This work would not have been possible without the amazing contributions from the editors: Dr. Nathan Fayard, Dr. Barbara Pemberton, Aaron Koen, Sean Carney, and Jack Bennington
The five questions being discussed in this article are the following
- Did Jesus rise from the dead?
- Why is Jesus the only way to God?
- How can we know the books of the Bible are the ones God intended for us to have?
- How is God good and loving when he commanded genocide of the Canaanites in the Old Testament?
- Isn’t Christianity intolerant?
A note to the reader
Hey! Thanks so much for taking the time to read this article. A lot of prayer, consideration, and thought have gone into it, so I hope and pray it helps you in whatever capacity you need it to serve in your life. That being said, please remember this is an article, not a book. I had to decide what details to include and what details to leave out with the limited space I had for every question. For every fact, detail, and truth claim I make, I had to leave out a handful of others. In later articles, I hope to expand on each one individually. For now, keep in mind this is a surface level “survey” of these questions and that the answers given are not by any means exhaustive. I strongly encourage you to take time to study each of these issues on your own and through other resources if you feel you’d like to do so. To help, I’ve compiled a list of readings that I think would be of value if you are wanting to read into these issues and issues like them. Also, please support Defending Christianity by subscribing to the Defending Christianity Podcast by clicking here! Again, thank you for your time in reading this. Enjoy!
– Levi Dade
- Did Jesus rise from the dead?
The entire Christian faith depends on the answer to this question. The fact is, either Jesus did, or did not rise from the dead. For the sake of time, I will briefly describe 3 facts in support of the resurrection of Jesus. However, there is a great deal of evidence outside of these which I do not bring up.
Proof #1: The short period between the resurrection and eyewitness testimonies and the nature of the first eyewitnesses
When records of a historical event are written close to the time of the event itself, they are considered safe and reliable evidence. On the other hand, if we have records of that event written long after its end, then those records are not as reliable. In regard to the New Testament, Dr. William Craig says it in this way:
The crucial gap is not between the evidence and today. It’s between the evidence and the events described by that evidence. If the gap between the events and the evidence for those events is short, then how long it’s been since the evidence of those events to the present day is just irrelevant. Good evidence doesn’t become bad evidence simply because of the lapse of time.
As for the resurrection of Jesus, the facts of His death, burial, and bodily resurrection were considered to be reliable within only months of the events because the resurrection was testified by over 500 witnesses who saw Jesus after the events. Specifically, in the Gospel accounts of the resurrection, the first witnesses to come forward were Hebrew women. This is significant because in this first century middle eastern patristical culture, women were not regarded as reliable eyewitnesses or witnesses in general. Had the resurrection been merely made up, those fabricating the story would have had no motivation to make the first eyewitnesses women. They would have known the eyewitnesses being women would not hold up for their intended audience had they fabricated the story.
From this, almost right out of the gate, the resurrection was widely known and regarded as something more than a warm, cozy bedtime story, but rather as something that happened as a turning point in Israel’s (and the world’s) history because of the vast amount of eyewitnesses who testify to seeing Jesus after the resurrection.
Proof #2: The empty tomb
The Gospels claim the body of Jesus was taken to the tomb which belonged to Joseph (Mk 15:42-47; Mt 27:57-61; Lk 23:50-56; Jn 19:38-42). The tomb was discovered empty three days later (Lk 24; Jn 20). The empty tomb is crucial, for if the body of Jesus had been discovered, the entire Christian faith would have been proven false. Since the tomb was owned by a specific person, Joseph, there is also no reason to assume the eyewitnesses went to the wrong tomb (Mt 27:57-61).
Moreover, the Jewish tradition is that the disciples of Jesus took the body at night while the Roman guards were asleep (Mt 28:11-15). However, if a Roman guard were to do this, he would have been put to death for not doing his job by letting the body be “stolen.” Thus, Roman guards would have more motivation to stay awake since their lives depended on it.
