Tough Questions About God – Program 2

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Jack Harris, John Warwick Montgomery, Dr. Norman Geisler, Dr. Paul Kurtz, Dr. Walter Martin, Dr. D. James Kennedy, Dr. R. C. Sproul, and Dr. John MacArthur; ©1998
Is Jesus the key to life after death? Why is it important to discover whether or not Jesus rose?

What Solid Proof is there that Jesus Rose From the Dead?


Besides the major religions in our world, there are thousands and thousands of religious groups all claiming different ways to God. But Jesus taught that He is the only way to God; there is no other way. Who is right? Logically, Jesus or one other religious leader could be right; but they both can’t be right at the same time if they are saying contradictory things. What evidence will help us decide and come to a conclusion?

If you are a Christian, do you know how to answer the tough questions about God that people are asking? The Bible says, “Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” [1 Pet. 3:15] Can you do that?

On this edition of The John Ankerberg Show, we’ll present the evidence that will strengthen your own faith and help you assist those who are sincerely searching for the truth. Join us today as we examine some of the tough questions about God.

Ankerberg: Not too long ago, most of the world tuned in to Princess Diana’s funeral. In the midst of sadness and shock, people listened to hymns and scriptural passages in Westminster Abbey that apparently Princess Di had herself requested be read and sung at her funeral. The music and scriptural passages referred to the resurrection of the dead and of Heaven. In the Archbishop of Canterbury’s remarks and prayers, he admitted that the reality of anyone’s being resurrected and experiencing life after death in Heaven were based on Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
But let me ask, how many of the people watching Diana’s funeral actually believe that there will be life after death and Jesus is the key to it all? Very few people have ever grappled seriously with this question, but today, we’re going to hit it head-on: namely, is there solid evidence that Jesus really rose from the dead? And further, why is it so important to discover whether or not Jesus rose from the dead in His own body and is living now?
To help us with the answers, I want to turn to one of our past series in which I invited a practicing trial lawyer to be my guest. He is currently a professor of law in Great Britain, has two earned Ph.D.’s, and knows all about evidence. Listen as Dr. John Warwick Montgomery explains why it’s crucial for us to establish whether or not it’s a fact that Jesus actually rose from the dead:
      • [Excerpt from Was Jesus Christ a Liar, a Lunatic, a Legend or God?]
Dr. John Warwick Montgomery: Well, if Jesus didn’t rise again from the dead, there is no evidence that He was the person He claimed to be. How does He differ then from Jim Jones who gets a crowd of people around him and persuades them that he is some special kind of person? Or Father Divine, whom you mentioned. The situation then turns out to be one where people are worshiping simply because it makes them feel good.
Moreover, there isn’t any gospel left if Jesus didn’t rise again from the dead, because the gospel consists of His death for our sins, and His resurrection for our justification. If He never rose again from the dead, then He never conquered death, and if He never conquered death, there’s no reason to think that the problem of sin and evil in the human heart is dealt with either. The whole Christian faith collapses.
I think it’s too bad that it isn’t possible to remove clergy from their position who would try to eliminate the resurrection. My goodness! If you can get thrown out of the medical profession or the legal profession for malpractice as easily as you can, it’s too bad that there are so many clergy around who are literally cutting off the limb on which they’re sitting.
      • [end excerpt]
Ankerberg: Now, did you get what Dr. Montgomery was saying? He said if Jesus didn’t literally rise from the dead, then the whole Christian faith collapses. The apostle Paul agrees. He said in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” In other words, if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, there’s no reason at all to be a Christian.
Further, in the very next verse the apostle tells us why he is so sure that Jesus did rise from the dead. He says, if there is no real resurrection, “Then we are found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead.” [1 Cor. 15:15]
Notice, Paul claimed to be a witness about Jesus’ resurrection and he also claimed there were others. He wrote Jesus “was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter and then to the Twelve; after that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living… then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all, He appeared to me also.” [1 Cor. 15:4-8]
