The Bible vs. The Bible
I'm talking about the Bible's transparency when it comes to its authors’ and leading figures’ failures, weaknesses, and sins. Over and over, the authors of the Bible avoid the temptation to cast themselves, the fathers of the faith (e.g., Abraham or Moses), or their own people (the Israelites) in good light. This is surprising to first time readers of the Bible.
Have you ever gone to a website, maybe for a company or charity, and clicked the “About Us” button? There's nearly always a carefully-crafted, glowing overview of what that company, political organization, or religious group is about. If they have an “Our History” button or “Our Founder” button, again you nearly always get a favorable overview of the founder. You never read that the founder is an adulterer or has a criminal record—for obvious reasons. Well, not so with the Bible! Again and again, the Biblical writers are very transparent, very forthright, about the failures, weaknesses, downfalls, and sins of its leading characters and even its authors. Does this prove the Bible is trustworthy? No. But I think this transparency helps strengthen the case that the Bible appears to be an honest work. Allow me to remind you of some transparent details we read about in the Bible. We read of...
• Noah getting drunk shortly after getting off the ark (Genesis 9:21)
• Abraham lying (on more than one occasion) about Sarah being his sister (Genesis 12:13, 20:2)
• Moses’s murder of a man in Egypt (Exodus 2:11–12), his outburst of anger in the wilderness, how he misrepresented God and as a result wasn’t allowed to enter into the Promised Land (Numbers 20:10-12). Who wrote the books of Exodus and Numbers where these matters are explained? Moses. He tells us about his failures and sins in his own writings. These sound like the words of someone who was committed to communicating the truth.
• The nation of Israel rejecting God on numerous occasions to worship other false gods (e.g., the Book of Judges). What nation did God use to write down the Scriptures? Israel (the Jews). Is this the kind of thing they would make up about themselves? How unfaithful they were to the very God who saved them from their slavery in Egypt? I don't think so.
• David’s adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband Uriah (2 Samuel 11)
• Jesus called Peter "Satan" (Mark 8:33)
• Peter denying he knew Jesus, after promising he would never do such a thing (Matthew 26:33ff)
• The time Paul had to rebuke Peter for his fear of being seen eating with Gentiles (Galatians 2:11-12)
• The disciples' prideful argument over which one of them was the greatest (Luke 22:24)
• The disciples falling asleep when Jesus asked them to pray (Mark 14:32-41)
• The disciples running away to save their own necks when Jesus was arrested (Mark 14:50)...not to mention Peter cutting off the ear of the priest’s servant a short time earlier, swiftly drawing a rebuke from Jesus (John 18:10)
• Paul's confession that he was “a wretched man” (Romans 7:24) and the “chief” of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15)
• Paul and Barnabas's argument over Mark being allowed to travel with them (Acts 15:37-39)
I could go on. Question for you: Do these sound like the words of men who were lying?
Not at all. And if you add to this evidence the fact that these men imparted to the world the highest standards of conduct the world has ever seen, the case is only strengthened.
The willingness of the disciples to die for Jesus
Now, earlier tonight the skeptic raised a legitimate concern when it came to the prophecies that Jesus fulfilled. He said, "Maybe the disciples just made up all of these things that Jesus supposedly did. Perhaps they read all of those prophecies in the Old Testament and decided to make up an elaborate story about Jesus fulfilling them!"
Well, in addition to their forthrightness about their sins and failures, there's another reason why I don't think the disciples were lying. Flavius Josephus, Eusebius, Tertullian, and other independent extrabiblical sources* record for us that many of Jesus’ earliest followers, including the apostles, suffered intense persecution and even death for their on-going belief and preaching that Jesus was Lord and was risen from the dead.
[*Hegesippus, Polycarp, Ignatius, Cornelius Tacitus, Dionysius, Clement of Alexandria, Clement of Rome, Origen. For a good overview of these sources and what they said regarding this matter, see Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 56–62.]
We are told in these extrabiblical sources that:
• Matthew was slain with an axe in a city of Ethiopia
• Mark died in Alexandria, in Northern Egypt after having been cruelly dragged through the streets of that city.
• Luke was hung to death in Greece
• John was tortured and then banished to the island of Patmos (Rev. 1:9)
• James, the brother of John, was beheaded in Jerusalem (see Acts 12:2)
• James the Less (as he’s called in Mark 15:40) was thrown from a pinnacle of the temple and then stoned
• Philip was hung up against a pillar in Heiropolis and then stoned
• Bartholomew was flayed alive
• Andrew was bound to a cross and left to die
• Jude was shot to death with arrows
• Matthias (the apostle chosen to replace Judas) was first stoned, and then beheaded
• Barnabas was stoned to death
• Paul, after a variety of tortures and imprisonments, was beheaded in Rome
• Thomas was run through the body with a spear in southeast India
• Peter was crucified upside down in Rome
Question for you: Were these men lying?
I find it hard to believe that men willing to die excruciatingly painful deaths for telling people about Jesus were just “making up a story about Him.” Nobody willingly endures persecution and these kinds of deaths for something they are just making up. But don’t misunderstand me, just because someone is willing to die for something doesn’t prove that what he says is true. Some Muslim terrorists are willing to die for Allah today. The disciples deaths are just compelling evidence that:
• They really believed Jesus existed
• They really believed He was the Messiah
• They really believed He died on a cross and rose from the grave three days later.
And I believe them! If the disciples were just lying (just inventing Jesus), do you think they’d really be willing to endure years of persecution, imprisonments, torture, and then these painful deaths for someone who didn’t do the things they said He did? I have a hard time believing that!
Perhaps you've heard of Charles Colson. He served in President Richard Nixon’s administration back in the 1970s before it was brought down by the Watergate scandal. Colson was a godless man at the time. Well, he became a Christian after spending time in prison for obstruction of justice in a case related to the Watergate scandal. One of the evidences for the New Testament account of Jesus’ resurrection that he found compelling was the persecution the disciples endured telling people about the resurrection.
Colson said this:
“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren't true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world—and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You're telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”