“And The Truth Will Set You Free!”

Of all of the kings who have ever lived and reigned, only one lives and reigns forever: Jesus Christ. But who is Jesus Christ? How did the humble son of a carpenter (and a handful of fishermen, a tax collector, a tent maker and a few others) make such an impact that by 312 AD, when Christianity was legalized by Constantine, the Christian faith already had between five and six million adherents (c.f., Wawro, 2008)? Something seemingly so impossible calls to attention the realm in which miracles are not only possible, but probable. The intention of this blog is to call to attention the Biblical, extra-biblical, archaeological, geological, biological, and moral evidence we have in support of Jesus Christ, our Savior.

Prophecies of the Old Testament

 Sometime between 4 and 5 BC, Gabriel appeared to Mary (Luke 1:28) and said, “Hail, the Lord is with thee.” Such words point to the blessed position of Mother Mary in the Lord’s eyes. “Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” God chose Mary to bear our sinless savior because she was “full of grace” (John 1:14) and would therefore be the perfect ark of the covenant.

Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, as predicted by Micah (5:2) around seven hundred years prior to Jesus’ resurrection. Micah said, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

Around the same time Micah wrote the aforementioned passage, Isaiah (9:6) documented Jesus’ arrival: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

According to numerous verses in the Old Testament (Psalm 118:26; Daniel 9:26; Zechariah 11:13, Haggai 2:7-9; and Malachi 3:1), the second temple at Jerusalem would be destroyed soon after the Lord visited it. Malachi 3:1 said,”And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple.” Jesus taught people in the Temple and worked miracles there shortly before it was destroyed in 70 AD and never rebuilt!

Isaiah (53) also documented Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection (c.f., Psalm 22). Isaiah’s prophecies are included in the Jewish Tanakhs as well. Jews consider the passage representative of Israel as a nation, yet there are multiple passages in the Bible in which Israel, the nation, is referred to as our Savior and Lord.

Isaiah 53:1-5; 11

“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed…After He has suffered, He will see the light of life and be satisfied.”

Biblical Support

The Bible as a source should not be discounted. Consider that the Bible is the only religious text that (1) is multi-authored by forty different individuals (all other texts were single-authored); (2) was written over two thousand years (all other texts were written in a single generation); (3) was written in three continents (all other texts were written in one); (4) was written in three languages (all other texts were written in one); (5) contains 330 fulfilled prophecies in the Old Testament of Jesus (no other texts contain equivalent fulfilled prophecies); and (6) was written by authors whom, in many cases, were martyred for their words (only Joseph Smith of the Mormon faith was killed by an angry mob for his faith).

The martyrs include prophets in the Old Testament such as Zechariah, Habakkuk and Jeremiah, who were killed by stoning (e.g., 2 Chronicles 24), Amos, who was tortured and murdered by the priest of Bethel and Isaiah who was sawn in half under the orders of Manasseh (Epiphanius; 2 Kings 21; Hebrews 11:37; Babylonian Talmud; Jewish Talmud; Williams, 1995). Zechariah, the son of Berachiah, was murdered by Joash the king and his blood was sprinkled between the steps and horns of an altar (Bar Bahlul).

In the New Testament, the author Peter was crucified upside down. James was thrown from the top of a temple and beaten to death, while Paul was beheaded by Nero in Rome. These were confirmed by the Eusebius, the first church historian, in his book “Ecclesiastical History.” The martyrdoms of Peter and Paul were also documented by Dionysius of Corinth, Tertillian and Origen. The martyrdom of James was also documented by Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria (Habermas & Licona, 2004).

Paul, who spent much time persecuting Christians, is an excellent testament to Jesus’ divinity. While he was on his way to Damascus, breathing murderous words about Christians, Paul had a vision of Jesus that blinded him for a few days. He fasted and converted to Christianity, risked his life preaching illegally for Jesus, was beaten and jailed multiple times, and was eventually beheaded. Like Jesus’ half-brother James (who was once a skeptic) and the rock Peter (who denied Jesus three times), Paul refused to recant his testimony. He wrote at least six books of the New Testament that document his journeys in faith.