The Apostle Peter, in particular, draws on a contrast between myths and eyewitness accounts; “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pet 1:16). Peter reassures his original audience, and us, that these are things they (he and the other Apostles) saw with their eyes. These events happened historically, are recorded by historical antiquity as factual, and are trustworthy for you and me. This very historical inquiry of the claims found in the Bible is one of many things that sets Christianity apart from other world religions.
Proof #3: Martyrdom of the Apostles
One would be willing to die for that which they think is true (in the case of radical Muslims, for example, some claim that they do nothing different than what the Apostles did, that is, die for their faith), but the truth is no one would be willing to die for what they know is a lie. Thus, the Apostles, who claimed first-hand knowledge of Christ, would have been apt to deny the story of Christ had they had fabricated the story. As you can see, the two are in no way similar in terms of dying for their beliefs.
The Apostles of Jesus Christ were killed for the sake of the Gospel. They would not stop teaching what Jesus taught and did. Peter, Paul, and Matthew, to name a few, were all martyred for their faith. These Apostles were the ones who proclaimed these things as primary eyewitnesses.
In fact, Peter and Paul, two of the most prominent influences in the NT outside of Jesus, endured unimaginable pain because they would not stop telling the truth about Christ. To make this terrible pain stop, all they had to do was simply denounce their faith, say it was a lie, and the pain would have ceased. Why did they not do that? If it was a lie fabricated by the apostles, they would have said it was so under such horrible pain since no one would be willing to die, much less endure torture, for something they know is a lie. Instead, Paul was willing to be beheaded, and so he was. Not only was Peter willing to die for his faith as well, but he insisted that he be crucified upside down because he did not feel worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord and Savior. Since the apostles are eyewitnesses of Christ’s ministry and sanctifying work and were willing to die for testifying about these things, it is clear their testimony is trustworthy when you take into account the pressure they experienced to say it was a lie.
- Why is Jesus the only way to God?
Most people who object to Jesus being the only way to God are those who already believe in the general idea of God, but they do not subscribe to Jesus’ words in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” [emphasis added]. Those who deny Jesus as the only way to God presuppose there are alternative ways to find favor in the eyes of God. For example, there are people today who find the idea of happiness and wealth as a sign of God’s favor, even though this line of thinking could imply God’s favor can be lost the moment bad circumstances arise. God’s favor is not determined by good or bad circumstances. This is very clear in Scripture. For example, the authors of the New Testament, which were the apostles or those in close relationship with apostles, were affirmed by Christ and did not receive material or physical wealth from God; yet, they were granted salvation and eternal life with Christ, amassing enormous amounts of spiritual wealth. In the end, most died horrific deaths for their faith. Based on this observation alone, it is reasonable to conclude that physical or material gain is not directly connected with God’s favor toward his people. Therefore, it’s clear the idea that God’s favor is determined by one’s circumstance does not play out when the claim is applied to itself.
One of Heaven’s defining qualities is that it is a place void of sin, evil, and death, for the Christian view is that God is purely good and supremely just. Thus, because God will not allow those whose sin is not covered by Jesus’ atoning work, and because we must be cleansed from sin to enter Heaven, to say accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior is not necessary for Heaven is to default to the only other alternative⎼ to live a life without sin. The inference drawn from this implication is that we must be absolute, 100% perfect according to God’s standards to be in his presence.
If God requires absolute perfection to be in his presence, and we cannot in ourselves meet that standard, then how can we be reconciled to God? Because Heaven requires absolute perfection in accordance with God’s standards, one sin will eternally separate us from God. He cannot deviate from his nature as the holy God. If he did, he would not be God (or at least the same God as described in the Bible).
This is why God, in his love for this fallen world, sent Jesus (Jn 1:1) to do what we could never do: meet the standard of perfection required to be in God’s presence. In this, Jesus brings about the way in which the world can be reconciled to God, giving us the undeserved opportunity to once again be in God’s presence through the Lordship of Christ. This perfection that is required to enter into Heaven is now offered as a free gift! Many hear this and turn from it. However, I believe it is more reasonable to sprint toward it and embrace it, because now, the pressure of upholding the entire law is no longer a burden we have to bear. Jesus paid it all.
