“How do you know that Jesus is God?”

“Because the Bible says so.”

Don’t you just hate that? Surely, you can’t blame someone for coming back with, “And why should I believe the Bible?” Excellent question.

If your beliefs are based on scripture, a built-in premise for each of your beliefs is that the scripture is true. Is that a sound premise in your case? I urge you to examine the evidence for and against the validity of the scripture that your beliefs are based on.

“Because the Bible says so” isn’t good enough unless you’ve provided a basis for its trustworthiness. I encourage you to read The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel and other books by people who have examined the evidence about the Bible. For now, here is a quick list of reasons to trust it:

  1. The Bible is a reliable collection of historical documents written by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses.
  2. It contains falsifiable claims that would have shut down the Christian movement at its start if the claims had been untrue.
  3. Although the documents were written by about 40 authors over a period of about 2,000 years, they are coherent in message.
  4. The Bible reports events that were the fulfillment of specific prophecies, and it contains prophecies that have been fulfilled in post-Bible times.
  5. Much of the Bible is confirmed by the writings of contemporaries and by archaeological findings.
  6. The Bible is by far the best attested writing from antiquity.

I understand that not everyone will find this evidence compelling. But, here’s the thing. Alongside nature, the Bible is the best evidence we have about God. If God is real, He must be the most important and relevant reality in existence; therefore, the truth about God is worth pursuing. I encourage you to dig further. There is much more to be found, and it is a most worthy pursuit.

Which of the six reasons is the most compelling to you? The least compelling? Why? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Let’s say that you have a brother named Clive, and people claim that he’s perfect. I mean, he has never done anything wrong. You would know better, right? You know for a fact that he cheated on his sixth grade history exam as well as his first girlfriend, and he is a jerk on Twitter.

Clive’s friends start talking about him being faultless, and they implore people to hang on his every word and trust him completely. You would speak up, right? You would caution people and let them know that Clive is not the infallible saint they think he is. He’s a good guy, sure — but let’s not get all culty, okay?

This was similar to the situation that James was in. People claimed that his brother Jesus was sinless. James did not believe all of the claims about Jesus — he was not on board with this “Messiah” thing — but he couldn’t dispute this claim. James knew that Jesus was, in fact, without sin. That’s why James (an unbeliever in general) never spoke up and said, “You’re wrong. At least twice, he lied to Mom about why he came home late. He beat up the neighbor, and — although he denies it — I know that he stole my butterfly collection. It took me six years to build that collection, and he never admitted it!”

Fast forward several years. Jesus had died and risen from the dead. The movement of Christ was gaining momentum. The Jewish leaders came to James for help in shutting it down. According to Hegesippus:

They came, therefore, in a body to James, and said: “We entreat thee, restrain the people: for they have gone astray in their opinions about Jesus, as if he were the Christ. … Persuade the people not to entertain erroneous opinions concerning Jesus. … Take thy stand, then, upon the summit of the temple, that from that elevated spot thou mayest be clearly seen, and thy words may be plainly audible to all the people. For, in order to attend the passover, all the tribes have congregated hither, and some of the Gentiles also.” To the scribes’ and Pharisees’ dismay, James boldly testified that “Christ himself sitteth in heaven, at the right hand of the Great Power, and shall come on the clouds of heaven”. The scribes and pharisees then said to themselves, “We have not done well in procuring this testimony to Jesus. But let us go up and throw him down, that they may be afraid, and not believe him.” Accordingly, the scribes and Pharisees … threw down the just man… [and] began to stone him: for he was not killed by the fall. And so he suffered martyrdom; and they buried him on the spot, and the pillar erected to his memory still remains, close by the temple. This man was a true witness to both Jews and Greeks that Jesus is the Christ.*

In his younger days, James did not buy into the claim that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. Something changed between that time and this moment of amazing confidence. Likely, it was the moment when James saw Jesus alive after He was dead. Understandably, that tipped the scale for many people.

In his unbelieving days, James was in a position to know whether or not Jesus was sinless. If that claim had been false, James likely would have blown the whistle. After the resurrection, James was in a position to know whether or not Jesus died and rose again. He was there. He knew the truth. If it had been false, he would have stayed an unbeliever. If it had been false, he would not have stood up and confidently declared that Jesus was the Christ. He probably would have stood up and said, “Y’all have this all wrong!”

