Witness Well

Witness Well

How can anyone believe that the whole Bible is literally the “Word of God”?

The Bible contains some strange stories that make it difficult to believe. To tackle this difficult question, it might be best to start with what is clear and then work toward trying to understand what is not clear. As I have stated in previous posts, the four gospels gives us a reliable historical portrait of Jesus. With certainty, we can say that there was a Jesus who lived, died and rose from the grave. We must conclude with what the Roman centurion said in the Bible that this man was certainly the Son of God. 

It is clear that the Lordship of Christ is the most compelling reason to accept the Bible as God’s Word. Jesus pointed to and clearly taught that the Old Testament was God’s Word. He commissioned his disciples to teach God’s Word with the same authority as He. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would come to help them do, say, and write in such a way that others would believe in him. It is the Bible that clearly reveals that Jesus is Lord. 

Since God’s Word teaches the central truths about faith and salvation, we can take comfort that all of God’s Word is inspired because God doesn’t make mistakes. However, I will freely admit that even though the Bible is God’s Word, I do not understand all of it. There are aspects of my faith that my feeble mind simply cannot grasp. There are parts of the Bible that are unclear and are left unexplained. Yet, reason doesn’t have to take a back seat in this issue. Briefly consider the following points; 1) There is a great deal of prophecy in the Old Testament that was fulfilled perfectly; 2) Archaeological evidence continues to support the Bible; and 3) There is a unity in the entire Bible that points to God’s loving pursuit of humanity and man’s redemption through Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah.

Even though I can’t explain the whole Bible, my faith remains strong in God’s promises. Why? Salvation is not about believing in a talking serpent who deceived a woman, how a sea parted or how water changed into wine. Salvation is recognizing our need for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ and believing in him. The evidences of a transformation of a new life in Christ are too strong to be overturned by occasional bewilderment. 

If you don’t believe me, start to read the Bible anyway.  What have you got to lose?

** This question and answer was inspired from the book, “Letters from a Skeptic” by Dr. Gregory A Boyd and Edward K. Boyd, Chariot Victor Publishing, 1994. 

If God loves us, why is believing in Him so difficult?

We live in a world of conflicting viewpoints. There are people who look into the starry heavens and proclaim, “There is a God!’  Thousands of children die of starvation and we ask, “Where is God?” In a fallen world, the truth of the Gospel and the views of the world often collide. Usually, the erosion of a skeptic’s worldviews by the truths of the Gospel is a process that takes time. 

Faith in God is not an easy path. Doubt, disappointment, and discouragement are all part of the Christian faith. Our trust is intertwined with a body corrupted with sin. Furthermore, there are aspects of the faith and various ways of God that will always remain a mystery. Christianity is not a giant “answer machine.” Yet, our rational mind demands answers.   

Faith honestly accepts the questions but patiently endures knowing that the questions will someday be answered in heaven. A believer’s trust and all they need to know now is the means toward being right with God. 

But what if God did write a message in the clouds to believe in Jesus. Would it work? I doubt it. Jesus performed miracles, even raised people from the dead and people still doubted. God sent plagues to Egypt, manna from heaven, and parted the Red Sea, yet the Israelites still doubted, rebelled and questioned him. Jesus even rose from the dead and still the Roman guards conspired with the Pharisees to cover it up. 

To be perfectly honest, God is pretty obvious. He is as obvious today as he was when parting the Red Sea. The problem is with us. God is present enough so that those who are led to receive him can receive him, but absent enough so that those who don’t want to receive him are not forced to. God desires faith because he seeks love from willing people, not forced behavior from robots.  

What God foremost desires from us is a loving and trusting relationship with him. Miracles can produce awe but they cannot produce obedience, and they certainly do not produce love. If God were to answer all our prayers, if he were like a genie in a bottle granting our every wish, this would only mean that we would use him, but not love him. Love acts freely and it must be free. Love must be genuine, from the heart. The truth of the Scriptures begins to make sense only after our heart has been touched by the Lord and our eyes are opened by the Holy Spirit. 

 

** This question and answer was inspired from the book, “Letters from a Skeptic” by Dr. Gregory A Boyd and Edward K. Boyd, Chariot Victor Publishing, 1994.   

How can you believe that a man was God?

When a person accepts the historical fact that Jesus rose from the dead, then we must also reach the same conclusion that Jesus is both God and man. Volumes of books have been written about this subject, but we’ll try to sum it up in a few short paragraphs.   

