What Do Ancient Writers Outside the Bible Say About Jesus? – Part 2

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What Do Ancient Writers Outside the Bible Say About Jesus?

This week we continue to look at what ancient writers outside the Bible had to say about Jesus.  In doing so, we continue to see that they confirmed several key details that the New Testament authors reported about Jesus.  There are nine ancient non-Christian sources that wrote about Jesus (the same number that wrote about the Roman emperor of the day).  Last week we started with Josephus, Thallus and Tacitus.  This week we look at two more.


Mara Bar-Serapion

Thought it’s unfortunate for us, because it’s hard to remember and pronounce his name, it’s also very fortunate that Syrian philosopher Mara Bar-Serapion wrote to his son about Jesus, sometime after AD 70.  To encourage his son he compared the life and persecution of Jesus to that of other philosophers who were persecuted for their ideas. He wrote:

What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrate to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise King die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given.

Although Mara Bar-Serapion did not place Jesus above Socrates or Pythagoras, he listed him alongside them.  He also confirmed some important facts about Jesus. At the least it’s confirmed that Jesus was a wise and influential man who was killed for his beliefs.  We can also conclude that the Jews were involved with his death and that Jesus’ followers lived lives that reflected his teaching.


As in the case of Thallus, Sextus Julius Africanus wrote about a historian named Phlegon who wrote in about AD 140.  In his historical account, Phlegon also mentioned the darkness that occurred at the crucifixion of Jesus:

Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth.

The early church theologian Origen also cited Phlegon several times in a book he wrote in response to criticisms from the Greek writer Celsus:

Now Phlegon, in the thirteenth or fourteenth book, I think, of his Chronicles, not only ascribed to Jesus a knowledge of future events (although falling into confusion about some things which refer to Peter, as if they referred to Jesus), but also testified that the result corresponded to his predictions. So that he also, by these very admissions regarding foreknowledge, as if against his will, expressed his opinion that the doctrines taught by the fathers of our system were not devoid of divine power.

And with regard to the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in whose reign Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquakes which then took place, Phlegon too, I think, has written in the thirteenth of fourteenth book of his Chronicles.

He also imagines that both the earthquake and the darkness were an invention, but regarding these, we have in the preceding pages made our defense, according to our ability, adducing the testimony of Phlegon, who relates that these events took place at the time when our Savior suffered.

So although Phlegon was not a believer in Jesus and denied some of the claims of the Gospel writers, his statements did reluctantly admit that Jesus had the ability to accurately predict the future and was crucified under the reign of Tiberius Caesar.

“But These Source Stop Short”

Some might say that these non-Christian sources stop short of confirming really key details about Jesus, like his resurrection, but remember that we’re talking about non-Christian sources.  If they did confirm the resurrection they would be considered a Christian source, joining the thirty-three Christian authors who wrote about Jesus in the first 150 years.

In total we have forty-two ancient sources for Jesus and while I don’t think it’s fair to discount the Christian sources just because they’re Christian, even the non-Christian sources confirm, even if reluctantly, several of the key details of the Christian sources.  All together they make a very strong case about who Jesus really was.

Witness_stand_in_a_courtroomTo deny the strength of the case of what they say is kind of a like a defense attorney saying, “Other than the four eyewitnesses who say my client committed the murder, all you have are several other witnesses who can confirm several of the key details.  Clearly, the case should be thrown out!”  What would you say to the attorney if you were the judge?

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What Do Ancient Writers Outside the Bible Say About Jesus? – Part 1

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What Do Ancient Writers Outside the Bible Say About Jesus?

We saw last week that some have said not enough was written about Jesus outside of the Bible, if he really did miracles and rose from the dead.  But considering what we have that was written about the Roman emperor at the time, what we do have that was written about Jesus is really pretty impressive.   In total we have about four times more written about Jesus than the emperor and if you just consider non-Christian sources, there is a tie with nine sources each.  So what do those ancient sources outside the Bible say about Jesus?




First is a Jewish historian named Flavius Josephus who wrote in the second half of the first century.  He served as historian for the Roman emperor Domitian.  He wrote an autobiography and two major historical works.  One of these was the Antiquities of the Jews.  In that he wrote this:

At this time [the time of Pilate] there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good and (he) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.

