Is the Bible more than just an ancient book?
The Bible was written within a period of over 1300 years and by about 45 writers of different origins and professions. Despite the span of more than 50 generations regarding the Bible's temporal origins and the different social classes of its authors, the Bible displays a uniform, finely coordinated theme. The writers treat hundreds of subjects with particularly striking harmony and continuity. Experience shows that if people from such different times and with such divergent personalities worked on such a range of subjects without the work of God, no such unity could be expected. In particular, the biblical teaching about God and the history of salvation run like a common thread through the whole Bible.
The credibility of literary sources is measured by the time span between the original and the oldest copy preserved, and how many identical copies have survived until today.
The above table gives us a chance to compare the New Testament to other ancient books that today are considered trustworthy. We do not have the originals of any of the six works listed in the extreme left-hand column. But before they disappeared, the originals were copied. So historians look at the time gap between when the original was written and the earliest surviving copy. The shorter the time gap between the original document and the earliest surviving copy, the more sure we are that we have got an accurate copy of the original. As you can see, the New Testament does well by comparison. Its various books were written between AD 40 and AD 100. And there is no dispute that the earliest bit we have of the New Testament is dated AD 130. This is a fragment of John's Gospel, which is in the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England. We have large portions of the New Testament from about AD 200 and full manuscripts of the New Testament from AD 350.
Looking at the extreme right-hand column, the greater the number of identical surviving copies we have, the more certain we can be that what we have got is an accurate copy of what was originally written. For the New Testament we have more than 5,000 Greek manuscripts, and these were found in locations all over the ancient world. The similarity between them and 10,000 Latin manuscripts and a further 9,300 in other languages like Ethiopic, Slavic or Armenian, means we can reconstruct the text of the original New Testament from these copies. The result, according to scholars Norman Geisler and William Nix, is that "the New Testament, then, has not only survived in more manuscripts than any other book from antiquity, but it has survived in a purer form than any other great book" - Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible 1968; reprint [Moody Press, 1980], p. 367
Summing up, Sir Frederic Kenyon, perhaps the world's greatest expert of Greek papyrus and the former director of the British Museum, said: "In no other case is the interval of time between the composition of the book and the date of the earliest manuscripts so short as in that of the New Testament." He concluded: "The last foundation for any doubt that the scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed" - The Bible and Archaeology [Harper, 1940], p. 288
It seems like the content of the Bible is handed down to us as it was written originally, but that does not guarantee that it is the truth, that the Bible is more than a collection of stories and predictions.
About 30% of the Bible is of prophetical nature, often fulfilled hundreds of years after it was written down. Peter W. Stoner, Professor of Mathematics at Westmont University, estimated the chances for some prophecies in the Old Testament that were precisely fulfilled hundreds of years after being written down. His calculations led to the following results:
Multiplying these chances - since all of these prophecies have been fulfilled - gives us a total chance of 1.7 · 10-58. In other words, the chance that these events happened as they did is about 0,000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001%. And this is just a very small selection of prophecies in the Bible that were fulfilled.
Now let us take a look at the New Testament. Jesus fulfilled about 300 prophecies that were written hundreds of years before he was born. We are talking about very precise prophecies like the place of his birth, his family tree, that he will enter Jerusalem on a donkey, that he would be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver, that they would crucify him and so on. We will calculate with a chance of 1:2 (50%) that each prophecy will be fulfilled by everyone, which literally means that we assume every second person rides a donkey to Jerusalem and every second human being gets crucified. The chance that someone will fulfill all 300 prophecies is then 1 : 2300 ≈ 1 : 1090. To understand this number you need to know that every increase of the power equals a multiplication by 10.
103 is the same as 1,000, while 104 equals 10,000 already. 1010 is another way to write 10 billion!
Our whole universe contains about 1024 stars "only", and the amount of all atoms in this universe is about 1080. You see how ridiculous these numbers are. A chance of 1 : 1090 means that you need as many people as 10 billion universes have atoms in total to get a decent chance of fulfilling these prophecies accidentally. I probably don't have to tell you that the amount of people who ever lived on earth is hilariously small in comparison.
There is absolutely no doubt that the Bible's prophecies have only been fulfilled because there is a God behind it.
Let's take a closer look at this person Jesus. When Jesus was on this earth, he raised great claims. He claims to be God's son. He says that he is the truth himself and that he will one day judge each of us. James Smith does not claim to be your judge after your death. Jesus did. So it matters who Jesus is.
There are exactly three options: either Jesus was the greatest liar of all time or he was insane. Or - he said the truth.
