Apologetics with Christian Speaker Alex McFarland

Alex's answers to common questions, part 4

Question 1: Why are Christians so hypocritical? They’re no better than anyone else.

Question 2: Why do Christians think that their beliefs are correct and everyone else’s are false?

Question 3: What really is “white magic,” and is it okay for Christians?

Question 4:  What happens to people who haven’t heard about Jesus or the gospel?

Question 5: Why do Christians pick on gays? Shouldn’t we love them?

Question 6: What do I say to a Jehovah’s Witness?

Question 7:  What is the best way to share the gospel with a Mormon?

Question 8: How can I share Christ with this Muslim guy in my dorm?

Question 9:  What is the discussion over “intelligent design” all about?

Question 10:  What is apologetics?

Question 11:  Can anyone really be sure that God exists?

Question 12:  Why does God allow evil and suffering in the world?

Question 13:  Does the Bible present two Gods—a judgmental Old Testament God and a loving New Testament God?

Question 14:  Could God create a rock so big that even He couldn’t lift it?

Question 15:  What does it mean to be a Christian?

Question 16:  How do we know that the Bible was given by God?

Questions 17:  Were miracle stories crafted after Jesus died and then included in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John just to make Jesus look like a wonder-worker or Jewish messianic figure?

Question 18:  Don’t the resurrection accounts hopelessly contradict one another?

Question 19:  My professor said that most of Christianity is based on the ideas of Paul rather than on Jesus’ teachings. How should I respond to this?

Question 20:  Did Jesus really claim to be God, or did His followers just say that about Him?




Question 1:  Why are Christians so hypocritical? They’re no better than anyone else.

A born-again Christian is a forgiven hypocrite—a saved hypocrite— but a hypocrite nonetheless. So to the person who says, “Christians are at times hypocritical,” I say, “Yes. And so are non-Christians.”

The Bible says that all persons are sinners. We are sinners by birth (Psalm 51:5). We are also sinners by choice, because we know what’s right, yet we often do what’s wrong (James 4:17). In the day that we all stand before God, the Bible says each person’s conscience will either accuse or excuse him (Romans 2:15-16). The ultimate questions are not, “Have I lived a perfect life? Was I ever hypocritical?” They are, “What did I do with Jesus? What was my response to God’s offer of forgiveness through His Son?”

Because everyone at times acts as a hypocrite, this objection is simply an attack against hypocrisy. It says nothing about the truth or falsity of Christian truth claims—except to reinforce the idea that everyone has sinned. The unfortunate fact that Christians are sometimes hypocritical says nothing about whether or not God exists, weather the Bible is true, or if Jesus was authentic. The Christian faith does not rest upon the validity of its messengers; it rests upon the validity of its message.



Question 2:  Why do Christians think that their beliefs are correct and everyone else’s are false?

The number one thing that sets Christianity apart from other religions is that Christianity offers a relationship with a living, death-conquering Savior. In other words, our God is alive! Yes, knowledge of this makes us bold! Sorry about that!

When Christians claim the Bible’s content has been preserved and remains unchanged through the centuries or that Jesus Christ was crucified 2,000 years ago during Passover and rose from the grave, it’s much more than just personal opinion. Christianity alone is a belief system offering objective truth. Christianity does not ask people to give their lives for human opinion. Additionally, Christians are people who have experienced a relationship with the Person who said He was the personification of truth.

Christians (like adherents of other belief systems) think their teachings are true. But contradictory truth claims cannot both be correct at the same time. For instance, Christians say that Jesus was crucified, and Muslims say that Jesus was not crucified. It cannot be true that Jesus both was crucified and was not crucified. One system must be wrong.

Jesus said that no one could come to God but through Him (John 14:6). Was Jesus right about this, or was He wrong? He could not both be the Savior and also not be the Savior. Either He was or He wasn’t. The point is that Christians do not insist that their beliefs are true out of pride or stubbornness.

The Christian faith is justifiable in light of the compelling evidence (rational and historical) that accompanies the claims. The Christian teachings and claims may be examined, tested, empirically investigated, and evaluated for their plausibility. In other words, Christianity is objectively true. No other belief system can claim this.


Question 3:  What really is “white magic,” and is it okay for Christians?

Those who practice white magic believe that they are using supernatural powers for the good. Black magic is done for evil purposes. Many occultists, however, say there is no real distinction between the two types.

