A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus
J.P. Moreland, Professor of Philosophy, Biola University
Mark Strauss, Professor of New Testament, Bethel University
Craig Blomberg, Professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary
Craig Evans, Professor of New Testament, Acadia Divinity College
N. T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, United Kingdom
- What you find in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John gives us very vivid portraits of who these people were and what they were doing.
- The New Testament (NT) gospels are biographies of Jesus. While the authors do not identify themselves in the text, from very early in the Christian era, the Gospels have been attributed to Matthew, a disciple, or follower, of Jesus; Mark, a colleague of Peter, also a disciple; Luke, a historian and confidante of the apostle Paul; and John, a disciple of Jesus.
- The gospels are clearly attempts to describe exactly what Jesus said and did, and the consensus of New Testament scholarship has moved in that direction.
- Luke was clearly a historian who had done his research.
- People in the first century valued eyewitness testimony. This is why from the 2nd century on, it was important to the early church fathers that the people who were alleged to have written the Gospels actually wrote them and that they were eyewitnesses of the things they wrote.
- We have early attestation of the authorship of the Gospels.
- The NT Gospels are by far our earliest and most reliable records of Jesus of Nazareth.
- The 1st century apostles were deeply concerned to get this information correct because they saw it as sacred holy tradition. Oral tradition is a community event. A story is passed down by individuals within that community. If they get it wrong, you’ve got an entire community that is going to correct them. So it is self-correcting all the way.
- Scholarly studies have been done on oral cultures and they have demonstrated that through several generations, oral tradition can be preserved and passed on without changing a thing.
- The vast majority of supposed contradictions in the Bible are quite easily resolved.
- We have thousands (approx. 5, 600) of manuscripts of the NT. We also have virtually the entire New Testament preserved in the quotations of the church fathers in the first four centuries, so that if we had no copies of the New Testament, we could reconstruct the NT from quotations from the early church fathers.
- We have an impressive amount of extra-biblical documentation that reports numerous details about the life of Jesus Christ. For more on non-Christian evidence for Jesus, see here.
- The Gnostic gospels are almost universally recognized to be much later than the NT Gospels and do not record historically reliable material related to Jesus.
Additional Scholars Interviewed
Michael Rydelnik, Professor of Jewish Studies, Moody Bible Institute
Ben Witherington III, Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Asbury Seminary
- Sages and Rabbis always taught that you have to teach in the name of someone else. That’s the way Rabbis were taught to teach. Yeshua came and said, “You’ve heard it said, but not what my Rabbi taught me, but I say unto you.”
- Jesus would clarify and, in some cases, even overrule the Old Testament (OT) law. For Jesus to say, “I am the authoritative interpreter of the law. I am the one who has come to fulfill the law” was the same as claiming the authority of God.
- Jesus clearly presents Himself as the self-revelation of God. Example- John 10:30.
- Jesus refers to Himself as the “Son of Man.” More than 80 times in the NT Gospels, Jesus is identified as the Son of Man. While the human connotations of the phrase are obvious, a broader interpretation is found in an OT scripture written by the Jewish prophet Daniel in Daniel 7:13:
- Jesus’ contemporaries, that is, people who liked Him, people who were indifferent, neutral, and people who opposed Him, all acknowledged that He did extraordinary things.
- The NT Gospels record at least 40 separate miracles performed by Jesus during the course of his ministry.
- One of the most astonishing things that Jesus ever did was when He claimed to forgive sins. In Mark’s Gospel, chapter 2, a man is brought to Him, a paralyzed man. And the crowds around him are expecting Jesus to heal him, but instead, the first thing Jesus said is, “Your sins are forgiven.” Only God forgives sins.
- Isaiah 53, which clearly alludes to the coming of Jesus, was written down some 8 centuries before Jesus was born.
- Scholars have determined that Jesus fulfilled at least 4 dozen major prophecies, each written a minimum of three centuries before His birth. There content range from specific details about His life to the symbolic implications of His death.
- Psalm 22- David wrote, 300 years before crucifixion was known, “they have pierced my hands and my feet” (Psalm 22:16b).
- Dr. Peter Stoner, a college professor of mathematics, wanted to determine what the odds were that any human being throughout history could fulfill the messianic prophecies. He and his students determined that the odds of any human being fulfilling 48 of these prophecies are virtually impossible.