James wasn’t a blind believer in Jesus. He wasn’t an in-the-bag follower, just because He was his brother or a nice guy. James believed only when he was presented with compelling evidence. He knew for a fact that Jesus was dead and then alive, just as He said would happen.

I don’t share James’s experience, but his experience translates into compelling evidence for me. Jesus rising from the dead and being the Christ is the explanation of the evidence that makes the most sense to me. If Jesus had been a less-than-perfect liar or lunatic, James would have known that, and he probably would have nipped that cult right in the bud. Instead, he used his last breath to pray for those who were killing him for his now-unshakable faith in his brother.

*From Book 5 of Fragments from the Acts of the Church; Concerning the Martyrdom of James, the Brother of the Lord

The image above is a depiction of souls burning in the flames of Purgatory as displayed on the facade of the Church of Ánimas (Capilla de Ánimas) in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Source/License

“The practice of praying for the dead is, I think, the fundamental origin of the doctrine of purgatory. … We often want to pray for those we love who die. It’s actually fairly hard in certain Protestant services I’ve been at … where you don’t pray for the dead. My heart wants to pray for the dead that I love. That means that I’m one of those Protestants who thinks that there might be something to the doctrine of purgatory.”

This was said by Phillip S. Cary, an American philosopher who serves as a professor at Eastern University. I heard it in a course he teaches: The History of Christian Theology.

Purgatory is said to be a place or state of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners who are atoning for their sins before going to heaven.

Let me provide the context for the first sentence in the quote by Dr. Cary: “The practice of praying for the dead is, I think, the fundamental origin of the doctrine of purgatory.” Earlier in the lecture, Dr. Cary mentioned that Augustine of Hippo, in his autobigraphical narrative, asked readers to pray for his mother, who was dead. Dr. Cary believes that the doctrine of purgatory developed from this request. The reasoning goes like this: It doesn’t make sense to pray for someone in hell, because it won’t do any good. It doesn’t make sense to pray for someone in heaven, because they don’t need it. Therefore, there must be a third place where the soul of a dead person can be, where prayers could be beneficial.

The reasons for believing

Dr. Cary teaches that the doctrine of purgatory is not from the Bible but that it was developed during the Middle Ages, likely based on a personal request made by Augustine — a theologian of the fourth and fifth centuries. The doctrine of purgatory relies on the soul being eternal (or, at least, existing after death). Dr. Cary’s course contains a lecture about the state of the soul after death, and he makes it clear that the idea of an eternal soul is from Plato, not the Bible. He contends that the Bible teaches that, after death, the soul sleeps until resurrection. (I, too, find this in my own study of the Bible.) It is relevant here to note that Augustine was greatly influenced by Plato.

Despite all of this, Dr. Cary “thinks that there might be something to the doctrine of purgatory”. Why? His own words: “My heart wants to pray for the dead that I love.”

What was the reason that the medieval mainstream church created the doctrine of purgatory? According to Dr. Cary, it seems that they wanted to provide an explanation for Augustine’s request for prayers for his dead mother.

These are self-described Christian scholars and theologians. Their reason for believing (or wanting to believe) is not “because it is what the Bible teaches” or “because it is consistent with Bible teaching”. This particular belief is not in the Bible, nor is it consistent with Bible teaching about death or salvation. That does not seem to be a concern of these scholars and theologians.

The source of authority

I understand that not everyone shares my view of sola scriptura, that the Bible is the sole source of authority for Christian faith and practice. I believe that because I believe this:

The Bible is a reliable collection of historical documents written by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses. It contains falsifiable claims that would have shut down the Christian movement at its start if the claims had been untrue. Although the documents were written by about 40 authors over a period of about 2,000 years, they are coherent in message. The Bible reports events that were the fulfillment of specific prophecies, and it contains prophecies that have been fulfilled in post-biblical times. Much of the Bible is confirmed by the writings of contemporaries and by archaeological findings. The Bible is by far the best attested writing from antiquity.

In other words, I trust the Bible as sole authority because I believe there is strong evidence that supports it as the word of God.

The basis for belief

Many doctrines of the mainstream church come, not from the Bible, but from pagan philosophy or non-biblical, non-apostolic tradition. Do you know which ones? This post isn’t really about the specific doctrine of purgatory. It’s about ideas and where they come from. It’s about our reasons for believing. The doctrine of purgatory is just one example.