Josephus also records that Ananus the high priest of the Jews had James, the brother of Jesus, killed in AD 62.  James had become a leader of the church in Jerusalem.  So while not believing in Jesus, Josephus confirmed many key details about Jesus’ life as reported in the New Testament.


Thallus was a Samaritan historian who wrote during the first century, only about 20 years after Jesus’ crucifixion. Much of his work has been lost to history but another historican, Sextus Julius Africanus wrote History of the World in AD 221 and he quoted from Thallus’ original writing. Thallus wrote about the crucifixion of Jesus and offered an explanation for the darkness that was said to have been observed at the time of Jesus’ death.  Africanus wrote:

On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.

While Thallus was not a believer, he rejected the supernatural cause, he corroborated some important details given in the New Testament documents.  He confirmed that Jesus was crucified and that darkness fell over the land at that time.


Cornelius Tacitus is one of the most trusted and respected ancient historians. He was a senator and a proconsul of Asia. In AD 116 he wrote in his Annals about Emperor Nero blaming Christians for the great fire in Rome.

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had it’s origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.

So Tacitus confirmed that Jesus lived in Judea, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and had followers who were persecuted for their faith in him.  It’s also possible that the “most mischievous superstition”, as he calls it, refers to the belief of Christians that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Several important details provided by the eye-witness writers of the New Testament are corroborated by other ancient writers who were not friendly to Jesus or the early Christians.  Come back next week as we continue to look at what these other ancient writers wrote about Jesus.

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Is Jesus Written About by Ancient Writers Outside the Bible?

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Is Jesus Written About by Ancient Writers Outside the Bible?

If Jesus is who the Bible says he is and did the things the Bible says he did, wouldn’t you expect him to be written about by other ancient writers outside the Bible?  I think that’s a fair assumption.  If someone changed the world it’s natural to expect that people would write about him.  The New Testament authors were the closest eye witnesses to Jesus’ life but other authors should have written some about him too.  So did they?  Yes, several of them did.  Let’s take a look at this.


How Many Ancient Authors Wrote About Jesus?

Critics have said that there’s not enough written about Jesus if he really did miracles and rose from the dead.  They say more authors outside of the Christian authors should have written about him.  Before we look at the numbers though we need to realize that things were different back then than they are today.  First century people didn’t have all the convenient ways of recording and preserving facts about events as we do today.  They couldn’t just take their phone and post to the world what they were having for breakfast or take a selfie with the risen Jesus and put it on Instagram.  It was a different world when it came to recording things.

On top of that, we know that much of what was recorded in the past has been lost.

  • P52_versoAbout half of what the Roman historian Tacitus wrote is no longer available
  • Only a fragment of what Thallus wrote in the first century about ancient Mediterranian history has survived
  • Suetonius is aware of the writings of Asclepiades of Mendes, yet his writings are no longer available
  • Herod the Great’s secretary, Nicholas of Damascus, wrote a Universal History in 144 books, none of which have survived
  • Livy the great Roman historian has suffered a similar fate, only his early books and excerpts of the rest survive

We also know of several early Christian writings that are no longer available.

  • In the 2nd Century Papias wrote five books that are quoted by several church fathers, however none of these books survived
  • Eusebius quotes a couple of other Christian writers that we wouldn’t know about except for his quotes

So, all of that considered, what we do have concerning Jesus is really pretty impressive.  We have the nine authors of the New Testament plus another twenty Christian authors and four heretical writings that mention Jesus within 150 years of his death.  Additionally there are nine non-Christian sources that mention Jesus within 150 years:

Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, Phlegon, Lucian, Celsus,  Thallus and Mara Bar-Serapion

In all at least forty-two authors, nine of them non-Christian, mention Jesus within 150 years of his death.

How Does that Compare to Other Figures of History?

For a comparison let’s look at how many authors, that we know of, that wrote about Tiberius Caesar, the Roman emperor at the time of Jesus’ ministry and execution.   Tiberius is mentioned by ten sources within 150 years of his death:

Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Velleius Paterculus, Plutarch, Pliny the Elder, Strabo, Seneca, Valerius Maximus and the New Testament author, Luke.

