"God's Love in the Old Testament" - Chapter 3



Chapter 3: "A Scientific Approach to the Bible (2)"




Chapter 3: A Scientific Approach to the Bible: Practical Applications


Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even

the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written . (Jn 21:25)



Chapter 3 Contents

3.1 An Example of Logical Examination: Reviewing the Resurrection

3.2 Why we can be secure using the Bible: Questions & Answers

3.3 To Summarise



One of the frustrating things I find about the Bible, is the lack of information. For example, I have pondered some of the incidents involving Jesus in the Gospels of the New Testament. How brief are the reports. How many questions they leave us with! How many things we are left to speculate about, yet the fact is we DO have these reports and they are remarkable in their harmony and their completeness. No, we don't have all the answers but we have sufficient upon which to build faith and come into a real relationship with the living God.

The Heart of Chapter 3: When we take the evidence and think about it carefully, the conclusions are quite clear. You will only reject them if you have come with a closed (unscientific) mind. The reasons for accepting the veracity of the Bible are many and good.


This chapter continues directly from the previous one and lays down a further foundation stone for belief. As an example of assessing the historical documents and what they say, I am going to take the account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ as shown in the Gospels. After that I will move on and list a number of reasons why you do not have to abandon your intellectual integrity to accept the veracity of the Old Testament.


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3.1 An Example of Logical Examination: Reviewing the Resurrection


Assessing the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

In much of what I have written so far, my mind has been focused on the Old Testament, because that is often where the critics focus their sights, but to give an example of historical criticism and highlight some of the things I have said so far, I'd like to do a simple assessment of a New Testament incident and weigh up the pros and cons of it in as logical way as possible. The incident in question is the apparent resurrection of Jesus Christ, on which hangs so much of the Christian faith.


The Basic Facts

For those of you who are not familiar with this account let me give you the most basic outline of what happened.

  •  Jesus was arrested, tried and condemned to death in what has to be one of history's most unfair cases.
  •  The Jews prosecuted him and the Roman governor (unwillingly) agreed to his death.
  •  He was crucified after a severe thrashing and died after a number of hours hanging there.
  •  He was taken down and buried but within three days was seen, heard and touched by large numbers of his followers.

The Challenge


The primary challenge that is made is that this

 - never happened or

 - he never died or

 - there were other explanations for what happened


Let's consider these things as logically as possible. Of course our critic will probably first deny that what was written was fictional and so that had better be our starting place.


a) The Writers got it wrong

To the casual or careless mind, this might seem a possibility but the more you think about it the more unreasonable this becomes, for the following reasons:


As we have commented already, writing was in those days much more of an arduous task than it is today. You only wrote if you had a very good reason for it.

         Writing was difficult


Examination of the four Gospels indicates that there were four distinct writers who all covered the ministry of Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection with a large number of similarities and sufficient differences (not contradictions!) to show different writers. They all cover the basic details of his death and resurrection and, as we'll show below, they come with a careful and systematic approach that adds integrity to their writing.

            Similarities and differences in the Gospels suggest integrity in the writers


Moreover, secular historians of that day also testify to the fact that the death was a fact and that the resurrection was a clear belief of the people. At the very least they wrote what they believed happened.

Secular historians testify to Jesus


b) Jesus Never Died

Once we assume accuracy of the writings (and we have not grounds to doubt them – to the contrary they smack of intellectual integrity!) such a suggestion is quite unreasonable for the following reasons:


First of all there is the political will of the Jewish leadership who wanted this troublesome preacher well and truly out of the way. They watched the crucifixion and as there had been, no doubt, rumours of a resurrection, would have wanted to make sure there was no question hanging over his death. He had to be well and truly dead and buried!

The Jewish authorities had a vested interest in ensuring Jesus was dead     


Second, there was the discipline of the Roman executioners. The possibility of failing at their job was unthinkable as the consequences for them would have been extremely harsh. Moreover these were men who saw death regularly and would have clearly recognised it when they saw it. They proclaimed him dead. 

The Roman executioners had a vested interest in ensuring Jesus was dead


Perhaps we should include here some thoughts about his physical state throughout this experience. After his trial he was thrashed to such a degree that he was physically incapable of even carrying his own cross (a usual procedure). The slow-death execution by crucifixion is considered one of the most agonising and barbaric forms of execution that has ever been invented.

Jesus' physical state would have required him to be intensive care!