Dr. Gary Habermas, Professor of Apologetics and Philosophy, Liberty University
Michael Licona, Director of Apologetics, North American Mission Board, Southern Baptist Convention
- The chances of surviving crucifixion were extremely bleak. Crucifixion and the tortures that normally preceded it was the worst way to die in antiquity. A person was scourged to the point that usually their intestines, arteries, and veins were laid bare. And then after that, a person was dragged out where they were impaled to a cross or a tree, and left hanging there in excruciating pain. In fact, the word “excruciating” comes from the Latin, “out of the cross.”
- The reference in John 19:34 of Jesus’ side being pierced confirms that Jesus was dead. Medical experts have concluded that this account from John, an eyewitness of the crucifixion, is evidence that as Jesus suffocated on the cross, Jesus’ heart had ruptured.
- All four Gospels tell us that Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. That is a remarkable historical statement. Joseph of Arimathea is described as a member of the Sanhedrin, whom had condemned Jesus. Joseph’s name would have been known, as well as the burial location of Jesus. Further, it is highly unusual to find that the person who alone has the courage to go to Pilate and give Jesus an honorable burial is not members of his family, faithful disciples who followed him to the end. Instead, it is a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, the very high court all of whom, Mark says had condemned Jesus of Nazareth to the cross. The fact that it is Joseph of Arimathea who is the person responsible for giving Jesus an honorable burial is an awkward and embarrassing fact for the early church, and yet this tradition is faithfully preserved in almost all of the traditions that we have about the burial of Jesus.
- The empty tomb story also has a very embarrassing feature to it that is preserved in the memory of the early church. Namely, the discovery of the empty tomb by women. To appreciate this, you must understand the status of women in Palestinian Jewish society. In that society, which was a patriarchal society, women were considered second class citizens. If one was going to invent an account about the empty tomb, they would not include women as your primary witnesses whom no one was going to believe.
- Jesus enemies affirmed that His tomb was indeed empty. See Matthew 28:12-13.
- 1 Corinthians 15:3-7- The 500 who witnessed the risen Jesus, mentioned by Paul, here were still alive. He was basically saying, “If you don’t believe me, ask them. They are still alive.” In these verses, Paul tells the church in Corinth that he “passed on what he received.” He actually uses the language of formal transferred tradition. This confirms that accounts of the resurrection where creedal tradition that were passed on to Paul. This makes it very, very early.
- 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 provides evidence that belief in the resurrection was already present among Jews within two to three years after Jesus was killed. That means that the resurrection stories aren’t something that evolved over 30, 40, 50 years after the crucifixion of Jesus.
- Even the most critical, skeptical scholars recognize that the earliest disciples at least believed that God had raised Jesus from the dead. They pinned nearly everything on it. Without belief in Jesus’ resurrection, the early Christian movement could never have come into being.
- Somehow have to explain the explosion from scared followers who run away to, “Let’s worship Him. Let’s sing to Him. Let’s pray to Him.”
- The disciples were willing to die for the gospel. After Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples lived lives of hardship for 20-40 years, suffered greatly in their ministries, and eventually suffered martyrdom and execution without recanting for their belief that they had seen Jesus raised from the dead.
- We must remember that the disciples died not just for something they believed was true. They died for something they actually saw with their own eyes. It’s much more difficult to explain that away than it is for someone who dies for a belief and they’re sincerely wrong. Very few people are willing to die for something that they know is a lie.
- James was a half-brother of Jesus and he was not a believer in Jesus during Jesus’ lifetime, but he later died the death of a martyr as a leader of the local church. In a similar way, Saul of Tarsus was a persecutor of Christians and yet, he later becomes the apostle Paul, this incredible missionary. The resurrection of Jesus best accounts for the conversion of these skeptics.
- The disciples went from being fearful and doubtful to boldly proclaiming the message of the risen Christ publically, even to their deaths. The most rational explanation for this is that they truly did encounter the risen Christ.
- Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” That is Lee’s story. Here was someone who said, “I’m going to investigate this stuff with an open mind and let it take me wherever the evidence will take me.”
- Jesus made the claim that He is the truth, that everything hinges on His identity. In fact, everything hinges on the resurrection because everybody can claim to be the Son of God. If Jesus really did return from the dead, then He is who He claimed to be and that changes everything.