In the Bible we read that God condemns all forms of occult practices. In Deuteronomy 18:10-12, sorcery is condemned. Sorcery includes all forms of magic, white or black. We are warned that Satan tries to make his powers look good (2 Corinthians 11:12-14).

God does not distinguish between white magic and black magic but forbids all forms of magic and sorcery. Other passages that address this include the following: Leviticus 19:26; 2 Kings 17:17; 21:6; Isaiah 47:9-12; Ezekiel 13:20; Acts 8:9; 13:8; 19:19; Galatians 5:20; and Revelation 21:8. God is the true source of power and life (Exodus 8:18-19; Daniel 1:20). He created the universe from nothing and resurrected Jesus from the dead. It is not only fraudulent to seek meaning and empowerment elsewhere, it is spiritually dangerous.

Question 4:  What happens to people who haven’t heard about Jesus or the gospel?

The short answer is this: Apart from Jesus Christ, no one is saved, and because people sin, they will perish. People recoil at this truth and feel it is unjust because many people have never heard the gospel. The Bible (a book shown to be trustworthy; see question 6) explains that every person is given truth about God. God’s existence and nature are revealed through the created world (Romans 1). The duties of God’s moral law are known to each of us through our conscience (Romans 2). We also carry within us the nagging realization that we have disobeyed God’s laws, and we are aware that we have done wrong things. In short, people everywhere seem cognizant of their own sin.

Regarding the fate of lost souls, Christian thinker and mathematician Blaise Pascal reasoned in the following way: The Bible promises that all who seek God will find Him. But not all find God. Therefore, despite appearances, not all sought God.

Each person also has the chance to respond to the amount of truth that God has given him or her. Because we know that God is all-loving and all-powerful, we may be confident that He will do everything possible to give each person an opportunity to respond to truth.

We may be certain the final judgment will be fair. More than that, it will be appropriate and merciful, because that is God’s nature.

P.S. If you’re worried about people going to hell, there’s a solution:
Share the gospel!


Question 5:  Why do Christians pick on gays? Shouldn’t we love them?

Homosexuals are people created and loved by God. So Christians must show love to gays. But the Bible—plus natural law—tells us that homosexual acts are sinful and unnatural (1 Corinthians 6:9; Romans 1:24-27). Just as adulterous acts are sinful, homosexual acts are classified as sinful.

If Christians truly love a person, they will act in a way that is best for that person. That might include telling a homosexual that he or she is behaving in a way that displeases God. This may seem like “picking on” someone. But if homosexual acts are sinful, loving a gay person involves helping that person to discontinue his or her homosexual behavior.

When shown true love in a considerate manner, all people in bondage to sin will be discouraged from continuing. Jesus and Paul would have treated homosexuals with respect (John 8:3-11; 1 Corinthians 5:1-5). The mere fact that someone is sinning doesn’t give a Christian an excuse to treat that person with contempt. But neither does the lack of tactfulness shown by Christians give a homosexual an excuse to persist in sinful practices.


Question 6:  What do I say to a Jehovah’s Witness?

The Jehovah’s Witnesses, an aggressively evangelistic group, are growing in numbers and teach a message radically different from that of orthodox Christianity. Discussing Bible verses with one of their members is most likely futile because the Jehovah’s Witnesses use their own unique “translation” to prove their doctrines. They are taught that traditional Christian doctrine is the product of Satan, and when a Christian argues with the teachings of the Watchtower Society (the official name of the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization), the argument is seen as a confirmation of this.

Because all Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught that only the Watchtower Society’s interpretation of the Bible is accurate, it’s best to begin a discussion there. If you can discredit the reliability of the Watchtower Society on the basis of false prophecies and contradictions, you can discredit the specific Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrines.

For instance, Jehovah’s Witnesses have predicted Christ’s return three times: 1917, 1918, and 1925. By 1931 they learned to quit fixing dates. In 1968 Jehovah’s Witnesses admitted that specific past predictions of the end to the world had failed. They were guilty of false prophecy. Why? What was missing? Only this: Evidence of truth and that God is guiding them.

Christians know from Deuteronomy 18:21-22 that “if what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken.” Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrine does not pass the test.


Question 7:  What is the best way to share the gospel with a Mormon?

Share the gospel with a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by demonstrating the essential differences between Christian and Mormon doctrine. This will allow you to present the essentials of the gospel, and it allows the Mormon to see that Christianity and Mormonism do not agree when it comes to core biblical truths.

