THE ETERNAL GOD ACCORDING TO THE EVIDENCE OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
THE NEW TESTAMENT, A DIVINE REVELATION OF THE GOD OF ISRAEL
MOSES and the prophets raised many expectations and hopes which, according to the Tenach, were never realized during Old Testament times. Since the God of Israel is a God of truth and righteousness He never made any promises which He cannot and will not fulfill. Furthermore, it follows from the above statement that what He has not already fulfilled He will in the future at the proper time bring to pass.
In order that the Hebrew reader may realize that the New Testament is THE WORD OF THE GOD OF ISRAEL in the same sense in which the TORAH is, hence of equal importance, it is well for him to note some indisputable facts connected with it and its teaching.
I. THE NEW TESTAMENT IS THE CONTINUATION OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
This fact is seen by a study of the contents of both. Both Testaments, as admitted by all scholars, are oriental. The Hebraic spirit breathes through all their pages; the diction, phraseology, idiomatic expressions, and concepts are likewise Hebraic.
The outstanding doctrines of both Testaments are the same. In both appears a pure monotheistic conception of God, which doctrine is peculiar to the sixty-six books (thirty-nine of the Old, twenty-seven of the New). The doctrine of the Trinity appears in both Testaments; but in the New Testament it is fully elaborated. The expectation of the Messiah raised in the Old is fulfilled, according to the New Testament, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. In both Testaments the origin and nature of man are the same. In both appears the teaching of an evil, malignant spirit known as Satan, or the Devil, who is the leader of a mighty army of fallen spirits that are opposed to God and the children of God. In both appears the doctrine of the lost condition of humanity. In both the doctrine of salvation (deliverance) is taught; in the Old Testament, however, the teaching is given in the form of types, symbols, and brief statements; whereas in the New Testament it is developed fully. By the prophets predictions were made of the restoration of the kingdom of God to the Davidic household; by the writers of the New Testament the same conception of the kingdom is set forth. In the Old Testament appear a few brief statements of the punishment of the wicked and the blessed condition of the righteous; in the New Testament these doctrines are fully developed. The mention of these doctrines will suffice to show that the New Testament is but a continuation of the Old.
The book of Genesis has been called "the seed plot of the Bible." By this statement the affirmation is made that all of the doctrines throughout the Tenach and the New Testament are to be found in the embryonic or undeveloped form in the book of Genesis. A careful study of this collection of sixty-six books by an unprejudiced truth-seeker produces the profound conviction that a unity pervades them, which fact proves beyond a doubt that the same Spirit Who spoke through the prophets likewise spoke through the writers of the New Testament.
II. THE NEW TESTAMENT FULFILLS THE OLD TESTAMENT EXPECTATION
As was seen in Book Two, Chapter VIII, Israel's Messiah was scheduled to appear before the governmental powers departed from Judah. The meaning of Genesis 49:10, where such a promise is made, is explained by Dr. McCaul in the following words: "A chief tribal governor shall not cease from Judah nor a subordinate magistrate from His posterity until He Who is Peace shall come, and to Him shall be the obedience of the nations." In commenting upon this paraphrase of Dr. McCaul's, John Wilkinson says: "In short, that whatever might become of other tribes, Judah must retain his separate existence as a tribe, and also his independent government until the coming of Shiloh to Whom the heathen should yield obedience." Since it is an historical fact that the government passed away from the tribe of Judah in the year 70 A.D. and since the Word of God cannot be broken but is fulfilled to the very letter, Messiah came before that event.
