Recently I presented a few lectures derived from a book my wife bought me titled “Evidence for Christianity” by Josh McDowell (for PowerPoint lessons see below). He is a professor who teaches on this subject and collected his wealth of knowledge into a book. He is not an Orthodox Christian but most of what he writes does not disturb Orthodox theology or teachings, but for a few things here or there that should be obvious or are otherwise mostly benign. He presents evidence in support of the Bible, Christ, and His Resurrection from a historical and scholarly perspective, bringing to light writings and some archaeological finds that reflect the validity of the historical underpinnings of Christianity. I highly recommend his book, especially if you are seeking to stabilize your beliefs upon more solid evidentiary grounds. Believing on faith is best, but if you need evidence, there’s plenty of it!
Here is a list of the most interesting highlights I found in the book:
1) Not millions, but billions of copies have been distributed.
2) Out of about 6,500 known languages, the Bible has been translated into more than 2,200, which covers about 90% of the world’s population.
3) Originally, Scripture had no chapters or verses, spaces or punctuation even.
4) The Hebrew Old Testament did not even have vowels until some time between the fifth and tenth centuries.
5) It was not until about the 1200s that modern chapters were given to Scripture, and middle of the 1500s that verses became standardized (for the New Testament; Old Testament was around the 900s).
6) No ecumenical council definitively delineated the canon, but rather over time by a consensus among the fathers there came a clearly accepted set of New Testament Scripture.
7) The first person in recorded history to name the 27 books of the New Testament as we have it today was the great Egyptian Pope of Alexandria, St. Athanasius.
RELIABILITY OF THE BIBLE
1) Counting Greek copies alone, there are about 5,656 partial and complete manuscripts copied by hand from the 2nd to the 15th centuries.
2) Add over 10,000 Latin Vulgate copies and about 9,300 other manuscripts copied over time, we have over 25,000 historical manuscripts of the Bible
3) In terms of number of extant (i.e., still available) manuscripts of a historical writing, the closest one that comes in 2nd after the Bible is Homer’s Iliad with only 643 manuscripts available to us today (yet no one really questions the reliability of that writing now do they?)
4) The earliest complete manuscript of the Bible is dated to around A.D. 300. For Homer’s Iliad….. A.D. 1200. Time difference between the ORIGINAL to the EARLIEST COPY: Bible = 250 years; Iliad = 2,000 years.
5) Aside from manuscript copies, the early Church Fathers quoted so much of the Bible that it is possible you could almost entirely write the New Testament just based on what they wrote.
1) Many “Christian” leaders of various denominations do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. For example, in 2002, nearly 2,000 Church of England clergy were polled and 1/3 doubted or disbelieved in the physical resurrection of Christ [this was taken from a source other than the book itself, but thought it was interesting.]
2) There are only about four major world religions based on a person rather than a philosophical system: Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity. Only Christianity claims their founder resurrected from the dead.
3) The earliest evidences all agree (whether explicitly or implicitly) that Christ’s tomb was empty after He was placed there. What differs is why it was empty.
4) A relatively recent discovery shows that Emperor Claudius (A.D. 41-54) sent out a decree that no graves should be disturbed or bodies extracted or removed (presumably in reaction to the Christian doctrine of Christ’s resurrection).
5) It is unlikely the Roman guard slept in wait outside the tomb, because the punishment was extremely severe. For example, early writings show that when a soldier was found asleep on duty, they hurled him off a cliff.
6) It was well known among the Jews that at Christ’s time they would place the dead in a tomb and roll a stone (known as golel, golal, or golalim [plural]) to close it.
7) It is recorded in a fourth-century manuscript side note that it would take more than 20 men to roll away such a stone.
8) If the notion is that the disciples stole Christ’s body, the disciples had no incentive to die for a lie; the drastic change they evinced, from being scared and afraid, to publicly proclaiming their affiliation to Christ (with no real personal gain yet under threat of death and persecution), is possibly the greatest evidence of the resurrection available to us.
WHAT NON-CHRISTIANS SAID ABOUT CHRISTIANS AROUND THE FIRST CENTURY
1) Tacitus, a first-century Roman said that the Roman Emperor Nero blamed Christians for the fire that started in Rome, and then wrote about Christ and the new religion of His followers:
Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition [probably the resurrection of Christ], thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome.
2) Suetonius, chief-secretary to Emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117-138) wrote:
Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a body of people addicted to a novel and mischievous superstition.”
3) Julius Africanus (A.D. 221) quotes Thallus (A.D. 52) who tried to explain away the dramatic natural events that occurred during Christ’s crucifixion:
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 [not extant today], calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.
4) Pliny the Younger (A.D. 112), a government official in Rome wrote this remarkable history of what Christians were known for at his time:
[Christians] were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by solemn oath, not to do any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food—but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.
5) Emperor Trajan replied to Pliny with guidelines on how to punish Christians:
No search should be made for these people, when they are denounced and found guilty they must be punished, with the restriction, however, that when the party denies himself to be a Christian, and shall give proof that he is not (that is, by adoring our gods) he shall be pardoned on the ground of repentance even though he may have formerly incurred suspicion.
6) The Talmud (complied between A.D. 70-200) says this about Christ:
On the eve of Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can say anything in his favor let him come forward and plead on his behalf.’ But since nothing was brought forward in his favor, he was hanged on the eve of Passover!
7) A second-century Greek writer named Lucian of Samosata provides sarcastic critiques of Christians:
The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day—the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account…. You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and it was impressed upon them by their original lawgiver, that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property.”
8) Josephus, the famed Jewish historian who lived at the time of the apostles (c. A.D. 37-100), also wrote much about Christians and Christ:
[Referring to the high priest Ananias, he writes]:
“He assembled the Sanhedrin of the judges, whose name was James, and some others [or some of his companions], and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.”
“Now, some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, who was called the Baptist; for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism.”
“At this time there was a man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good and he was known to be virtuous. Many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had 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.” [from a fourth-century Arabic text]