Christianity, Truth or Fiction

jesus_crossThere is an old saying that is Christianity were a lie, they would have made up a better lie.

Think about it. The basic tenants of the Christian faith are that a carpenter from a small town in Israel was crucified by the Roman Empire, buried, rose again from the dead, and that faith in these events is what gets one into heaven. These are just the basics. We could make a long list. To be a faithful Christian, one must believe:

#1 The Virgin Birth  A young Jewish girl of 13 or 14, engaged to be married, turns up pregnant. When Jesus is born, his mother Mary is still a virgin. If Jesus is the Messiah (chosen one, rendered Christ in the Greek) he must fulfill the virgin born prophesy of Isaiah 8. Virgin birth is also required for #2 to be true.

#2 Son of God  Mary is pregnant by immaculate conception, which is to say the child she carries is miraculously the offspring of God. Jesus is born into the lineage of David, by his birth mother, and carries the bloodline of God himself. Which brings us to…

#3 The God Man  Jesus is not just the Son of God, the way we are all children of God, he is Emmanuel, “God with us.” This fulfills prophecies in Isaiah 9, and means that Jesus is actually God in the form of a man. He is fully God and fully man at the same time. Even if you believe immaculate conception, virgin birth, and God/man, this is still not the hard stuff.

#4 Miracles of Jesus  During his 3 1/2 ministry, Jesus walked on water, calmed wind and sea, healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, cast out demons, and raised the dead. While being fully human, he still commanded the forces of nature with supernatural ability; but only where people had faith. In his hometown, for instance, there was little faith and he could perform few miracles.

#5 Death on the Cross  It may not be hard to believe that being nailed to a cross, after a harsh beating, could kill a person. The Romans crucified thousands. But in light of the resurrection, many claim that Jesus simply passed out or lapsed into a comma. There were no CAT scans or EKG readings in those days. Many non-believers simply claim that Jesus was never dead, and dismiss the resurrection.

#6 The Resurrection  Jesus died on a Friday evening, and was buried in a sealed tomb with armed guards. On Sunday morning, 2 women found the tomb empty. Their initial response is that the body of Jesus has been stolen away, and they don’t know where. They think the Romans have moved the body, the Roman and Jewish leaders blame the disciples for stealing it. Faith in Christ means that one believes Jesus died, was buried for 3 days, and them came back to life: by his own power.

Now, here’s the deal. I am a Christian leader; I teach and minister. I didn’t write this list to destroy your faith, or help atheists defend their position. I gave you these things to say this: If Christianity were a lie, we would come up with a better lie. This is just too far out there to work as fiction, at least if you’re trying to be believable.

Let’s examine our sources. The story of Jesus is recorded in the 4 gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Only Matthew and John were disciples, and of those Matthew (Levi) had been a tax collector, and most Jews hated him. John’s gospel varies greatly from the others, is not in chronological order, and assumes from the beginning one believes Jesus is God before even telling the story. Mark and Luke record events second hand, Mark being an associate of Peter, not the most stable guy in the world, and Luke is the physician of Paul, a “later” disciple of Jesus. If the early Christians were lying, or fake, they would have come up with more believable authors, like perhaps a Gospel of Peter, or the Gospel of Mary. By the way, such documents do exist, but were dismissed as fakes by the early Christian church. The early church recognized the true stories of Jesus, despite their seemingly “low quality” of authorship. It must be the truth, because it’s a pretty sorry lie.

Also consider that when the gospels came out, other contemporaries of Jesus were still alive. If the stories were exaggerated or untrue, someone would have been writing letters that said so. A “here’s what really happened” essay, or other historians would have alternate histories. The Pharisee church leaders disagreed about what the events meant, but even they didn’t try to claim the events of Jesus life, recorded in the gospels, didn’t happen.

Look at Jesus’ words and actions in the gospels. This post is getting long, so let’s say this: He is either who is says he is (the Son of God, God in flesh, the Messiah) or he is out of his mind. He is either Emmanuel, or a stark raving mad lunatic. There were a lot of “messiahs” before and after Jesus, but this one started a movement that is still growing today. There must be something to that.

The first witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection were women. The first century Jews would not even hear the testimony of a woman in court. If the disciples were lying about the resurrection, they would have not claimed Mary Magdalene, former prostitute, saw him alive first. The tomb was sealed, and guarded. The official cover story circulated at the time was that the guards fell asleep. All of them; at the same time.

Paul himself says that preaching the cross sounds foolish. Living the Christian life requires one to strive for perfection. To a Christian, lusting after a beautiful woman is the same as sleeping with her, and equates to adultery. All of this taken together means:

Christianity must be true.  If it’s all a bunch of lies, they are the worst crafty lies in the history of telling lies. The liars went terribly wrong in lots of places. If it’s a lie, there are so many gaps, inconsistencies, and apparent contradictions that it never would have survived scrutiny. Yet those that have studied it carefully, highly intelligent people with advanced degrees, have their faith strengthened by their research. Jesus is either a lunatic (despite shutting down the scribes and Pharisees at every turn with his understanding of Hebrew scripture and human nature) or the Son of God. Christians are either spreading the truth of God, or repeating the worst pack of unbelievable lies in history. You know what they say: The truth is stranger than fiction.

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9 thoughts on “Christianity, Truth or Fiction

  1. Pingback: Topics about Religion » Christianity, Truth or Fiction

  2. Hi Clark,

    I’m afraid this comes across as a bit of a desperate argument. Not every biblical scholar finds the inconsistent stories convincing. Like most religions Christianity seems to have been cobbled together out of a variety of writings, some better than others.