Another argument against Jesus being the only way to Heaven is that God is too loving to send anyone to Hell. We are all born in sin; we all enter the world already destined for Hell. ‘Hell’ is a word that often is misunderstood as a fiery cave with devils and pitchforks, but Hell is first and foremost understood as eternal separation from God; it is unavoidable exile from the presence of God for sinful beings before it is anything else. That is why God does not “send” people to Hell. No, we in our sin are already there. God provides the opportunity to avoid Hell by trusting in Christ and making Him Lord of our lives through a personal relationship where God is progressively growing us to resemble Christ more and more. In other words, God does not simply ‘send people to Hell’ as a consequence of not accepting this free gift. On the contrary, he becomes the one who saves us by providing a way out of Hell and into his presence. By denying God’s goodness by claiming that a loving God would not allow anyone to go to Hell, they neglect the fact that because he is a loving God, he gives them an opportunity to eternally avoid Hell by trusting in Christ.
Only by seeing this standard of perfection, as mentioned earlier, against the backdrop of God’s infinite holiness, goodness, and justice can one understand why Jesus is the only way to Heaven. The application for anyone who wants forgiveness of sin is to humble themselves and admit they cannot do it on their own. They will see their need to accept the free gift of salvation through Christ alone. Anyone who has truly accepted Christ has done this. This is the part most people miss- that by admitting this, they give up all efforts to do it themselves. They must admit their eternal need for the salvation that comes through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is hard for many people to be this humble, but by doing so, once they accept Christ, they then become as righteous as God, himself. That’s one of the major differences that separates Christianity from most other world religions. Every other world religion requires a sacrifice or works/sacraments. In Christianity, the work has been done for you. God himself in the man Jesus became the sacrifice for us so that through him we would be reconciled back to God from what once was a broken relationship. and God does this within the context of having our sins forgiven. So, by admitting they can’t do it on their own and accepting Christ, they, in turn, receive Heaven by ceasing to work for it. This is the ironic, overwhelming beauty of the Gospel, “that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8b).
“However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is counted as righteousness.” – Romans 4:5
*You can hear more about why Jesus is the only way to heaven on my podcast with Dr. Richard Howe, professor of Apologetics and Philosophy from Southern Evangelical Seminary, with the links provided below
Is Jesus Really the Only Way to Heaven? Part 1 – Defending Christianity Podcast
Is Jesus Really the Only Way to Heaven? Part 2 – Defending Christianity Podcast
- How was the Bible formed?
Misconceptions and inaccurate assumptions about the Bible’s formation, in my opinion, dominate both skeptical and Christian contexts. The reason I’ve come to this conclusion is that a great percentage of the church knows little or nothing to do with historical verification of Christianity. Much of what Christians believe has been verified from sources not related to the Bible. Knowing how the Bible was formed is crucial to having confidence that it contains the books God intended us to have so that when a challenge is given about the Bible, we can lovingly respond with the truth surrounding the authority of the Bible. To begin, I will briefly explain how the Old Testament was formed, followed by the New Testament in a bit more detail as it is more relevant for Christians as it was written for the post-resurrection Church.
The first written form of the Word of God took place at Mt. Sinai. This was the Ten Commandments. It was God’s establishment of his covenant with his people, Israel. This was to be authoritative because the Israelites knew God spoke through and to Moses. Thus, the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy) was instantly seen and viewed as inspired Scripture as Moses was the one who wrote the Pentateuch (excluding the end of Deuteronomy with the account of his death, which was most likely finished by Joshua, the one who led Israel into the Promised Land).
We must first understand that throughout history very few of the books found in the OT have been brought into question. Many will assert the opposite, being that these books were one day chosen at random by God’s people. The fact is that from the time they were written, there was never any debate about them because God was speaking through Prophets to Israel and acting clearly through them, giving them the authority needed to write the accounts and thus be seen as authoritative from the time of the writing. The Pentateuch, Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah [included Lamentations], Ezekiel, and Daniel), most of the Minor Prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi), Wisdom (Job, Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes), and Psalms were all viewed and utilized as authoritative scripture since their writing. That’s the majority of the Old Testament. Also, when you consider the part of the Old Testament brought into question for a brief time, it represents almost no part of the OT that is referenced in the NT.
