Faith and Facts

The young man was obviously excited to meet me. "Boy," he said, "when I argue with nonbelievers about Christianity, I wish I had you here to help me." I knew the young man meant it as a compliment but, frankly, I was distressed by his attitude. He had fallen into the trap of thinking he couldn't defend his faith on his own. But each of us is called to be prepared to give a defense of the hope that is in us. Over the next few days, I'd like to offer some ways to do it. I'll be talking about Paul Johnson, an eminent British historian. In a speech entitled "A Historian Looks at Jesus," distributed by Prison Fellowship, Johnson says the more he studies the historical facts, the more his faith is strengthened. Many modern historians consider the Bible to be a collection of ancient myths. But Johnson says that by the normal standards of historical analysis, the Bible is a highly dependable historical document. For example. Skeptics used to say the New Testament wasn't even written until hundreds of years after Jesus lived--after a jungle of myth and legend had grown up and distorted the original events. But now we know the New Testament books were originally written a mere 20 to 40 years after Christ's crucifixion. That's within a single generation--less than the time separating us from the end of World War II. Far too brief a span for myths and legends to take hold. In fact, if we compare the historical evidence for Jesus to the evidence for other figures who lived in ancient times, there's just no comparison. Consider: We don't have the original documents of the New Testament, but we do have several thousand copies--some of them written only a hundred years after Jesus lived. Compare that to the Roman writer Tacitus. He's considered a first-rate historical source. Yet we have only 20 copies of his work, and the earliest manuscript is dated 1000 years after he lived. And no one doubts the authenticity of the Greek philosopher Aristotle. Yet the earliest manuscript of his work that we have is dated 1400 years after he lived. We all know about Caesar. Yet the earliest copy of his Gallic Wars is dated 1000 years after the original. Paul Johnson says there can be no doubt today that the New Testament is an authentic document, describing real events. Jesus is better authenticated than any other figure from ancient times. So, if someone asks how you know Jesus was a real person, ask him, Was Caesar a real person? Was Aristotle? If they say yes, tell them the evidence for Jesus is much stronger. Or to turn it around, if they doubt Jesus was real, tell them they'll also have to throw out everyone else we know from ancient history--Tacitus, Aristotle, Caesar. Because the evidence for them is much weaker than the evidence for Jesus. There's no middle ground: Either you believe the New Testament account of Jesus is authentic--or you become a complete skeptic about all of ancient history. So you don't need an expert at your elbow every time you talk to a non-Christian. Just give him a little history lesson. The evidence is on our side.


Chuck Colson


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