If Jesus Wasn’t God, Then He Deserved an Oscar/Program 3

By: Dr. John Ankerberg; ©2006
Why is it we believe the four Gospels and other New Testament books were written early; that is, during the lifetime of the Apostles, not 200 years after Christ lived? How did archaeology show that the New Testament books present accurate historical reports of what Jesus said and did, rather than myths and legends?



Dr. John Ankerberg: Today on the John Ankerberg Show, recent surveys show that people are confused about what they believe about Jesus Christ. They think He was a great man, but are not sure about what He taught, who He claimed to be, and the purpose of His life. Through the years I have spoken to students on university campuses, to people in large gatherings, to conferences, and churches about the facts and evidence that can lead a person from skepticism to belief in Jesus Christ? Together let’s examine the evidence that can lead to a clear understanding of who Jesus is, resolve your doubts and answer your questions, and possibly lead you to faith in Him. Join me for this special edition of the John Ankerberg Show.

Welcome to our program. I’m glad you joined me. This is the third program in our series where I’m taking you step-by-step through the facts and evidence that can lead a person out of skepticism to belief in Jesus Christ. In our first program I addressed those who claim to be atheists or agnostics, and began to lay a factual foundation that shows Christianity is totally based on a real man by the name of Jesus Christ who lived in real history. The reason we know Jesus lived is not only because of the emergence of the Christian Church, but because of seven authors who gave us historical information about His life. In the second program, we began to answer the question, how do we know that these authors gave us reliable historical information? Today, I want to continue down that path by answering the questions: why is it that we believe the four Gospels and other New Testament books were written early? How early? So early that they came out during the lifetime of the apostles, as well as the friends and enemies of Jesus who had witnessed His life, not 200 years after Christ lived as some critics say? Well, let’s begin by going to Vail, Colorado where I was presenting this evidence to people at the Dobson Arena.

Excerpt from Dobson Arena

Alright, let’s do a quick review of where we’re at here. We’re talking about, how do you talk to your friends about Christianity? How do you introduce them to Jesus Christ? And we said yesterday Christianity is based in history on a real person that actually lived. If you look in the Encyclopedia Britannica, you can find 20,000 words listed about Jesus, and they never hint that He didn’t exist. Why? Because anybody that does a history of the first hundred years, 100 AD, anybody that writes a history has to include Jesus Christ in there, because there were people that gave us historical information about Him that every historian recognizes.
As we said, there were at least eight eyewitnesses, or people who claimed that they had contact with the eyewitnesses, who wrote the books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Peter and Jude. These men claimed, as we saw yesterday, to have contact with eyewitnesses or to be eyewitnesses themselves.
But then we came to what the universities are teaching today which is, really we think that it’s like going to the party where you whisper a sentence into the ear of one person and it goes all the way down the line and comes out distorted over here. And they’re saying Jesus did His stuff over here and by the time it was written down, we know that because 200 years or so went by, the fact is, it couldn’t have been historically accurate.
Now, that’s what we’re dealing with. And we saw, first of all, that goes against the very claims that we find in the books of the New Testament. They claimed that it wasn’t 200 years later but they were right on the spot; they saw it, they were there. What they saw, what they heard, that’s what they are proclaiming, declaring, writing to you. As Paul says, “I assure you before God, I am not writing to you a lie,” alright? So they claimed it.
But what else can we now marshal to back up the claim that we have accurate information about Jesus? And where we’re going is, first of all, do we have accurate information about Jesus? If we can conclude that we do, then we want to see, in those documents, what Jesus claimed about Himself. Did He ever say that He was God?
Now, again, I’m not taking the Bible as a book that dropped out of Heaven that’s inspired and inerrant. I believe that it is, but I’m not taking it that way this morning. If you’re a non-Christian, I’m simply saying, can I look at these books, these authors, and do they give me accurate information? The guy that writes the road maps for this country doesn’t claim to be inspired by God, but we think he gives us information that’s accurate.
So all I want to find out is, do we have evidence that shows these books are accurate in what they depict about Jesus? Then we’ll find out what they said about Jesus and what Jesus said about Himself, and then we’ll draw some conclusions.