To this fact the Talmud bears witness (in Sanhedrin, fol. 97, col. 2): "Rav says, 'the appointed times are long since past'", in which quotation the word קֵץ is taken from the quotation of Daniel and means literally "end," as is seen from a study of the prophet's use of that term. Additional corroborative proof of this position is likewise found (in Sanhedrin, fol. 97. col. 1): "The tradition of the school of Elijah. The world is to stand 6000 years, 2000 confusion, 2000 the Law, 2000 the days of Messiah." Rashi, commenting upon this Talmudical passage, states: "After the 2000 years of the Law, according to the decree, Messiah ought to have come, and the wicked kingdom should have been destroyed and Israel's state of servitude should have been ended." The Talmud and Rashi both are correct in stating that the Messiah should have come at the expiration of the period of Law, though their reasons for making such statements are based upon tradition. According to the incontrovertible evidence presented in the New Testament, Jesus of Nazareth was the One of Whom the prophets spoke in the Messianic predictions and Who was to come before the collapse of the Jewish state.
As was seen in chapters IX-XVII, Messiah was scheduled to come in humility, to suffer, to make atonement for mankind, and to ascend to the right hand of the throne of God. According to the Gospel records, Jesus of Nazareth came at the proper time and fulfilled these predictions to the letter. At present He is at the right hand of the throne of God interceding for those who believe in Him, and awaits the time to come to restore Israel to fellowship with God.¹
The fact that the Virgin Birth, pure life, ministry of service to others, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of the throne of God of Jesus of Nazareth answer in the minutest details to the predictions of the coming of the Messiah, as found in the Old Testament, which predictions were made during a period of from 1500 to 500 years prior to the birth of Jesus, proves beyond a doubt that He was and is the Hebrew Messiah. The force of this statement may be illustrated as follows: Suppose that in Europe were found a white crystal stone of certain composition through the center of which a streak of colored mineral deposit runs and one of whose surfaces is rough and convex, which facts prove that it was broken off another. Again, suppose that another like stone were found in America, one of whose surfaces was also rough and concave, and through which a similar deposit runs. Upon comparison of these stones it is seen that the convex surface of the one fits most accurately, to a hair's breadth, the concave surface of the other, while the streak of mineral deposit is alike in both. These facts would point most definitely to the conclusion that these at one time formed a single stone and that after the original stone was broken, one of the pieces was carried by some agent to the other continent. This most highly probable conclusion would be lifted from the realm of an hypothesis into that of an established fact when the chemist by his accurate tests proves that they are of the same chemical analysis. Thus Christ and the New Testament correspond exactly to the minute detailed picture of the Old Testament, as, dear reader, you can learn for yourself by a careful study of the New Testament and the comparison of the same with the predictions of the Old.
III. THE EVIDENCE OF THE EMPTY TOMB
A. The Fact of the Empty Tomb
The facts concerning the empty tomb, briefly stated, are these: Jesus having been crucified, after six hours on the Cross the Spirit departed from the body. By permission of Pilate, the Roman governor, Joseph of Arimathaea took the corpse and laid it in his new tomb. A heavy stone was rolled across the doorway and the Roman seal was placed upon it, while Roman guards watched. These events occurred late on the day before the Sabbath. According to the Jewish law both Jews and the disciples of Jesus rested on the Sabbath. Early on the first day of the week certain of the disciples found that the stone had been rolled away and that the tomb was empty. In vain they looked for the lifeless body.
B. The Witnesses to the Empty Tomb
About these facts there can be no question. The one question arising is this, "What became of that lifeless body which late on the day before the Sabbath was placed in the tomb but which was not there early on the first day of the week?" Various theories have been advanced by skeptics concerning this matter. To examine these speculative theories would consume much space and unnecessary time. The only rational, scientific method of approach is to weigh the evidence of the witnesses who testified that notwithstanding the presence of the Roman soldiers and seal, the stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty. Among these principal witnesses are Matthew and John who were of the twelve original apostles, who associated personally with Jesus during His ministry, and who were associated, as they testify, with Him after the time when the tomb was found empty. Another witness whose testimony is preserved is that of John Mark, whose mother was Mary of Jerusalem (Acts 12:12) and who was a cousin of Barnabas of Cyprus, but later of Jerusalem. He was in the most intimate touch with Simon Peter, the leader of the Apostolic Band, whose interpreter, according to early tradition, he was. Another witness is Luke, the physician. This witness was a very highly educated man as is evident by his writings which compare most favorably with the Greek masters. As evidence of this fact the prologue to his record of the Gospel is admitted by the scholarship of the world to be in the same class with Thucydides. Another bit of evidence of his scholarship is seen in the accurate use of medical terms (see Hobart's: "Medical Terms in Luke"). He was a scientist of the first magnitude, who did extensive research work, gathering his information from every available source before he attempted to write his history of the life of Jesus Christ (Lk. 1:1-4).