The reason the writing of the OT ceased had to do with prophets no longer being raised up. God no longer was speaking through someone for nearly 500 years. The entire reason these books were seen as authoritative, as previously mentioned, was because of the Prophets God was raising up to deliver messages to Israel. This means the way one knows that these books have authority is when God is speaking, or God is speaking through a Prophet. The next prophet would be John the Baptizer, followed by the main event, Jesus Christ. Because the written texts were products of God speaking through prophets, they were used and recognized as divine, authoritative Scripture from God.
Before people started to openly question the authority of Scripture in the last two decades, anytime someone referenced the Bible, it was considered a de facto authoritative source to be trusted (this is specifically true within the Bible Belt). Today, this is not the case. People now raise questions about the reliability of the NT. Some questions raised today have to do with the canon, Christ’s deity, and the authors of the Gospels, just to name a few. Consequently, there has been an influx of scholarly work and attestation in support of the authenticity of the NT. It’s my view, though, that if the concerns of canonicity and textual criticism of the NT can be answered, everything else can be confirmed (i.e., Christ’s deity is affirmed, authors of books are credible and reliable, etc.). Therefore, I will briefly answer the concerns of NT canonicity and textual criticism, primarily drawing from a previous article of mine, “How can Christians be Confident in the New Testament?”
The entire writing of the NT was completed in about 50 years, all within the first century. This is noteworthy because we also know the events found in the canonical Gospels were likewise in the first century. This means the events described in the NT, and the writing of the NT itself, are very close, within a few decades at most. By the end of the first century, four canonical Gospels, Acts, and the Pauline Epistles were considered authoritative right at the start of the early church. This means 20-23 of the 27 books found in the NT were already considered inspired and authoritative without ever being questioned. There was very little debate about the other books. These were books considered “books around the edges,” or the smaller books. These were be books such as Jude, 2 & 3 John, and 2 Peter. It should be no surprise that these books took longer to be recognized as authoritative. Smaller books typically took longer to circulate across geographical regions because many saw smaller books as somewhat ineffective. Larger books were seen as having more information to be helpful to the reader that they could use, resulting in smaller books being seen as unhelpful. Because smaller books were often overlooked generally speaking, they were cited less and not quoted as often, which is the major reason they took longer to be recognized as authoritative.
While few smaller books took longer to circulate and be considered as authoritative, the canon was already being declared earlier than many skeptics will claim it was. Athanasius of Alexandria, probably the most prominent theologian of the fourth century, listed the books of the NT in his Thirty-Ninth Festal Epistle of A.D. 367. He offered significant insight because he made a list of all the books the early church viewed as inspired. The list of authoritative books he penned is the same list found in the contemporary NT. Over a century before, around A.D. 250, Origen listed the same 27 books in his Homilies of Joshua. From this, we can conclude that while only a few smaller books of the NT were disputed, this dispute ended as early as A.D. 250, which is significantly earlier than those who claim the NT is not reliable will say it was settled by.
The question then becomes, how did the church decide if a book was to be considered authoritative? Before answering, it is important to note that the early church was more skeptical about recognizing a book as authoritative than they were willing to accept a book. They were very conservative about the books they chose. This is significant because it means it would have been overwhelmingly difficult for a book God did not intend for us to have be accepted as canonical. To be sure a book did not “slip through the cracks,” the teachings of the apostles and of Christ became the standard by which they were to discern if a book was authoritative. From this, three criteria emerged to make sure this standard was met: 1) apostolicity (written by or associated with an apostle), 2) orthodoxy (teachings consistent with that which was taught in books already considered authoritative), and 3) catholicity (universally accepted early on by the majority of churches). When looking at a book presented to them, the early church fathers used these to determine if a book was authoritative.
