Reasons for (Christian) Faith Part II: The Counterproductive Gospel

by PastorErick | 10/3/17, 9:52 AM

Last week we began to discuss the reasons for believing in the reality of the resurrection of Christ. We noted that the gospels/epistles that describe the events surrounding Jesus’ resurrection were written far too early to be legends. Along this same line of reasoning, we also see that the gospels are too counterproductive to be legends. What do I mean?

Well, in short, if the authors of the gospels were trying to sell a lie as truth, there are certain things they would want to do. They would typically make their heroes look as tough and invincible as possible; they would want to make sure that everything sounded very reliable and convincing to their readers; things would almost work out too nice in a lie. These realities are what help historians decide between what’s true and false from antiquity.

The gospels have none of the stuff that comes along with myth. Consider three very counterproductive details that wouldn’t be in there if it was a made up story:

1. Jesus’ apparent weakness- Throughout all the gospels, our hero (Jesus the Messiah) is shown crying at the devastation all around Him (John 11). Before facing crucifixion we are not shown a man who is fearless, but rather, in the garden of Gethsemmane a man who seems to be fearful (just like the rest of us, yet without sin). He is crucified (a terrible criminal’s death). While up on that cross, He is crying out that He’s been “forsaken” by God. None of these elements of Jesus’ death fit the normal pattern of the mythological story in which our hero faces death with grit and defiance and unbending strength. No one would voluntarilly place these details in the story unless..... they were true.

2. The Disciple’s Folly- Constantly throughout the pages of the gospels we are shown the men who would be the “great leaders” of the early church acting like buffoons: James and John are shown wanting to nuke a small town for not receiving them (Luke 9:54)! Jesus’ top three disciples are shown falling asleep in his hour of greatest need (Matt. 26:45)! And of course, Peter, the great Rock of the early church, the Leader of the group after Jesus ascended back into heaven, is shown denying His Lord three times (John 18:15-27). It all then climaxes with the rest of the disciples (with the exception of John) apparently abandoning Jesus too.

If these guys were trying to sell a religion they certainly wouldn’t make themselves look so silly. The only plausible reason these details about the leaders of the early church would have been in there is, because, well, because..... they really happened.

3. The Women’s Discovery- This detail about the resurrection of Christ is the most counterproductive element of them all. In all of the gospel’s accounts about the discovery of the empty tomb, it is women who are reported to have found that tomb empty. Now in our day and age, we shrug it off and say, “So what?” But back then, if someone was going to make up a story they would NEVER have had women be the first ones to find Jesus’ body missing. Why? Because back in that day a woman’s testimony was not even accepted in a court of law!

N.T. Wright, a renowned New Testament Scholar argues that “there must have been enormous pressure on the early proclaimers of the Christian message to remove the women from the accounts. They felt they could not do so- the records were too well known.”

Philipp Yancey spells it out well:

A deliberate cover-up would have put Peter or John, or better yet, Nicodemus in the spotlight, not built its case around reports from women. Since the Gospels were written several decades after the events, the authors had plenty of time to straighten out such an anomaly-unless, of course, they were not concocting a legend but recording the plain facts.[1]

So there you have it: The gospels contain far too many counterproductive details to be made up. Therefore, it’s most plausible to believe they are indeed reporting facts based on eyewitness testimony. As Luke says at the beginning of his gospel, this was his whole goal in writing his narrative:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

(Luke 1:1-4 ESV)

Next week, we’ll take a look at the external evidence that exists in support of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection….

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