It is important that we know where ideas come from, especially the ideas we embrace or reject. It matters why we believe what we believe. We would be wise to base our beliefs — not on desires or hopes or an attempted explanation of one person’s notion — but on evidence. Only then can we build a thoughtful faith that is less likely to be shaken — and more likely to be true.

Is history’s most compelling event the opening night of Private Lives?

I love words and old stuff, so I listen to a BBC radio program from the last century called My Word! Panelists are quizzed on words, literature, and the like. In one episode, the panelists were asked, If you could be present at any historical event, which one would you choose?

Dilys wished she could have witnessed the moment when Stanley found Livingstone. We know about the famous “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” Dilys was dying to know whether Livingstone replied with something such as, “Did you have a good journey?”

Dennis would be present at the opening night of Noël Coward’s Private Lives. The play has garnered popularity over the years and is still produced, and Dennis wondered whether he would recognize its greatness at its premiere.

Frank wanted to have been there when the cities of the plain were destroyed so that he could see exactly what they did in Sodom and Gomorrah that warranted fire and brimstone. That made the audience giggle.

Antonia agreed with Frank that the Bible is full of irresistible episodes, and she would have chosen to be there when the Red Sea parted and the children of Israel escaped from the pursuing Egyptian army. She would choose that event because she loves to travel and likes the idea of crossing an international border without the bother of passports, customs, and immigration checks.

Perhaps the panelists weren’t going for significance and gravity but rather for humor and levity and even quirkiness. Maybe they didn’t want to get too heavy or religious. I can understand that. If that’s what we’re going for, I’ll pick that moment in 2737 BC, when Camellia sinensis leaves blew into the water that Chinese emperor Shen Nung’s servant was boiling for him. Let there be tea!

History’s most compelling event (IMO)

If we’re being completely serious, I’ll choose the resurrection of Jesus. How amazing would that be to witness?! Granted, not everyone believes that this event happened. But, here’s something that is definitive about this event: If it happened, it is of utmost significance to us all. The veracity of the entire Bible — all that it claims — hinges on the veracity of Jesus’s resurrection. That includes the hope of eternal life and the end of suffering.

Let’s say that someone claims that a squadron of alien spaceships has just entered earth’s atmosphere. If that’s true, it is of utmost significance to us all. What is the first thing we should do? Look for evidence to determine whether it is true. Are there unusual lights in the sky? Is NASA taking it seriously? If we find evidence to support the claim, we should Google “alien invasion handbook”. If not, we should go back to our cup of tea.

This is how we should handle a claim that, if it is true, is of utmost significance to us all. There is evidence to support the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. We would be wise to follow the evidence and see where it leads. For me, it adds up to proof. I do not say this lightly, and I have been able to say it only recently.

Do you know any of the evidence? You might know more than you realize. For example, you know that millions of people believe that Jesus rose from the dead; there must be reasons why they do. You know that a movement that has circled the globe and lasted nearly 2,000 years is based on a claim that people knew for a fact was either the truth or a lie. If it had been a lie, the movement would have been squashed before it got going. The first Christians were operating on fact, not faith.

The claim of Jesus’s resurrection deserves investigation because there is evidence for it and because, if it is true, it is of utmost significance to us all. If Jesus rose from the dead, we too can be resurrected to eternal life. Our future just might depend on history.

If you could be present at any historical event, which one would you choose? It’s fun to think about, and it provides perspective. You know what’s even better? Realizing that the future holds far more. I missed out on being there for the greatest events of history, but I plan on being there for the greatest events of the future. See you there?

If you trust the Bible as a historical and holy book, what is the reason(s)? Is it any of these?

  • Because you always have.
  • Because you like what’s in it.
  • Because you have examined the evidence and found that the weight of evidence points to its trustworthiness.

If you don’t trust the Bible as a historical and holy book, what is the reason(s)? Is it any of these?

  • Because you never have.
  • Because you don’t like what’s in it.
  • Because you have examined the evidence and found that the weight of evidence points away from its trustworthiness.

If your reason is not included here, I am interested in hearing it if you’re willing to share it in a comment below. My purpose is not to persuade anyone of a particular viewpoint but to encourage people to think through their beliefs and clarify and articulate their reasons. I also appreciate understanding where people are coming from. I hope you’ll take this opportunity to think through your viewpoint on the Bible’s trustworthiness and, if you’re willing, share your reasons in a comment.