The Resurrection of Jesus Christ Is Improbable

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is an improbable event.  Highly unlikely.  Even exceedingly unlikely.  I say this speaking as a human being.  I have been aware of many people dying in my lifetime but never have I similarly been aware of any of them rising from the dead.  I don’t have any problem saying that from a human perspective, resurrection is exceedingly improbable.

Just because the resurrection of Christ is improbable, however, does not mean that it is impossible.  I have to admit this because I am not omniscient.  I can’t make a categorical statement that Jesus was not raised from the dead because I can’t make categorical statements about things outside of my knowledge.  Nevertheless, I can say that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is possible, but highly improbable…and therefore, for all practical purposes, impossible.  Saying something is practically impossible, however, is very different from saying categorically that it is impossible.

Some people radicalize their assumption about the great odds against the resurrection and, whether consciously or subconsciously, change their assumption to the categorical statement, “The resurrection of Jesus Christ is impossible.”  They have no basis for doing so, but they do it nonetheless.  Therefore, when evidence of Christ’s resurrection is presented to them, they, without a moment’s extra thought, can rationalize it away because they “know” that Jesus Christ could not possibly have risen from the dead.

Because I am only willing to say that Christ’s resurrection is highly improbable and not willing to say that it is impossible, then I can objectively assess evidence of His resurrection that is presented to me.

The New Testament is a collection of 27 independent documents which individually and collectively testify that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is an historical event.  The Old Testament is a collection of three times that much documentary support for the idea that Jesus would rise from the dead – all written before He was ever born!  Without going further into all the details of the New and Old Testaments and what they say in confirmation of Jesus Christ rising from the dead (which is considerable and which is foundational to my faith), I can say that, based on this extraordinary compilation of testimony, I have ample reason to adjust my assessment of the probability of Jesus’ resurrection from exceedingly unlikely to highly likely.  In fact, I have become as certain as I could possibly be without having actually put my fingers in His hands and in His side.

Thus, I have been moved by the evidence from seeing the resurrection of Christ as practically impossible…to probable…to, for all practical purposes, certain.

I do not object, therefore, to anyone saying that the resurrection Christ is improbable, because that is the conclusion to which experience and logic would lead any rational adult in the absence of any compelling evidence to the contrary.  That’s what the Bible is: an over-sized file folder bulging with evidence.

“Repent, and Follow Jesus Christ Our Lord!” with Each of the Words Defined

Repent, and follow Jesus Christ our Lord!”  Here are each of those words defined according to their use in this sentence:

Repent – turn, change, look to; forsake sin to pursue moral purity and integrity

and – don’t merely turn, change direction, look to

follow – trust, watch, imitate, obey, go along with, lean on, attach yourself to, believe

Jesus – Jesus of Nazareth as described in the New Testament (and prophesied in the Old Testament)

Christ – the Messiah of Israel as described in the Old Testament (and confirmed in the New Testament)

our – the entire human race (i.e. ignore all divisions between Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, agnostics, and so on)

Lord – God, ultimate authority, the great invisible One, omniscient One, omnipresent One, omnipotent One

! – This statement is the most important one I have ever uttered, or will ever utter in this life.  I soberly and solemnly dedicate my life to it.

This message is first and foremost for Christians.  Yes, Christians need to repent.  We have been following each other too long instead of following Him.  And there is much more to say about Him than this!  If you’re interested, see this expanded introduction to Him.

An Amputee That God Healed

The Gospel of Luke tells of when Jesus healed a man whose ear had been cut off.  The setting was this:  In the night He was betrayed, Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Judas Iscariot had led there a group intent on arresting Jesus.  The apostle Peter, thinking to defend Jesus and fight on His behalf, pulled out his sword, swung it, and cut off the right ear of one of the men.  Jesus chastised Peter and the other apostles, then reached out and touched the amputee, healing the previously severed ear.

Some people upon reading this account are struck with incredulity at the idea that a man with a severed ear could have it restored by a miracle.  That’s actually not the part that catches my attention.  What amazes me is that Jesus tells His guys to put the sword away and then heals one of the guys on the team that’s going to convict, torture, and kill Him. 

Compassion like that is a lot more improbable in this world than a miracle.