Is Paul telling the truth? Skeptics today say no. Skeptics say, “No, there is no evidence.” They say they cannot trust the Gospel writers, that is, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They don’t believe the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses, rather, they think the people who wrote the Gospel accounts lived a long time after Jesus and never actually met Him themselves. The skeptics want to know, is there independent confirmation from sources outside the Gospels that also say that Jesus died and rose again? Do the accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection in the Gospels contradict each other or corroborate each other, that is, do they complement each other?
All of these questions and the answers to them were brought up in our debate between a leading secular humanist, Dr. Paul Kurtz, the man who drafted Humanist Manifesto II, and Christian professor Dr. Norman Geisler, a professor of philosophy and dean of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. Again, the main question they are debating, “Is there solid evidence that Jesus really rose from the dead?” I’d like you to listen:
      • [Excerpt from Secular Humanism]
Dr. Norman Geisler: Let’s start at the top. Jesus did claim to be God. He said, “I and the Father are One.” [John 10:30] They took up stones to stone Him. He said He forgives sins. They said, “Who can forgive sins but God only.” [Mark 2:7] He said, “Before Abraham was I Am.” [John 8:58] Anybody who looks seriously at the New Testament knows that Jesus claimed to be God.
Then He offered three proofs: He fulfilled prophecy made hundreds of years in advance; He lived a sinless, miraculous life; He predicted and accomplished His resurrection from the dead. No one in history has made those claims and offered that evidence, and pulled it off.
There are more historical documents that verify the New Testament as being authentic. There are 5,366 Greek manuscripts alone that verify the New Testament to say nothing of 15,000 other copies that go right back to the threshold of the first century. It was written by eyewitness contemporaries of the events. His resurrection was witnessed by over 500 people, the apostle Paul said, “Most of whom are still alive.” [1 Cor. 15:6]
There’s more evidence that Jesus lived, claimed to be God and proved it, than there is that Caesar crossed the Rubicon. So if the skeptic wants to be skeptical and wipe out the New Testament, he has to wipe out ancient history, too, for which there is less evidence.
Dr. Paul Kurtz: Well, I didn’t realize we were going to argue the Bible, because I’m not a biblical scholar…
Ankerberg: Well, this is part of the Humanist Manifesto…large chapters there…
Kurtz: I have to bring what I’ve read on this, as best that…
Geisler: Here, take mine.
Kurtz: I’ve read the Bible many, many times, but I’m not a minister of the cloth. But let me speak as a skeptic and as a non-believer. As far as I can tell, there’s no independent confirmation from sources outside the Gospels written at that time.
Ankerberg: Careful, Paul.
Kurtz: The Gospels were written by propagandists for the faith; people who really believed…
Ankerberg: Paul, you don’t want to really say that, do you?
Kurtz: …who believed in Christianity, and they were not…
Ankerberg: You’re proving that you’re not a scholar in this area, Paul, because there’s just too much evidence. Let me go this way. I’ve got to nail you down here. You have a quote in one of your books that you say, “We’ve got to base our conclusions on evidence.” And you say, “We will follow those conclusions right to the end, no matter where they lead us.” Now, here’s my little question before I ask Geisler to give us a little evidence. If we show you the evidence, will you change your mind?
Kurtz: I would. But I’ve looked at the evidence, I’ve read everything I can about it, and I still, the more I read… I have been reading the Bible. I wish I had read the Bible more intensely when I was younger; I’d be a stronger atheist than I am now. But on this point…
Ankerberg: Okay, wait a minute, Paul. Let’s answer your question then concerning what you said there, concerning the sources, as well as…
Kurtz: Are there sources outside the Gospels, contemporaneous?
Ankerberg: Dr. Geisler, what about that? You’ve written one big whole 500-page book on that topic. Give us a few shreds of evidence there.
Geisler: 611 pages, John.
Ankerberg: Sorry about that.
Geisler: Well, first of all, look what he’s saying. Take a courtroom scene and pretend that he is one of the attorneys. And he’s saying, “Now, look, Geisler, apart from your eyewitnesses, you have a pretty poor case, don’t you?” I mean, of course, the eyewitnesses are in the New Testament…
Kurtz: Who are the eyewitnesses? None of them were contemporaneous. Mark didn’t know Jesus, nor did Luke, Matthew or John.
Geisler: Matthew was a disciple. He spent three and a half years with Jesus, and I imagine he knew Him quite well. Mark was probably the “young man” in the Gospel of Mark at the end. He was a secretary and assistant of Peter who was an apostle. He was a contemporary of Christ. Luke, he was a contemporary and looked into the sources. He was a doctor, a historian, that Ramsey showed was accurate in everything he could check on, and Ramsey was a skeptic before he checked out Luke. John was an eyewitness. The apostle Paul was an eyewitness. All of them were eyewitnesses.
