Jesus Christ: Expert Actor or God Himself?-Part 1

Reading Bible on Table
By: Lee Strobel; ©2001
Many scholars today claim that the information in the Gospels about Jesus cannot be trusted. Why would they claim that, and is there any proof that their assertions are wrong? When were the Gospels written? Dr. Ankerberg begins a three-part response to these questions.

Jesus Christ: Expert Actor or God Himself?-Part 1

Is there anything that we can know about Jesus Christ? I’ve entitled this lecture, “If Jesus Wasn’t God, Then He Deserved an Oscar,” because Jesus Christ portrayed God to the nth degree. If He wasn’t who He said, He at least deserves an Oscar. But there is evidence for bringing me to the conclusion that Jesus is God. I’m not going to start there right now. I’m going to bring us to that point.

The atheist doesn’t have enough information to know that God doesn’t exist. For one thing he would have to be everywhere at the same time to be sure that God was not there. The agnostic should really be saying, “I just don’t know. If you’ve got evidence, show me.”

We’ve already said that the evidence shows that Jesus Christ is a person that actually lived in history. A real person. How do we know that? The same way that we know about Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon, Charlemagne or any other historical figure. There were people that saw him, that heard him speak and do the miracles and so on, and they gave testi­mony—they wrote it down. They also gave oral testimony. The same thing we have about Lincoln, Napoleon or Charlemagne. People saw what those men did. They heard what the men spoke about and they wrote it down. Some loved them; some hated them. But that information has come down in historical documents and when we look at Napoleon or anyone else, we sift that information to see if it’s trustworthy. And that’s what we’re doing.

Can we trust the New Testament documents? Well, first, I am not going to use the New Testament like a book that dropped out of heaven and fell on the floor and we know it’s from God because it’s got God’s name stamped on it. I believe that it’s the inerrant Word of God, but I’m not starting there in talking to you. Rather, we will look at the books of the New Testament like we would look at any other document in history. And if you’re an intellectual, this is how you ought to look at any other document in history. So, how can we tell if these men actually gave us information that’s correct?

Now, we saw that there were eight men at least that claimed to be eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life or had contact with the eyewitnesses. They were Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Peter, the writer of Hebrews, and Jude. These men all gave information to us about Jesus. As we went through the Scriptures last night, we saw that they claimed to be right on the scene. They said, “We were there. We saw it.” I don’t know how else anybody could say it. They said it.

Peter said, “We did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known unto you the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

They were there. “We were eyewitnesses,” they said. Now, they claimed to be eyewit­nesses and we want to find out, how can we test these eyewitnesses in their claim, how can we tell whether they’re telling the truth? And I’d like to start tonight by saying that one of the ways we can find out whether or not they’re telling the truth is to find out when these books came out, when they were written.

According to an article that came out in Newsweek magazine some time ago, we can­not know anything about Jesus and the reason is because of two things: one, this informa­tion came down to us so long after Jesus lived, it’s like that little game at the party you play. Where you whisper a sentence into the ear of the person next to you and it goes all the way around the room and by the time it comes to the end, the person who speaks that sentence is not even close to the sentence that was started. And that’s what the critics are saying about Christianity. It started over here with Jesus but it was passed on orally and as it was passed on, it was changed until it was written down 200 years later. Therefore, all we have myth and legend. We don’t really know if Jesus said those things. We have to guess. That’s why we have the Jesus Seminar voting on which sentences in the New Testament they think Jesus really said. But that’s not the claim of the New Testament.

The claim of the New Testament was, they whispered it into the ear of the first person at the party and that guy stood up and gave the sentence. That’s the same thing that we do in a court of law. When you go into a court of law and you have somebody that’s on trial for murder, you bring up the witnesses and if you have one guy that says, “I saw him do it,” you can put the accused away. If you have three persons that say, “I saw him do it,” it’s almost a foregone conclusion that the guy is going to be guilty. If you have eight people that come into court and say, “I was there. I saw him pick up the gun and shoot the person and kill him. He’s the one.” It’s a very short trial.

That’s why 1 Corinthians 15 is so important, where Paul says there’s 500 people that are willing to say they saw Jesus after his crucifixion. So, we’ve got a ton of witnesses here. Lots and lots of witnesses. But how do we know that they’re telling the truth? You heard what the skeptics are saying. It took a long time for their testimony to be written down. Well, even if it was only 70, 80 A.D. the fact is, we’ve got 40 or 50 years in there. It’s still enough time for legend to creep up.