I Believe

I believe that
 
…orthodox Christianity is, in effect, churchianity and is thus a departure from the faith taught in the Bible.  The solution is not to reform church but rather to abandon it and pursue Jesus Christ instead.
 
…everyone goes to heaven.  No one is excluded from the ultimate redemption of God – all human beings go to heaven, believing and unbelieving alike.
 
…we should all repent because all of us are being judged by God and will be judged by God.  Morality matters.  The Bible calls it righteousness.  Pursuing it for Jesus’ sake should be our prevailing waking thought.  It is the purpose for which we were put here.
 
…no one has to go to church.  God doesn’t sanction church; He doesn’t care about churchgoing.  Jesus came that each human being might relate directly to God, all day long, without human intermediary.
 
…Jesus Christ has already come again.  That happened late in the 1st Century A.D.  When He came, He came as God – that’s why no one physically saw Him.
 
…there is only one God.  There is no Trinity.  That concept was devised as church theologians tried to reconcile Jesus’ divinity with the fact that He had not yet returned.  Had they realized that His return was in His divine nature, they would not have had to construct such a strange concept.  They also would not have perpetuated church; instead they would have sought the kingdom of God.
 
…I believe the resurrected Jesus Christ is God of all of us, and that religious labels like Christian and Muslim, or even nonreligious labels like atheist and agnostic, have no meaning to Him.
 
Explanation of these and related ideas can be found at this page

I Invite You to Challenge Me at My Most Vulnerable Point

(This challenge is for atheists, agnostics, and anyone else who believes that Jesus Christ is not who the Bible says He is.)

If you want to attack and defeat an enemy you look for the most efficient way to do so.  If it’s a country, you go after its capital because through victory over that one city you can control the entire nation.

The central focal point of my faith is Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah of Israel, raised from the dead.  I could not have this faith were it not for the historical reliability of the New Testament.  That is, I take the New Testament documents at face value.  If it says “Matthew’s gospel” I believe it was written by Matthew.  If a letter reads as if it was written by Paul, I believe it was written by Paul.  On this basis, I read the New Testament and either accept it or reject it as a whole.

I don’t pick and choose which parts of the New Testament to trust and which to doubt because in order to do that I’d have to trust Bible scholars and they never unanimously agree.  They exist across a spectrum from liberal to conservative, and if you want to be choosy about what you believe, there is always a Bible scholar to be found who will support your view.  Reading the New Testament collection of documents as they present themselves, I find them logical and persuasive.  Having accepted the New Testament, I fully accept the Old Testament because the New Testament bears abundant witness that the Old Testament is the word of God.

To summarize the key point: in the New Testament I find a collection of testimonies from people who claim to be eyewitnesses that I can either accept or reject as a whole.  To reject parts of their testimony, I’d have to trust myself or a Bible scholar to know more about those points than the person who claims to be an eyewitness.

Let me spell out the sequence and development of my faith: 1) the New Testament documents are what they present themselves to be until proven otherwise , 2) I find their message logical and compelling, 3) accepting their message (the centrality of which is Jesus as the Messiah, raised from the dead), I believe that the Old Testament is the word of God 4) due to its similarity to the Old Testament, I conclude that the New Testament is also the word of God.

Notice that regarding the New Testament as the word of God was not the way I began, but rather the way I ended.  I only began with “Here is a set of documents from antiquity which are presented to me as historically reliable; I will read them and see what they say.”  I found nothing in my reading of these 27 documents that was self-contradictory in any material way.  On the contrary, I found their cohesion and consistency – given the variety of authors as well as the variety of circumtances which gave rise to the various documents – to be stunning and awe-inspiring.

Nonetheless, if you were able to demonstrate to me that these documents were falsified in any material way – that is, written falsely or edited falsely – you could completely undermine my faith in Jesus, which is to say undermine my faith in God, the supernatural, life after death, and on and on.  Therefore, I invite you to challenge me at my most vulnerable point.  Herein is “the capital,” by which if you capture it, you will have won the whole country.

Apparently, there are a number of people who think that the New Testament documents were either completely fabricated or else are extensive embellishments of original documents which presented a different Jesus that we read about now.  If you are one of them, here’s your chance.  I’m inviting you to attack me at the most strategic point of my faith.