Kurtz: How was apostle Paul an eyewitness? Did he know Jesus?
Geisler: Yes, he certainly did. He knew Jesus and he was a witness of the resurrection. He lists himself in 1 Corinthians 15 as one of the witnesses of the resurrection, because Christ appeared to him. In fact, Christ appeared…
Kurtz: Appeared to him on the Road to Damascus, but he said… this was an uncorroborated observation, but he did not know Jesus at the time that Jesus was alive, as far as I can tell.
Geisler: He most certainly did. Because if He appeared to him on the Road to Damascus, that was only a short time after…
Kurtz: After the death of Jesus.
Geisler: …and Paul was an apostle and contemporary.
Ankerberg: And not only that, Paul, but they also preached….
Kurtz: Look, there is a body of biblical criticism which denies that Matthew was an apostle of Jesus and denies that any of the other three writers of the gospels knew Jesus. Now, you are differing with that interpretation. At least it’s an arguable question. There are people who maintain that the authors were of the second generation and were not contemporaneous with Jesus.
Geisler: Well, put it this way; there were people who believed that. That’s a pre-archaeological point of view. But most scholars, even rabid scholars like Robinson, the “death of God” scholar, John A.T. Robinson, who wrote a book, Redating the New Testament, in which he says all the basic Gospels were written between 45 and 65 during the life of the eyewitnesses. And he didn’t even believe in the existence of God, so he didn’t have any axe to grind. That was a view, but it’s archaeological curiosity now rather than really a serious scholarly view.
Kurtz: Well, I deny that point. There are serious scholars who dissent with your interpretation.
Ankerberg: But there are also a lot of what he’s saying, archaeological data. Plus, when we’re talking about—in the documents themselves, if you remember—if you’ve read the book of Acts where Paul himself, on trial before Agrippa, points to Agrippa himself and says, “You know the things that I’m talking about, because these things were not hidden. They weren’t done in a corner.” [Acts 26:26] Even he was preaching to other people who were eyewitnesses.
Kurtz: He mentions 500 people having seen the resurrection of Christ. We have no statement of the 500 people. I mean, this is uncorroborated testimony given by people who are creating a new religion. It would not hold up in a court of law. Most of the Gospels are contradictory on many points. As I read the Gospels side-by-side, I find that they contradict each other on very important things.
Geisler: Three things out there, let’s take them one at a time. “Uncorroborated testimony” —you have Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James; that’s hardly uncorroborated. You’ve got “In the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.” [2 Cor. 13:1] So you’ve got corroborated testimony. Secondly, they were eyewitness testimonies. Thirdly, there aren’t any contradictions, there are alleged contradictions in the gospels. And the alleged contradictions actually argue for the authenticity of the witnesses because they “called it as they saw it.” They didn’t get together and try and put this thing together. You get that type of thing when you get independent testimonies.
Kurtz: Well, if you read the resurrection, as I read the four parts side-by-side, in one case you have, let me see if I can reconstruct, you have a youth dressed in white; you have two angels first inside the tomb and then outside the tomb; you have different reports. I suggest that anyone who wants to have an open mind about this, read the four Gospels side-by-side, and the eyewitnesses differ on that point.
Geisler: Well, I have read the four Gospels and I’ve read that point, and there’s nothing contradictory that either you pointed out or that can be pointed out in that record. Sure, you had two angels, and sure, they were in the tomb once, and sure they were outside. But that’s not a contradiction.
Kurtz: Well, but if you have an accident or you have a crime and you have witnesses, and if your witnesses give different testimony, what are you to make about this?
Geisler: You’re to assume that if their testimony differs…
Kurtz: The testimony does differ.
Geisler: …that it’s independent testimony. And that’s the kind of thing that actually argues for the authenticity of it. And to bring out the other point that you made, that it wouldn’t stand up in a court of law, as a matter of fact, the Professor of Harvard University of Law a number of years ago, Simon Greenleaf, was challenged on that very point. Now, he wrote the book on legal evidence used by lawyers to test these things in court. And they challenged him to apply that same logic to the New Testament and see what he would conclude. Here’s what he concluded: The New Testament documents are authentic. The witnesses are reliable. Jesus Christ rose from the dead. You ought to read it, The Testimony of the Evangelist, Simon Greenleaf.
      • [end excerpt]