I point to the martyrs in the Bible to underscore the point that they did not write the text to benefit materially; they wrote the text to benefit spiritually. Had the martyrs of the New Testament not seen the risen Jesus, they would not have become such brave preachers of His word. They were so passionate about their messages that they were willing to die in very gory ways to be sure others came to know Jesus.

Extra-biblical Support

Jesus was raised in Nazareth and took up His ministry when He was in His thirties. The four Gospels record the events in His life, His miracles, and His death and resurrection. Outside of the Bible and within 150 years of Jesus’ life, testimonies from sources such as Josephus, Tacitus, Thallus, Suetonius, Emperor Trajan, Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, and others (Turek, 2015) inform us that:

Jesus lived during the time of Tiberius Caesar • He lived a virtuous life • He was a wonder-worker • He had a brother named James • He was acclaimed to be the Messiah • He was crucified under Pontius Pilate • An eclipse and an earthquake occurred* when He died • He was crucified on the eve of the Jewish Passover • His disciples believed He rose from the dead • His disciples were willing to die for their belief in Jesus • Christianity spread rapidly as far as Rome • His disciples denied the Roman gods and worshipped  Jesus as God.

In other words, even without the Bible, we can piece together much of Jesus’ life to develop an understanding of the attention He has earned over the past two thousand years. In fact, we have 33 Christian sources and 9 secular sources within 150 years of Jesus’ resurrection that support the New Testament. Historians request two sources, while we have 42!

Geological Support

On the day of the crucifixion the sun was darkened and/or the moon appeared like blood. The so-called Report of Pilate, a New Testament Apocryphal fragment (see DeLiso & Fidani 2014 for a more complete review) from the fourth century, states “Jesus was delivered to him by Herod, Archelaus, Philip, Annas, Caiphas, and all the people. At his crucifixion the sun was darkened; the stars appeared and in all the world people lighted lamps from the sixth hour till evening; the moon appeared like blood.” Thallus is a relatively unknown pagan author who also cited darkness during the crucifixion, as reported by both him and Africanus (DeLiso & Fidani, 2014). As expected, however, some pagans rejected the reports, including Origene, Jerome, and Chrysostom (DeLiso & Fidani, 2014).

Scholars have reported that devastating earthquakes occurred in Jerusalem during Christ’s death (Mallet, 1853; Rigg, 1941). This occurred in a region that includes the Dead Sea fault, which is a plate boundary that separates the Arabian plate and the Sinai sub-plate (Garfunkel, 1981). This fault has been active since the Miocene (Kagan, Stein, Agnon, & Neuman, 2011) and the fault is still active today (De Liso & Fidani, 2014). The fault extends from the Red Sea in the south to the Taurus Mountains in the north.

Kagan and colleagues (2011) analyzed seismites in the Holocene Dead Sea basin by constructing two age-depth chronological models based on atmospheric radiocarbon ages of short-lived organic debris with a Bayesian model. Seismites are sedimentary beds and structures, which are deformed by seismic shaking. The scholars analyzed seismites in different areas of the basin, finding that several synchronous seismites appeared in all sections during particular years, including 33 AD (+/- 2 sigma; 95% confidence interval). Other years in which earthquakes occurred as evidenced by seismites are (AD unless otherwise noted): 1927, 1293, 1202/1212, 749, 551, 419, 33, 31 BC, and mid-century B.C.

After analyzing laminated sedimentary cores recovered at the shores of the Dead Sea, Migowski, Agnon, Bookman, Negendank, and Stein (2004) also confirmed an earthquake in 33 AD with a magnitude of 5.5. They documented earthquakes around 33 AD in 31 BC and 76 AD. The scholars analyzed seismites using radiocarbon dating.

Ben-Menahem (2014) conducted a literature review of empirical studies over 4,000 years of seismicity along the Dead Sea Rift. The scholar referenced the aforementioned studies along with one by Enzel, Kadan, and Eyal (2000) before concluding that earthquakes occurred in Masada in 31 BC, Jerusalem in 33 AD, and near Nablus in 64 AD.