Here are some areas where the essentials are in conflict:

Christianity
God: One God, eternal and unchanging, Spirit with no physical body.
Christ: Eternally God, uncreated and Creator of all things, unique Son of God.
Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one in nature and three in persons, offers eternal life as a free gift.
Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit is God.
Salvation: Atonement of Christ and faith alone, grace alone, salvation is given based on Christ’s perfection, not the individual’s.
Goal: To live eternally with God.

Mormonism
God: Many gods, changeable, was once a mortal man, physical body.
Christ: Not eternally God, procreated as the first spirit-child, spirit brother of Lucifer (Satan)
Trinity: Three distinct beings or gods, offers a chance to earn eternal life.
Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit is a god.
Salvation: Atonement of the Mormon Jesus requires grace and works, salvation is revealed but cannot be attained unless each person becomes perfect by his personal works of righteousness.
Goal: To live eternally as a god.

End the conversation by discussing Jude 1:3 and the fact that the Gospel as we know it remains, “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”  Therefore, the original Gospel is the correct one.

The Bible clearly warns us against embracing a false Gospel. Paul wrote in Galatians 1:8, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” He also said, “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions  deserve” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).


Question 8:  How can I share Christ with this Muslim guy in my dorm?

When sharing Christ with a Muslim, I quickly begin to discuss our specific religious teachings. I do not gloss over or ignore the great differences in our belief system. For example, Islamic teachings do not mesh with the fundamental Christian beliefs in the Trinity and Jesus’ divinity. Muslims have a high level of respect for the Bible, though they will need to be shown that the New Testament is accurate and can be trusted in what it says about Jesus. They say that the Bible has been corrupted and changed.

Ask the Muslim, “What are the changes in the Bible, and when were they introduced?” He will not be able to answer, because the text has been meticulously preserved.

Point out that the Prophet of Christianity (Jesus) is unique in that He was a loving and sinless Savior (in suras 40:55 and 48:1-2, the Quran teaches that Muhammad was a sinner). Muslims say that Christ did not die on the cross, so they need to be shown that Jesus was qualified to die sacrificially and capable of rising from the dead.  Emphasize that Christians have an intimate, personal relationship with Jesus and have great joy in knowing that they are secure in Christ (see John 10:28-29).

Make a positive case for Christianity. Explain that Christians agree there is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 43:10-11). We who espouse the Trinity do not believe in three Gods. Gently remind Muslims that where one stands with God is the most important issue of life—more important than culture, family background, or social customs.

Sharing Jesus with U.S. Muslims is a continual reminder of the uniqueness and power of the gospel message. It is important to remain friendly and humble, and to avoid an air of superiority at all cost. The most important steps in evangelism
among Muslims, however, are pray, pray, pray!


Question 9:  What is the discussion over “intelligent design” all about?

Intelligent design (sometimes called “design theory” or “ID”) is a position regarding life’s origins. To be clear, ID is not an argument for the Bible or for the gospel of Jesus Christ, specifically. Educator and author William Dembski said, “This is a very modest, minimalist position. It doesn’t speculate about a creator or his intentions.”1 But ID is an admission of the obvious: The complexities of this world are best explained and understood in terms of intelligent causes, and the
empirical evidence supports this conclusion.

In his book No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased Without Intelligence, Dembski observes, “The evidence for Darwinism was never any good—even in Darwin’s day. But with advances in contemporary science, Darwinism becomes utterly unsupportable.”  Living organisms are composed of functioning parts that work in well-ordered ways. The absence of even one part would render the entire creature or organ inoperable.

Wrap your mind around this: An individual cell, made up of 10 quadrillion atoms, is more complex than a giant factory. It possesses and manages more information than is contained in a full set of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Consider also that there are 34 trillion copies of your own DNA—an information “recipe” for you—encoded, arranged, and stored by means of four characters. Observing a cell’s ability to collect, arrange, and collate data (all functions requiring intelligence), one scientist noted, “What remains overwhelmingly impressive is that a single cell can do more than our most powerful supercomputers.”

NASA astronomer John O’Keefe said, “If the Universe had not been made with the most exacting precision we could never have come into existence. It is my view that these circumstances indicate the Universe was created for man to live in.” Renowned Cambridge scientist Fred Hoyle famously compared the likelihood of even one biological molecule forming via chance to filling the entire solar system with blind men, each handling a Rubik’s Cube, and all accidentally solving the puzzle at the same time. In other words, it’s impossible—apart from intelligent intervention.