While it is true that Luke as a real scientist gathered his data from all available sources, tracing most accurately all information, it is to be understood that he was a saved, regenerated man, enjoying the fullness of the blessings of Christ and especially the guidance and illumination of the Spirit of God as he was engaged in his scientific research work. When he wrote his account, however, of the life of our Lord and the Acts of the Apostles, he enjoyed the full and complete inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Without controversy he enjoyed the fullness of inspiration of which Paul spoke: "Which things also we speak, not in words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth; combining spiritual things with spiritual words" (I Cor. 2:13). Therefore his writings meet every test to which a scientific history may be subjected. To the reliability of these scientifically written documents is added the infallibility of the omniscience of the Holy Spirit of God. Therefore every statement of his can be accepted by the scientific man with absolute confidence.
Rationalistic critics have attempted to discredit him as a reliable historian. During the last century on several points to which he alone bore testimony they attempted to discredit his narrative. What Bryant, the poet, said was true in his case:
"Truth crushed to earth shall rise again:
The eternal years of God are hers;
But error, wounded, writhes in pain,
And dies among his worshippers."
The faithful research work of Dr. William Ramsay and others has in the last few decades brought to light historical facts which corroborate the statements of Luke which hitherto were unsupported by secular historians and which were questioned by the critics. These newly discovered facts prove that Luke was correct and now give him a standing of a reputable, trustworthy, first-rate historian. (See such works as "Was Christ Born in Bethlehem?" by Sir William Ramsay, and "Luke the Physician" by Prof. A. T. Robertson, etc.). These four witnesses have written accounts of the life of Jesus Christ in which each of them elaborates the details concerning His death, burial, and resurrection.
In addition to the twelve Apostles, Mark, and Luke, there were above 500 eye-witnesses who testified to the fact that Jesus after His death appeared to them alive. Twenty-odd years after the death of Christ, when the resurrection of the dead was called in question at Corinth, Paul, the Hebrew, met the challenge of his opponents by affirming that Christ appeared alive in His Resurrection body to above five hundred people, the greater part of whom were alive at that time to whom his opponents could go and verify his assertion. He never would have made such a statement if it were not true; for his enemies, who were very bitter, would have gone to any length in discrediting him in the eyes of the church at Corinth, had his assertion been assailable. Paul's being able to silence his opponents by challenging them to consult the then-living witnesses to whom Christ had appeared after His Resurrection, the number of which was above two hundred and fifty, proves conclusively that even his enemies were convinced of the truthfulness of his assertions concerning the Resurrection.
C. The Competency of These Witnesses
Before the written testimony of a witness to an historical fact can be accepted as true, it must be subjected to a rigid test by the "canons of historical criticism." According to these a witness must qualify clearly and unmistakably on six different points. (1) He must be a contemporary, i.e., living at the time of the event to which he bears witness. (2) He must be within reach of the occurrence. (3) He must give evidence that he is sufficiently interested in the event to give it sufficient attention. (4) Likewise, he must give sufficient evidence of mental grasp, i.e., he must be able to understand the things which he sees and hears. (5) He must give evidence of a memory which is able to reproduce that which he has seen and heard. (6) He must have established a record for unswerving veracity, i.e., he will speak the truth frankly regardless of consequences.