First of all, Jesus proclaims himself as God. He says things like, “If you see me, you see the Father” and “I and the Father are one.” Second, Jesus makes himself the object of faith. He consistently says, “Believe in me” in the Gospels. Everywhere, he equates believing in him with believing in God and rejecting Him with rejecting God.   

We also see the disciples calling Jesus “Lord.” The doubting Thomas, on seeing Jesus, cries out, “My Lord and my God” — and Jesus doesn’t correct him! Finally, the Epistles of the New Testament characterize the first Christians as those who worship Christ, refer to Jesus as “Lord” and “God”, plus boldly declare that Jesus and God are one. 

A remarkable factor in declaring Jesus as the Son of God were the first Jewish believers themselves. Unlike any other ancient pagan cultures, they worshiped only one God. What could have convinced the Jews that Jesus was in fact God made in the flesh? The Scriptures clearly indicate that it wasn’t a “resuscitation” of a corpse, but the resurrection of a man who embodied the kingdom of God – its love, teachings, and power – during his life. Then, Jesus ascended to heaven! He did not die “again.”  In fact, he was present and active in the establishment of the early church and is still active today.   

This naturally leads us to the Trinity. God exists and eternally has always existed in three different persons. God is Spirit and cannot be divided up. God fully exists as transcendent Father, while existing as Incarnate Son, while also existing as indwelling Spirit (in the hearts of believers). No one has ever fully understood the Trinity, but knowing it is crucial to the identity of the Resurrected Christ both in our hearts and our minds. 

 

** This question and answer was inspired from the book, “Letters from a Skeptic” by Dr. Gregory A Boyd and Edward K. Boyd, Chariot Victor Publishing, 1994.   

What was the purpose of Jesus’ resurrection?

The resurrection of Jesus Christ goes against all human reason. When a person dies, they stay dead. Yet, the resurrection of Jesus is not only a historical fact, but remains the essence of the Christian faith.

Alternative explanations to the resurrection of Jesus simply do not make sense. Roman guards were posted to protect the tomb from robbers. If the body of Jesus were stolen, the guards would have been punished with their lives. After his resurrection, Jesus appears to hundreds of witnesses. His appearances occurred over a period of time and to groups of people, thereby eliminating the hallucination theory. But how does this explain the empty tomb? How does one contrive a death on the cross and the resurrection? Finally, how does this explain the disciples’ sudden transformation from frightened men to bold preachers? 

The question remains, “Why?”

Jesus and his resurrection is the first illustration of what humans are going to be and what God intends them to be. He is the first true, eternal human being. He is the first butterfly to come out of its cocoon. In a way, Jesus is the first “zygote”, a cell formed by the union of two sexual cells, to go full term and become a newborn baby. If we had never seen a newborn baby, we would have a serious problem believing that a zygote we see under a microscope will someday become a human baby. Yet, it happens every day! It has become an ordinary event! Is the resurrection of Jesus any different or more miraculous than the miracle of birth?

The resurrection certainly seems extraordinary right now, but soon, very soon, it will be the universal rule. We are all destined to be resurrected on the last day, but not all will be resurrected to the eternal life in heaven that God has always intended for us. Scripture makes it very clear that many people will be denied entrance to heaven on the day of judgement. Those who do not believe in Jesus will be resurrected and then condemned to an eternal life in hell.

To be “born again” now and in eternity with God means to trust in the means of birth provided only by God. The only umbilical cord we have with God is through Jesus Christ. When we cut ourselves off from this lifeline, we cause ourselves to be aborted from God’s plan for us. We become refuse and destined to eternal torment and anguish in hell.

I implore you to not cut yourself off from Jesus Christ. Don’t reject him. All that you were meant to be, all the longings of your heart, your need for love, hope, significance, and happiness are fulfilled in a relationship with God through Christ. You were created for this. God wants it for you! He suffered death on the cross so you might live!  

**This question and answer was inspired from the book, “Letters from a Skeptic” by Dr. Gregory A. Boyd and Edward K. Boyd, Chariot Victor Publishing, 1994.

How can you believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead?

Faith plays a part in accepting the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet, faith can intersect with historical reasoning when it comes to the life and death of Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is probably the biggest obstacle for skeptics because it is the most critical issue of the Christian faith. Without the bodily resurrection of Jesus, there is no Christian faith. 

When we apply to the resurrection of Jesus the very same historical criteria as we do when we accept other noted events as fact, the results are startling. The evidence for this historical truth of the resurrection of Jesus becomes stronger than any other event in Jesus’ life. In fact, the evidence is stronger than many other historical events in the world that we have taken for granted. 