So that’s forty-two sources for Jesus and ten sources for Tiberius.  That’s four times more for Jesus than the Roman Emperor of the day!  And if you only want to consider non-Christian sources? That’s a tie of 9 each.

Of course if they both lived today the story would be much different.  But considering how history was written back then and how documents have survived, what we have that was written about Jesus back then is pretty impressive, both from Christian authors and the others.  Next week we’ll look at what some of the authors outside the Bible wrote about Jesus.


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Does Evolution Explain Everything? – Part 2

Posted on by Reasons for Hope 315 in Design | Leave a comment

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Does Evolution Explain Everything?

As we saw last week, Cosmos host, Neil deGrasse Tyson stated that because of the wonders of natural selection and evolution, there’s no need to think that there needs to have been an intelligent designer who created life in all of it’s amazing forms.  He’s basically saying, “Trust us evolutionists, evolution explains everything and we can assure you that there was no need for a creator.”  But does evolution explain everything?


Last week I mentioned that atheist Richard Dawkins says that evolution by natural selection is “Easy!”  He compared it to an easy creep up the gentle slope on the back side of Mount Improbable.  I talked about how I think it’s far from as easy as he suggests and that that slope is really much steeper.  This week I read something that drives that home.  Evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala admits that, from a Darwinian perspective, the probability of intelligent life arising from bacteria is less than one chance in 101,000,000.  I don’t know about you but that slope’s a little too steep for me.

Just a Couple of Unexplained Details

missingLet’s say, though, for the sake of argument that evolution by natural selection really is as easy as some evolutionists suggest. Tyson, in the second episode of Cosmos admitted that there are a couple of minor details that they can’t explain by natural (un-supernatural) means.  Again, they have it all figured out and we can trust them that there’s no need for a creator, but there are a couple of minor details they can’t explain yet.  What are those minor details?  Just how the universe came into existence and how life began!

That’s right, by natural means, not requiring a creator, they have no idea how the universe came to exist out of nothing, and they have no idea how life on earth began.  But other than those minor details, they’ve got it all figured out.  That’s kind of like the detectives on a murder case having it all figured out, except for the minor detail of who did it.

They have no idea how these key things happened, but they’re sure of one thing, it wasn’t God.  That’s the one place they won’t go.  It’s ruled out.  Not because the evidence rules it out (the fine-tuning of the universe and our planet for life points to design), but because they’ve ruled it out before considering the evidence.

It Came from Out There

Some evolutionists theorize that life on earth came from outer space, whether intentionally placed here by extraterrestrials or arriving here by chance, perhaps on a comet.  The hypothesis is called panspermia.  But of course that doesn’t answer the question of how life began, it just moves the location of that beginning off of earth to somewhere else.  This just shows that some ideas are open for consideration and some aren’t.

Since there’s no way for us to know for sure how the universe came into existence and how life began, doesn’t it really come down to faith?  I don’t just mean a religious faith, I mean on both sides.  Those who believe that there is no supernatural and that everything can be explained by natural means have faith that some day a natural solution for the beginning of life and the universe will be found.  I and others believe that the appearance of the design of life and the universe aren’t just an appearance and that they do indeed point to a creator who designed it all.

What’s Easier for You to Believe?

faithFor me, the odds of it all coming about by chance are just too great and I don’t have enough faith to believe that.  It’s much easier for me to believe that a God of supreme intelligence and power made it all, including you and I.  What’s more, from other evidence I have presented in other posts, I believe that God has come to us in Jesus Christ, who died for us and rose again.

It’s not as though there are no hard questions for a Christian worldview to answer, there are some.  And it’s not as though there aren’t some implications of a Christian worldview that I struggle with, there are some.  But all things put together, for me, the Christian worldview is the one that’s most reasonable and it’s in Christ that I place my faith and trust.

What do you believe?

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Does Evolution Explain Everything? – Part 1

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Does Evolution Explain Everything?