Witnesses qualifying on these six different points give testimony of the highest class, which cannot be questioned, and which establishes a fact as true. The cloud of witnesses referred to above unmistakably qualify on every point. That they do qualify is evident to every candid reader who will honestly and conscientiously, with an unbiased mind, read their testimony.
That the records which contain their testimony (the New Testament) are trustworthy and reliable may be seen when they are tested by "the historical canons of credibility" as formulated by Geo. Rawlinson in his Bampton lectures for 1859 on "The Historical Evidence of the Truth of Scripture Records." These witnesses were so absolutely sure of that which they believed that they were willing to lay down their lives for their faith, which many of them were compelled to do. (See any standard Church History).
D. The Convincing Proof of the Resurrection
The witnesses to the Resurrection of Christ relied upon the testimony of their (1) eyes, (2) ears, (3) sense of touch, and (4) spiritual recognition. During a period of forty days after the tomb was found empty Jesus appeared to various disciples, and once, at least, to above 500 who were gathered together. (1) When He appeared to them He permitted them to scrutinize Him in the most minute and thorough manner. The testimony of their eyes was that the One Whom they were examining was the same Individual Who had been crucified and buried. They listened to Him as He conversed with them of "things concerning the kingdom of God." On the evening of the first day of the week after the tomb had been found empty Jesus appeared to ten of the disciples and convinced them that He was the same individual. Evidently, He Who appeared in their midst was like Jesus Whom they had followed for approximately three and one-half years. He appeared to their eyes as the same individual. On this occasion Thomas was absent. When informed that Jesus had appeared he strongly expressed his doubts concerning their story, affirming that he would not believe unless he saw the print of the nails in His hands, and thrust his hand into His side which had been pierced by the soldier's spear. A week later when the ten were gathered together with Thomas, Jesus appeared; His personal appearance was the same as formerly. The proof was overwhelming and the doubts of Thomas yielded to facts and logic. Thomas was not the only one who doubted. The facts are that none of the disciples thought that He would rise from the dead; hence when He was placed in the tomb their hopes were buried with His lifeless body. But when they saw Him with their own eyes the evidence was so very overwhelming that an audience consisting of more than five hundred people ceased to doubt and was thoroughly convinced that Jesus was alive again and in their midst.
(2) Not only did they have the testimony of their eyes, but the testimony of their ears bore witness to the fact that the One Who came to them and claimed that He was Jesus raised from the dead was really Jesus. It might be conceived possible for some individual to imitate the voice of another and thus deceive a few, even of close friends, for a while, but it is entirely incredible to think that anyone could have, during a period of forty days, been such an adept at the art of imitating Jesus as to deceive above five hundred reasonable, sane people. Therefore since these five hundred people had the testimony not only of their eyes but of their ears, and since they were thoroughly convinced that Jesus had arisen from the dead and had appeared to them, there is but one logical conclusion to which one may come, namely, that it was Jesus Who appeared to them alive after His Resurrection.
"Him God raised up the third day, and gave him to be made manifest, not to all the people, but unto witnesses that were chosen before of God, even to us, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead" (Acts 10:40,41).
(3) In addition to the testimony of the eyes and of the ears the disciples had the testimony of the sense of touch for they actually took hold of His body with their hands, being thoroughly convinced by such an examination that there was no optical illusion, no hallucination on their part, and no spiritualistic appearance, but that Jesus of Nazareth actually appeared there in a body of flesh and bones. Therefore the testimony of three of the five senses through which men know facts of the external world agreed that Jesus had actually risen from the dead (Luke 24:39).
"That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled, concerning the Word of life (and the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare unto you the life, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us); that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us: yea, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ: and these things we write, that our joy may be made full" (I John. 1:1-4).
