Good Reasons to Believe:
Highlights from The Case For Christ
by Alicia Motter-Vlahakos
A little more than a year ago, I read The Case For Christ, by Lee Strobel. I was amazed by the many convincing arguments he was able to make in favor of the Christian beliefs about Christ�s miraculous life and His purpose. For as long as I can remember, I have believed in Christ and He has lived in my heart. But it is wonderful to see such confirmation for the promise that Jesus made: "he who seeks finds" (Matthew 7:8). Since reading the book, I�ve wanted to record some of its highlights, for myself and for my friends. I attempted to make this short but it was difficult to condense the information any more than this. I hope you find this essay enjoyable and informative.
Trusting the Text
The Authors of the Gospel
There were four authors of the biographies of Jesus: Matthew (also called Levi), John, Mark, and Luke. Two of them had walked with Jesus (Matthew and John), but the other two compiled their information from the reports of the many eyewitnesses who had seen Jesus and were still alive. Mark was the disciple and interpreter of Peter and so his book, in a sense, was the Gospel according to Peter. Similarly, Luke was the physician and follower of Paul. Paul, unlike Peter, did not begin to follow Jesus until he met Christ�s resurrected spirit on the road to the city of Damascus where he was going to persecute Christians. It is pertinent that God used Mark and Luke to write the biographies of Jesus on behalf of these two leaders in the early church, one leader discipled by Christ in the body and one discipled by Christ�s body, the church. Probably, Peter and Paul were too busy travelling, witnessing, and starting churches to write their accounts of Jesus. The fact that Mark and Luke are known to be the authors gives credit to the sincerity of their books. There would be no motivation to falsely label them as the authors. Even Matthew was a former hated tax collector. But the Christians did not try to cover this up.
Another thing that gives these books credit, is the detail and accuracy of their second hand details, as in locations, times, and contemporary governmental leaders. For example, recent archeologists have found many sites mentioned in John. These include the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-15), the Pool of Siloam (9:7), Jacob�s well (4:12), and the stone pavement near the Jaffa Gate (19:13). There is also evidence of Nazareth�s existence as a tiny Jewish town during the Roman period. This town was unimportant before Jesus came. The accuracy of these gospel writers shows that they were not interested in promoting their own ideas or messages but relaying those that were given to them by God.
Finally, the sincerity of the message of Jesus� followers is hard to question in the light of the many whom died in martyrdom. Ten of the eleven remaining disciples died horrible deaths. If they were lying they would not have died for it. Even those who believed in Jesus after his death and resurrection, like James (Jesus� brother), Paul, and Stephen, were willing to die for their beliefs.
Though we don�t have any surviving originals of the New Testament, there is an unprecedented amount of manuscripts (copies of the originals) in existence today. We also have very early translations to Latin, Ethiopic, Slovic, Greek, Syriac, Coptic and later to Armenian, Gothic and more. Quotes from the scriptures are scattered through out early sermons and letters, as well. Of the Greek manuscripts, there are 5000 in existence today that are cataloged. Compared to other ancient documents, that�s phenomenal. Next in line is Homers Iliad which has 650 in Greek. In all, there are 24,000 manuscripts of the New Testament.
Another important thing to consider when looking at the reliability of a document is the amount of time that elapsed between the actual event and its first written account. Again the New Testament is first in line, and, again, Homer�s Iliad is next. The Iliad�s first manuscript was written about 900 to 1000 years after the epic�s composition and other ancient documents fall way behind. But this pales in comparison to the New Testament. The earliest portion we actually have is a manuscript of five verses from John (100 AD to 150). It is commonly excepted that Mark was probably written in the 70�s, Matthew and Luke in the 80�s, and John in the 90�s, still in lifetime of many eyewitnesses, including hostile ones.
However, there is reason to believe that they might have been written even earlier. Acts can�t be dated past AD 62 (Paul�s death) because it was written while he was still alive. Acts is the second of Luke�s two books, as revealed in Acts chapter 1- "In my former book¼ "- so it can be assumed that Luke wrote his gospel even sooner than AD 62. Since Luke incorporates parts of Mark, Mark is earlier- no later than about AD 60 or late 50�s- and Jesus died about AD 30 or 33. Aside from these reliably early gospels, Paul�s letters were mostly written in the 40�s or 50�s and these included creeds, confessions of faith, or hymns from the earliest Christian church, as well as important doctrines like Christ�s deity and atoning death (Philippians 2:6-11, Colossians 1:15-20, I Corinthians 1:15-20).
In our instant information society, it is hard for us to fathom how amazing the New Testament is in comparison to other documents of its time. We must remember the society it came from and take into consideration their traditions. Some have tried to discredit the accuracy of its message by pointing out divergences between its books in regard to details. However, there are enough differences among gospels to show they were not copying each other. Also, ancient bibliographies did not place as much importance on chronological order or quoting people verbatim if the essence was preserved. "Ancient Greek and Hebrew didn�t even have a symbol for quotation marks" (30). This might explain some of the variances between the gospels when it comes to chronology and quotes. Even taking this into consideration, Jesus� message is the same across the gospels. Moreover, the New Testament came from an oral culture that was used to memorizing long texts. "In studies of cultures with oral traditions, there was freedom to vary how much of the story was told on any given occasion- what was included, what was left out, what was paraphrased, what was explained, and so forth. ¼ One study suggested that in ancient Middle East anywhere from 10-40% ¼ could vary¼ 10-40% is pretty consistently the amount of variation among the synoptics on any given passage [of the gospels]" (54).