Ankerberg: Alright, let’s summarize what we’ve heard today. First, if there is no solid evidence that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, then Christianity collapses, there is no reason to believe in Christ. Jesus Himself based the truth of who He was and the truth of Christianity on His resurrection. In Luke 11:29-30 He said: “This generation… seeks for a miraculous sign and yet no miraculous sign shall be given to it but the miraculous sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a miraculous sign to the Ninevites, so shall the Son of Man be to this generation.”
Matthew records Jesus saying, “And yet no sign shall be given to this generation… but the miraculous sign of Jonah the prophet. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” [Matt. 12:39-40] In other words, the one miraculous sign Jesus would give to His generation so they would believe His claim that He was God would be His resurrection from the grave on the third day. Just like Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights and then came forth, Jesus would be in the earth for three days and three nights and then come forth. The apostle Paul and the other disciples taught this same thing.
In his writings to the people at Rome, the apostle Paul said, “Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.” [Rom. 1:4]
The apostle Peter testified, “We are witnesses of everything Jesus did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed Him by hanging Him on a tree but God raised Him from the dead on the third day and caused Him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the One whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about Him that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name” (Acts 10:39-43).
In other words, the proof that Jesus is God is His resurrection. And the proof that the resurrection took place is that the apostles were eyewitnesses of that fact.
Second, the evidence shows that the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection were actually eyewitness reports written by people who were right on the scene, contemporaries of Jesus. The Gospels were not made up a long time later by people who had never even seen Jesus.
Third, the evidence shows Jesus clearly claimed to be God. Both His friends and His enemies understood that He was saying this. And the proof Jesus gave to these people to validate His claim was a miracle that no other human being could ever do: He said He would conquer death and rise from the dead on the third day. According to the evidence, when Jesus first told the disciples He would do this, they didn’t believe Him. But after they witnessed His crucifixion, death, and burial, they were the very ones who saw Him alive again and ate with Him, drank with Him, and talked with Him over a period of forty days. According to these men and women, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was what changed their minds and their lives. That’s why they taught other people in their own day they should put their faith in Jesus.
Fourth, you and I are going to die someday. The Bible says we will either face God with our sins, and therefore be separated from God in hell, or we will stand before God forgiven and look forward to all eternity in Heaven. What will make the difference? Only those who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus’ work at the cross to cover, cleanse and forgive all of the sins of our life will be in Heaven. Jesus told the apostles to go and preach to all the world that while He was on the cross, He became our substitute. The legal punishment we deserve was transferred to Jesus and He paid our penalty. No sin gets by in God’s universe. Either Jesus will pay the penalty for your sin or you will pay the penalty yourself.
The Bible says Jesus will forgive you if you will come to Him, admit that you are a sinner and place your trust in His work to appease the wrath of God on your behalf. The moment you believe, God also takes the very righteousness of Jesus’ life and legally credits it to your life. That becomes your status or standing before God. To change your character, God puts the Holy Spirit into your life. The Holy Spirit begins to actually change you from the inside out, to empower you to start growing and living more and more like Jesus, not in order to get saved, but because God has already saved you.
Have you realized what Jesus did for you when He died on the cross? Have you ever come to Him and admitted that you’re a sinner and told Him you’re going to put all of your faith in Him and His work on your behalf? Tell Him you are now receiving by faith His gift of the forgiveness of your sins. When you do, He promises to place the Holy Spirit into your life and make you a Christian. If you haven’t done that, why not do it right now?
Next week we’re going to look some more at the evidence that proves Jesus rose from the dead. We will look at philosopher David Hume’s arguments against the miraculous, hence against the resurrection, and more recent objections from Antony Flew, Paul Tillich, and Hugh Shonfield, in his book The Passover Plot. I hope that you’ll join me.

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