The NT has not been changed since the original writings. Many would respond here with, “Oh yeah? What about those footnotes in Bibles that say ‘or’ or ‘some manuscripts say?’” You got me there. The NT you have today probably is not an exact copy of the original writings (original writings are often called autographs, the copy that the author of the book wrote). I want to briefly explain the errors of the NT that seem to somehow disclaim its reliability. We need to realize that in textual criticism, the process of ascertaining the original writing of a text by comparing its copies, the emphasis is not as much on the quantity of variants (meaning how many), but rather it’s about the quality (meaning what effect do they truly have on the text). Although the text is not perfectly exact and there are indeed thousands of textual variants (a variant is any difference between two manuscripts), the smallest group is the group that is both meaningful and viable (meaning it changes the meaning of the text and likely dates back to the original). According to Dr. Daniel Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary and founder of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, it’s less than 1/5 of 1% of all textual variants. The largest group, being 99% of all textual variants, is the group that does not change the meaning at all and is not viable. These are things like spelling errors, different order of words, etc. Because of the vast number of NT manuscripts documented today (more than 24,000), we can determine what the original said based on these numerous copies by comparing them and checking out the errors (fun fact: this is why without textual criticism, we would not have a reliable copy of the NT).
A reassuring insight as a final thought is once the church reached a consensus on the 27 books of the NT, that consensus has been widely longstanding with a great deal of unanimity around these books; that is not to say it has been with absolute unanimity, but a predominate unanimity, which could be said to be evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work to receive these 27 books, and only these 27 books. This should be an encouraging truth for Christians to stand on.
- How is God good and loving when he commanded genocide of the Canaanites in the Old Testament?
Such an objection is raised by skeptics to show how God’s “evil” acts are contradictions to God’s loving nature revealed in the NT through the person of Jesus. In reality, it is a moral question. I will attempt to explain God’s reasoning for the alleged “genocide” and how he was not immoral in conquering the Canaanites.
The book of Joshua describes Israel’s conquest of the Promised Land where God commands Joshua to kill those residing there. Many assert God commanded “genocide” and therefore he is not a loving God. First off, was it genocide? Dr. Frank Turek, currently one of the leading apologists in the world, argues it was not genocide on the basis that this was God’s judgement towards the Canaanites for their 400 years of iniquity including sacrificing their children to the Canaanite god, Moloch. They did this by lighting a fire inside the metal, bull-headed idol, while the children would be placed on the outside chambers of the idol, leaving them to burn to death. Not only does the Old Testament mention Moloch. The Greek writer, Plutarch, also mentions it. He claims that when a child sacrifice would be made, the drummers of the village would beat their drums louder so the parents could not hear the screams of their own children being sacrificed.
Turek brings up an interesting point regarding this. Skeptics often complain about God not stopping evil, yet still complain when he does. In other words, they complain about God allowing pain and suffering, yet here, God sees the evil and cruelty of the Canaanites, and after 400 years of giving them chances to repent, he sends the Israelites to put a stop to it, and now people are complaining about it again. The point here is, why complain about God not stopping evil, but then complain when he does?
I would also add the Canaanites residing in the Promised Land were preventing the Israelites from entering so that the nation of Israel could be established. It was important for this to take place because God was using humans in history to bring about the salvation that would one day come through the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ. God’s redemptive history was taking place so that all of humanity might be reconciled to him. Israel residing in the Promised Land was one step closer to the point in history where the promised Messiah, Jesus, would enter the world and provide redemption for the whole of humanity, including you and me.
Lastly, can God actually “murder” people in the same sense humans can murder each other? Suppose I spent weeks painting a masterpiece of a canvas that caught the attention of people in town. And suppose they were complimenting me, telling me how beautiful my canvas was. Would it be okay if one day one of them tore it to pieces and threw it away? No! Why? Because it was not theirs to begin with. I was the artist, and it belonged to me. What if I tore it up and threw it in the garbage? Would I not be well within my rights to do so as the canvas was mine to begin with? Absolutely. In the same way, since God is the author of life, he is well within his rights to end it when he pleases. It is not murder for God because he creates, sustains, and can resurrect life as he sees fit.
- Isn’t Christianity Intolerant?
