Have you ever wanted to be right about something so badly that you were willing to lie about it?
I think we all do this at times. Perhaps when we’re in an argument and we don’t want to admit something we said earlier. Perhaps we have pushed so adamantly for something that being exposed as wrong the whole time is just too embarrassing, so we “modify” either our opinion or the facts. My belief in and bragging about the Toronto Maple Leafs became a remarkable disappointment at the end of this season when they missed the playoffs. I would love to change the facts on that one if they were not readily available to everyone already.
A few weeks ago, we looked at some of the predictions the Bible appears to make about the future which are believed to have been fulfilled. However, some charge that the Gospel writers altered their accounts of Jesus’ life to match many of these prophecies about a coming Messiah. Of course, this charge does not affect every prophecy. Many are unrelated to the Messiah, and the prediction of Daniel 9 that the Messiah would die somewhere between 30 and 33 A.D. is hard to contest. Still, this is a charge worth evaluating.
In many ways, it’s a fair theory. Jesus’ disciples had spent years following him, learning from him and believing that he was the Messiah who God had promised to send to set them free from captivity and become their king. However, they thought that meant freedom from the Roman Empire and the kingdom of Israel being restored. So when their hero was killed at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders and the Romans, their faith was likely shaken. This wasn’t what was supposed to happen. Jesus is gone. What do we do now?
It isn’t difficult to see why these men and women might want to cover their loss of hope and embarrassment by altering some of the facts. If Jesus fulfilled all of these prophecies and resurrected from the dead, then they wouldn’t be labelled as wrong. The last few years would not have been a waste. There’s a problem though. The vast majority of Biblical scholars believe that Jesus’ disciples genuinely believed that they had encountered the resurrected Jesus after his crucifixion. Scholars do not agree on whether Jesus actually resurrected, but they do agree that his followers genuinely believed that he had. After all, they were willing to be killed for proclaiming this belief publicly and repeatedly throughout the rest of their lives. We’re told by historians such as Josephus and Eusebius that 11 of the 12 apostles were executed in some manner, and John was exiled to an island prison for the rest of his life. Peter supposedly even requested to be crucified upside down because he did not deserve the same death as his Saviour. It seems pretty clear that these men really thought Jesus had resurrected and appeared to them.
In light of this genuine belief, the disciples were not simply making the story of the resurrection up. However, they could still have doctored the details of Jesus’ life to make it appear as though he had fulfilled other Old Testament predictions about the Messiah. What is not apparent is why they would believe Jesus was the Messiah in the first place if he had not fulfilled any of these prophecies. It is not enough that he was a great teacher. Scholars widely believe that Jesus was in fact seen as a miracle-worker. You would think that at least one of these men, or even other observers, would contest the veracity of some of these claims if they knew them not to be true. There were lots of witnesses to Jesus’ life. What is also not apparent is why these men would be willing to die painful, excruciating deaths if they knew that they had made these things up. We’re not even just talking about the 12 apostles here; others like Paul (a former enemy of Christianity responsible for arresting and killing some of the disciples) and James (Jesus’ brother who also did not believe in him previously) were killed for their faith as well. You would think that somebody would crack. Liars make poor martyrs, as the saying goes. People are willing to die for something they believe to be true, but not for something they know to be false. Additionally, the disciples look pretty stupid in some of their accounts (yet agree on them), including Jesus calling Peter “Satan,” Peter denying Jesus three times, the disciples arguing over which one of them is the greatest, and ultimately failing Jesus and abandoning him when he is arrested. This kind of embarrassing honesty does not seem very strategic if these men were trying to orchestrate false accounts. It is far more likely that they really did believe these things were true and recorded them as such.
The claim that the Gospel writers doctored their accounts to match the Old Testament prophecies is not impossible, but there is no real evidence to support this claim. Those who discard these prophecies and Jesus’ fulfillment of them must do so on the basis of their belief that such things are not possible, not on the basis of a lack of credibility or any contradictory evidence. Combined with other prophecies which could not be ‘faked’ or which are unrelated to the coming Messiah, there is a strong case to be made that the Bible actually does accurately predict future events.
We have looked at archaeological evidence, the claim that the Bible accurately predicts the future, and the disciples’ motives for lying or telling the truth about these predictions so far. There is an additional charge that the Gospel accounts have been changed since they were first written, in which case it would be other Christians doctoring the accounts and not the original disciples. This is another claim which should be evaluated seriously and we will investigate this claim in a few weeks.
How do you evaluate whether someone is telling you the truth?
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