In summary, the literature on seismicity along the Dead Sea basin supports the assertion that an earthquake occurred either in or very close to the year 33 AD.

The Bible indicates that Jesus was crucified on Friday, the Day of Preparation, which scholars indicate is Nisan 14 on the Jewish calendar (Humphreys & Waddington, 1985). During the time period in which Pontius Pilate served as governor, the only two possibilities in which Nisan 14 fell on a Friday occurred on April 7th in 30 AD and April 3rd in 33 AD. To determine when Nisan 14 fell on a Friday, Humphreys and Waddington (1985) reconstructed the first century Jewish calendar using astronomical calculations.

To determine which date is appropriate, we refer to John 2:20. “They replied, ‘It has taken 46 years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ But the temple He had spoken of was His body.” Assuming this refers to the inner temple (Hoehner, 1977), the date in which the Jews made this statement would be between 30 and 31 AD. If the only Passovers that occurred during Jesus’ ministry are the three to which John referred in his gospel, the 33 AD date suggests a ministry of about 2 ½ years (Humphreys & Waddington, 1985). Some scholars indicate an additional unmentioned Passover, which would add a year to Jesus’ ministry. Either way, Humphreys and Waddell (1985) determined the 33 AD date was the most appropriate.

Yet note by Humphreys’ and Waddell’s (1985) and others’ calculations, Nisan 14 fell on Friday, April 3rd in 33 AD. This means that Passover would have occurred on that same day. Consistent with the gospel of John, who said that the Jewish leaders wanted to avoid ceremonial uncleanliness on Passover, Passover may very well have fallen on the same Friday in which Jesus was crucified. That would indicate that Jesus ate a Passover meal (as part of Passover week) as the Last Supper, not the Passover meal. Such assertions are consistent with others’ determinations (cf.,  http://catholicstraightanswers.com/passover-and-the-last-supper/)

Compare with others who have drawn the same conclusions: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2149750/Jesus-died-Friday-April-3-33AD-claim-researchers-tie-earthquake-data-gospels-date.html

Archaeological Support

Famed archeologist Sir William Ramsay set out to discredit Luke (who authored the Book of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles) when he traveled to Biblical locations recounted in the New Testament. After twenty years of investigation, he converted to Christianity and determined that Luke “should be placed along with the very greatest of historians… You may press the words of Luke in a degree beyond any other historian’s, and they stand against the keenest scrutiny and the hardest treatment” (Ramsay, 1915/2011).

Roman historian Colin Hemer concurred. He identified eighty four historical and eyewitness details from Luke in Acts 13 through Acts 28 (Turek, 2014). These include the names of small town politicians, topographical features, specific weather patterns and water depths and local slang.

Additional archeological evidence supports the existence of more than thirty prominent people in the New Testament (Turek, 2014). These people include John the Baptist, James the half-brother of Jesus, Pontius Pilate, Erastus, Agrippa I, Caiaphas, Bernice, Quirinius, Lysanias, Agrippa II, Felix, and several Herods.

As an example of one piece of archeological evidence, in Jerusalem in 1990, the burial box (ossuary) of the remains of Caiaphas was discovered. The ossuary is now featured in the Israel Museum of Jerusalem (Turek, 2014). Caiaphas was the Jewish high priest who demanded Jesus’ crucifixion.

As a second example, Josephus recorded Quirinius’ governorship from AD 5 and AD 6, yet Luke wrote that Joseph and Mary returned to Bethlehem because a Syrian governor named Quirinius was conducting a census (Luke 2:1-3). Archeological discoveries have identified Quirinius’ name on a coin, indicating he was the proconsul of Syria and Cilicia from 11 BC to the death of Herod (Vardaman, 2009). Quirinius’ name was also found on the base of a statue in the Pisidian Antioch (Ramsay, 1915/2011).

Biological Support

The fact that humans have altruistic tendencies and revere behaviors similar to those demonstrated by Jesus suggests an analysis of the biological explanation for our tendencies is warranted.

Biologists refer to the term altruism as a behavior that reduces an individual’s fitness but increases the fitness of other individuals in a population. Examples of altruistic behaviors can be found in animal populations, such as in naked mole rats and Belding’s ground squirrels, alongside human populations.

