A Major Proof of the Bible
By Ernest L. Martin Ph.D., 1975
Edited by David Sielaff, May 2002
Is the Holy Bible the Word of God? All of us need to know. A person’s very salvation can depend upon it.
Numerous books have been written supposedly to prove its validity. Some try to demonstrate it through prophecy, others through doctrine, and still others resort to pure emotionalism. Emotionalism is weak evidence. But while the other factors can help demonstrate the Bible’s credibility, there is one major proof that predominates over all others. It is the witness of Christ himself. If Christ can be proved, that is, if proof can be shown that he was who he said he was, that will go a long way in proving the Bible itself. Let us look at this important proof.
We wish to stress the importance of Christ’s witness in the matter of the Old and New Testament canon. The central proof of the Bible is Christ. How do we know that the Christ of the Gospels is divine—that he is actually the Son of the Living God, and especially that he was resurrected from the dead?
If the Gospels are reliable, then no further proof should be needed. But are the Gospels and their witness true? Frankly, they need to be put to the test. There is nothing irreverent in this at all (1 Thessalonians 5:21). We need to apply to them the same basic rules to which scholars subject all other literature in order to prove its reliability.
There are four major rules for proving the credibility of documents. One, was the writer of the document an eyewitness to the events he records or was he at least a contemporary that lived in the same area of the events? Two, were there other independent witnesses to corroborate the evidence? Three, did those witnesses continue to maintain their testimonies until death—even to the jeopardy of their lives? Four, were there also hostile witnesses who would have reason not to believe the evidence but still say the events occurred? If all of these four factors are in solid evidence, then reliability becomes very acceptable. With the New Testament documents, we have all four evidences in a firm position for credibility.
Let us apply the first rule that the author must have been an eyewitness to the events.
The Gospel of Matthew, for example, was composed not much longer than a generation after the death of Christ, at a time when hundreds, if not thousands, of witnesses to the crucifixion and resurrection were still alive. Matthew himself had lived through the events he describes. That is contemporaneity. And it guarantees to us reliable testimony. Let us see why.
Suppose a writer in the Year 1970 wrote that a major prophet less than forty years before had gone throughout New York State, working so many miracles that thousands followed him from place to place; and that in Times Square, on July 4, 1935, when huge crowds of people were present, that same prophet had been executed at the behest of the government and the people of New York.
If such a thing had happened back in 1935, there would still be many thousands of witnesses alive to attest to it.
But on the other hand, if such an event never happened, could any living historian, writer, or journalist invent such a fallacious story, send it to the people of New York City, tell them to depend on its veracity with their lives, and persuade them to believe it? Of course not!
But Matthew did not have to fabricate the life of Christ. According to ancient testimony, he wrote out his account and sent it to the people of Judea—the very people who had witnessed Christ’s activities—within forty years of His crucifixion. If these things really did not happen as Matthew said, then Matthew and the other Gospel writers were leaving themselves open to real and dangerous criticism.
The Jews of Judea, of all peoples, would have known whether thousands had followed Jesus around the country. They knew whether or not the people of Jerusalem had used pressure upon the Roman authorities to crucify Him. Yet many of them—especially those in Jerusalem—came to believe the Christian message. They even became willing to give their lives for its truth. This fact alone is strong critical reason for accepting Matthew’s Gospel as relating substantial truth.
The second rule involves the having of independent witnesses to corroborate the evidence of an author.
The execution of Jesus Christ was not done in a corner with just a few witnesses around to testify to it. On the contrary, Josephus tells us that at least two million people used to gather every year around Jerusalem at the Passover season (the time when Christ’s crucifixion took place) (Wars, 6. 9. 3).
The more people there were to witness the event the more difficult it would become to invent and falsify matters. Christ’s death and his subsequent rejection by his own disciples became a well-known matter. The fact of many witnesses is a substantial safeguard to the veracity of the written records.
Now notice the importance of this. Not only was Matthew’s Gospel written when many thousands who could witness to its truth were still alive, but nearly twenty one other New Testament books were composed before 68 C.E.—within thirty-seven years of Christ’s death. Our World War I ended just over fifty years ago, yet thousands upon thousands of witnesses are still alive to testify to that holocaust. In 68 C.E. there would have been thousands of persons still living who had witnessed those earlier events in Jerusalem at the time of Christ.