By comparison, believing that life somehow evolved from the primordial slime is a huge leap of faith. In the Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, N. A. Takahata stated, “We have no direct access to the processes of evolution, so objective reconstruction of the vanished past can be achieved only by creative imagination.” A paleontologist who searched in vain for transitional life forms told U.S News & World Report, “If we can’t find the fossils, sometimes you have to think that they just weren’t there.”

In recent court cases, inclusion of ID teaching in public schools has suffered temporary setbacks. But evangelicals need not be ashamed to voice their belief in God the Creator. Biology and earth science students especially will be encouraged to know that increasing numbers of scholars, professors, and published scientists are voicing doubts about Darwinism and support for Intelligent Design.


Quesiton 10:  What is apologetics?

Christian apologetics is the discipline that deals with a rational defense of Christianity. Our term apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia, which means, “to give a reason or defense.” For the Christian, apologetics may include effectively explaining why we believe that God is real, the Bible is true, and Jesus is authentic.

First Peter 3:15 contains the admonition, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” The same wording is found in Philippians 1:7 and 1:16, where Paul said that he is “appointed for the defense of the gospel” (NKJV). The principle is echoed in Jude 3, as believers are encouraged to earnestly “contend for the faith.”

Categories of Christian apologetics include: (1) Textual apologetics— defending the authority and trustworthiness of Scripture and then presenting its content; (2) Evidential apologetics—presenting the many evidences in defense of the Christian faith; and (3) Philosophical apologetics—exposing the flawed reasoning behind many of the popular arguments against Christianity.

Ironically, many people today think they have legitimate reasons for rejecting Jesus Christ and that God does not have justifiable claim on their lives. The Bible says that those who suppressed God’s truth in favor of their own sinful desires have no apologetic (or defense) for what they have done (Romans 2:1).


Question 11:  Can anyone really be sure that God exists?

From the first verse in Genesis and throughout the Bible, the presence of God is deemed a given. The Bible never tries to defend or explain His existence. In fact, Scripture calls anyone who doesn’t believe in God a fool (Psalm 14:1). Ouch!

Some people, however, do not accept God’s presence as an unquestionable fact and yet are still seeking Him earnestly. There is a difference between foolishness and honest doubt. When addressing concerns about God’s existence, begin by offering loving reassurance that belief in God is reasonable and logical.

God is knowable, because He wants to be. He has shown the world that He exists through creation, conscience, Scripture, and the Savior. (Just remember C.C.S.S.). Creation cries out for a Creator (Acts 17:16-34). The moral law written on our conscience cries out that there is a Lawgiver (Romans 2:11-16). The content of Scripture and the life of our Savior can be explained only in terms of divine origin.

In other words, the evidence for God is there. While God invites us to come to Him in faith, belief is a completely rational position to embrace.  The issue is logical but also transcends mere intellectualism; humans are offered a life-changing relationship with God Himself.

That’s where God has revealed Himself most completely of all—in the
person of His Son, Jesus Christ.


Question 12:  Why does God allow evil and suffering in the world?

God does not directly cause evil actions or suffering. God may allow such things to occur, but Christians do not blame Him for causing them.

Yes, God has allowed pain to exist in this world, and yet because He is all-loving, He must have good and just—morally sufficient— reasons for allowing such suffering. God has a plan and is working toward some greater good. Given a particular instance of pain (a teen died in a car crash; arsonists burned down the inner-city hospital) we cannot always discern that any good will result. We don’t know everything that God does, but we can trust that a great good will result.

If we accept that God is all-powerful (divine omnipotence), that God has all knowledge (divine omniscience), and that God is all good (omni-benevolence), we may be justified in trusting that God has sufficient reason for the pain He allows His creation to endure.

God is no stranger to pain; evil grieves Him, too (Genesis 6:5-7; Isaiah 63:10). Before He went to the cross, Jesus was sorrowful “to the point of death” (Mark 14:34). Jesus endured incredible suffering on the cross for our good. God’s mercy, love, and comfort are available to those who ask for His help (Psalm 23:4; 119:50; Matthew 5:4; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7).


Question 13:  Does the Bible present two Gods—a judgmental Old Testament God and a loving New Testament God?