But first of all, the books came out too early for legend to creep in and they came out among the very people that were both friendly and hostile to Jesus. In other words, the people that were actually eyewitnesses of the events that are in the New Testament that we are holding in our hands right now, from Matthew to Revelation, the people that actually knew about those events, they were still living. They could think back to those events and truthfully say, “We were there.”

Now, what evidence has led me to this conclusion?

Well, we know that Jesus died about 30/33 A.D. If these books came out within 10, 15, 20, 30 years, that means that there were people who were at the events who were still alive. They could testify to whether or not these were true or false events. Were there people that would have wanted to do that? Of course. There were people that loved Jesus who would have scrutinized those accounts to make sure that nobody had messed with their Jesus, because they loved Him. Then there were people like the Pharisees and Saduccees that hated his guts. They actually tried to get him killed. The fact is, these people would have scrutinized these accounts because if they could have shown some­thing to be wrong in the accounts, for example in depicting them, and remember how many times they show up in the accounts, if that really had not happened, then Christ’s enemies would have been glad to point it out—to get rid of Christianity. But neither side denied the events described in the documents we have in our hands. Now, how do we know that? It is because the books were written and circulated only a short time after Christ died. Let me give you a couple of reasons why the scholars today are more and more dating the New Testament documents early. I would like for you to write down four reasons why the book of Acts was written at or before 62 A.D., and I would like to work backwards from Acts into the Gospels. Okay? Maybe you have heard this kind of reasoning before but stick with me. I think it’ll make sense.

I want to start by giving reasons why Acts had to be written at 62 A.D.—if Jesus died about 30 to 35 A.D., you may get the idea of where things are going. There are four rea­sons why I think Acts must be dated that way.

Number one: the fall of Jerusalem is not mentioned in the book of Acts. When did Jerusalem go down? 70 A.D. What happened? Well, Vespasian was dispatched by the Emperor Nero to conquer the Judea area in 68 A.D. But then Nero committed suicide. So the boys back in Rome, they decided to elect Vespasian to be the emperor. So Vespasian, about 68 A.D., turned over the troops to his son Titus. Titus took four legions of Roman soldiers and laid siege to Jerusalem in 70 A.D., conquered it, destroyed it, burned the temple, slaughtered the people.

Now, what do you know about the book of Acts? It started in what town? Jerusalem. It went from Jerusalem out. That’s where we learn about the apostles and the Jerusalem Council and so on. Jerusalem is a key city. Don’t you think that if Acts was written after 70

A.D. that they would have put the account of the destruction of Jerusalem in the book of Acts? Of course they would. Why is it that it’s not there? Because the book was written before that event took place. That’s the only conclusion that anybody can come to. So Acts must have been written at least before 70 A.D.

Second reason is this: Nero’s persecution. Nothing is mentioned of either the first Neronian persecution of the Christians in 64 A.D. or of the second persecution of the Chris­tians in 68 A.D., the last year of Nero’s reign when he committed suicide. Now, obviously if the book of Acts is about the spread of the Church and there are times in the book of Acts when it talks about Christians being killed and so on and the famines and all such events, these are major events. If this book was written after Nero’s persecution and some key Christians disappeared in that persecution, don’t you think Acts would have said something about it? Sure. Why didn’t Luke say anything about the Neronian persecutions? Because he wrote the book before it took place. So then, Acts had to be written before 64 A.D.

And there’s a third reason. The Apostle Paul is still living. He is not dead when the book of Acts ends. Now, you know that one of the central characters in the book of Acts is the Apostle Paul. It’s almost his biography in a sense. But Paul is thought to have died in the Neronian persecution in 64 A.D. If the book of Acts had been written after Paul’s death, don’t you think that Luke would have put the death of Paul in the book of Acts? Of course he would. He’s a main character. But Luke didn’t. Why didn’t he? Because Acts was written before Paul died and so we are once more before 64 A.D.

And one final reason. There are two other central figures, the Apostle Peter and the Apostle James, that are still living. The Apostle Peter died, according to tradition, approxi­mately 65 A.D. and James died approximately 62 A.D. Neither one of their deaths are mentioned and yet we have the death of Stephen and the death of the other James men­tioned. People who are prominent Christians that die are mentioned by Luke. But the Apostle Peter and the Apostle James, they are still living. Why? Because the book of Acts was written before their death and so we’re up to at least 62 A.D. or before. So let’s put a mark right here: 62 A.D.

For more information:

“If Jesus Wasn’t God, Then He Deserved an Oscar”:

Read Part 2

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