In the second episode of Cosmos, host Neil deGrasse Tyson stated that because of the wonders of natural selection and evolution, there’s no need to think that there needs to have been an intelligent designer who created life in all of it’s amazing forms.  He said that some people say that evolution is just a theory, but like the theory of gravity, the theory of evolution is a scientific fact.  He’s basically saying, “Anyone who doesn’t think that all life came about by chance, unguided processes is just wrong.  Trust us evolutionists, evolution explains everything and we can assure you that there was no need for a creator.”  But does evolution explain everything?


Eyeing Up the Odds

Human-eyeTyson said that people used to think that because the human eye is so intricate, more complex than anything ever built by human intelligence, that it can’t have been the result of mindless evolution.  But then he goes on to show how a long series of random beneficial mutations could have all built upon each other, giving us the amazing eyes we have today.  Never mind that geneticists observe that harmful mutations outnumber beneficial mutations by at least as much as ten thousand to one, and in some species by as much as ten million to one.  Those are quite the odds.

Atheist Richard Dawkins uses the illustration of a mountain, with one side being a sheer cliff, impossible to climb, but the other side being a gentle slope to the summit.  He says that creationists make out like evolution has to leap from the foot of the cliff to the top in one bound.  But he says that, “Evolution, by contrast, goes around the back of the mountain and creeps up the gentle slope to the summit: Easy!”  But is “easy” really the appropriate word?  He says that natural selection breaks the problem of improbability up into small pieces.  He says each of the small pieces is slightly improbable, but not prohibitively so.


While I agree that in theory breaking it into smaller pieces would make it easier, I don’t think that the slope of the back side of that mountain is anywhere near as easy and gentle as Dawkins suggests.  The more we learn of the intricacies of even the simplest building blocks of life, the steeper and more improbable each of those steps becomes.  Darwin himself never dreamed of the incredibly complex machines that exist within a single cell.

And when you consider the odds of harmful mutations to beneficial ones, the idea that life just kept getting lucky time after time after time, to me, seems just too improbable.  Dawkins himself says, “When large numbers of these slightly improbably events are stacked up in a series, the end product of the accumulation is very very improbable indeed, improbably enough to be far beyond the reach of chance.”  He goes on to say that he thinks that the fact that the steps accumulate removes the improbability, but I don’t see it that way.

rouletteConsider the game of roulette.  The odds of winning are against you, it’s slightly improbable we might say, but people do win at the game.  But what if someone goes into a casino and wins time after time after time after time after time?  Won’t the casino owners think something’s up?  Wouldn’t you?  What if, when confronted he just said, “What’s the big deal? It’s not that hard to win a game.”

Place Your Bets

You can decide for yourself how you think the odds play out.  However, when considering the odds of something like the eye evolving on it’s own by mindless, unguided processes, keep in mind that according to evolutionary theory, this series of improbable, beneficial mutations, happening time after time after time, didn’t just occur once.  Because different forms of life are on different branches of the tree of life, not connected to each other, evolutionists believe this lucky sequence of mutations occurred multiple times independently!

Malcolm Campbell writes, “Eyes and wings are amongst the most stunning innovations evolution has created. Remarkably these features have evolved multiple times in different lineages of animals. For instance, the avian ancestors of birds and the mammalian ancestors of bats both evolved wings independently, in an example of convergent evolution. The same happened for the eyes of squids and humans. Exactly how such convergent evolution arises is not always clear. ” (how about ever?)

Now we have two roulette players winning time after time after time after time.  Now what would you think if you were the casino owner? Would you think something was up or would you think it was just chance, unguided processes at work?  Personally, I don’t think evolution does explain everything and we’ve just been talking about eyes evolving, not all the forms of life we know evolving from the simplest living thing, all by unguided processes.  The whole case considered together, I just don’t have enough faith to believe in evolution.

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Is Christianity in Conflict with Science? – Religion and the Scientific Revolution

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Is Christianity in Conflict with Science?

The new Cosmos TV show presents science in an interesting way but it also seems to have an agenda to put down religion.  Even the hosts of a non-faith-based podcast I listen to have commented on how they don’t think the show needs to take up after religion like it has.  But is Christianity at odds with science?  Is there an inherent conflict between the two?  I don’t believe so.  While there have been some historical conflicts,  it was actually the religious faith of many of the leaders of the scientific revolution that inspired their scientific research. Cosmos has been happy to point out the conflicts but has left out the positive influence of religious belief on the scientific revolution, so let’s take a quick look at that.