Please consider the following regarding the resurrection of Christ:

* Five independent sources have written testimony to the resurrection event, plus refer to numerous other sources as well. Their individual accounts are unique from each other and share common material, thereby validating themselves as truthful and reliable witnesses. No two witnesses will share the same story in exactly the same way.

The location of Jesus’ tomb was well known by all. Not only Jesus’ followers, but even his opponents all agreed that the tomb was indeed empty. 

The Christian church began several weeks after Jesus’ crucifixion. The explosive growth of the church was based on the message that Jesus was the promised Messiah as evidenced by his miracles and especially his resurrection.

* The resurrection accounts lack the characteristics common to legends. They contain details that would be considered irrelevant to the story line, plus named several prominent people who could have been easily cross-examined.

* The conversion of the Apostle Paul is unexplainable. This man was the leading persecutor of the early Christian Church, yet was converted in a moment. We can do nothing else but accept his testimony that he was personally confronted by the risen Lord.

* Paul gives us an early list of the resurrection appearances. Again, a large number of people could be cross-examined. 

* There was a huge difference in the disciples before the death of Jesus and after his death. One day they were hiding in fear, the next they are boldly preaching. This can only be attributed to their real experience of Jesus’ resurrection.

There is no motive for the disciples to fabricate this story.  The disciples had nothing to gain and everything to lose. 

The denial of the Resurrection based on historical evidence means that a person has to deny most of ancient history. The resurrection of Jesus Christ has to be considered as a valid, historical event. 

So, what does it mean for us?

We are confronted face to face with the question we all have to answer someday. Is Jesus Christ your Savior or not?   

 

**This question and answer was inspired from the book, “Letters from a Skeptic” by Dr. Gregory A. Boyd and Edward K. Boyd, Chariot Victor Publishing, 1994.         

Who really wrote the Gospels and when? How can we be sure that the Bible today has not been tampered?

The authorship of all four gospels was confirmed by the early Christian church at a time when they were being persecuted and martyred for its faith. Why would they lie? Tradition and the unique eyewitness perspectives further testify to their authorship. We are not absolutely 100% certain, but the burden of historical proof clearly lies on people who say the authors are somebody else.

There have been ongoing debates as to when the Gospels were actually recorded. A starting point of consideration begins with the book of Acts and the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Since the Book of Acts was written after the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and does not mention the significant event of the fall of Jerusalem, we can safely assume that the Gospels were written before A.D. 70. Due to other historical benchmarks, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke were written about 30 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (AD 60-65). The margin of time between Jesus’ life and death and the recording of the Gospels is very close by any historical standards. It is too close for those eyewitness accounts to be exaggerated or be considered “legends.” 

It is true that the Bible, the Word of God, was written by the hands of men. It is also true that we do not have the original manuscripts. What we do have are tens of thousands of ancient manuscripts that were painstakingly copied by human hands. As a result, human error (i.e. misspellings, misplaced words, repeated phrases, words left out) caused a few manuscripts to be slightly different than the others. The remarkable, even miraculous fact is that throughout the centuries the truth of God’s Word has been left perfectly intact. The thousands of ancient manuscripts verify the fact that we have today an authentic and accurate copy of the originals.    

To sum it up, we have reliable historical documents of a person, a small-town rabbi, who made divine claims about himself in a way that completely overturned the theology of the Jewish people. He changed the hearts and minds by convincing them that he was the Messiah, the promised Savior of the world. He did this not just by his teaching or his miracles, but by his resurrection. The question remains, “Who do we say Jesus is?” The truth of Christ is confirmed when the longings of our heart is comforted in the same fashion it answers the questions of the mind.  By faith, we know the good news of Jesus Christ to be true.  

 

** This question and answer was inspired from the book, “Letters from a Skeptic” by Dr. Gregory A Boyd and Edward K. Boyd, Chariot Victor Publishing, 1994.     

How can you proclaim the Bible as being inspired by God? Isn’t it full of contradictions?

There are many scholars who collectively deny the words of Christ. However, if we apply historical criteria to determine something authentic and reliable to the Bible, then we can safely conclude that the Bible is factual and true. I think today’s scholars are making claims based on human bias instead of a careful study of Biblical content.

In studying the Bible, we have to recognize that the Gospel writers utilized oral and written sources when they composed their accounts. One Gospel writer, a trained medical doctor, took great pains in making sure his account was accurate. He interviewed many witnesses of Jesus’ words and miracles. Since there are four accounts of the life and death of Jesus, there will be some differences. Each witness will give a varying degree of information. Yet, it is very important to note that the scriptures are not contradictory.

