3: A Scientific Approach to the Bible: Practical Applications
did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down,
I suppose that even
whole world would not have room for the books that would be written
An Example of Logical Examination: Reviewing the Resurrection
Why we can be secure using the Bible: Questions & Answers
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.
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.
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 As an example of assessing the historical
documents and what they say, I am going to take the account of the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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Example of Logical Examination: Reviewing the Resurrection
the Resurrection of Jesus Christ
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
those of you who are not familiar with this account let me give you
the most basic outline of what happened.
was arrested, tried and condemned to death in what has to be one
of history's most unfair cases.
Jews prosecuted him and the Roman governor (unwillingly) agreed
to his death.
was crucified after a severe thrashing and died after a number of
hours hanging there.
was taken down and buried but within three days was seen, heard
and touched by large numbers of his followers.
primary challenge that is made is that this
never happened or
he never died or
there were other explanations for what happened
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.
The Writers got it wrong
the casual or careless mind, this might seem a possibility but the
more you think about it the more unreasonable this becomes, for the
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.
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.
and differences in the Gospels suggest integrity in the writers
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
historians testify to Jesus
Jesus Never Died
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:
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!
Jewish authorities had a vested interest in ensuring Jesus was
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.
Roman executioners had a vested interest in ensuring Jesus was
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.
physical state would have required him to be intensive care!
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!
The authorities took the body
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.
the authorities had the body they would have produced it!
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!
The disciples took the body
is a major problem about this claim: if the disciples took it,
they knew he was dead and they ALL
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
disciples would have to live and die for a lie!
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.
The Disciples Hallucinated
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.
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.
disciples didn't actually believe Jesus would return
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.
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
don't happen for crowds!
possibility of a hallucination might be possible for one, maybe two
people, but such diverse encounters cannot possibly be explained this
It was a substitute who died on the Cross
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.
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.
wouldn't have been able to live a lie and let another die for
him. (& afterwards?)
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!
disciples would have to live and die for a lie!
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
substitute would need to be a lunatic and so not convincing
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
whole Jewish world would have to be deceived - an impossibility
in the light of the records.
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.
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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we can be Secure using the Bible: Questions & Answers
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.
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.
the Bible came to be
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.
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
Do you know how the Old Testament came to be written?
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.
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.
what is very common in these books of the Old Testament is the instruction
of God to individuals to write down what He said.
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.
Pentateuch was mostly written by Moses
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
indeed sometimes, to surrounding nations).
historical books were written by Scribes as records
Do you know why we can trust the accuracy of these writings?
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.
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
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.
Do you know why we can trust the integrity of the writers?
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.
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.
were fearful of God and of their leaders. Result: integrity!
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
Do you know how the New Testament came to be written?
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.
Do you know why we can trust the integrity of these writers?
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.
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:
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.”
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:
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.”
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!
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:
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).
‘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!
apostle, Peter, writes in the second of his two letters in the New
“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)
we find the language of a witness who is concerned with the truth.
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.
writers had a very strong desire to maintain the truth = integrity
it is up to us to check their absolute beliefs for ourselves.
Do you know why we can trust the accuracy of the New Testament documents?
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!
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.
have an incredible number of manuscripts going back to earliest
days - beyond any other ancient documents
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.
Do you know about the Testimony of secular historians?
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.
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.
Do you know about the testimony of the ‘Early Church Fathers'?
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.
'Early Church Fathers' also confirm the content of the
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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let us recap what we have seen in this chapter:
An Example of Logical Examination: Reviewing the Resurrection
we reviewed the evidence for the case for the Resurrection
Why we can be secure using the Bible
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
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
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.