Biologists suggest that natural selection favors altruism by enhancing the reproductive success of relatives (kin selection) who help one another. The more distant the relatives (cousins, second cousins, etc.), the less likely the relatives would be beneficiaries of the altruistic behaviors. In other words, over many individuals and many generations, altruistic genes in brothers and sisters and offspring who help one another to survive are more likely to be propagated.

Yet attributing human behaviors and characteristics such as altruism to evolutionary adaptions to survival conditions is fraught with problems. As biology professor Sy Garte (2017) points out “The problem with this approach is that it isn’t always scientific, since the evidence used is sometimes a “just so” story that sounds logical and meaningful. In these cases the premise is a more of a faith statement with no basis of proof. And it may not be falsifiable. There is no possible human trait, real or imagined, that cannot be postulated to result from some evolutionary selective advantage.”

Professor Garte offers an example of this fallacy:

“Take, for example the well-known human tendency to bite one’s fingernails when nervous. We could say that long finger nails present an impediment to manual dexterity, which is needed to properly wield a weapon, and therefore when nervous the human tends to be sure that his/her fingernails are as short as possible. This is complete nonsense which I just made up without more than a moment’s thought. But it sounds like it makes sense.”

According to Professor Garte, who is a former atheist turned Christian, one reason (Christian skeptics who are) evolutionary biologists and evolutionary psychologists attempt to explain human characteristics by scientific and evolutionary principles is because such explanations remove God within the realm of possibilities.

Yet the very fact that all humans of sound minds have the ability to distinguish what is right from what is wrong suggests the presence of one who made that happen: a moral lawgiver. All humans of sound minds have the ability to conceive of moral perfection as shaped by the values of love, kindness, honesty, justice, benevolence, and truth. Since we have such conceptions, we have an objective way to judge conduct, which is to consider it against the objective set of moral values that guide society. The source and giver of this absolute moral standard is God. William Lane Craig outlines this logic as follows (2010, p. 129):

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. God exists.

“God is the ground and source of ultimate value, and He endows us with His image. Therefore, our lives have objective value, meaning, and purpose. If there is a real purpose in life – a ‘final cause’ as Aristotle put it – then there must be a right way to live it (Turek, 2014, p. 104).

“In a world without a divine lawgiver, there can be no objective right or wrong, only our culturally and personally relative, subjective judgments. This means that it is impossible to condemn war, oppression, or crime as evil. Nor can one praise brotherhood, equality, and love as good. For in a universe without God, good and evil do not exist – there is only the bare valueless fact of existence, and there is no one to say that you are right and I am wrong” (Craig, 2008, p. 75).

God “is the source from which all your reasoning power comes. You could not be right and He wrong any more than a stream can rise higher than its own source” (Lewis, 1952, p. 48).

“[God] left us conscience, the sense of right and wrong: and all through history there have been people trying (some of them very hard) to obey it. None of them ever quite succeeded. Secondly, He sent the human race what I call good dreams: I mean those queer stories scattered all through the heathen religions about a god who dies and comes to life again and, by his death, has somehow given new life to men. Thirdly, He selected one particular people and spent several centuries hammering into their heads the sort of God He was – that there was only one of Him and that He cared about the right conduct. Those people were the Jews and the Old Testament gives an account of the hammering process” (Lewis, 1952, p. 49).

Moral Support

Over five hundred years prior to Jesus’ resurrection, Zechariah (9:9) offered us an indication of the sort of person our Savior would be: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

In other words, Jesus did not arrive in glory; He arrived as a humble son of a carpenter. Yet He distinguished Himself in many ways from mortals by (1) referring to Himself as the Son of Man multiple times in the New Testament (c.f., Daniel 7:13-14), (2) forgiving people of their sins (e.g., Matthew 9); (3) condemning and instructing the Pharisees (e.g., Matthew 23); (4) performing numerous miracles (see below) (5) and making clear His relationship to the Great I AM.

The Seven “I AM” statements

Jesus prefaced each of the seven “I AM” statements with “I AM,” fully embracing the powerful, divine implications of the name of the LORD.

