What is evidence?
being a lawyer, I am used to thinking of evidence as coming from admissible documents and witness testimony. whenever I am preparing a case, I engage in “discovery.” discovery is a process of asking questions and requesting documents related to the event that is the subject of the case. Documents include the ones formalizing the transaction as well as notes, emails, letters and journal entries from the time of the deal as well as before and after it. I ask questions under oath in writing and orally at depositions to see what witnesses remember about the event and related matters.
The best evidence of what happened is contemporaneous accounts of the event. Before secondary motives enter the picture to color memories and shade the recollections. Showing the jury contemporaneously authored documents supporting my client’s version of events is the most persuasive evidence.
In the comments to this post, Postman began by stating that following Christ is as much superstition as astrology is. I responded that what sets Christianity apart is the witnessed empirical fact of the resurrection of Jesus from Joseph of Arimethea’s grave. Postman then said that this is a circular argument because the only evidence is in the Bible and therefore it is using the thing sought to be proven as the proof.
I am familiar with the danger of circular reasoning and I appreciate Postman’s attempted argument here.
But let’s look carefully at the evidence.
Jesus was a Jew living in Palestine in the first century A.D. His existence is a historical fact corroborated by contemporary historians such as Josephus and ones soon thereafter like Tertullian. Jesus gathered a group of 12 other Jewish men and spent approximately three years with them before being crucified. Jesus was governed by Jewish ceremonial law as were His disciples. At that time, the Hellenistic culture superimposed over the Middle East and Asia Minor carried with it the worship of the Greek mythological pantheon. The governing Romans also had their own version of that polytheistic pantheon.
Generally, the two existing belief systems in Palestine in the first century were polytheistic paganism and Jewish law as stated in the Old Testament.
Jesus lived and taught and developed a following. He also developed powerful enemies among the ruling Jewish leaders who served on a council called the Sanhedrin. Eventually, the Sanhedrin put Jesus on trial and convicted Him of blasphemy and heresy. The sentence was death. The Jewish leaders had no ability to exercise the sentence due to the governance of the Romans. They passed the job off to the Romans and the governor, Pilate ordered done even though his own trial found Jesus to be innocent of the charge of claiming to be a king at odds with the Emperor of Rome. This event occurred during the Feast of Passover.
According to the Gospels, Jesus came out of the grave and walked the Earth for the next 40 days. During Pentecost, approximately 50 days after the Passover, Jesus 11 surviving friends began proclaiming Jesus as the promised Jewish Messiah in the Temple courts to whomever would listen.
For the next 30 to 60 years, these 11 men continued to tell whoever would listen about the Man with whom they had spent time. They told everybody what they had seen and what they had heard.
The Jewish leaders did not like this. They didn’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah and they branded anyone who did believe it a blasphemer who was outside of the law. Over time, every single one of the twelve friends of Jesus was killed because they wouldn’t stop talking about what they had seen and heard.
These 11 guys didn’t set out to make a new religion. This is not the same as Joseph Smith getting a book on golden tablets from the Angel Moroni. It is not the same as an angel appearing to Mohammed in the desert and giving him the Koran. Each of these men consciously began a religion from scratch with a full blown book.
Christianity began in a feel their way along doing the best they can way. Look at the first 15 chapters of Acts. They were talking to new groups as they had opportunity. They were addressing issues as they came up. They were dealing with persecution and being ostracized from their communities. They were consumed with telling the story about what they had seen and heard.
A pharisee, Jewish leader, named Saul was one of the guys leading the drive to stomp out the Christ followers. He was on a mission to Damascus to find any of them over there when he was struck by a bright light and spoke with a voice from heaven. Thereafter, he turned from being a pharisee and began telling anybody who would listen that Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah. As a result, he was beaten, imprisoned twice and eventually killed by Nero.
In the course of telling people about Jesus, the people who spent time with Him wrote down their eyewitness accounts of His life. Matthew and John were two of the twelve and wrote their own letters about the events. Mark was dictated by Peter and Luke was a physician who gathered eyewitness accounts from several people and reported them in writing to Theophilus.
The point is that none of the four Gospels was intended by the writers to be canonized into “The Holy Bible.” In addition, the remainder of the New Testament were similarly letters to groups of believers about the teachings of Jesus and how to apply them in various circumstances. Acts was a continuation of Luke’s account to Theophilus. The rest were simple letters. Again, none of them was intended by the authors to be canonized into a new holy book for a new religion.
Only gradually did these men and the ones who believed in Jesus as the Messiah because of their eyewitness testimony begin to systematize and organize into a religion. Paul’s letters had been collected and circulated in a collected form by the end of the first century. By the late 100’s there was fairly common agreement among christians on the 27 books that comprise the modern New Testament.
My point is that a small group of mainly Jewish people faced down the opposition of their entire belief structure because they had seen Jesus alive after He had been crucified. There was no motive to make up such a tale. In fact, every human motivation would have been to go back to business as usual.
Saul/Paul had no human motive to turn his back on his prominent position and begin proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah. He had every reason to continue with zeal down the path that he had been pursuing so successfully during his life to that point.
We do a great disservice to these men and their sacrifice if we say that it is all a fairy tale. The evidence from contemporaneous accounts, oral and written matches what these men did with their lives in preaching the good news about what they had seen and heard even to the point of death.
Dismissing these sacrifices out of hand because the written accounts were later assembled into a book is to ignore the evidence.
God is rational. Worship of God is a rational reasonable choice.