They never understood The Trinity, or they were sick of the hypocrisy in the Christian world.
There are thousands of people who leave Islam and join Christianity and vice versa. I know the videos I watched are not representative of the whole picture. But for me, DOUBT was definitely important to deal with. I think it should be addressed when talking about Christian Faith.
If you are not a believer in anything, you deal with doubt all the time. But even Christians, we have doubts, too. We doubt because of our circumstances, and I think that is a very human thing we do. God has answered my prayers many times. I have logs full of answered prayers. And last year in India, when I looked at them, I was almost cynical about it.
After eight years, I looked at those journals, and I doubted that those answers had actually come from God. Or maybe it had been God – but not Jesus. You have to understand where I am coming from. I was confronted with Islam on a regular basis, so almost all my doubts had to do with Jesus not answering my prayers. Or Jesus not being God. Or Jesus not claiming divinity. Or the New Testament being corrupted. Or Jesus not dying on the cross. I am talking Muslim-Christian apologetics.
So as I was listening to Rich Nathan’s series on Faith – Heroic Faith – I felt somehow able to breath. It was okay to have doubts. And I also heard Abdu’s podcast. Both were saying the same thing. They were talking about Richard Dawkins, and how blind faith is something Christians SHOULD NOT practice. They were also saying that Faith in something in the face of contradictory evidence, or even in the face of NO evidence at all, is absolutely UNBIBLICAL.
But the Faith encouraged in the Bible is the active action of TRUST based on evidence. We exercise this on a regular basis, we just don’t think about it anymore. We get on a car and we trust the brakes will work – because they have always worked. We trusted our lives on that car – because of previous evidence.
Cars don’t just explode on ignition and brakes don’t fail out of the blue. They might fail. Sure. Did I have CERTAINTY? No. I had Faith on that car because I have taken a ride for thousands of times, and it has never exploded. I trusted the evidence I had available.
Doubt is NOT a dirty word. According to Murray, there are a lot of solid followers of Jesus who have doubts. Doubt is not a bad thing if it drives you to sincere search. In the Bible, Jesus never says not to question Him. Actually, Hebrews 11:6 teaches that God rewards those who earnestly seek Him. Jesus helped those who sincerely confessed their unbelief to Him. He never drew them away.
Murray encourages asking questions, and he sees that this is a challenge that the Church is facing. Some people have doubts, but they never ask questions mainly because doubt is often seen as a bad thing. When a teenager asks a question, Murray says, sometimes he doesn’t ask his parents. And it is not because the question doesn’t have an answer, but because of the parents’ unwillingness to be questioned about it. Or sometimes, the parents themselves do not know the answer.
Inquisitive minds sometimes cannot settle for “The Bible says it. I believe it, and that settles it for me”. So it was refreshing for me to know that asking the tough questions was perfectly fine.
My heart was set on really finding God so I had peace about it. Sincerity is proven by our willingness to be proven wrong. I was well aware that The Gospel could be false, but it could also be true. Sincerity is determined by our willingness to go where the evidence points. I had to be willing to accept that to say that all religious traditions believe basically the same thing, or that to say that our differences don’t matter was insulting for those faiths and for me.
If I agreed to say that all paths lead ultimately to God, what I was really saying was that my choices don’t really matter. But real choice emerges only when the options have consequences. Faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is a choice.
I wish I had your faith. You seem to have a peace about you, a confidence regarding the future. You don’t worry the way I do about everything. I wish I had your faith. But I really struggle with faith. I have lots of doubts. I still have lots of questions about God or about Christianity…
I was so sure about many things, and then I wasn’t sure about anything. Rich Nathan, tough, continued in the series saying that most folks believe that Faith is something you either have or your don’t have.
But in Hebrews 11:23-28, we find that Faith is a choice. It is a decision regarding how we’re going to look at life based on the clues that God has given us. Again, Faith is based on the evidence. Moses chose to be mistreated. People saw things at a distance. Faith feels like a choice to see and not look away. Faith and Truth are more than a feeling.
So it is okay to doubt… I was happy about this. I seriously was. Doubting did not mean I did not have Faith. My Faith was based on the exercise of my will. My choice.
And I was in good company. Jesus’ followers where doubters all the way until the Resurrection. They didn’t even know who He really was. And that is something that skeptics seem to dislike about Jesus’ disciples. They render as shameful the fact that Jesus’ closest friends did not really understand Jesus’ purpose. For a historian, however, that is called Principle of Embarrassment. It is very likely that an event who might embarrass the author is true. So the eyewitnesses writing these gospels were very likely telling the truth.
John The Baptist was a doubter himself. When he was in jail, he sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He was the Messiah. John was thinking maybe he had the wrong guy. And this is John the Baptist. The one who was prophesied by Isaiah about making straight paths for the Lord. This is John, the one who leapt in his mother’s womb when Elizabeth found out that Mary was pregnant. This John is doubting whether or not Jesus is the Expected One.
And what did Jesus do? He NEVER calls John out on his doubts. Jesus actually heals more people right there in front of John’s disciples. He gives them more evidence so that they can go and tell John!
John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’ In that hour He [Jesus] healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And He [Jesus] answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.
That was Jesus’ gentle answer. He eased John’s doubts.
Every one of us has different doubts. When we ask God with a sincere heart, He will always guide us. So as followers of Jesus, we deal with doubt by asking sincere questions. But the attitude in our hearts when we ask those questions is also very important.
Why are we asking? Do we really want answers or are we asking just for kicks? Last year, there came a time when I was just so used to question Islam and Christianity that I kind of became a cynic. I began questioning just for the sake of questioning. I was praying, and my prayers were being answered during my season of doubting.
