I find it fascinating how no other historical book has so many early copies discovered (we're talking 5,000, as opposed to the under 500 of it's contemporary historical books of the time which no one questions the validity of), and yet comes under such fire as the New Testament. And how the four Gospels were each written between 30 and 60 years after Jesus' crucifixion and still people say the testimonies had been elaborated by legend and mysticism by then with the passage of time, as opposed to other historical figures surviving histories-- like Alexander the Great-- being written, at the earliest, 500 years after, and no one questioning its historical validity.
And, you know, I had NEVER thought about searching for other historical (extra-biblical) accounts of the sky going dark at the time of Jesus' death (Luke 23:44-45) and the earth shaking (Matthew 27:54). A Greek author named Phlegon wrote around 137A.D. about a spectacular event in 33A.D. He wrote, "it became night in the sixth hour of day [i.e. noon] so that stars even appeared in the heavens. There was a great earthquake in Bithynia, and many things were overturned in Nicaea [these places he mentioned were located in modern-day Turkey]." Tertullian (c.160-c.225) says it was a cosmic event, visible in Rome, Athens, and other Mediterranean cities. Goodness... that in itself would make me very curious to seek and find out the truth in these rumours about this great teacher Jesus who so angered the powers that be with his teachings of a coming kingdom of love and grace and his acts of healing and miracles (they attributed it to sorcery, but didn't deny that it was happening) that they gave him the worst punishment of the time-- crucifixion. And instead of hushing these rumours, the passage of centuries since then have only strengthened the number of people choosing to believe. Isn't that a little fishy unless the claims of Christ are true and so have withstood the tests of time?
Strobel went into his investigation of the claims of Christianity as an Atheist wanting to validate and certify his beliefs that it was all nonsense. And I am finding his investigation so incredibly encouraging (and delightful to watch play out!) because at every turn, seeking out academic experts and asking very thorough and intelligent questions due to his legal research and journalism background, he is confronted with mounting evidence to prove TRUE exactly what he meant to prove false... But at the same time as it is incredibly satisfying to read, it is incredibly frustrating because I look around and think, "how can you NOT believe?"
Even in this rather scientific, research-driven style of book I've been reading today, God really challenged my heart. I read of how if we never cracked open a bible and only looked at the extra-biblical historical writings about Jesus-- many of them written by people who weren't Christians, and regarded the new religious movement sweeping their ancient world with some suspicion-- we would come out with a very clear and irrefutable idea of the life this Jesus character lived in historical fact.
"We would know that first, Jesus was a Jewish teacher; second, many people believed that he performed healings and exorcisms; third, some people believed he was the Messiah; fourth, he was rejected by the Jewish leaders; fifth, he was crucifed under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius; sixth, despite this shameful death, his followers, who believed that he was still alive, spread beyond Palestine so that there were multitudes of them in Rome by A.D. 64; and seventh, all kinds of people from the cities and countryside-- men and women, slave and free-- worshiped him as God" (from The Case for Christ, pg.91, Strobel's interview with Edwin M. Yamauchi, Ph.D, a leading expect in Ancient History)
What struck me from this summary of what is historically known about Christ outside of the Bible, is that the part of His life that is life-changing, that everything hinges on, and which is indeed why Christianity even exists because we believe He was the Son of God-- his resurrection from the dead-- is signified in extra-biblical history only by the witness of the people who believed that He rose from the dead. Without looking at the biblical testimony of all the people who actually saw Him alive after his public crucifixion (over 500 people all at once in one occasion! --1 Cor. 15:6), extra-biblical historical texts also tell of the experience of these people by recording what they did, how they lived in light of this belief-- and despite horrific persecution which is documented extensively, like Nero's reign and the many many many martyrdoms.
It's this belief in Christ's resurrection which still sets Christians apart today. And it's the testimony of HOW WE LIVE in light of it which still bears witness... Tell me, what will the history books have to say about us as Christians bearing witness today? Oh, how I hope yours and my lives just add further evidence to the truth of Christ! It's that truth which sets people free, even today, and there are so so so very many still needing to be set free. Here in Sweden, yes; here in Europe, yes; but also everywhere...
|"Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free." -- John 8:32|