Religion and the Scientific Revolution

Sir Isaac Newton is recognized as one of the most influential scientists of all time and as a key figure in the scientific revolution.  So what moved him to his scientific studies?  As Casey Luskin puts it, Newton “believed in a loving, truthful personal God who would create an orderly, intelligible universe that he wanted us to discover and enjoy.”  It was these religious beliefs that inspired him to study the laws of nature.


Historian John Hedley Brooke writes this,

“Any suggestion that what was revolutionary in seventeenth-century thought was the complete separation of science from theology would be disqualified by Newton himself, who once wrote that the study of natural philosophy included a consideration of divine attributes and of God’s relationship with the world. … Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton saw the study of nature as a religious duty. A knowledge of God’s power and wisdom could be inferred from the intelligence seemingly displayed in the designs of nature. Newton affirmed that the natural sciences had prospered only in monotheistic cultures… He believed the universality of his laws was grounded in the omnipresence of a single divine Will.”

Ian G. Barbour wrote that, “Newton himself believed that the world-machine was designed by an intelligent Creator and expressed God’s purposes.”

Barbour explains how profound an influence religion had in inspiring science in England during the crucial early stages of the scientific revolution.  These English scientists were…

ps 19-1-2“mainly from Anglican (Church of England) and Puritan (Calvinist) backgrounds. The charter of the Royal Society instructed its fellows to direct their studies “to the glory of God and the benefits of the human race.” Robert Boyle (1627-1691) said that science is a religious task, “the disclosure of the admirable workmanship which God displayed in the universe.” Newton believed the universe bespeaks an all-powerful Creator. Sprat, the historian of the Royal Society, considered science a valuable aid to religion.”

Astronomer Johannes Kepler, another great figure in the early history of modern science, is frequently quoted as saying, “O God, I am thinking Thy thoughts after Thee.”  His strong theological convictions prompted him to find a connection between the physical and the spiritual, and his scientific discoveries led him to believe he had uncovered God’s plan for the universe.  He wrote,

“The heavenly motions are nothing but a continuous song for several voices (perceived by the intellect, not the ear)… It is, therefore, no longer surprising that man, in imitation of his creator, has at last discovered the art of figured song, which was unknown to the ancients. Man wanted to reproduce the continuity of cosmic time within a short hour, by an artful symphony for several voices, to obtain a sample test of the design of the Divine Creator in His works, and to partake of his joy by making music in imitation of God.”

Galileo Galilei, while often known for his controversy with the church, was in fact a devout Christian.  He said, “God is known by nature in his works, and by doctrine in his revealed word.”

Nicolas Copernicus, who formulated the model with the Sun at the center, rather than the earth, wrote,

“To know the mighty works of God, to comprehend His wisdom and majesty and power; to appreciate, in degree, the wonderful workings of His laws, surely all this must be a pleasing and acceptable mode of worship to the Most High, to whom ignorance cannot be more grateful than knowledge.”


Summing it all up, Michael Keas of the Discovery Institute puts it this way,

“Are Christianity and science at war with one another? Not according to leading historians…  The truth is that science and biblical religion have been friends for a long time. Judeo-Christian theology has contributed in a friendly manner to such science-promoting ideas as discoverable natural history, experimental inquiry, universal natural laws, mathematical physics, and investigative confidence that is balanced with humility. Christian institutions especially since the medieval university, have often provided a supportive environment for scientific inquiry and instruction.

Why have we forgotten most of the positive contributions of Christianity to the rise of modern science? This cultural amnesia is largely due to the influence of a number of anti-Christian myths about science and religion. These myths teach that science came of age in the victory of naturalism over Christianity.”


For a detailed response to each episode of Cosmos see posts by Casey Luskin at  evolutionnews.org.  My thanks to him for several of these quotes.

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Jesus is the Original and Only True Superhero

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Jesus is the Original and Only True Superhero

Yesterday my daughters and I made our annual trek to the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2).  I love comics and superheroes.  (Yes, I’m a geek.  I call myself a Geek for God.)  A lot of people think that Superman was the first superhero but, actually, Jesus is the original and only true superhero!


geek for god


While all my favorite comic  superheroes are fictional, Jesus is truly a superhero.  How can I say this?