Now, I want to give you the time when the books of the New Testament were written. I want to give you an argument that maybe you’ve never heard before. I want to start with the book of Acts and I want to date that. Then I want to work back in the Gospels. I think you’ll find this interesting.
I want to give you four reasons why the book of Acts must have been written at least before or no later than 62 AD. 62 AD. Four reasons. Okay? Are you ready?
Reason number one is that the fall of Jerusalem is not mentioned in the book of Acts. I think you know that Christianity spread out from Jerusalem and it was a primary city where the apostles were. And Acts records the first happenings of the Church at Jerusalem and then how it started to spread. Well, when did Jerusalem get destroyed? 70 AD. How did it happen? The Roman soldiers came; the Emperor Nero dispatched, first of all, Vespasian to this area. Then Nero committed suicide in 68 AD. When Nero committed suicide, Vespasian became the emperor and then he gave to his son Titus the responsibility of conquering Jerusalem. Titus took four legions of Roman soldiers, went up and laid siege to Jerusalem, and in 70 AD he conquered the city, he burned it, and he slaughtered the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Now that’s a pretty hairy act. And if the book of Acts talks a lot about what happened at Jerusalem, why didn’t Luke put the destruction of Jerusalem in there? Why? Because it hadn’t happened yet. So, number one, the fall of Jerusalem tells me it’s got to be at least before 70 AD that this book was written. Otherwise, the fall of Jerusalem would have been recorded.
Number two: Nero’s persecution is not mentioned in the book of Acts. Now, there were two persecutions that Nero did. One was in 64; another one in 68. And there are some words in the book of Acts concerning some of the local persecutions, but nothing about the emperor’s edict across the whole Roman Empire that Christians should be hunted down and killed and some of the stories that were told later on. None of that is mentioned in the book of Acts. So why isn’t it mentioned? Because the book of Acts was written before that. So we’re now before 64 AD.
The third reason would be this: the Apostle Paul is still living when the book of Acts comes to an end. The Apostle Paul is one of the central characters that is written about in the Acts. It’s almost his biography, if you want. And when you are spending so much time on a person and talking about what he did, what he taught, what he said and so on, when you come to the point of his death, that’s kind of key in a biography: it ends it. The fact is, they didn’t put anything about Paul’s death. Why? When did Paul die? Well, most people think that he died in the first Neronian persecution of 64 AD. And because Luke does not record Paul’s death, Paul is still living. He’s confined to jail at that time. Then again, we have a third reason why Acts had to be written before 64 A.D.
The fourth reason: there are two other central figures that could have been mentioned. The Apostle Peter and James are still living. We know that Peter died…well, we know approximately that he died about 65 AD, and James is said to have died at 62 AD. But when Acts is done, they’re still alive. And remember, other deaths were recorded. For example, Luke records the fact of Stephen and James, the brother of John, both of these people died and it’s recorded. Well, Peter and Paul and some of the others, they were more important than those figures. Again, why weren’t these people and their deaths mentioned? Because Acts was written before 62 AD.
Now, all I wanted to do is to get that into your head. That 62 AD is approximately where the Acts ought to be placed, okay? So let’s start there.
Now what do we know about Acts? Acts is book two of what? Of Luke. The Gospel of Luke came first. How do we know that? Well, Luke says so. He says in Acts 1, “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach.” That’s what the Gospel of Luke is about. But if it’s the former book, that means that it came first. So now we have 62 AD when Acts was written, and if the Gospel of Luke was written before that, we have to have that before 62 AD. Where would we place that? Well, how about putting that at about 58 AD, just a few years before Acts was written. But then, if you have Luke at about 58, almost all of the scholars say—you’ve got Acts here at 62; you’ve got Luke at 58—all the scholars say that Matthew came before Luke. And so you have people like William F. Albright and Dr. John A. T. Robinson saying that we’ve got to put Matthew over here at about 50 to 55 AD in front of the Gospel of Luke. Okay? Are you following me so far?
Now, going on back, they say, and almost all the scholars, probably 95% of them, would say that Mark had to come beforehand, because there are sections of Mark that show up in both Matthew and in Luke, that they use some of the material from Mark; and so therefore it had to come even before Matthew. Well, if Matthew is at 50 to 55, some have put Mark at 45. And both William F. Albright and John A. T. Robinson put Mark as early as 40 AD.