Actually, with twenty-one of the New Testament books written within 37 years of Christ’s activities, we can call all these books contemporary records. These documents were written when there were still many witnesses to the events.
The third rule concerns continued belief—even until death. Could any believe that the Gospel writers were consistently lying (a vice which they utterly condemned), yet they were remarkably willing to give up their lives for the "lies" which they were propagating? It might be imagined that one or two might lie (I am speaking humanly), but that every one of the apostles plus hundreds of others were liars is untenable.
It is related in the Gospel of Mark—a Gospel which was inspired by Peter’s preaching—as can be demonstrated—that Peter and all the apostles fled as cowards from the crucifixion scene. They did not remain anywhere in the vicinity of the Jewish and Roman authorities. And while we may doubt that they rejoiced to record their own cowardly display, this defection and flight of Christ’s key men was not a hidden matter. Let us see how their defection becomes an amazing testimony to the truth of Christ’s resurrection three days later.
The Law commanded the whole Jewish nation to celebrate three seasons with great solemnity: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. Almost invariably, the same people who journeyed to Jerusalem at Passover would be back there for the next festival. Therefore, Christ had directed his apostles to wait in Jerusalem until the Feast of Pentecost. One reason was to have the same Passover crowd who earlier had been present at the crucifixion back in Jerusalem fifty days later.
This time, those multitudes were to witness something different. They were no longer to witness a cowardly flight of Christ’s disciples. This time the people in Jerusalem would observe a display of such power and conviction by those once-afraid disciples, that nothing could humanly account for it.
These disciples, who had been terrified of that same crowd just fifty days earlier, now stood in the midst of them, each man witnessing with assurance and dynamic conviction to Christ’s resurrection. None was fearful for his own personal life.
The Book of Acts makes this plain. And, should there be someone who would question the reliability of this document, it should be noted that the Book of Acts was written within forty years after the first Pentecost—an event which took place in the midst of thousands of people in Jerusalem. The Book of Acts, in regard to literary criticism, is a contemporary document—written at a time when thousands of witnesses were still alive. There can be no doubt that Luke’s record in Acts is definitely reliable.
What needs to be noticed is the change of attitude in Christ’s apostles in those fifty short days. These men no longer feared the Romans. They no longer feared the Jews. They no longer doubted Christ’s mission, nor the fact of his resurrection. All eleven of the original apostles were consistent in their teaching. Is it possible to believe that they were all lying? The understanding of basic human psychology suffices against our believing that eleven individual men could one after another deceptively tell a crowd they once feared that Christ was now alive from the dead. They were jeopardizing their lives before that crowd by preaching Christ’s resurrection.
Historians agree that the Christian church began on that Pentecost Day in the First Century. It is also well known that the Christian message began to be preached not long afterward around the world. The growth of the Christian church gained strong momentum by the end of the First Century. Thousands upon thousands from all nationalities were beginning to accept the central truth of Christianity—the fact of the resurrection of Christ.
This rapid spread of belief in Christ’s resurrection can only be accounted for by the astounding enthusiasm that must have been manifested by the first propagators. Are we to imagine that the Christian message could have grown so quickly if the original witnesses to the resurrection showed no emotion nor real conviction in the matter?
Peter continued to live for at least thirty-five years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, and so did many of the other apostles. Could the message have grown without all the apostles’ continued conviction in that resurrection? Of course not. One thing must be admitted if nothing else: the people were convinced that the apostles were convinced.
Paul tells us that not only were the original eleven apostles witnesses that Christ was resurrected, but also over five hundred others saw him as well (1 Corinthians 15:6). Paul put out the challenge to people in 55 C.E. to go to Jerusalem and look up some of those five hundred for themselves. Even after a period for reflection of twenty-four years (in 55 C.E.) there were many in Jerusalem who still believed that Christ rose from the dead. If what Paul wrote was a lie, then he was leaving himself wide open to censure.
The fourth rule for reliability concerns hostile witnesses. Did those who wished not to believe the evidence—even though they were there when it happened—still admit that it was a fact? Paul, among others, was such a witness. What was his belief concerning Christ’s resurrection?