Jesus died to save others and came back to life

jesus superheroAs we’ve looked at over the past several weeks, the evidence is strong that Jesus really was crucified, died and rose again from the dead.  As I explained last week, he did this to give his life for us as a sacrifice to pay the penalty for our sins.  There’s nothing more superheroic than giving yourself to save others and then having the power to come back from the dead.  Superman did it in the comics but Jesus did it in real life and you can examine the evidence of that historical event. (Mark 10:45, Acts 1:3)

His Super Powers Include…

…giving sight to the blind, healing diseases, walking on water, calming storms and raising the dead.  Those are some pretty cool superpowers!  While some find miracles hard to believe, if the evidence shows Jesus rose from the dead, then there’s no reason to doubt the accounts of his disciples that he performed all of those miracles.  A couple of sources outside of the Bible also report that Jesus was a wonder worker. (Luke 7:21,John 14:11)

He Will Defeat the Ultimate Super Villain in the End

There is a battle going on but it’s not “never ending”.  Jesus said that he is going to come back and when he does he will defeat our enemy Satan.  In comics the super villains always return but when Jesus defeats Satan it will be for good.  At that time he will usher in a joyous new world, free from evil and pain, for those who choose to spend eternity with him. (Revelation 20:10)

And finally, I think Jesus is a superhero because

He Loves and Forgives Selfish Evil-Doers Like Me

While most of us don’t consider ourselves to be villains, we’d have to admit that we can often be selfish and fall short of the kind of life God wants us to live.  I know I do. But Jesus’ greatest super power is that he loves us even when we’re evil-doers.  God loves us so much that he gave Jesus, his only Son, to come and give his life for us on the cross, so that if we believe in him, we can be forgiven of our sins and know that we will have eternal life with him. (John 3:16, Ephesians 2:8-9)

We can’t save ourselves by our own abilities, by trying to be good enough, but, if we let him, Jesus, the real superhero, will swoop in and save us.

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He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

Posted on by Reasons for Hope 315 in Claims and Acts of Jesus, Evidence for the Resurrection, Why Jesus Came | Leave a comment

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He is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!

After looking at the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection I believe that the traditional Easter greeting is appropriate.  On Easter one person says, “He is risen!” and the other responds “He is risen indeed!”.  I believe that response is more than just a statement of faith on the part of that person, I believe that it’s the best explanation of all the facts we’ve looked at surrounding the claim of Jesus’ resurrection.

4-5 resurrection investigate

Opposing Theories

Ever since the first time the resurrection of Jesus was proclaimed, opposing theories have been put together to explain away the resurrection.  Rejecting the supernatural, alternate ways have been posed to explain the facts by natural means.  But any theory, for or against, has to account for all five minimal facts I have presented the past five weeks.

The first opposing theory given was that the disciples stole the body.  This accounts for the empty tomb but doesn’t account for the disciples actions which show that they really believed he rose and appeared to them and they were willing to die for that belief.  Nor does it explain the sudden change in Paul and James, which they said was because the risen Jesus appeared to them.

Others have said they were just hallucinating when the disciples thought they saw Jesus but groups of people don’t share hallucinations.  Plus, while they might have been in the frame of mind, in their grief, to hallucinate seeing him, Paul and James wouldn’t have been in that same frame of mind.  What’s more this doesn’t account for the empty tomb.

When Natural Explanations Don’t Work, Consider the Supernatural

empty tomb (1)Of course we should always start by looking for natural explanations, but when none are found and the evidence is strong that something actually happened, we should be open to considering the supernatural.  This is certainly true when a supernatural explanation is at home.  Jesus lived a sinless life and was an amazing moral teacher.  He claimed to be God and to be the way to God the Father.  He told people to trust in him for their eternal salvation.  What’s more he backed up those claims with his miracles and he said that when he was killed he’d rise from the dead.  After that he was crucified and then appeared to and convinced friends and foes alike that he had indeed risen.  If someone claimed that John F. Kennedy rose from the dead that would be out of place, but with Jesus such a claim is right at home.

But Why?