I will tell you at the outset that all I have heard so far along these lines have been preposterous propositions, so you had better present some reasonable explanation of how such a falsification was pulled off.  If you can do so, you would have solved the crime of the century…no, make that millennium…no, make that millennia since it’s been almost 2,000 years since this caper was supposedly pulled off.

Until then, we’ll call the theory that the New Testament documents aren’t the work of Jesus’ honest and faithful apostles, “The Great Hoax That Never Was.”

POSTSCRIPT:  Someone (Hendy) posted below that he didn’t completely understand the challenge and wanted me to clarify or elaborate.  I’ve done that below.

For an update on the project’s status as of January 11, 2011 see below.

Miracles Considered

Some people today have trouble believing the Bible because it contains accounts of miracles.  They feel that we live in an age of science and that biblical documents, coming from a pre-scientific age, don’t have credibility.  This is an unwarranted rejection of reliable historical documents.  To help such people address their qualms about miracles, here are some points to consider.

1. Miracles were rare in Bible times.  It is not as though every page of the Bible contains a miracle.  On the contrary, miracles are comparatively rare in biblical times.  When they did occur, they sometimes came in bunches – most notably in the life of Jesus of Nazareth which is part of what made His life so noteworthy. 

2. Miracles are rare today.  Many false claims of miracles are made today – some by hucksters seeking fame or fortune, and some by sincere but misguided folks whose wishful thinking leads them to exaggerate and rationalize.  Thus, biblical times and modern times are quite similar in the sense that true miracles were and are rare, and that false claims were and are abundant.

3. God usually doesn’t perform miracles to prove Himself.  When He was raised from the dead, Jesus appeared to His disciples and not the Pharisees or the Romans.  Thus miracles are a favor to the believing, not the unbelieving.

4. God doesn’t grant miracles on demand.  Miracles come as He wills, not as we want.  Therefore, we can’t set up a science lab, have a control group, and do all the things that our science teacher would be proud of.  We have to be content with the approval of our history teacher who would have us examine the historical record and pay attention to eyewitness accounts.   

5. Miracles are different from wonders.  Wonders are present all through creation.  It’s a wonder that we are walking around on the side of a spinning sphere that is flying through space without falling off or even getting chapped lips.  This has happened for all of known history though, so we become dulled to the wonder of it.  A miracle, then, is an extraordinary wonder.  Their rarity keeps them from being wonders which get taken for granted.  If God can perform wonders every day, what’s so strange about a miracle once in a while?  

6. Miracles are seamless with creation.  Since the God of creation is the God of miracles we should not be surprised that miracles, in some ways, look like normal life.  They are seldom accompanied by great fanfare or dramatic flourish as we would see in a magic act.  They are momentary alterations from the ordinary. 

7. Miracles are not a suspension of the laws of physics.  God no more suspends the laws of physics to perform a miracle than humanity suspended the law of gravity to achieve flight.  We can only benefit from the laws of physics to the degree that we know and understand them.  God has an advantage over us in that regard, and we see that advantage exploited in the execution of a miracle.

8. Just because biblical societies weren’t scientific doesn’t mean they weren’t skeptical.  While biblical society may not have had as many science books as we do, they certainly had as much skepticism.  When the rare miracle did occur, it was disbelieved, rationalized away, or otherwise ignored just as much as it is today.  Not everyone believed then, just as not everyone believes now.

9. The miracles of Jesus were expressions of His kindness.  When Jesus fed the 5,000 He was feeding hungry people.  When he brought back to life the dead son of a grieving widow He was comforting her.  When He walked on water toward His storm-tossed disciples He was saving them.  Don’t let the splendor of His miracles divert you from seeing what His acts were at their root: love in action. 

10. The miracle of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the most important miracle, and the key to understanding all the others.  The only miracle in the Bible necessary to know about, understand, and believe is that Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day according to the Scriptures.  If you believe in Him, you can then believe in Jonah and all the other miracles…because He believed them.

“One Nation Under God”

You recognize the phrase “one nation under God” as coming from the Pledge of Allegiance.  It seems our country’s citizens can be divided into two categories: those who like these words in the Pledge of Allegiance and those who don’t.  Both groups seem to feel strongly about their position.