But as soon as my prayers were answered, I kept on questioning whether or not it had only been a coincidence. I was almost demanding God to perform for me. I knew I had to stop. I repented from my cynical approach, and I made a choice based on the evidence I had recollected for and against Christianity during my year in India.
My Faith is stronger. My Faith is very well placed. I am so thankful that my God never let go of me during those difficult times. I am thankful for my Savior who died for me. I am thankful that the information was available to me because it helped me recommit my life to Christ. I want to make the information available to people who might need it 🙂
Who is the King of the Jungle? Who is the King of the Sea? Who is the King of the Planets? J-E-S-U-S!
– My sweet daughter
A mom has a son who is asking if Christianity is true. This is a real mom I interact with, by the way. How can he trust the Bible? How do we know it is true? What if our faith is in vain? What if somebody made it all up?
All these questions are flooding her son’s mind because he has lots of friends challenging him at school. I do not have anything AGAINST these teenagers. I think it’s awesome they ask though questions. I recently discovered that when you look for answers, you find them. I am honestly all pumped when I write and when I read books, because I know that my children will ask me those questions. I want to be ready to give them answers for the reason why I believe what I believe.
“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…”
I have failed at being gentle and respectful. I know I have. I have asked God to forgive me, and also the people I wronged. That being said, disagreeing with people over faith issues is inevitable. I want to challenge my children to look for TRUTH. I myself don’t want to be lukewarm saying, “Well… this is my truth, then you have your truth, and all of us are right – somehow”
I don’t believe in Relativism.
Truth is true – even if no one knows it
Truth is true – even if no one admits it
Truth is true – even if no one agrees what it is
Truth is true – even if no one follows it
Truth is true – even if no one but God grasps it fully
I want to encourage my children to ask God to guide them when looking for Truth, because when your heart is set on finding Him, then He will show you who He is – guaranteed.
So I am writing this post for this teenager struggling, for myself, for my children, and for all the people who struggle or have struggled, or who will struggle with the concept of Christian Faith. All the credit goes to Rich Nathan, and Abdu Murray. I am just here to share what I have learned from them, and interpolate my own experiences.
I hope somebody finds this useful in their own spiritual journey. I encourage you to listen to the resources I provide at the end of this post.
You might be interested to know that there a lot of writers and thinkers who call themselves the “New Atheists”. One of the core New Atheist assertion that is repeated endlessly is Richard Dawkins’ statement that Faith is blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence.
For Dawkins, Faith is a kind of mental illness. Dawkins and others rail against Faith because whereas the New Atheists prove their convictions with reason, religious people live in a fantasy world totally disconnected from reality. As Richard Dawkins puts it, Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence.
And so the New Atheists love to talk about blind faith or something taken on faith or a leap of faith. What they mean is that people who have Faith are acting and believing without sufficient justification. People’s beliefs that are not supported by facts or logic. People embracing ideas despite an absence of evidence or proof.
I was definitely in this category.
For the most part of my experience as a Christian, I relied on reading my Bible and I never questioned its authenticity. So it wasn’t until my friends challenged me on the reliability of the Bible that I actually began asking the same kind of questions my friend’s teenager is asking.
What if the Bible is actually corrupted? What if I have blind faith? What if Jesus never died? Is that possible at all? Was I misguided into Christianity? What if I chose Christianity because I was never exposed to other religions? What is Faith?
So when I began having all these reasonable questions – that undoubtedly come when your faith is challenged – I felt awful. I felt guilty, and I felt like I was not supposed to doubt. I had no idea what to do. I wish I had had the “guts” to say, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it for me”.
But I couldn’t do that. I had to know more. In the next post I will address what Biblical Faith really is 🙂
Ever since I began learning about Islam, Judaism, and more about Christianity, I have really enjoyed watching debates. There’s something thrilling – for me, anyway- about cheering for your faith, while at the same time, being ready to take everything that is being said against your faith.
I think that has been a challenge for me. I had never heard such things against the reliability of the New Testament or whether Jesus never really died. It never crossed my mind that the apostle Paul might have invented Christianity or that Jesus was only a man – but not God Himself. Did I even understand The Trinity?
The easiest thing for me to do would have been to shut my eyes, cover my ears, and pretend to live in la-la-land where Christianity is perfect. I could have ignored all those debates, but I figured that if Christianity was true, then it would have to stand on its own. That’s why I decided to study other claims, and give those claims a chance to stand on their own.
The information you learn from watching a single debate is unbelievable. You come to appreciate the people debating, and you also grow to respect them. The more debates you watch, the more you know the arguments for and against your faith. In Muslim-Christian apologetics it almost seems that the arguments don’t change with time. But generations do change. I did not know about these things, and I find them amazing. My mind works like that anyway. I need to read, and research and go deep – very deep – into many things at a time. That’s why I am passionate about learning.
I never did that with Christianity. I never thought it through. I just took it in faith, and I think that was awesome!
But now, to think that the more I learn, and the more I read, and the more debates I watch, the more confident I become that I have placed my faith in the right place… it just doesn’t get better than that. The object of my faith is not the evidence. But the evidence confirms my choice over and over and over again.
That being said, there were several LIVE debates last week, and the world came to an end in my household. I just wanted to share them with you. I seriously think that if you see them all, you might feel your brain exploding, but you will learn A LOT of information. That’s one key to apologetics I believe: Keep learning 🙂
My dad used to tell me, ‘Son, if you are gonna walk on thin ice, you might as well dance’. With this Wood family wisdom in mind, I say to my friend Shabir, ‘Let’s dance’.
David Wood vs Shabir Ally