    Much of this argument could be applied to many other ancient belief systems – many of them have ridiculous stories to go with them – but that doesn’t make them true. When you talk about the Liar/Lunatic/Lord trilemma, you leave out the Legend option.

  3. Eshu,
    you’ve been reading (or recently finished) The Case for Christ, yes? Go back to chapter 2, the interview with Dr. Craig Blomberg. On p. 34, Blomberg makes a logical case press for the gospels being written during the A.D. 50’s and 60’s. He then takes us to the Apostle Paul, who began writing before the gospels were written. Paul had learned one of the earliest Christian creeds, quoted in I Corinthians 15, as early as 2 -5 years after the crucifixion. This time frame hardly allows for the formation of legend. If Christianity as we know it was formulated by Emperor Constantine, then sure, legend could account for it. But you know I don’t believe that.

    In the post I mention other comtemporaries of Jesus that would have been alive while the gospels were beinginning to circulate. If the historical narrative were wrong, people would have argued against them then. The Pharisees didn’t argue that demons were not cast out, they claimed Jesus could cast out demons because he himself was possed by a demon. Some of the very Jews that had Jesus crucified were at Pentecost when Peter preached against them in Acts chapter 2; and some were saved and added to the church.

    When I read the Bible, I don’t find a religion “cobbled” together out of anything. I find the whole Bible to be the story of how God relates to a fallen people, Jesus Christ being at the center of that relationship. As early as Genesis 3, God says to Eve “…your seed shall bruise his head,” speaking of the serpent. It’s in the promise made to Abraham, the promise in which his faith (Gen. 15:6) resulted in his righteousness. Compare Isaiah 53 to the crucifixion story in each gospel. Cobbled together? Nothing could be cobbled so well.

  4. You wrote

    “Also consider that when the gospels came out, other contemporaries of Jesus were still alive. If the stories were exaggerated or untrue, someone would have been writing letters that said so. A “here’s what really happened” essay, or other historians would have alternate histories. The Pharisee church leaders disagreed about what the events meant, but even they didn’t try to claim the events of Jesus life, recorded in the gospels, didn’t happen.”

    This is true also when you go to sources outside of the New Testament. In the Gmara (part of the talmud) it is explained that Jesus dealed with witchcraft, and another story (Toledoth Yeshu) that came out in the medieval times, explains that Jesus and his disciples after him stole something from the temple which enabled them to do the miracles.

    I am not surprised nor do I blame them for these accusations. Of course they would say this, they were the opponents of his faith. But it is remarkable that during the time the Gmara was written (just one or two generations after Jesus) it was apparently still so widely known that Jesus had done miracles, so that they couldn’t just deny it, but had to come up with an excuse for it.

    Agreed, it never says “Jesus” it says “that man” about a certain rabbi who “turned to idolatry”, but since most other rabbis are mentioned by name, it is widely accepted that it probably refers to Jesus.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toledot_Yeshu

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yeshu

  5. Pingback: Ask the leadership coach » Christianity, Truth or Fiction « The Master’s Table

  6. I mentioned The Case for Christ in the last comment I made. It’s interesting that Dude would bring up the Talmud. Chapter four of Strobel’s book deals with corroborating evidence outside of the New Testament. Even if the gospels were done away with, we can gather from the Talmud, the writings of Tacitus, the historian Josephus and others a fairly complete picture of Jesus the Christ. Authors outside of the Bible either confirm his deity, miracles, resurrection, and spread of the early church, or else confirm them indirectly by trying to account for the events with alternate explanations. For instance, an eclipse is offered as the reason for the darkness that occurred in middle of the day Jesus was crucified, which effectively backs up the gospel story that it went dark in the middle of the day. Secular sources will argue that Jesus was a sorcerer in order to explain his miracles, thus confirming he performed miracles. It is then impossible to claim that no miracles ever took place.

    I’m looking forward to reviewing this book, if I can finish it without saying everything. 🙂

  7. Pingback: The God We Wouldn’t Make Up « The Master’s Table

  8. Clark,

    Sorry I haven’t replied sooner. I’d like to thoroughly read and research the question before I respond.

    cheers,
    – Eshu

  9. Hi Clark,

    you’ve been reading (or recently finished) The Case for Christ, yes? Go back to chapter 2, the interview with Dr. Craig Blomberg. On p. 34, Blomberg makes a logical case press for the gospels being written during the A.D. 50’s and 60’s.

    Yes, I am reading it. I think you mean chapter 1. On page 33 Strobel, quoting Blomberg, writes:
    “Acts ends apparently unfinished – Paul is a central figure of the book, and he’s under house arrest in Rome. With that the book abruptly halts. What happens to Paul? We don’t find out from Acts, probably because the book was written before Paul was put to death.”

    Probably? Is that really the only possible explanation? Is it then reasonable, from this guess, to infer a chain of other dates? I’d say that’s a pretty thin argument. There could be any number of other reasons for leaving out Paul’s execution, like not wanting to end the story on a negative note? No? Impossible?

    Really, to be sure Acts is dated so early you’d need other Christian writers to be aware of it shortly afterwards, but there are no references to it for nearly 100 years. Why would this be?

    the writings of Tacitus, the historian Josephus and others a fairly complete picture of Jesus the Christ

    How complete a picture? Are these simply references to someone who sounds Christ-like or a detailed biography with all key events and teachings? I guess I’ll have to read the rest of the book to find out! 🙂

    Btw, how are you getting on with your end of the deal, Dan Barker’s “godless“?

    In any case, I’m sure these are not the reasons you became a Christian, nor are they the reasons I left Christianity, so I’m not sure what we’ll each gain, but let’s see.

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