Skeptics also argue Christianity and those who practice it are intolerant, that “Christians want absolutely nothing to do with anything if it does not exactly agree with what they think.” This, of course, is exaggerated, but it is a true objection against Christianity today. The fact of the matter is, when a Christian is living a life with a posture of submission and obedience toward Christ and diligently living faithfully to Christ daily, the last thing they are is intolerant. It is my view that because Christianity has been given a reputation of being intolerant, many Christians have adopted the idea that they are supposed to be intolerant. You will never find Jesus in the Gospels or any canonical NT book tell Christians to be intolerant. What? Are we supposed to be tolerant? Again, no. Merriam-Webster defines tolerance as ‘to put up with.’ That’s interesting. Jesus never tells us to put up with our neighbor (no, not the neighbor who sits beside you in Sunday school, the one you avoid because you don’t like that they openly live a life of sin). He also does not tell us to be intolerant of them, to shun them, or to make sure they don’t come too close to us. When you think about it, being tolerant is being nice on the outside, but on the inside is an attitude of a Pharisee (Pharisees are Jewish members of a religious group or party that frequently clashed with Jesus over his theology and interpretation of Scripture). Being intolerant, on the other hand, is allowing the attitude of a Pharisee be manifested into action, most commonly by condemning and shunning the other side.
What then, do Jesus and the teachings of the NT command when it comes to interacting with those who see things differently from a biblical worldview? I would like to look at two instances that can help us find the answer.
In John 8:2-11, a woman is taken to Jesus who was caught in the act of adultery. They wanted to see what he had to say about the matter, even though clearly, they wanted to do what the Law of Moses said, which was to stone such a woman. Their intention was to trick Jesus. However, Jesus says, “Let anyone among you who is without sin to be the first to throw a stone at her” (Jn. 8:7). They, being the Pharisees, all dropped their stones and left. I’ll stop here because I want to point out that, whether we like it or not, Christians can oftentimes be the Pharisees, ready to ridicule whoever is seen in a shameful act, ready to gossip about the latest drama, all while forgetting about the sin in their own lives. This story teaches that all people, even those who seem religious, are guilty before God, and therefore no one has the right to “throw the first stone” at anyone. We are all broken because of sin. The one who had a right to do something about it (Jesus) tells her he does not condemn her, but rather he tells her to leave and not continue in her sin (Jn. 8:11). He forgives her and does not condemn her.
Secondly, Mark 12:30-31 records Jesus saying to one of the teachers of the law that the most important command is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mk. 12:30). But then, he says the second is like it, to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk. 12:31). It’s interesting that, to Jesus, it is more important to love our neighbor as ourselves than to shun them out of intolerance for their sin. This even comes before the do’s and don’ts that Christians most often put before the most important command (ironic maybe?). Yes, their sin is something to address, but the point is that we must first approach it with love and humility. Having humility means to not think about yourself or how good you might think you are, and it also keeps you from comparing your life from someone else who may not be a Christian. It’s also noteworthy that loving God comes first here. It’s as if you can only love your neighbor as yourself after you love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, followed by knowing how to biblically love yourself. The love for ourselves and our neighbor should be an overflow from the love we have for God and the love that God shows us every day. Many Christians cannot love their neighbor because they have not yet learned to fully and completely love the Lord their God, which requires us to move beyond a prideful love for ourselves. Scripture is clear on what we should care more about: that Jesus commands us to love. Not to be tolerant or intolerant.
I hope that this was insightful, helpful, and edifying for you as you seek to learn more about the reasons behind the faith that we hold so dear to our hearts. Christianity is not a faith made up to make us feel better, to give us good fortune, or to merely receive blessings from others. It should give Christians peace and joy to know that this faith is a faith proven through historical inquiry, reasoning, and logic. Above all, it is proven by the love and grace of God through Jesus Christ, who gives us the Holy Spirit. As mentioned before, I hope to write on each of these issues, along with others as well, in greater detail within the near future. Thank you, and God bless!
For further reading:
Is God a Moral Monster? By Paul Copan
Canon Revisited (Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books) by Michael J. Kruger
Stealing from God by Frank Turek
Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming to Terms with the Justice of God by Paul Copan
That All Shall be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation by David Bentley Hart