Those who like the phrase think that its value speaks for itself.  For them, to remove the phrase would be an insult to God and victory for godlessness.  Those who don’t like the phrase often mention that it was added to the Pledge in 1954 and that it has the government in the business of promoting religion.

Irrespective of whether those words, or even the Pledge itself, continue to be uttered, however, this is a nation that is under God.  How do I know this?  Because every nation is a nation under God.  As it says in the book of Proverbs, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin brings disgrace.”  That is, our collective national welfare is dependent on our collective moral behavior.  God is the Judge of heaven and earth and He will always do what is right.  He will bestow blessings when we do right and curses when we sin. 

The reason that our country has enjoyed the blessings that it has since its inception is that God has judged us more worthy of blessing than cursing.  Sure, we have had both – but the blessing has far outweighed the cursing.  This balance of accounts is worked out for every country.  America does not have some unique charter with God.  America has been great because she has been good.  As she stops being good, she will stop being great.  We may have the greatest founding fathers a country ever had, but we’re going to lose our country if enough of us don’t live right in our time.

My purpose in this post is to call us to repentance in the sight of God.  If we don’t stop living immorally, we will suffer the loss of many blessings that our ancestors have left to us.  Therefore, it doesn’t matter so much whether we want to say the words “one nation under God” or we don’t.  God is not interested in mere lip service.  What He cares about is how we live.  The only logical thing for us to do is repent.  (For elaboration, see Judgment Is Upon Us.)

What Was Wrong with Communism?

I don’t mean at all to suggest that there was nothing wrong with communism.  There certainly was.  I am simply asking what it was specifically that was wrong with it.

Was there anything wrong with “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”?  No.  In fact, that sounds like a lovely ideal.  Who wouldn’t want to live in a society where everyone is productive and no one goes hungry?  The problem comes with the means applied to achieve this end.  The means is always a human power structure, and it is at this fundamental point that communism would begin to break down.  There is simply no human authority that is morally pure and strong enough to achieve the end desired.  Human nature is too vulnerable to corruption.

This is why the nation of Israel (God’s Old Testament organization of religion) and the church (God’s New Testament organization of religion) were only temporary structures until the kingdom of God could be established.  Beginning with Moses in the wilderness, God used Israel for about 1,500 years.  Beginning with the day of Pentecost, God used the church for less than a hundred years.  These structures could not be permanent because humanity could not be trusted to keep its integrity.  Ancient Israel was subject to bad kings as well as good ones.  The New Testament church was subject false teachers as well as true ones.  To be permanent, God needed a government that did not depend on people.  It would need to depend only on Him.

Ever since biblical times ended (that is, the late 1st Century A.D.), the kingdom of God has been His sole vehicle for managing His relationships with mankind.  It will be this way always because this was established as a kingdom that would never end (Isaiah 9:6-7).  (To understand better precisely when and how this kingdom was established in the late 1st Century A.D. see Jesus Christ Has Already Come Again; people who are waiting for a physical return of Jesus to the earth are going to be forever disappointed.)

Having lived among us as Jesus of Nazareth, God has established a personality and name to which we can all relate.  Before Jesus, how could we have a clear sense of what God was like?  Through the life of Jesus, however, we can see that God is personal, humble, kind – and most of all He is animated by a love that is greater than any we have ever seen or imagined.  Therefore, we relate to the invisible God as Jesus.  He is not subject to corruption and is capable of governing every human being. 

His governance overlays every – and does not replace any – form of human government.  That is to say, we are always to obey whatever form of human government we are under – except in those cases where to do so would put us in disobedience of Jesus. 

Forms of human government come and go.  Our own form of government here in the United States is not perfect, though its primary virtue is the separation of powers which deters the corruption that Lord Acton rightly said power brings.  Even so, we cannot even count on this form of government.  It too will eventually pass.  The kingdom of God is the only form of government that will never pass away.

Don’t deprive yourself of what Jesus died to give you: God Wants a Loving Relationship with You (and this has nothing to do with joining a church or any form of organized religion: Seeking the Kingdom of God Instead of Church).