First of all, the information age had not yet arrived in first century Palestine. Our modern “snapshot-tape recording” criteria of literal accuracy was not the case two thousand years ago. Paraphrasing was widely accepted since most information was shared orally. The Gospel writers did not write to satisfy modern historical curiosity, but to save people by bringing them into a relationship with the Savior. Like a beautiful painting or vivid poetry, the Gospels serve to move our hearts and souls. The author and painter was God himself. The Bible is God speaking directly to us. His Word becomes so important, that he simply could not leave the process in human hands. He carefully guided and preserved each word that appears in the Gospels. 

There is a lot the Gospels don’t tell us which bothers our rational, historical mind. However, the Gospels tell us all that we need to know. Aside from accepting the Bible as a very reliable historical document there is another factor to consider and that is faith. The Gospels force us to look at Jesus Christ, the Savior, and ask, “Who is he? Was he a lunatic? Was he a liar? Was he just a legend? Or, was he the Lord his followers proclaimed him to be?”  

The evidence which addresses the mind, and the Spirit of God which addresses the heart, both point to the last of these alternatives as the only possible answer. We can take comfort in knowing that it is Jesus who will reveal himself as Lord based not on our human understanding, but by the transforming power of God’s Word. Our heart-knowledge will grasp the fact that God was in control of the writing of the Gospels and is still active in reaching the lost to an eternal, saving relationship with him. 

** This question and answer was inspired from the book, “Letters from a Skeptic” by Dr. Gregory A Boyd and Edward K. Boyd, Chariot Victor Publishing, 1994.     

How can I trust the Bible stories about Jesus to be true?

It is true that almost all of our knowledge about Jesus comes from the gospels. Yet, we don’t have to take the truth out of “God’s Word”. If we look at the gospels solely as a historical document to determine if Jesus really existed or if he did what the Bible claims he did, we discover some interesting evidence. 

If we apply the same criteria that historians use to examine ancient documents, we discover that the Bible holds up remarkably well as a reliable, historical document. When the Bible tells us about the person of Jesus Christ, that God was present in Him and working through Him in a most significant way, we can fully trust the words as being historically accurate. 

Let’s see how the four Gospels measure up with the criteria historians use: 

1)      There must be eyewitness accounts.  John tells us he is an eyewitness; Mark uses the Apostle Peter’s account, Matthew is written from the perspective of an eyewitness, and Luke uses eyewitness sources.

2)     Does it include specific details?  The Gospels are full of seemingly irrelevant detail which typically accompanies eyewitness accounts.

3)     Does is it contain self-damaging material?  Women, who were not allowed to testify in court, are used as eyewitnesses. The disciples are consistently portrayed in a bad light.

4)     Is it self-consistent?  The Gospels present a consistent portrait of who Jesus is and what He did, as well as the events surrounding His life.

5)     Are there “larger than life” features?  The Gospels include supernatural acts, but the accounts don’t have any of the features of ancient mythology. 

6)     Do the authors have motives for lying?  What could the disciples gain from telling the story of Jesus? Nobody can doubt their sincerity.  In fact, they suffered for it. 

7)     Any outside sources to confirm material?  There are many secular sources written in the second century that back up some things about Jesus and his early disciples.

8)   Are there any archeological findings?  There are no conclusive archeological findings which refute any biblical account, yet many findings which substantiate the biblical account.

9)     Could contemporaries falsify the document?  There were many who would have loved to stamp out Christianity. It would have been easy if the “cult” had been based on myths and lies. Yet, Christianity has survived and exploded in growth. Even those opposed to Christianity could not deny the miracles or that the tomb was empty. 

Based on the historical criteria, we can treat the Gospels as reliable documents and are good sources for history. This can be claimed without even mentioning that the Bible is “inspired” or “God’s Word.”  Due to the evidence, we must decide whether to regard Jesus as a skilled magician who tricked his way into people’s hearts and got crucified for it, a liar, a complete lunatic, or as the Lord which he and his followers claimed him to be. Based on the historical evidence, we can safely conclude that Jesus is the promised Messiah as foretold in the Scriptures. To claim Jesus as our personal Savior, however, takes much more than historical evidence.   

** This question and answer was inspired from the book, “Letters from a Skeptic” by Dr. Gregory A Boyd and Edward K. Boyd, Chariot Victor Publishing, 1994.