Who decided which books should be included in the Bible? This is a good question to ask. Perhaps, even more important is the question of which ones should not be included. Which ones are inaccurate and in disagreement with the gospels, and which ones were written much later by people whom had not known Jesus. This is the question the church leaders asked themselves when they solidified the Canon. These were the criteria for the canon: the document must be written by apostles or followers of them, must have conformity to the "rule of faith" (beliefs of the church that are normative), and must be widely used documents. The books we now have in our Bible include the traditional Jewish scriptures (The Old Testament) and the gospels and letters written by Jesus� followers (The New Testament). Within the first 2 centuries of Christianity, there was a high degree of unanimity concerning most of the New Testament (the first 4 gospels). "You see, the canon is a list of authoritative books more than it is an authoritative list of books. . . For somebody now to say that the canon emerged only after councils and synods made these pronouncements [is like saying] �Let�s get several academics of musicians [to say] the music of Bach and Beethoven is wonderful!�" (90).
Trusting the Tale: believable beliefs
So far, we have discussed the evidence that gives credit to the reliability of the New Testament�s text. However, if you were to study other writings about Jesus� time and region with out ever having picked up a New Testament, you could know a substantial amount of information about His life and the beginning of Christianity. The later Jewish writings, for example, spoke against Jesus� professed identity as Messiah, but did not attempt to deny his miracles (there were too many eyewitnesses still alive). Instead, they called him a "sorcerer who led Israel astray." (68). Instead of discounting his unexplained virgin birth, they assessed that he had been born of a Roman soldier. One Early Roman historian, Josephus, spoke of Jesus� wise teachings, miracles, crucifixion, alleged resurrection, and his large following that continued after his death. There is even corroboration (confirmation) for the eclipse and the earthquake that happened on the day of the crucifixion. Just by taking the information from all corroborating documents and nothing from the Bible, we could know a good portion of the Gospel. "First, Jesus was a Jewish teacher; second, many people believed he performed healings and exorcisms; third, some people believed he was the Messiah; fourth, he was rejected by the Jewish leaders; fifth, he was crucified under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius; sixth, despite this shameful death, his followers, who believed that he was still alive, spread beyond Palestine so that there were multitudes of them in Rome by AD 64. . ." (115).
If that were not enough, you could discard The New Testament and all the corroborating documents, and still know much about Jesus just through the Prophecies scattered through out the Old Testament. The details of Jesus� life were prophesied with astonishing accuracy hundreds of years before his birth. Here are a handful of them: He was to bear our sins� punishment (Psalms 110:4), enter Jerusalem on a donkey (Haggai 2:7-9 and Malachi 3:1), and be betrayed by a friend for 30 pieces of silver which was used to buy a potters field (Zechariah 11:7, 12, and 13). He was to be struck on the cheek, mocked, (Isaiah 50:6), and spat on (Psalms 22:7-9). He was to be executed by crucifixion, by having his hands and feet pierced (Psalms 22:15-16) without having a bone broken (Isaiah 53:12), a form of execution not yet invented when predicted. His death was to atone for our sins (Isaiah 53:9) and he was to rise from the dead (Psalm 16:11, 68:18-19, 110:1). The list goes on. When I read these I am filled with joy. God did not leave us in the dark. He wants us to know the salvation he prepared for us.
Many people can accept the fact that Jesus was a good teacher and a wonderful person, even that He did miracles. Some, though, find it hard to accept that "in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form" (Colossians 2:9) or that He is the only way to salvation. However, these are ascertains that Christ himself made. If these claims were not true, he was either a crazy person or a liar. In light of his miracles, I don�t find that to be an option. It was Jesus Himself who said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6). He performed miracles, resurrections, and exorcisms by his own power and forgave sins. These are things that only God can do. Many times, He referred to himself as the "Son of Man," which is a reference to Daniel 7:13-14. "¼ He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed." Jesus� omniscience is confirmed in John 16:30, His omnipresence in Matthew 28:20, His omnipotence in Matthew 28:18, and His eternality through John 1:1 (228). Christ�s Deity and exclusiveness is hard to question when considering his own claims.
I have presented only a few arguments put forth in The Case For Christ verifying the reliability of the scriptures and the Christian belief in Jesus� saving power. I have a feeling that beyond this book there are many more proofs awaiting those who are true seekers. But as the author Lee Strobel realized, it is not enough to seek and find. Everyone has a decision to make, to give his/her life to Christ and be saved, or to live for oneself and die apart from God. For those of us who have accepted Christ, God wants to use us to help others see His truth. I hope this essay has served as a helpful tool in confirming your faith or drawing you to a personal relationship with the resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ. God bless you.