Even if he had not been quite dead when he was taken down by the soldiers (and that's really unthinkable), being placed in an utterly dark and cold tomb would have done nothing for his physical state.The thought of him being able to sufficiently recover in order to be able to walk around, often some long distances, is beyond credulity. In modern terms he had lost so much blood and his body put under such intolerable strains, that he should be on a life support system!


c) The authorities took the body

Jesus body was taken and placed in a tomb by a Jewish follower of his. It was sealed with a large stone and the Jewish authorities placed a guard over it to prevent there being any possibility of it being taken with fraudulent claims of a resurrection.

If the authorities had the body they would have produced it!


When claims of the resurrection were made by the disciples, it would have been easy for the authorities to produce the body – if they had it!


d) The disciples took the body

There is a major problem about this claim: if the disciples took it, they knew he was dead and they ALL subsequently lived a lie. Of the eleven remaining inner group of apostles, ten of them died for their faith. They could not have done this if they knew that Jesus had just died and remained dead – an ordinary man!

 The disciples would have to live and die for a lie!



The transformation of this group from a bunch of terrified, disillusioned followers of a discredited messiah, into a dynamic, fearless, utterly committed group of purposeful evangelists cannot be explained by any answer other than they were totally convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead and revealed himself to them as the Son of God.


 e) The Disciples Hallucinated

This reason may be subtitled, ‘wishful thinking'. Again it is one of those suggestions that are put forward by those who have not bothered to think through the reality of what is before us.

Let's take the ‘wishful thinking' aspect first. It is suggested by sceptics that the disciples so wished Jesus was alive that they ‘saw' him in their imaginations. The only trouble is that the evidence shows that they had not believed his prior warnings that he would rise from the dead and found it utterly incomprehensible.
The disciples didn't actually believe  Jesus would return

They watched the crucifixion and knew that he was dead. Their behaviour – hiding away behind locked doors – indicates a belief that he had died and that there was no future for them. The record shows that a number of them found it almost impossible to believe the news that he had risen when they were told – even when they saw him! Their minds in no way were anticipating him coming back.


So what about hallucinations? Well, say the sceptics, they were in such a state of mental trauma that the mind does strange things. Indeed, but that is rarely a group thing. The encounters with Jesus, after his resurrection, were with a wide variety of people, in a wide variety of locations, and at a wide variety of times.

  Hallucinations don't happen for crowds!



The possibility of a hallucination might be possible for one, maybe two people, but such diverse encounters cannot possibly be explained this way.

f) It was a substitute who died on the Cross

This is the view put forward by Islamic believers, taught by their fundamentalists, which I have had said to me. Unfortunately, like so many of the views offered, it ignores so many of the facts recorded. There are four major problems here.

First what about Jesus himself? The record reveals a man who is utterly given over to the truth. Would he have been able to live a lie, would he have let someone else die in his place, and why didn't he continue for many more years on the earth? It denies everything we know about Jesus.

      Jesus wouldn't have been able to live a lie and let another die for him. (& afterwards?)


But then there are the disciples. It is inconceivable that a) it happened without their knowledge, b) they did not recognise him close up on the Cross, and c) they would have died for this lie!

The disciples would have to live and die for a lie!


Thirdly, there is the supposed substitute. Who would give themselves to a fraud, give themselves up to what is probably the most painful form of execution ever devised. Such a man would have been a lunatic and lunatics aren't very good at convincing others! 

            The substitute would need to be a lunatic and so not convincing


Fourthly for this to have happened, it required the whole of the Jewish religious fraternity to have been deceived because the substitute would have had to have been substituted before the arrest and trial. There was no way it could have happened once the process got under way. These are men who had known Jesus, watched him, listened to him and argued with him. In the trial at least they would have realised the fraud. Consider all the evidence and you realise how foolish this supposition is.

    The whole Jewish world would have to be deceived - an impossibility in the light of the records.


And So?

What we have shown in this section is a reasonable approach to assessing the truth or otherwise of a legitimately recorded historical incident. This was done in a great deal more detail in the mid-twentieth century by solicitor Frank Morrison in his book ‘Who Moved the Stone' that we have already referred to previously.

We suggest that the above approach is far more credible than the sceptical claims that are often made about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What it leaves the defensive critic stuttering is, “Yes, but how can you be sure about the writers?” If sufficient has not been said so far, let's consider that whole subject more widely in the rest of this chapter.


