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April 5, 2010

Is the Gospel account of the Resurrection Reliable or Sufficient?

by Dave Malnes

Today is Easter Monday.  With the angels above and the thousands upon thousands of saints from around the world, our hearts resonated with the words, “He is risen!  He is risen indeed!”  With a calm certainty and joyful assurance we greet this new day with a renewed spirit that nothing in this world can extinguish.  We base our hope on the One who never disappoints.  And with the celebration of Easter the afterglow continues this morning.

Yes, I know.  Those to-do lists have already greeted us along with that familiar cup of coffee.  Life continues.  But so does the Holy Spirit.  This glow we receive is a gift from the Holy Spirit.  And a gift we can hold onto throughout this year and one, quite frankly, we ought not to take for granted.

We are living in a point in time in the history of North America where the Truth is no longer being accepted as absolutely true.  The door is opening wider and wider allowing old philosophies, old religious beliefs to enter the mainstream.  Like old books dusted off from the shelves, they are entering our culture under new pretenses and being warmly embraced by academia, politics, popular media and even churches today.  And its gaining momentum.

I recently returned from a national conference devoted to witnessing to new religions with the highlight being a debate from a Christian and an agnostic.  The title of the debate was, “Are the Biblical Accounts of the Resurrection Reliable?”

A professor of religion from the University of North Carolina unashamedly pronounced that not only are the Scriptures unreliable regarding the Resurrection, but the entire Bible contains numerous errors and can’t be trusted.  His view, sadly, represents the opinion of a vast majority of state universities and private institutions across our land.  Throughout the debate, the professor noted discrepancies in the resurrection account between the fours gospels.  One gospel says there were two angels at the tomb, another says one.  One gospel says there were two women at the tomb, another says three.  They are legends, the professor stated, written decades after the fact to help people believe that Jesus was raised from the dead.  This opinion is coming from a man who is widely considered an expert scholar on the New Testament and early Christianity.  Anybody who disagrees with him, the professor insinuated, is not only out-of-touch, but unsophisticated and irrelevant.

As a fellow believer in the biblical account of the resurrection, we certainly don’t have to take a backseat intellectually to agnostic scholars of the New Testament.  Historically speaking, the Bible does stand as a very reliable source in comparison to other documents of ancient history. One can offer several explanations to match any perceived discrepancy of the resurrection account.  However, to be honest, it still does not add up for the agnostic.  Even if the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of just one gospel from one source, would it still be enough to convince an agnostic?  I doubt it.

While listening to the debate, I was frustrated to hear these two men spend 80% of the time talking past each other as they basically ignored each other’s points and counter-points.

If I were the coach of the theologian representing the inerrant truth of the gospel account of the resurrection, I would have asked for a timeout.  In my huddle, I would have encouraged the Christian scholar to spend some time defining the word “reliable”.  Defining terms is essential in witnessing to Mormons and must be the essential point in his debate with the agnostic.  Since the resurrection of Christ is the cornerstone of the historical Christian faith, “reliability” is not just a historical matter, but a theological one.  What we are provided in the New Testament is a harmonious account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The New Testament is not just a reliable, historical account of Jesus Christ, but a sufficient one.  We are given all that we need to know to receive salvation.  All the information is provided for any person to receive the free gift of eternal life through faith in Christ Jesus – even for New Testament scholars at respected public and private universities.

With uncertainty and doubt swirling around us, we can still hold on to the fact that the tomb is empty.

In an age of rapidly increasing technology and information available at the touch of a finger, we can still proclaim that “Jesus is Risen!”

When the daily news reports greet us with concern and anxiety, we can rest most assuredly from the news Mary Magdalene reported on-site when she proclaimed, “I have seen the Lord!”

When the daily circumstances of life seep into our conscience causing never-ending frustration and worry, we can say, “Thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (1 Cor. 15:57)

When confronted with life in a fallen world, when dealt with physical ailment in a fallen body, when our faith is increasingly challenged as being foolish, we can recall in 1 Corinthians 15:58,
“So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable.  Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” (NLT)

When Jesus appeared to the women outside the tomb, he encouraged them not to be afraid to tell others that he has risen from the grave.  Nor should we.  With the same power of the Holy Spirit that emboldened the disciples to share the good news that Jesus has risen, let us also be aware and encouraged to seek and be ready for opportunities to be witnesses of this most glorious event.

Jesus is risen!  He is risen indeed!

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