Paul himself figures very prominently in proving the fact of Christ’s resurrection. Since all scholars are prepared to accept at least ten of Paul’s Epistles to be genuine, let us bring him forth as a witness. The rules of literary criticism show him to be reliable, for Paul wrote at a time when many of his statements could easily have been checked for their accuracy and truth.
Now look at Paul. He was a chief, if not the chief, antagonist of the Church in its very beginnings. The High Priest (the top ecclesiastical man in the Judaic nation) had personally given Paul the responsibility for exterminating the Christian church. And Paul went about his task, according to his own words, with fanatic zeal. He could appropriately be called the Adolf Eichmann of his day in his effort to overthrow the Church.
In that first period, before Paul’s conversion, there was no one more convinced of the non-resurrection of Christ than he. No one was more determined to disprove it. Paul also had many of the elders in the Jewish nation behind him. All of them had "theological" arguments against Christ’s resurrection. The practical and logical evidences did not shake their "theological" minds.
At first, Paul was vehemently against the practical evidence. His mind was closed to any acceptance of it. He must have used every intellectual argument to dispute the possibility of the resurrection which thousands of humble, practical-minded Christians were accepting.
Yet, what was the final belief of Paul? This is where he becomes a vital witness to the truth of the resurrection miracle and the divinity of Christ.
Paul, according to his own later testimony, while on the road to Damascus with authority from the High Priest to apprehend Christians, had his mind changed. It was a miracle that did it, but in a single day, this man of lofty intellect came to believe the practical evidence. And when the practical side became evident, his well-trained mind finally came to accept the abundant "intellectual" proofs found in the Old Testament.
From that day forward, Paul never turned back. Until the day he was executed for his beliefs, he steadfastly maintained his faith in Christ and the reality of Christ’s resurrection. Although it took a miracle to open his eyes, Paul finally became its chief exponent and propagator.
With Paul’s uncompromising acceptance, the proof of the resurrection becomes overwhelming. Here was a man who understood Judaic theology thoroughly. And not only was he trained in Judaism, but being born and reared in Tarsus of Asia Minor, the center of Stoic philosophy, he was well acquainted with the classical works of Gentiles. With the world’s knowledge in his mind—and most of it would have been very critical knowledge—he would have been one of the most unlikely persons to accept the resurrection of Christ. Yet he did accept the practical and intellectual proofs of this greatest of miracles.
He became so fervent in this belief that it was said he "turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6). Everyone who came in contact with Paul was certainly assured that he was convinced of this major proof of Christianity. Because of Paul’s firm conviction and that of the other apostles, the Roman world became convinced of the legitimacy of Christ’s resurrection in a short three hundred years.
Surely, all this provable history demonstrates that the evidence unanimously supports the fact of Christ’s resurrection. No wonder Christ gave the resurrection sign as a major sign to the world that He was the Messiah. This is the one event that is so provable, by all human standards, that it takes little faith to believe it.
The foregoing evidence of Christ’s resurrection proves that Christ must have been representative of a power that we can only call the God of the Universe. He must have been divine. Once forced to that conclusion, we are also constrained, by sheer reason, to accept the validity of Christ’s statements.
Thus, when Christ defined for us that the Old Testament was composed of the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms (Luke 24:44), His definition must be accepted. This is the exact division of the Old Testament that the Jews today accept as their official Scriptures. This means the Book of Esther (which many want to reject today) must be an inspired work because it occurs inside that Tripartite Division sanctioned by Christ. Esther is as inspired as Genesis or Isaiah.
Once Christ has been proved, then Joshua’s long day, the opening of the Red Sea and the creation of man must all be reckoned as having actually occurred. All of these events are in the Old Testament canon that Christ said was "the Scriptures" in Luke 24:45. All the books of that canon must be acknowledged as truthful once Christ has been proved.
Also, the twenty-seven books of the New Testament which witness to the truth of Christ’s resurrection must be acknowledged as containing essential truths.
The evidence of Christ and his divinity is not the only proof of the Bible, but it is the essential part.
Ernest L. Martin
© 1976-2013 Associates for Scriptural Knowledge - ASK is supported by freewill contributions