John 6:35: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never go thirsty.”

John 8:12: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 10:9: “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out and find pasture.”

John 10:11: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

John 11:25-26: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 15:5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Jesus Made His Divinity Quite Clear

“Again the high priest asked Him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’

‘I am,’ said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:61-63; cf., Daniel 7:13). Jesus’ words, coupled with His miracles, posed such a great threat to the high priests that they were willing to trade Him for an imprisoned insurrectionist, Barabbas.

Jesus’ Miracles

  1. Jesus turns water into wine (John 2:1-12)
  2. Jesus heals an official’s son without going to see the boy (John 4:46-54).
  3. Jesus heals a crippled man on the Sabbath (John 5:1-17).
  4. Jesus feeds 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish (Matthew 14:19-21; Mark 6:30-34; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14).
  5. Jesus walks on water (Matthew 14:22-32; Mark 6:47-52; John 6:16-21).
  6. Jesus heals a man born blind (John 9:1-41).
  7. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44).
  8. Jesus heals a bleeding woman (Matthew 9:2-7; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48).
  9. Jesus calms a storm (Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:37-41; Luke 8:22-25).
  10. Jesus heals a paralyzed man (Matthew 9:2-7; Mark 2:3-12; Luke 5:18-26).
  11. Jesus resurrected from the dead (Matthew 28:5-6; Mark 16:6; Luke 24; John 20).

The evidence above makes it clear that Jesus considered Himself as divine. No one but a Lord would make such powerful, eternal, and salvation-implicating remarks about himself if he did not consider himself to be divine. C.S. Lewis, in his book “Mere Christianity,” well explains this assertion:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Now you know the truth and the truth will set you free! Thank you for your time.

“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him” (John 1:9-10). “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

References:

Ben-Menahem, A. (2014) Geophysical studies of the crustal structure along the southern Dead Sea fault. In Garfunkel, Z.,  Ben-Menahem, Z., and Kagan, E. (2014). Dead Sea Transform Fault System: Reviews. Springer.

Craig, William Lane. (2008). Reasonable Faith. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

Craig, W.L. (2010). On Guard. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook

De Liso, G. & Fidani,C. (2014). Electrical charges associated with sky darkening and the Turin shroud. International Journal of Development Research, 4(12): 2790-2797.

Habermas, G.R. & Hoehner, H.W. (1977). Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ. Zondervan: Grand Rapids

Habermas, G.R. & Licona, M.R. (2004). The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Humphreys, C.J. and Waddington, W.G. 1985. The Date of the Crucifixion, JASA, 37, 2-10.

Kagan, E., Stein, M., Agnon, A. and Neumann, F. 2011. Intrabasin paleoearthquake and quiescence correlation of the late Holocene Dead Sea, J. Geophys. Res., 116, B04311.

Mallet, R. 1853. Catalogue of recorded earthquakes from 1606 B.C. to A.D. 1850, Part I, 1606 B.C. to 1755 A.D. Report of the 22nd meeting of the British Association for the advancement of science held at Hull, Sept., 1853. John Murray, London, pp 1–176.

Lewis, C.S. (1952). Mere Christianity. C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd.

Licona, M.R. (2004). The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Migowski, C., A. Agnon, R. Bookman, J. F. W. Negendank, & M. Stein (2004), Recurrence pattern of Holocene earthquakes along the Dead Sea Transform revealed by varve‐counting and radiocarbon dating of lacustrine sediments, Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., 222, 301.

Ramsay, Sir William (1915/2011). The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament. South Africa: Primedia eLaunch, 2011, originally published in 1915.

Turek, F. (2015). Stealing from God. USA: Navpress, p. 220.

Vardaman, Jerry. (2009). Unpublished manuscript: The Year of the Nativity: Was Jesus Born in 12 BC? A New Examination of Quirinius (Luke 2:2) and Related Problems of New Testament Chronology. Cited in J. Warner Wallace (2013) Cold Case Christianity. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook.

Wawro, G. (2008). Historical Atlas: A Comprehensive History of the World. Elanora Heights, Australia: Millennium House.

 

 

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