Throughout the Bible it is clear that there is one God: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Jesus affirmed this (Mark 12:29), as did Paul (1 Corinthians 8:4; 1 Timothy 2:5).

The Bible does not show a judgmental God in the Old Testament and an all-loving God in the New Testament. Yes, in the Old Testament you read about God wiping out entire cities such as Sodom and Gomorrah. But you also read about His unfailing love and mercy (Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 7:9; Jeremiah 31:3; Psalm 25:6; 100:5).

In the New, Jesus heals the sick, but He also makes 10 references to hell and uses some fierce language when talking about sinners (see Matthew 23:33 for one example). Revelation 20:15 shows a New Testament God who will cast people into a lake of fire.

The attributes of God are presented exactly the same in both the Old and New Testaments: He has always been and always will be concerned about both love and justice.


Question 14:  Could God create a rock so big that even He couldn’t lift it?

Ever heard the saying, “If I had a nickel for every time someone had asked me this, I’d be rich”? Well, insert that phrase here! Some people actually think that this little logic puzzle somehow puts God in checkmate. Let’s unpack this loaded question.

The challenge inherent is whether there’s something God cannot do. If we determine there is something God cannot accomplish, then we can prove He is limited and less than almighty. It’s actually a pseudo-question much like this one: Can God make a square circle?

The question makes no sense because it pits two incompatible definitions against each another.  The question also reveals false ideas about the biblical concept of omnipotence. Omnipotence does not mean God has the power to do anything. Being all-powerful means that God can do anything consistent with His character and who He is. God cannot do something that is contrary to His nature. He cannot lie or sin.

It is a logical impossibility—a nonsensical thing—to fault God for not being able to make a rock so big that He couldn’t lift it. We may as well demand that God make two men, each one taller than the other.


Question 15:  What does it mean to be a Christian?

The biblical definition is clear: A Christian is a follower of Christ. Jesus said that to be saved a person must be “born again,” or “born from above” (John 3). To become a Christian, you must admit that you are separated from God by sin. Jesus said that each person must repent (turn away) from his or her sin (Luke 13:3). Salvation is a free gift, undeserved, not something that can be earned.

Believing in Jesus means that we accept who He is (the Son of God, see question 10) and what He did (died for our sins and rose again). But a true Christian has accepted the responsibility to be committed to follow Jesus Christ for life.

Christianity is both an event and a process. Salvation is a one-time experience; the spiritual growth that will follow is a lifelong adventure.  A Christian will desire to know God more and more, read His Word, and endeavor to obey Him fully in all areas of life.


Question 16:  How do we know that the Bible was given by God?

The Bible was written by at least 40 authors over a 1,500-year period, and yet the 66 books carry a unified message of God’s love and salvation.

Volumes have been written about the Bible’s unique characteristics, including its apparent indestructibility and its historical, scientific, and prophetic truths.

The trustworthiness of Scripture is clearly addressed internally.  The Bible states, “Your word, O LORD, is eternal” (Psalm 119:89), “Every word of God is flawless” (Proverbs 30:5), and “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). But to quit there would leave us staking eternity on circular reasoning. Truth seekers want more evidence than “It’s true because it says it’s true.” Fortunately, other facts
testify on behalf of the Bible’s accuracy.

By historical standards, the Old Testament is trustworthy. As Jewish scribes made copies of those Scriptures, they counted the letters on each page—forward and backward, on the master copy and the new edition—to ensure that nothing was added or omitted. Though the Old Testament comes to us through a comparatively fewer number of known manuscripts than the New Testament, the books have been meticulously preserved. In fact, a copy of Isaiah found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and dated to about 200 B.C. was virtually identical
to the next oldest copy we have, which is dated to around A.D. 900.

That’s 1,100 years of faithful transmission on this book alone. Confidence in the New Testament lies in the amazing number of copies discovered. In addition to the books themselves, more than 86,000 quotations of individual verses by early Christians have been found. They date from within 150 to 200 years of the time of Christ and dramatically illustrate the familiarity that ancient Christians had
with the New Testament Scriptures.

Comparing the New Testament with secular writings from the ancient world, the Bible’s closest peer could be Homer’s The Iliad, a manuscript existing in more than 600 copies. Homer beats Aristotle but still can’t hold a candle to the Bible. The number of ancient texts containing all or part of the New Testament number around 30,000.

