The Birth of the Way

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, April 16, 2015 0 comments

by Steve Risner

No one denies that Christianity exploded out of first century Israel. Within a single generation of the Resurrection of Christ, “the Way” had spread to Europe, Asia, and Africa, and not by force. It spread through the message of redemption and love. Where did the Christian faith come from and what best explains its origin? We recently celebrated the event that marks the birth of Christianity—Resurrection Day, or Easter. I believe there is no explanation for many of the events that led to the birth of Christianity other than they are authentic. Let’s take a look at one of the most difficult challenges for the skeptic: the origin of the faith we have called Christianity.

The most obvious answer to the question of “Where did Christianity come from?” is that the Disciples truly saw the risen Messiah and it radically changed their lives. Only an amazing event such as seeing the resurrected Messiah could have turned cowardly, scattered, confused, uneducated men with no prior knowledge of a risen Savior in their religious beliefs into bold, outspoken teachers willing to die for their faith.

Peter declared in Acts 2 beginning with verse 32, “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses… Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” The origin of the Christian faith is best explained by the disciples’ sincere belief that God raised Jesus from the dead.

Anyone who denies the resurrection of Christ as the origin of the Christian faith has some explaining to do. Some will say the Christian faith was just taken from the Jewish faith or from some pagan religion. Neither of these is plausible. The resurrection of a single man who was both God and man is not something any Jewish person of the day would have recognized. We see the confusion in the historical account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Martha, Lazarus’ sister, agreed with Jesus that Lazarus would rise again—on the last day when all the saints are resurrected, not in a few moments as Jesus commanded him. This is the ONLY resurrection the Jewish people thought would happen. Nowhere in Jewish thought do we find the idea of a single individual resurrecting within history never to die again. A pagan source is equally unlikely since, as Jews, pagan practices were considered detestable. And since no known pagan story sounds like the story of Jesus, it would be an unsupportable position to say this is the case. Sure, there are several stories skeptics will point to, but none of them hold water. They either originate from a much later time, or their similarities are highly exaggerated or completely fabricated.

What are the primary explanations given by skeptics aside from the above two? Good question. Let’s take a look.

One explanation is that Jesus didn’t die. He was just unconscious when they laid Him in the tomb. After reviving in the cool, damp tomb, He made His way back to the disciples in an extremely weakened state and in need of emergency medical attention. This weak, feeble, and half-dead man is what birthed the stories of a resurrected Lord. The issues here are obvious and numerous. The Romans were very efficient at destroying life. To think they messed this up by accident and it just happened to be a man that claimed He’d rise from the dead is pretty unlikely. This idea also fails to appreciate the horrific scourging before the cross and the brutality of the cross itself. The Journal of the American Medical Association concludes, “Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.” (March 21, 1986, 1463). This theory also fails to recognize everything Jesus claimed to be and His impeccable ethical standard. Deception isn’t in His nature. This idea also wants us to think the disciples believed in a “resurrected Messiah” who was physically brutalized to the point of not being recognizable. If He were dead and resurrected as the Bible claims, He would not have had the appearance of just being whipped and beaten and having His flesh recently torn from His body. The disciples would have allowed themselves to be martyred for a half-dead, half-resurrected Messiah who likely required a great deal of care and nursing in order to survive. This weak, fragile man would not be considered the conqueror of death and the grave. There are other issues as well, but let’s move on for the sake of time.

The next explanation is that the disciples experienced hallucinations. This one is pretty laughable as this explanation is congested with issues. First of all, ALL the accounts of the resurrection make the claim that they were physical. There is no account written that we know of that indicates the appearances were not physical. Also, hallucinations are individual, much like dreams. To think that over 500 people had the exact same hallucination at the same time is a belief in the impossible. Even if everyone hallucinated at the same time, each person would have their own. Therefore, hallucinations cannot explain the group appearances attested to in 1 Corinthians 15, the Gospel narratives, and the book of Acts. Hallucinations of Jesus would most likely have been based on previous knowledge. Jews would most likely have envisioned Jesus at Abraham’s side, confirming He was, in fact, dead. This would not have led to the birth of the Christian faith at all. This theory also can’t explain the empty tomb or conversions of skeptics like Saul on the road to Damascus. The only reason to believe in the hallucination theory over the authentic resurrection of Christ is out of desire, not facts.

Finally, the earliest explanation outside of an authentic resurrection, is that the disciples stole the body. It is recorded in the Bible that the Pharisees paid the soldiers who guarded the tomb to say that Jesus’ disciples had stolen His body. As a result, these uneducated fishermen became the perpetuators of the greatest hoax in the history of the world. There are several problems here. The disciples wouldn’t likely write that women were the first witnesses to this event because women were not permitted to give testimony in this culture. It’s also odd that they would include in their written accounts of the resurrection that the Pharisees claimed they’d stolen the body if they had, in fact, stolen the body. It also is in contrast to the disciples’ nature. As J. N. D. Anderson states, “This would run totally contrary to all we know of them: their ethical teaching, the quality of their lives, their steadfastness in suffering and persecution. Nor would it begin to explain their dramatic transformation from dejected and dispirited escapists into witnesses whom no opposition could muzzle.”

But the biggest issue with ALL of these ideas is that the disciples—all of them—allowed themselves to be tortured, brutally mistreated, and eventually murdered for something they knew was false. Liars make poor martyrs. Wouldn’t you think just one—ONE—would have recanted on their story? Just one? They were convinced Christ had risen from the dead and conquered death and hell. There really is no question. Be encouraged!

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