Let's start with the possibility that Jesus was a liar. We are talking about an extremely bad liar who promises people heaven and thus sends them to their deaths. Many people have died for their belief in Jesus. But if he knew he couldn't give them paradise - that makes him a monster. And if he was a liar, he really exceeded everything, because he deceived the world and told everyone he was the most holy person ever, and he urged people to live an absolutely pure life. He even claimed to be sinless himself. But Jesus did it: in the midst of his bitterest enemies, he asked them to name one sin that he had committed, but none of them could name one (Jn 8:46). If Jesus was a liar, how do we explain his love for leper, prostitute and poor? He spent most of his time with the outsiders of society. But the craziest thing is his death, which he could easily have avoided. He is killed because he claims to be God's son. What do you get when you die for something that you know perfectly well is not true? Why is he playing the theater to the end? And when he hangs on the cross and they kill him terribly and he only has a few minutes left to live, what can we see with him? Nothing but love! He prays for his murderers: "Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).
The second possibility is that Jesus would have been crazy. Even if you might think that there are some supporters of this theory, no psychologist would join it because Jesus shows no sign of a mental illness. But on the contrary! One would expect that someone who is as self-centered and as selfish (from the point of view of people) as Jesus - he talks about himself all the time and says that he is the answer to everything - is unstable and unbearably arrogant. But there is no doubt that everyone thought Jesus was the most humble person you can imagine. Do we really want to claim that our entire legal system and the past 2,000 years of European history are based on the words of a madman? No one has ever surpassed Jesus' teachings. Even if you read his Sermon on the Mount, you can no longer seriously say that he was crazy. One should also not forget the miracles that he worked. Even the opponents of Jesus admitted that he worked miracles (e.g. Jn 11:47). His miracles are even reported outside the Bible (e.g. in the Talmud). And what about the prophecies? Jesus fulfilled 322 prophecies that were written down at least 400 years before his birth! Many of these are very specific, precise things that he absolutely could not have in hand; for example, Jesus would have had no control over the place of his birth, but over 700 years before his birth it had been prophesied that the Messiah will be born in a small place named Bethlehem (Micah 5:1), and very precise details were prophesied: for example, the exact price for which Jude was willing to betray Jesus (Zechariah 11:12-13, fulfilled in Matthew 26:15). The death of the Messiah by crucifixion was prophesied when the crucifixion was not yet invented (Psalm 22:17), as was the fact that the soldiers cast lots for his clothes (Psalm 22:19, fulfilled in Jn 19:23 -24) and that he was given vinegar to drink (Psalm 69:22, fulfilled in Mt 27:34 + 48). Jesus had no control over the fact that a spear was thrown into his side after his death (Zechariah 12:10, fulfilled in Jn 19:34), which was not a common practice, or that his legs were not broken (prophesied in Psalm 34:21, fulfilled in Jn 19:33). Usually the legs of those crucified on the day before the Sabbath were broken to hasten their death. In addition, the prophecies range from the Messiah's required family tree to the exact time of his death. A madman might have been lucky enough to fulfill a few prophecies, or a liar could have deliberately arranged a few. But realizing all 322 prophecies would simply have been impossible. Jesus fulfilled 29 of these prophecies on the day he died alone.
Now that all alternatives are excluded, there is no other option left than that he was saying the truth. Also, if God actually came to earth as a human being, you would expect that human to be the most famous person who ever lived. One would expect that his birth determines the time count of humanity. One would expect that his teachings, miracles, and character would leave an indelible mark on the history of this planet and that billions of people would do everything possible to follow him. One would expect that someone who is God and man at the same time would have as great of an impact as Jesus of Nazareth had.
Another, very strong evidence is that Jesus rose from the dead. His resurrection is the rock on which every other theory breaks. That's what this next part is about.
It is an uncontested fact that the tomb of Jesus was empty on the third day. All historians agree that the Jews or Romans had taken out the corpse and showed it to everyone as soon as the first Christians began to claim that Jesus was alive. Jesus was such a blasphemy to the Jews and political threat to the Romans that they never wanted his disciples to convince people that Jesus was risen from the dead. If the Romans and Jews had the body, they would have carted it through Jerusalem and said, “No, he is not. See, here is his body”. There was only one reason for not doing it: they saw that the grave was empty. Instead, the Romans and Jews resorted to the excuse that the disciples had stolen the body while the guards slept (which again only proves that they did not have his body; see Mt 28:11-13).
So the Jews and Romans did not have Jesus' body. What then? Did they take Jesus off the cross too soon before he was really dead? (Even if this may seem a bit far-fetched, we want to examine all eventualities). Therefore, Jesus had regained consciousness inside the grave, would have gone home and paid a visit to his disciples.
If that was true, Jesus must have had a lot of resistance. First he is scourged (a pretty bloody business; Jn 19:1), then he has to drag the heavy wooden cross to the place of execution in front of the city (although he was so weak that someone standing by the way, Simon of Cyrene, had to take on this task; Mt 27:32). In the end he was nailed to the cross. In addition, it is quite unlikely that the Roman execution commando made such a gross mistake. The responsible soldiers were always killed themselves if a convict survived. So they had a strong interest in Jesus being dead before taking him off the cross. On top of that, the soldiers stabbed a spear into his side first; the blood and water flowing out separately (cf. Jn 19:34) are, from today's medical point of view, clear evidence that Jesus was already dead.