Jesus’ death and resurrection makes even more sense when you understand the purpose.  The Bible says, and most of us would admit, that we’ve sinned against God.  Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”.  Jesus said that’s why he came.  He said he came “to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:28, Mk 10:45)  Jesus came to give his life for us to pay the penalty for our sins.  Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”   Jesus can offer us eternal life because he died in our place to pay the death penalty for our sins.

Why would Jesus do this for us?  John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  God is the one we’ve sinned against but he loves us so much that he was willing to become a man and come here so that he could pay for our sins himself.  This way he can be just, seeing that the penalty for sin is paid, and we can be forgiven.  Jesus’ resurrection from the dead shows that the price for our sins has been paid in full.

Jesus Has Done This for You – Have You Accepted His Gift?

In his great love Jesus endured a horrible death for you on the cross.  He is God, though, as he claimed, and the grave couldn’t hold him.  He rose again from the dead, victorious over sin and death.  Now he offers you forgiveness and eternal life with him.  You can be made right with God and have a personal relationship with him through Jesus.  But that’s not automatic.  He doesn’t force himself on anyone.  You have a choice to make.  John 1:12 says, “to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”

Have you believed in and accepted the risen Jesus as your savior?  If not and you want to, just pray and thank Jesus for what he’s done for you.  Tell him you believe that he is who he said and that you believe that he died and rose again.  Ask him to forgive you of your sins and tell him you want to have a personal relationship with him, getting to know the one who loves you more than any other.

If you do that sincerely you can be sure that you have eternal life.  1 John 5:13 says, “I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.”  What’s more you can be sure that he will come into your life and help you to live for his glory out of thanks for what he’s done.

If you make that choice today please let me know.  Email me at mark@reasonsforhope315.com.

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Is the Resurrection of Jesus a Real Historical Event? – Fact 5

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Is the Resurrection of Jesus a Real Historical Event?

Easter is just a week away and today we wrap up with the fifth historical fact in what I could call my Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. We’ve been examining the evidence for the resurrection using the Minimal Facts Approach presented by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona.  This deals with the five minimal facts that are so well historically confirmed that they are accepted by nearly every scholar, even the skeptical ones.  Check out the four previous posts if you missed them.

4-5 resurrection investigate


Fact 5 : The Tomb was Empty

This fifth fact doesn’t have as wide an acceptance among scholars as the previous four but still an impressive majority of about 75% accept it.  What’s more there is strong evidence for it.  Let’s look at that evidence.

The Jerusalem Factor

tombJesus was publicly executed in Jerusalem.   Then his after death appearances and empty tomb were first proclaimed publicly in Jerusalem.  That being the case, it would have been impossible for Christianity to get off the ground in Jerusalem if the body had been in the tomb.  His enemies in the Jewish leadership and Roman government would have only had to exhume the body and display it to bring an end to it all.  But not only are Jewish, Roman and all other writings missing any such account, there is total silence from Christianity’s critics who would have jumped at this sort of evidence.  Certainly the 2nd century critic Celsus would have mentioned it when writing against the resurrection but no such mention is made.

Some have said that by that time the body wouldn’t have been recognizable so they didn’t produce it.  However, it is reported that they began proclaiming it about 50 days after Jesus’ crucifixion and in the arid climate there, a corpse’s hair, stature, and distinctive wounds would still have been identifiable.  Besides that, regardless of the condition of the body, the enemies of Jesus would still have found benefit in producing the corpse.

Enemy Confirmation

Enemy confirmation is strong evidence and the empty tomb is not only reported by Christian sources but Jesus’ enemies confirmed it as well, even if indirectly.  Rather than produce a body, early critics accused Jesus’ disciples of stealing the body.  This is reported by Matthew, Justin Martyr and Tertullian.  There would have been no need to account for the missing body if it was still in the tomb.  This is the only early opposing theory that we know of that was offered by Jesus’ enemies.  So they indirectly confirmed that the tomb was empty.

You Wouldn’t Make That Up

If someone was making up a story to deceive others, we wouldn’t expect them to invent parts of the story that would hurt the credibility of their story.  This is the principle of embarrassing testimony.