Now, what’s the significance of all this? Well, if you look at Harold Hoehner’s book, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, which documents archaeologically that Jesus died at 33 AD: at 33 AD Jesus died; in 40 AD Mark is on the newsstands[ by 50 AD Matthew; 58 AD Luke; and then 62 AD, the book of Acts. What does that tell us? Well, remember I told you yesterday that you have been living now for 32 years since the time of Kennedy’s death? All of the Gospels, if you were living in Jesus’ day, would have already been on the newsstands while you’re still here. And just as you can remember the events about Kennedy, the people, both pro and con, could remember seeing Jesus. He was a controversial figure. That’s why F. F. Bruce at Manchester said it just can’t be legend. It can’t be myth. They couldn’t have padded the case because there were too many interested people that were eyewitnesses that could have corrected them if they were wrong. That tells me we have accurate information.
Now, another area that tells me we have accurate information is archaeology. Now, we’ve been talking a lot about Luke. He’s got Acts. You’ve got the Gospel of Luke. There was a fellow by the name of Sir William Ramsay from the School at Tubingen in Germany. Ramsay was one of the higher critics, and he really didn’t believe that these guys were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life. But he was one of the world’s greatest archaeologists, and he went to the Holy Land to try to prove his thesis. When he got down to the Holy Land, he would start to shovel and unearth the mud and the clay and so on, and he would find rocks with inscriptions. And as he read them, he found out that his assumptions were wrong—that Luke was right. Now let me give you an idea of what I’m talking about.
In terms of language, now we had Frank Peretti here last night, okay. Now, if Frank writes for another 30 years, if the Lord tarries, the words that he’ll be using in his book will probably reflect our culture and be a little different than what they are right now. For example, do you remember during the 60s—some of you can think back that far—that the teenagers used words like what? “Cool” and “groovy” and stuff like that. We don’t use those words anymore. Why not? Because those words were part of the 60s to the 70s, okay? So if you read a book today and the characters are using the words “cool” and “groovy,” we would date it right around 1960 to 1970, right in that area, okay? Then all of a sudden we’ve got these words like awesome. That’s started coming up. If you listen to these little kids, they can really inform you what the culture is really talking about, okay? What I’m saying is that you use certain kinds of words all along the line. For example, do you think that a hundred years from now, when the historians are writing about America, that they will call President Clinton “Slick Willy”? See? We have a little term here for the President that probably will not make any sense to the guys a hundred years from now. What in the world does Slick Willy mean? Alright?
So, Ramsay goes into the Holy Land and he’s uncovering the rocks and so on, and just like we’ve got Slick Willy and other things for other Presidents along the way, they had it about kings and rulers of their own day. Sometimes the emperors laid it on themselves. They gave themselves special names apart from their real name, okay? And only the people that lived in that slice of history knew about it. Well, Ramsay goes into the Holy Land. He thinks that Luke is one of these guys that’s a mythical figure that just used the name of Luke and really didn’t even know the events; wasn’t an eyewitness on the scene; he was 200 years later. But he goes and he starts unearthing the rocks and he finds out that Luke in his book, in naming the emperors, the rulers, the cities, geographical areas, he knows all the secret names that are on the rocks that were right from that period. And all of a sudden it starts to dawn on Ramsay, he couldn’t have known that unless he was actually there and living in that period of time. He was more accurate than any of the people that were in Germany just writing about their thoughts. He had been right on the scene. And Ramsay changed his mind completely about Luke and said that he was one of the greatest historians of that time.
They checked Luke via archaeology in these categories. Now listen to this. Luke mentioned 32 different countries in the Gospel of Luke and in Acts; 54 different cities; 9 different islands; several rulers. And when they checked him out archaeologically, all the special names, all of the cute names of the time period, Luke never made one mistake. He was accurate in every one of those areas.
Now, if he is accurate in everything that you can check, then in the areas that you cannot check, you’ve got to give him the benefit of the doubt, because he’s already established his credibility. He is an accurate historical writer. And then he says, “I checked out everything carefully. I investigated everything carefully.” If you can document from archaeology that is the case, then in everything else that he tells you, you’ve got to give him the benefit of the doubt. You have to. So archaeology tells me that we have accurate information. Again, I’m not saying these books are inspired and inerrant. I just want to have accurate information.