(4) Additional proof to that of the three senses noted above, which they had, was that of the sense of psychic or soul recognition. Personality, according to psychologists of standing, is a complex bundle of idiosyncrasies. There are no two personalities exactly alike. Let one imagine that there was some individual who was of the same physique as Jesus, whose voice was as nearly like his as is possible, who had scars in both hands that were caused by the driving of nails through them, and who attempted to deceive these numerous disciples who had associated with Jesus in the most intimate way for approximately three and one-half years. Such an imposter, though successful in convincing the disciples through the testimony of seeing, hearing, and touching, would have been unable to convince them on the point of psychic or soul recognition. It is admitted by all who have studied conscientiously the records of the life of Jesus that His was a unique personality. Every thought and attitude of an individual manifests itself in some outward expression. To every situation each personality experiences a certain reaction. Those who had been associated with Jesus most intimately during His ministry had, as it were, felt His very heart throb in innumerable instances. Never did a heart beat and throb as His. Therefore it would have been impossible for a deceiver to play the role of the risen Jesus for any length of time without detection.
For the sake of showing the force of the above facts, let one imagine that some imposter could have deceived all of the people on all four of the above points for a few days. It is absurd in the extreme to imagine that such a one could have concealed his identity from the multitude during a period of forty days. These well-known lines confirm this conclusion: "You can fool all of the people some of the time; and some of the people all the time, but you can't fool all the people all of the time." From all the indisputable facts, noted in this section, there can be no reasonable doubt concerning the proposition that Jesus, the Hebrew Messiah, arose from the grave and appeared alive (fulfilling the Old Testament predictions) to a large company of credible, unimpeachable witnesses, many of whom expressed their convictions and sealed the testimony of their faith with their life-blood.
E. False Views Examined
Various theories have been advanced by skeptics to account for the empty tomb and the missing body of Jesus Christ. Among these the following may be mentioned: (1) That the whole affair was a matter of theft and falsehood, i.e., that Jesus or His friends either separately or in collusion designed the Resurrection story as a means of propagating their faith. (2) The swoon theory: that Jesus never died but only lapsed into unconsciousness from which He later revived and lingered on until after Paul had seen Him. (3) The vision theory of Renan and Strauss: this theory explains the Resurrection as purely a subjective experience and not as a real objective fact. (4) A fourth theory is called by Dr. Bruce the "telegram" theory. This hypothesis denies the purely subjective element, claiming that there was an objective reality in the form of a vision which the glorified Christ gave to His disciples for comfort and consolation. (5) A fifth theory is that which denies the appearances of Jesus after His Resurrection and which affirms that such records were but strong Apostolic ways of expressing their conviction of the continued life of the crucified Jesus.
As to the first hypothesis--the body of Jesus was stolen and an explanation was concocted for the purpose of deceiving--it is so very crude and without the least evidence that it is no longer considered by reasonable men.
The second hypothesis, the swoon theory, was in favor with the old rationalists, among whom was Dr. Paulus and gained respectability on account of the influence of Schleiermacher. Dr. Bruce summarizes it as follows:
"Crucifixion, even when both feet and hands are pierced, causes little loss of blood, and kills only very slowly, by convulsions or by starvation. If then Jesus, believed to be dead, was taken down from the cross after some six hours, the supposed death may very well have been only a swoon, from which, after lying in the cool cavern covered with healing ointments and strongly-scented spices, He might readily recover. In support of the suggestion, reference is made to an account by Josephus of the recovery of one of three acquaintances of his own whom he found on the way crucified along with others, and whom he asked permission to take down from their crosses."
Should one admit the possibility of the swoon theory, an insurmountable difficulty still remains, namely, the clear, unanimous testimony of all of the evangelists that Jesus actually died. In addition to this testimony John's statement that Jesus was pierced with a spear by the Roman soldier and that blood and water came forth from the wounded side is positive proof against such an explanation. A second objection is that which is set forth by Strauss and Keim. The former states the case in the following words: [Quoted from "Apologetics," by Bruce.]