Let’s consider one of the interesting details of the story of the empty tomb.  Who were the primary witnesses of the empty tomb? Some of the women followers of Jesus were.  Not only are women the first witnesses mentioned, they are mentioned in four gospels whereas male witnesses only appear later and only in two gospels.

So what?  This would be a very odd invention when you consider how the testimony of women was viewed in Jewish and Roman cultures at this time.  A woman’s testimony was considered questionable and certainly not as credible as a man’s testimony.

First century Jewish historian Josephus wrote, “But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex, nor let servant be admitted to give testimony on account of the ignobility of their soul; since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment.”

 The Talmud said, “Any evidence which a woman [gives] is not valid (to offer), also they are not valid to offer.”

 According to the statement in Rosh Hashannah, a woman’s testimony was given the same regard as that of a robber.

 So given that view of the testimony of women at the time, it is highly unlikely that the gospel authors would invent the story and have women be the witnesses.  Imaging them saying, “Let’s make up this story that’s hard to believe in the first place, and let’s make some women, that most people won’t listen to, let’s make them the ones who witness and report it.”

This doesn’t sound like an invention.  Rather it sounds like the accurate reporting of the facts, even though those facts might not be the most helpful to them.

And so, for these three reasons, the empty tomb seems historically credible.

Former Oxford University church historian William Wand writes, “All the strictly historical evidence we have is in favor of [the empty tomb], and those scholars who reject it ought to recognize that they do so on some other ground than that of scientific history.”


Come back next week as we sum up the case for the resurrection and celebrate what that great, historically verifiable event can mean to your life and my life today.

Source: The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Habermas and Licona

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Is the Resurrection of Jesus a Real Historical Event? – Fact 4

Posted on by Reasons for Hope 315 in Evidence for the Resurrection | Leave a comment

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Is the Resurrection of Jesus a Real Historical Event?

Were any skeptics of Jesus won over by seeing him after his resurrection?  We’ll explore that as we continue to examine the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, using the Minimal Facts Approach.  I’m presenting the five minimal facts that are so well historically confirmed that they are accepted by nearly every scholar, even the skeptical ones.  With the first two facts we saw that Jesus died by crucifixion and his disciples believed that he rose again and appeared to them.  The last three facts support the first two.  Last week we saw that the persecutor of the Church, Paul, was suddenly changed.  Now we move onto fact 4.

4-5 resurrection investigate


Fact 4 : The Skeptic James, the Brother of Jesus, was Suddenly Changed

The gospels report that Jesus had at least four brothers, or rather half-brothers, James, Joseph, Judas and Simon, plus unnamed sisters.  Josephus, the Jewish historian mentions, “the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, whose name was James.”

So what did James think of Jesus during his life?  How do you think you would react if your brother started claiming he was God?


We don’t have as much historical information on James as we do on Paul, but the gospels report that Jesus’ brothers, including James, were unbelievers during Jesus’ ministry.

Mark 3:21 says that his family “went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’”

John 7:5 says, “For even his own brothers did not believe in him.”

So James was a skeptic of Jesus and his claims but then something happened that changed that.  What appears to be one of the earliest church creeds, found in 1 Corinthians 15 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 Cephas, 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”


His appearance to his brother James is singled out.  That’s because it brought about a dramatic and sudden change in James.  After the risen Jesus appeared to him, James became a believer and became a leader of the church in Jerusalem.

Acts 15 identifies James as one of the leaders at the Jerusalem council.

Galatians 1:19 refers to “James, the  Lord’s brother” as an apostle.

And not only did James become a believer, he also became willing to suffer and even die as a martyr for his new belief in the risen Jesus, just as the other disciples did.  James’ suffering and martyrdom for his faith in the risen Jesus is reported by multiple sources: Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria (we no longer have these writings by Hegesippus and Clement, but the church historian Eusebius quotes them).  This means we have both Christian and non-Christian sources for this.


So what explains such a dramatic change for James, that he went from not believing in his brother at all to becoming a leader in the new Christian church and, what’s more, becoming willing to give his life for his belief?  What could explain this if not,  as is reported, that Jesus appeared to his brother after he died and rose again?  Then you just might believe your brother is God, right?

Come back next week for Fact 5: The tomb was empty.

Source: The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Habermas and Licona

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