And I want to make a statement now and I want to back it up, and that is that if you’re an intellectual—I would say this on any university campus—if you’re an intellectual and you know the classics, the Greek classics, you know ancient history, the fact is, if you will not accept the documents that we have in the New Testament, from Matthew through Revelation, if you’re going to throw this out, then you’re going to have to throw out Aristotle, Plato, Thucydides, Homer. You’d have to throw out the classics.
You say, “Wow. Can you back that up?” Yeah, I can. I want to tell you why. First of all, let me tell you something about documents today. Let’s say you know you’ve got Aristotle writing around 400 BC, before Christ. Well, they didn’t have printing presses back there, right? So what happened? They would write it on material that would disappear. And as this material, papyrus or whatever, would start to disappear, in order to preserve it, they’d have to recopy it. You didn’t have a printing press, so you had to recopy it again. And then as that copy got a little bit soiled and started to disintegrate, you’d have to copy it again.
Now my question to you is, do you know how long, how much time, transpired between the time that Aristotle wrote and the first copy that has come down to us and survived? How much time? Another way of saying it, how much time is in there that we’ve got nothing? Fourteen hundred years went by that we don’t know what in the world transpired. Aristotle wrote about 384 BC, and the fact is, the first copy that we have that exists now in the museums and so on is 1100 AD. It’s marked at 1100 AD. Now, what I love is that even though we have that big gap from the time that he wrote to the time that we have the first manuscript that exists, if you would ask any classical scholar: “Does that bother you? Do you think that because we have a big gap there and we don’t know what transpired or who copied or whatever, we have nothing that goes back 1400 years to actually when Aristotle wrote, that we’ve got this gaposus there? Does that bother you? Do you think that we don’t have an accurate copy of what he said? Do you think that somebody messed with the manuscript? Do you think that somehow somebody down the line added stuff to it so that we don’t really know accurately what he said?” No! There’s not one classical scholar that doubts that what we have now 1400 years from the time that he wrote is exactly what the man said. Just hold onto this now.
How about Plato? Plato wrote about 427-347 BC. The first manuscript that we’ve got is 900 AD—1200 year gap in terms of the manuscripts coming down. Thucydides in his Wars, 496-406 was when he wrote. The earliest copy that we’ve got in existence is 1000 AD. That means there’s a 1400 year time span from the time that he wrote to the first manuscript that exists today.
Sophocles wrote about 496-406 BC. The earliest copy is dated at 1000 AD. There’s a 1400 year time span. And yet they all say that basically we have an accurate account of what these authors originally wrote and said.
But they’ll come to the New Testament and say, “We haven’t got accurate stuff. You Christians just believe anything, don’t you? The time span from the time that the writers wrote to the first copies that you have is so long that we can’t believe that you have accurate historical information.” How long is it, by the way? Let me give you a couple of ideas here.
They were down in Egypt and they found five verses from the Gospel of John. They are dated as being written at 117 AD. It’s called the John Ryland’s Papyrus. Obviously these are copies, but if John wrote and ended his book at 80 AD, that means that the time from the time that he wrote and the copy that got down that they found that’s dated 117 is 37 years. Thirty-seven years versus 1400 years over here. They have no doubt that what this guy said over here is right. Thirty-seven years over here! Thirty-seven years! But they say, “Well, you know…I mean, look what happened in between the gaposus where you don’t have the Apostle John sitting there writing. We just have a copy.” Thirty-seven years old. The ink is hardly dry.
The Bodmer Papyri, dated at 175 to 225, contain most of the Gospel of Luke and most of the Gospel of John. That would mean that these are only 110 years away from the Apostles. The Chester Beatty Papyri are dated at 250 AD. Three Codices that contain most of the New Testament. This would put them at 180 years from the time of the Apostles. The major manuscripts that have the whole Bible, the Codex Vaticanus, dated at 325 AD, and Codex Sinaiticus at 350 AD. These would be only 255 years away from the Apostles.
Now, neighbors, I want to say it again. If you will not accept the New Testament writers as giving accurate historical information, what are you going to have to do with Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides and Sophocles? You’re going to have to chuck ‘em. I don’t know any classical scholar, in order to not deal with the New Testament, is willing to chuck the entire classics. They’re not that biased.

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