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3.2 Why we can be Secure using the Bible: Questions & Answers


As I have indicated in the first chapter, I am convinced that many people have doubts and questions about the Bible because, very simply, they have never read it, nor read it as I have suggested. However, there is also another very obvious reason why they are unsure of the Bible and that is that they don't know how it has come into being and why it can be trusted.

What I now propose doing, for the remainder of this chapter, is to provide some very basic factual information about how the Bible came into being, so that you can see that you can trust what is here. For now I will not ask that you trust the actual content of the Bible.

Remainder of Chapter:

How the Bible came to be



For the moment, all I will suggest is that, with the little information I am about to give you, there are good reasons to trust that what we have is what was originally written.


Whether the writers were confused is something else and that subject will be part of the underlying theme of this book. In this final section I will not justify what I say, for there are plenty of expert books that will verify everything I say here. This is ‘basics for beginners' in respect of the origins of the Bible. We'll do this by questions and answers:


1. Do you know how the Old Testament came to be written?


The word ‘Testament' really means ‘covenant' or ‘agreement' and refers to the covenant or agreement that God entered into with the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai (see Exodus 19-), for them to be His people. The first book of the Bible, Genesis, is about Creation, the Fall, and then those who are called the Patriarchs, early members of the family that became Israel: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, who lived in the land of Canaan but eventually ended up in Egypt.


The second book, Exodus, is all about how God delivered them, over four hundred years later, from slavery in Egypt, using Moses, and formed them into a nation. The subsequent books, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, are mostly about the Law, guidance that God gave them through Moses. These are then followed by a number of books that are purely historical accounts of God's dealings with this nation over the following centuries up to about (roughly) 450BC. There are then some literary books which are followed by a number of prophetic books.


Now what is very common in these books of the Old Testament is the instruction of God to individuals to write down what He said.


Thus the majority of the first five books are believed to have been written or put together by Moses. This was probably a combination of what he was directly told by God (read the books and you see the depth of experience that he had with God), and that which had been passed down by word of mouth or of limited records.

          The Pentateuch was mostly written by Moses   



The historical books were obviously written by scribes whose jobs it was to record events. The ‘prophets' were the writings of those who appeared to be God's messengers, called to pass on His words to the nation of Israel (and indeed sometimes, to surrounding nations).

     Most historical books were written by Scribes as records



2. Do you know why we can trust the accuracy of these writings?


Unlike the New Testament we do not have thousands of surviving parchments etc. revealing the Old Testament, going back to that time, for the fact is that so significant and important did the Jews consider these documents that whenever an original scroll became damaged in any way, it was copied with immense care.


If a scribe made even the slightest mistake, his work had to be destroyed and he had to start all over again. When he eventually had a perfect copy, the original was destroyed. Because of human fallibility there are nevertheless minor errors and wherever these occur you find them noted at the bottom of the page of your Bible.

    Copies had to be perfect and old damaged copies were destroyed



They are virtually insignificant and certainly have little or no significant effect on the meaning of the text as we have it.


3. Do you know why we can trust the integrity of the writers?


The text of the Old Testament reveals a real, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise God, who interacted with the people of Israel and who held them accountable for their behaviour.

They held God in great awe and thus held their documents, recording His activity in their nation, with similar reverence. There was no question, therefore, of anyone writing anything fictitious. The scribes would see themselves as being held accountable by God, but they were also held accountable by their leaders.
Writers were fearful of God and of their leaders. Result: integrity!


They believed implicitly what they wrote, and they were always aware of what we refer to as the ‘holiness of God' – His perfection and ‘otherness' – and THAT would always overshadow them as they wrote; they had to write correctly!


4. Do you know how the New Testament came to be written?


The New Testament is all about the coming of God's Son, Jesus Christ, and the creation of the church. The four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, tell of Jesus life, death and resurrection. This is followed by the so-called ‘Acts of the Apostles' which recounts the life of the early church and especially the activities of two of the leading apostles, Peter and Paul. At the end of the New Testament is an account of a major prophecy given to one of the other leading apostles, John, and it is usually simply referred to as ‘The Revelation'. Between Acts and Revelation, are twenty one ‘letters', some fairly short, others quite long, written by the early apostles, often to specific churches, sometimes to individuals, containing much teaching about Jesus Christ and about the Christian life.


