Wednesday, May 31, 2017

If I Made Up A Religion

If I made up a religion, I would make sure that my scripture was only written by me.  You can’t count on others to keep a secret when conspiring to invent a story and pass it off as truth, so if I made up a religion, I would say that “god” spoke only to me revealing to just me what the “true” religion should be.  Christianity is the exact opposite of what I would do if I were going to make up a story.  Christian Scriptures consist of 66 different books, written by 40 different authors from different backgrounds, education levels & occupations over a 1500 year time period; all telling the same story of the creation, fall, and redemption of people through Jesus.

In addition to many authors, the New Testament books read like eye-witness accounts.  In Acts and the other New Testament books, the written accounts of the miraculous are not embellished or written with fanfare; they are recorded as history right along with all the other accounts.  New Testament historical accounts read like eye-witness testimony – including the recordings of the miracles. J. Warner Wallace, in his book Cold Case Christianity explains that eye-witness accounts inevitably differ and inconsistencies are expected from one eye-witness account to the next. It is when witnesses are allowed to compare stories that you then get one harmonized version of what happened.  There would be a problem if the gospel accounts were all identical; it is because the gospel accounts vary that they can be believed.  As a homicide detective for many years, Mr. Wallace makes it clear that the Gospels contain all the important details that are necessary to conclude that they are reliable as eye-witness accounts.[1]

If I made up a religion, I would make mine so general and spiritual that there would be no way for anyone to check out if what I was saying was the truth.  Again, I might just say that “god” or maybe some angels told only me. Or that I might pretend to spiritually interpret some ancient writing that no one else could understand.  That way I could be the only spokesman and leader and no one could check out if what I was saying was true. I might even make it one of my doctrines that my spiritual writings could not be questioned. Again, this is the opposite of what Christianity does.

The Bible is the most scrutinized book in history; something the New Testament writers (NTW) would welcome.  They actually challenge readers to check out verifiable facts, even facts about miracles. Paul very clearly says that if it isn’t reasonable that Jesus rose from the dead, then you should reject Christianity![2]  Paul is not alone in his claim that Christianity should be tested; many of the biblical authors encourage investigation and the use of evidence. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 tells us to test everything; 1 Peter 3:15 tells us to give reasons and make a defense. In Acts 2:14-41 Peter recounts all the physical evidence in his defense of the risen Christ, while in Acts 17:16-34 Paul is found explaining, proving, and reasoning. Even Jesus provided tangible, physical evidence to show who he was.[3] The Bible teaches that we are to use reason, look for proof and test our ideas; never are we required to believe without evidence! The gospel of John is an argument with physical evidence, which ends like this, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ…”[4] The entire faith is based on evidence and is rooted in history.  Most of the authors, especially Luke, painstakingly put historical cross-hairs on all their claims by including specific names of people and places.  If you want a religion that is spiritual and unfalsifiable, then Christianity is not for you. As Craig Hazen writes, “… Jesus parts company with other religious people who make untestable spiritual claims.”[5] If I made up a religion, I would never include historical facts and specific people that could be researched and checked out!

If I made up a religion, I would make myself or any other leaders sound very spiritual and perfect!  There is no way I could get anyone to follow me if I was honest about my faults.  This again is the opposite of what Christianity does!

The NTW included embarrassing details about themselves and their leaders.  If you were making up a religion and wanted to gain power as a leader, would you include details about you being dim-witted, uncaring, theologically wrong, a coward, and a doubter?  If you were making up a religion, would you record that your leader, Jesus, is considered “out of his mind”, is not believed by his own family, is thought to be a deceiver, is deserted by many of his followers, makes Jews who had believed and followed him at first want to stone him, is called a “drunkard”, is called “demon-possessed and a madman, has his feet wiped with the hair of a prostitute, and is crucified?[6] None of these things would make people want to follow you.  Of course, the only reason you would include them is if you were recording what actually happened!

What would motivate [the NTW] to lie, embellish, or exaggerate anyway? What did they possibly have to gain? They only gained persecution and death for testifying as they did.  In other words, the [NTW] had every motive to deny the New Testament events, not to invent, embellish, or exaggerate them. Again, it wasn’t as if they needed a new religion! When Jesus arrived, most of the [NTW] were devout Jews who thought Judaism was the one true religion and they were God’s chosen people.  Something dramatic must have happened to jolt them out of their dogmatic slumbers into a new belief system the promised them nothing but earthly trouble.[7]

The NTW had absolutely nothing to gain and everything to lose. There is nothing in history to support the idea that the NTW thought they would gain power, prestige, or money as they preached about the resurrected Christ. No one would make up and continue to teach a lie when perpetuating that lie would alienate them from their community and result in their torture and death!  Paul was beheaded, Peter was crucified, James was stoned; eleven out of the 12 disciples were martyred. All they had to do to save themselves was to recant their story!  While many people will die for a lie that they think is the truth, no one will die for what they know to be a lie! The only reasonable explanation for all of them persisting is that they were telling the truth.

If I made up a religion, I would make sure that I was powerful enough to remain the leader.  I might even get some bodyguards and some soldiers to enforce my religion’s rules.  I certainly wouldn’t tell people to be peaceful and self-sacrificing and that they are going to suffer because they follow me!

Now, one can understand why a religion spreads when it takes over militarily.  But why does a religion spread when its adherents are persecuted, tortured, and killed during its first 280 years?  (Those are not good selling points.) Perhaps there’s some very reliable testimony about miraculous events that prove the religion is true.  How else can you explain why scared, scattered, skeptical cowards suddenly become the most dedicated, self-sacrificing, and peaceful missionary force the world has ever known?[8]

The writers of the New Testament documents had nothing to gain and everything to lose.  Their writings have all the characteristics of true eye-witness accounts, they included embarrassing details about themselves and their leader, and they provided names of specific people and places in history.  Finally, they valued physical evidence and even encouraged people to check out what they said! It is therefore reasonable to conclude that they were telling the truth.

In previous blogs I have shown that it is reasonable to believe that New Testament writings are reliable because they are dated early, have outside corroboration, and are accurate copies of the originals.  Since it is also reasonable to believe that they were telling the truth and not making up a story, it is more than reasonable to believe that what the New Testament says is the true.

[1] J. Warner Wallace, Cold Case Christianity, David C. Cook, 2013
[2] 1st Corinthians 15: 12-19
[3] Luke 24:38-43 and Mark 2:1-12
[4] John 20:30-31
[5] Craig J. Hazen, Five Sacred Crossings, Harvest House Publishing, 2008, pages 69-70
[6] Frank Turek and Norman L. Geisler, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist, Crossway Books, 2004, pages 275-293
[7] ibid, page 297
[8] ibid, page 296

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.