"It is impossible that a being who had stolen half-dead out of the sepulchre, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening, and indulgence, and who still at last yielded to His sufferings, could have given to the disciples the impression that He was a conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of Life, an impression which lay at the bottom of their future ministry. Such a resuscitation could only have weakened the impression which He had made upon them in life and in death; at the most, could only have given it an elegiac voice, but could by no possibility have changed their sorrow into enthusiasm, or have elevated their reverence into worship.
Therefore the swoon theory breaks down completely as an explanation of the facts.
The third hypothesis--the vision theory--is that which was advocated by Renan and Strauss and which finds adherents to the present time. It is true that Renan differed from Strauss in his reasoning. Renan's explanation of the belief in the Resurrection is as follows [Quoted from "Apologetics," by Bruce.]:
"Enthusiasm and love know no situations without escape. They, make sport of the impossible, and rather than renounce hope they do violence to reality. Many words spoken by the Master could be interpreted in the sense that He would come forth from the tomb. Such a belief was, moreover, so natural that the faith of the disciples would have sufficed to create it. The great prophets Enoch and Elias did not taste of death. That which happened to them must happen to Jesus ... Death is a thing so absurd when it strikes the man of genius or of a great heart, that people cannot believe in the possibility of such an error of nature. Heroes do not die ... That adored Master had filled the circle of which He was the centre with joy and hope--could they be content to let him rot in the tomb?"
Strauss explains the phenomena differently. According to Bruce, he reasons thus:
"The visions recorded in the Gospels were the same in nature as that with which Paul was favored. But Paul's vision was beyond question subjective and Paul was a man predisposed to have such visions. He himself tells us that ecstatic conditions were of frequent occurrence with him. His statement suggests attacks of convulsion, perhaps of epilepsy, as the physical cause of such experience, a suggestion confirmed by what he says elsewhere concerning the weakness of his body. A man with such a constitution was likely to have visions, in which were projected into space the thoughts and feelings of his mind at a crisis of great excitement, like that of his conversion, when he was struggling against rising convictions. And we can understand, in the light of his experience, how the disciples might have visions of Jesus after His death. That event was a great shock to their faith in Jesus as Messiah, and they must have felt a very strong impulse to overcome the contradiction somehow. Searching the Scriptures, they found passages which seemed to teach that it was appointed to Messiah to die, yet that death should not have power over Him. Hence, they came at last, in the light of events, so to interpret the prophecies that they could include both death and resurrection in Messiah's experience. Jesus had died; it was now to be expected that He should rise again, according to the Scriptures. They did expect and long for so welcome an event, and out of their expectation came the visions which led them to believe that their Master was risen. 'The heart thinks; the hour brings.' Not all at once, not so soon as the Gospels represent, did the visions come; for time was needed to bring about a revulsion from the depression caused by the Crucifixion to the excitement out of which the visions sprang. The disciples retired to Galilee, and there, brooding on the Scriptures and visiting familiar haunts, they gradually got into the state of mind required for seeing visions."
Against the vision theory there are many objections. The theory states that time must elapse before the visions develop, but according to the evangelists, the appearances of Christ to His disciples began within three days after His crucifixion and covered a short period of forty days. Any theory which has to alter the extant testimony is hard-pressed and unreliable. Again, at the time of the Resurrection, the disciples were in such a depressed state of mind that subjective visions of their beloved Master's return to life were impossible. According to the records all doubted when the reports concerning His Resurrection were given to them.
¹ The inquiring-mind might ask why it was that the Messiah, according to Old Testament schedule, after His rejection returned to heaven. To this question it is sufficient to reply that God never forces anyone's will. Israel refused to accept Him as her King and said: "We have no king but Caesar." Being rejected by His nation He accepted the invitation of God to sit at His right hand where He will remain until the nation in real repentance confesses her error and reaches the point when she will say: "Blessed be He that cometh in the name of the Lord."
<<<< previous next >>>>