Sunday, August 25, 2019

The reliability of the New Testament (3)

In two previous articles,(first articlesecond article) I came, with ample logical arguments, to the following conclusions:
  1. The apostles and a few disciples (Luke and Mark) wrote the books of the New Testament, perhaps with one exception: the epistle to the Hebrews.
  2. The early Christians copied the epistles; the next generations of missionaries distributed them throughout the Roman world.
  3. There is convincing evidence that the text we have now have before us in the New Testament, is the same text the first generations of Christians read.
The next question is: are the apostles themselves reliable enough to be trusted? The twelve disciples (later called apostles) walked with Jesus for about three years through the Holy Land and were eyewitnesses of what he taught and of the miracles he performed.
They witnessed the betrayal by Judas Iscariot (one of them), the arrest, prosecution, conviction, and crucifixion of Jesus. After three days, Jesus rose from the dead. He appeared alive and well before his disciples. On several instants, he ate and spoke with them.
Eventually, he ascended to heaven. His disciples and a multitude of followers witnessed this phenomenon. The Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles refer to these events.

Did the apostles themselves believe these stories?

After Jesus' ascension to heaven, the apostles began to spread the gospel and started to organize the church. They met with severe opposition from the authorities. The spiritual leadership of the people even incited the people to stone one of the apostles to death. Despite the persecution, the church grew spectacularly. The new believers were all contemporaries of Jesus. They were acquainted with the events referred to by the apostles. The apostles and their converts had nothing to gain materially from the gospel. On the contrary, they had everything to lose.
Paul's shipwreck at Malta
Why should they put their lives and property in jeopardy for something they did not believe? It was not too difficult for the converts to believe the testimony of the apostles, because they witnessed the events themselves.

How did the church develop outside Jerusalem?

The persecution became worse and worse. Many believers fled from Jerusalem to the countryside. Instead of keeping their heads down, they began to spread the gospel there. One does not expect this kind of behavior from downtrodden refugees. After losing their homes and livelihoods, they still kept their faith because they knew it to be true.
The new converts in these regions must have seen the works of Jesus or certainly must have heard of them.

The apostles spread the gospel in the rest of the Roman world.

Some of the apostles went abroad to bring the message of Jesus Christ to Jews living there and to non-Jews. They established churches in many parts of the Roman empire, including Rome itself. Traveling from place to place, they sent letters to the already established churches.
Lydia, the first European convert
These letters reveal the high moral character of their authors. It is clear that they firmly believed what they wrote. Their voyages were arduous, and their preaching often met with violent opposition. Their only reward was spiritual. They gained nothing material from their work.
Why should they go through so much trouble if they knew they were lying?

What is the significance of the miracles Jesus and the apostles performed?

The miracles performed by Jesus and the apostles, recorded in the New Testament, are for unbelievers a reason to dismiss these testimonies as fairy tales. Many contemporaries of Jesus and the apostles witnessed the miracles or heard of them. These miracles convinced many of the spectators and hearers of the mission of Jesus and the apostles. The miracles were a sign of Devine's authorization. When the apostles left the Holy Land to spread the Word in the other parts of the Roman Empire, they performed miracles for the same reason as Jesus did. With these signs, they showed their hearers that they were men of God.
The apostles wrote letters to the churches they had established. They also wrote the Gospels and The Acts of the Apostles. The congregations read these scriptures and those of the Old Testament during their meetings and meditated upon them. When the apostles were no longer there, missionaries continued their work. The evidence for the veracity of their message was the written Word. There was no longer a need for miracles to convince their audience.
The credibility of the New Testament depends on the miracles. If we had only the story of Jesus as told by the apostles without the miracles, nobody in his right mind would doubt the veracity of the history.

Can you solve this paradox?

Now we arrive at this crucial paradox: the early Christians who witnessed the miracles believed the gospel, because of the convincing power of the Word and miracles. Modern readers tend to reject the gospel as fairy tales because of miracles.
One cannot dismiss the New Testament out of hand because it lacks historical evidence; it has a firm historical base.
The question is: do you believe the message it contains? It is up to you.

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