So if Jesus had never died on the cross, we would have to believe that a human survives a Roman flogging, crucifixion, and a spear that is driven through his heart, and then frees himself from a meter-long cloth that was wrapped tightly around him, pushes a huge stone away, fights past a group of experienced Roman guards, and then appears to his disciples and looks perfectly healthy, convincing them that someday they will all have such a wonderful resurrection body like him. Why not…
Another objection would be that the disciples stole the body of Jesus. (By the way, the disciples were devout Jews who lived by very high moral standards. It is unlikely that these people would travel around the world and tell a lie). The biggest problem with this objection is that the disciples not only claimed that Jesus rose from the dead; they died for it, too. Many people die for their religious beliefs, but nobody dies for something that they know is wrong. The disciples knew without doubt whether or not they were grave robbers. If they had stolen the body and just faked the resurrection, they would never have gone as far as to be tortured to death for it. The disciples were partially crucified for their belief in the resurrection (most painful death imaginable). They could have escaped death until the last minute. All they had to do was admit that they had stolen the body of Jesus. If the resurrection was just something they had invented, at least one of them would surely have collapsed and said, “I give up. You are right. It's a lie. We stole his body. The resurrection is just a lie we made up. Now just cut me off this cross so that I can spend the rest of my life in peace”. But none of them said that because they knew exactly that Jesus had risen.
Some of the disciples were beheaded. If the resurrection was just a lie, don't you think that at least one of them would have become weak and confessed to stealing the corpse? Many people die for things they believe in. But nobody voluntarily dies for something that he knows very well of is a pitiful lie.
There is another thing. Don't forget the reports that the risen Jesus appeared to different people. In particular, the description of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (written between 55 and 57 AD) is very clear. He says: “... that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also...”. This statement confronts everyone who says the resurrection is a myth and not a historical fact with a problem: Paul wrote it less than 30 years after the resurrection and reminds the Corinthians of the fact that most of the 500 eyewitnesses are still alive and are happy to be interviewed. The phenomena of resurrection are as old as Christianity itself and did not emerge much later as legends. This is not surprising, since the resurrection of Jesus was the core of the earliest sermons recorded in the book of Acts. For example, the first Christian community comes into being after Peter says: “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it" (Acts 2:32). James, a brother-german of Jesus, did not believe in Jesus until he saw him after his resurrection. We learn from the historian Josephus that James was stoned to death later for believing in his brother Jesus.
One should also not forget that the disciples did not expect Jesus to be resurrected at all. The disciples were depressed and disillusioned when Jesus died. Just like everyone else, they thought that anyone who was crucified was cursed by God. They had all left Jesus and were hiding in a room behind a locked door. Every time they heard that Jesus had risen, they didn't believe it. But in the book of Acts we read that they were suddenly ready to suffer from hunger, to be destitute, to be mocked, beaten, imprisoned and killed. What other explanation should there be for this radical change?
One final objection: hallucinations. According to this theory, approximately 550 people who saw the risen Jesus would have had the same hallucinations on eleven different occasions over a six-week period. Anyone who had eaten with him and anyone who had touched him and had long conversations with him should have had hallucinations.
According to the current state of knowledge, there are no group hallucinations. Only a single person can see a specific hallucination at a certain time. Nobody can provoke hallucinations. Hallucination is about the fact that there is really nothing there. When I have a hallucination, everything happens in my head. Therefore, it is understandable that no one else can see the same thing as me. Even if two people had the hallucination at the same time and imagined that they would see Jesus, he might eat a fish for one and fly through the sky for another.
Hallucinations are also very rare. They are usually triggered when the body is very exhausted or by drugs. Pretty much anyone who has had a hallucination before will be able to confirm that. Shall we really believe that over a period of several weeks hundreds of people in different places from different backgrounds and with completely different character traits should all have had identical hallucinations at the same time?
Over 500 people saw the risen Jesus on the same occasion. Maybe it is possible that two or three people have the same hallucination. But 500? Paul wrote that if you couldn't believe it, you should go there and ask people.
You can't touch hallucinations, but you could touch the risen Jesus. He ate a fish (Luke 24:41-43) and once he made breakfast for the disciples (Jn 21:1-14). He also had long conversations with his disciples (Acts 1:3). The final deathblow for any hallucination theory is the fact that it would not even solve the problem at all. Even if you reject everything that psychology tells us about hallucinations and claim that Christianity is based on mass hallucinations, you still have to explain the empty grave. One still has to explain why the authorities did not display Jesus' body. As we have seen, none of the other explanations for the empty tomb is plausible. The only option that matches the facts is that Jesus rose from the dead!
Sir Edward Clarke, lawyer at the High Court, stated: “As a lawyer, I have carefully examined the evidence of what happened on Easter Sunday. For me, the evidence is conclusive. I often make judgments at the High Court based on evidence that is nowhere near as compelling. As a lawyer, I allow the evidence of the gospel: unreservedly as the testimony of credible people about facts they could substantiate” - quoted in Michael Green, Christ is Risen, So What?