5. Do you know why we can trust the integrity of these writers?


The Gospels were written because it was recognised that time was passing and, as some of those who had been with Jesus were now dying, it was thought necessary to make records of what had happened. The language of some of these writings makes us realise that these were not casual writings. You did not write in those days, without a lot of effort (no simple clicking on a computer keyboard for them!). In fact some of the writings suggest a very careful approach.


For example, consider the Gospel of Luke. Luke, we find in Acts (which he also wrote), was a physician or doctor, almost certainly a learned scholar in his day. In the beginning of his Gospel we learn that he is writing it for a friend:


Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:1-4)


I have underlined some key words. This is not a book written by a sloppy journalist. A little way into his Gospel we find the following:


“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar --when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene-- during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas , the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.” (Luke 3:1,2)


To locate the coming of the one we know as John the Baptist, Luke identifies no less than seven historical figures and six geographical locations! This is clearly straight forward time-space history!


Near the end of the New Testament, we find one of the apostles, John, writing a letter and using similar ‘evidence' language to corroborate the spiritual concepts he is using:


That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched --this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us . We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard(1 John 1:1-3).


The ‘Word of life', the letter clearly shows, is Jesus Christ. We've seen him, we've touched him, we've heard him, he declares, with the clear implication following – you can believe what we say!


The apostle, Peter, writes in the second of his two letters in the New Testament:

“We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.” (2 Peter 1:16-18)


Again, we find the language of a witness who is concerned with the truth.

Beyond this sort of evidence, there is a further thing to be considered when thinking about the integrity of the New Testament writers. Truth is crucial to Christianity. Truth in the New Testament, is a corrective and accountability factor as ‘holiness' was in the Old. It is clear that the New Testament writers would never have written what they weren't absolutely sure about.
N.T. writers had a very strong desire to maintain the truth = integrity


Again it is up to us to check their absolute beliefs for ourselves.


6. Do you know why we can trust the accuracy of the New Testament documents?


It is when we come to this area of consideration that the New Testament shines out and makes all other ancient documents almost look questionable by comparison. Or to put it the other way round, the numbers of New Testament ancient documents in museums outnumber most other ancient documents a thousand-fold!


In the museums of the world there are well over 20,000 ancient documents that confirm the contents of what we have in our New Testament today. When you consider many other ancient documents, which historians are quite happy about, you are sometimes talking about documents that can be counted on two hands.
We have an incredible number of manuscripts going back to earliest days - beyond any other ancient documents


No, the truth is we have an incredible wealth of documentation that makes the text of our New Testament guaranteed, subject to the occasional footnote, as we described in the Old Testament.


7. Do you know about the Testimony of secular historians?

Again this is not the place to expand on this, but there are a number of secular historians who wrote in the first centuries testifying to the presence of the Christian community and to Jesus Christ.
Secular historians confirm the existence of Jesus Christ


No one today with any knowledge of these things doubts the existence of Jesus Christ two thousand years ago.


8. Do you know about the testimony of the ‘Early Church Fathers'?


Not only is there the incredible wealth of evidence through the New Testament documents, and the testimony of secular historians of that day, but there are also the writings of those church leaders of the first two centuries who also wrote profusely and whose writings are evidenced by ancient documents in their tens of thousands in our museums today.
The 'Early Church Fathers'  also confirm the content of the N.T.


It is said that even if we had not had the incredible profusion of documentary fragments making up the New Testament, we would be able to reconstruct it simply through the writings of these early leaders who are usually referred to as the Early Church Fathers.


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3.3 To Summarise


Again let us recap what we have seen in this chapter:



3.1 An Example of Logical Examination: Reviewing the Resurrection

•  Here we reviewed the evidence for the case for the Resurrection

3.2 Why we can be secure using the Bible 

•  Finally we looked at a ‘beginner's guide' as to why we are able to trust the content of the Bible in the form that we have it today.


This chapter has been the third of various foundation stones of belief that I wish to lay in preparation for the rest of the book. It has taken the previous chapter on and first considered the logical outcomes of the resurrection accounts, and then gone on to consider a number of questions as to why we can rest secure in our acceptance of the biblical documents.


This has been a very light chapter meant purely as an introduction to the subject of the Biblical documents. There are many excellent books that spell out these things in great detail. The more you read the more you can be assured that we can take these historical documents at face value.



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