The book of Acts cites at least 84 historical facts verified by later research and archaeology. Luke’s accuracy regarding details, names, and places has been acknowledged by numerous historians. This same author also mentions 35 miracles in Acts. Why would Luke have been meticulously accurate in his history and misleading when talking of other things? Indeed, Scripture is dependable for its statements about history and destiny, the physical world, and spiritual realities.

Our view of Scripture should be in harmony with that of Jesus. Christ affirmed the Old Testament (Matthew 5:18; Luke 24:44) and made provision for the soon-to-come New Testament (John 14:26).  These facts, when taken together, point out that an all-powerful God certainly could create such a document, but is it reasonable to accept that He did? The external evidence, the Bible itself, and the risen Jesus all say yes.


Question 17:  Were miracle stories crafted after Jesus died and then included in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John just to make Jesus look like a wonder-worker or Jewish messianic figure?

First, let’s examine the wonder-worker angle. Suppose the early believers were trying to make Jesus out to look like a wonder-worker. Only two Old Testament prophets were also big-time miracle workers: Elijah and Moses. If they were trying to force a comparison with those two, they would have accentuated the similarities. But the opposite is true: Jesus disassociated Himself from the prophets.

Jesus denied He was Elijah (Matthew 16:13-17) and in fact said John the Baptist had that role (Matthew 11:14). The only miracle in common between Moses and Jesus is feeding many with bread, and it’s a stretch to compare the manna that God provided for the Israelites with Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes (Exodus 16; John 6:1-14).

Additionally, Jesus used this miracle to show that He is the bread of life, which was not Moses’ purpose. In John 3:14-15 the Bible says Jesus likened Himself to the golden snake that Moses raised (Numbers 21:9), but these links aren’t sufficient to merit an identification between Moses’ wonders and Jesus’. Jesus is not, wasn’t trying to be, didn’t want to be Moses II.

Now let’s look at the charge that Jesus’ followers wanted Him to appear as a messianic figure. The Jews of that time expected their Messiah to free Israel from Roman control, but Jesus, instead of conquering the Romans, died by Roman execution. Jesus’ primary miracle was His resurrection from the dead, which wasn’t expected by Jews of Jesus’ time even in their wildest dreams.

The Gospels were written within the lifetime of eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life (1 Corinthians 15:6). It would have been easy to refute a made-up story.


Question 18: Don’t the resurrection accounts hopelessly contradict one another?

No. In fact, if the resurrection accounts presented in the four Gospels were in seamless agreement, skeptics would probably accuse the early church of having engaged in some sort of conspiracy. If the police hear the exact same story from witnesses, for example, they become suspicious. It means the witnesses probably got together and made it up.

The unique attributes of each gospel account actually contribute to the overall authenticity of testimony for Jesus’ resurrection. On the surface there may seem to be apparent discrepancies, but there are no actual contradictions. The truth is that no single account of the resurrection completely exhausts the event. Just as different eyewitnesses to an accident will give varying testimonies, all of which
are true, the “reporters” of the resurrection chose to include the details that were important to them. There is a basic order given in all of the resurrection accounts that when studied removes the apparent contradictions.

Here is that basic order of Christ’s appearances:
Mary Magdalene John 20:11-14
To “the other women” Matthew 28:9-10
Peter Luke 24:34
Two disciples Luke 24:13-32
Ten apostles Luke 24:33-49
Thomas and “the other apostles” John 20:26-30
Seven apostles John 21
To all the apostles Matthew 28:16-20
To the 11 disciples Acts 1:4-9
To 500 brethren at once 1 Corinthians 15:6
James 1 Corinthians 15:7
Paul 1 Corinthians 15:7


Question 19:  My professor said that most of Christianity is based on the ideas of Paul rather than on Jesus’ teachings. How should I respond to this?

Many scholars embrace Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7), which includes ideas such as “love your neighbor” and “feed the poor.” The same scholars, however, want to throw out Paul’s teachings because he comments about controversial issues that are not included in the Gospels such as homosexuality and women as pastors.

Before we discuss Paul’s teaching in particular, we need to discuss whether the words of Christ as recorded in the Gospels are more important than other writings in the Bible. Let’s think of the Bible in three categories:

1. The Old Testament
2. The words of Jesus (the “red letters”)
3. The rest of the New Testament other than Jesus’ words

The Old Testament writings were valid to Jesus. He did not come to abolish the teachings of the Old Testament, but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17). Additionally Jesus affirmed the Old Testament by quoting it hundreds of times and taught that the authority of Scripture was timeless (Matthew 24:35; John 10:35). Per Jesus, the Old Testament teachings are truth even though God used men to write the words.

The words of Jesus, the second category of text we’re looking at, are revered to the extent that many Bibles use a special color (usually red) to print them. Jesus’ words are usually the first evidence presented when scholars discuss theological issues. Most Christians take the words of Christ seriously and consider them the words of God Himself.

The defense for the third category, which includes Paul’s letters and sermons, starts with the words of Jesus in John 14:26: “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” Jesus in effect knew the Holy Spirit would come and continue to teach the disciples. Paul’s letters and the rest of the New Testament are part of the “all things” and were given to us by the Holy Spirit, so they are also in effect the words of God even though men wrote them down.

In summary, the Old Testament, the words of Jesus, and the rest of the New Testament are all equally valid sources of truth and do not contradict each other. (For more on why we are justified in trusting the Bible, see question on page of the apologetics Q and A)

Let’s get back to the question of whether or not the apostle Paul invented Christianity. Paul started out his career as a passionate persecutor of the church; he even had Christians stoned to death. Then Paul became a believer about A.D. 35. The book of Acts, which was written by Luke, records Paul’s salvation experience in chapters 9, 22, and 26. In his own writings, Paul also explains his conversion to faith (1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:3-8; Galatians 1:11-18). From about A.D. 48 until his death around A.D. 68, Paul wrote at least 13 of the New Testament’s books.

The fact that Paul had originally opposed and persecuted the church proves that he could not have invented Christianity. If Paul persecuted Christians, there had to be Christians who converted before he did, otherwise there would have been no one to persecute.

Additionally, in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul’s used the words “received” and “passed on” in reference to the good news. In relating the facts about Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul is saying that he heard the story from someone else, so he couldn’t have started it.

Before Paul became a Christian, Peter and his crew were doing their best to spread the story. Look at Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, found in Acts 2:14-40. Peter presents the core facts of the gospel, including Jesus’ divinity, death, and resurrection. Peter preaches the same truths again in Acts 3:12-18. In Acts 5:29-33, Peter addressed Jewish leaders, and again gives the key facts of the Christian message.

In Acts 5:42, we read that “day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.”

You can tell your professor with confidence that the key teachings of the gospel were well established before Paul became a Christian.  Paul taught these things, expounded on these things, and was used by God to write much of the New Testament. But the core of the gospel was being widely spread even before Paul was a believer. In 1 Corinthians 15:8, even Paul admits that he was late getting to the party!


Question 20:  Did Jesus really claim to be God, or did His followers just say that about Him?

It has been said (and with this, I agree), that Jesus Christ was either the world’s greatest truth-teller or history’s greatest blasphemer. In a number of verses (Matthew 26:64-65; Mark 14:62, 64; Luke 22:66-71) Jesus affirmed that He is Deity, that is, God.

Additionally, Jesus said that people will die spiritually if they do not entrust their souls to Him (John 8:24). If Jesus spoke the truth, was the real deal, and did what He did in order to save the souls of humanity, then He should be praised as having been the greatest truth-teller.

We have no reason to believe that Jesus was mistaken about His identity, nor was He intentionally trying to mislead His followers. His incredible claims and miraculous life were coupled with an unparalleled type of confirming proof: He rose from the grave. Clearly, we have legitimate reason to accept that Jesus is the Son of God.

Jesus said and did other things to affirm He was the true God:

Matthew 23:34—Jesus was the One who sent prophets to Israel
Mark 2:10—Jesus is able to forgive sin
Mark 2:28—Jesus is Lord over the Jewish Sabbath
Luke 4:21 and John 5:39—Jesus refers to Himself as the fulfillment of Scripture
John 8:24—To reject Jesus is to die in sin
John 8:36—Jesus can truly set people free
John 8:42—Jesus came from God
John 8:58—Jesus is eternal
John 10:30—Jesus has the same nature as God the Father
John 13:13—Jesus is Lord
John 14:6—Jesus is the only way to God
John 14:9—If you have seen Jesus, you have seen the Father

Jesus claimed attributes for Himself that are appropriate only to God. In essence, Jesus taught, “What you do with me will determine where you spend eternity.” In light of the fact that Jesus’ unique claims were accompanied by miraculous deeds and a sinless life, each person would do well to respond to the things He taught.


 

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