Sunday, November 21, 2010

UNIT 1: Biblical Foundations of and core warrant for "the Faith once for all delivered to the saints"

FOCUS: Our foundation in the gospel [1 Cor 15:1 – 11], thus the historic, C1, apostolic, resurrection anchored, NT faith, in the face of typical current challenges [the tidal waves]. Nicene creed as a historic, biblically based summary thereof that will help organise our thoughts. (NB: Value and validity of the NT Scriptures as authentic, credibly accurate testimony, esp Lk-Ac and the key Pauline Epistles, fulfillment of OT prophecy esp Isa 53.)

___________________


TOPICS:

INTRODUCTION


There is good reason to believe . . . (i) the challenge of truth

There is good reason to believe . .  . (ii) the historical grounding

The foundational witness

A "spiritual" resurrection?

"According to the Scriptures . . . "

"[T]he faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people"

FOR DISCUSSION AND ASSIGNMENTS
















INTRODUCTION: The core of the foundation of the Christian Faith is the gospel. That is, the gospel of Jesus the Christ, as is aptly summed up in John 3, especially vv. 12 - 21:
Jn 3:12If I have told you of things that happen right here on the earth and yet none of you believes Me, how can you believe (trust Me, adhere to Me, rely on Me) if I tell you of heavenly things?
    13And yet no one has ever gone up to heaven, but there is One Who has come down from heaven--the Son of Man [Himself], [b]Who is (dwells, has His home) in heaven.  14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert [on a pole], so must [so it is necessary that] the Son of Man be lifted up [on the cross],(B 15In order that everyone who believes in Him [who cleaves to Him, trusts Him, and relies on Him] may [c]not perish, but have eternal life and [actually] live forever!
    16For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten ([d]unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life.
    17For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge (to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on) the world, but that the world might find salvation and be made safe and sound through Him.
    18He who believes in Him [who clings to, trusts in, relies on Him] is not judged [he who trusts in Him never comes up for judgment; for him there is no rejection, no condemnation--he incurs no damnation]; but he who does not believe (cleave to, rely on, trust in Him) is judged already [he has already been convicted and has already received his sentence] because he has not believed in and trusted in the name of the only begotten Son of God. [He is condemned for refusing to let his trust rest in Christ's name.]
    19The [basis of the] judgment (indictment, the test by which men are judged, the ground for the sentence) lies in this: the Light has come into the world, and people have loved the darkness rather than and more than the Light, for their works (deeds) were evil.(C) 20For every wrongdoer hates (loathes, detests) the Light, and will not come out into the Light but shrinks from it, lest his works (his deeds, his activities, his conduct) be exposed and reproved.
    21But he who practices truth [who does what is right] comes out into the Light; so that his works may be plainly shown to be what they are--wrought with God [divinely prompted, done with God's help, in dependence upon Him]. [AMP]
John 17:3 aptly defines that eternal life:
  Jn 17:3And this is eternal life: [it means] to know (to perceive, recognize, become acquainted with, and understand) You, the only true and real God, and [likewise] to know Him, Jesus [as the] Christ (the Anointed One, the Messiah), Whom You have sent. [AMP]
Rom 4:4 - 5 and Heb 11: and 6 clarify, likewise, what it means to have saving faith:
Rom 4:4Now to a laborer, his wages are not counted as a favor or a gift, but as an obligation (something owed to him). 5But to one who, not working [by the Law], trusts (believes fully) in Him Who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited to him as righteousness (the standing acceptable to God). [AMP]

Heb 11:1NOW FAITH is the assurance (the confirmation, [a]the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses] . . . . 6But without faith it is impossible to please and be satisfactory to Him. For whoever would come near to God must [necessarily] believe that God exists and that He is the rewarder of those who earnestly and diligently seek Him [out]. [AMP]
Today, however, many are losing confidence in this foundation.

Such are being led to incorrectly see the gospel as backward bondage to discredited and destructive "right-wing nuts," who are following a long since outdated "morally monstrous" "Bronze Age war god" from 3,000 years ago, and who are perceived and dismissed as dangerous, potentially terroristic or tyrannical anti-freedom, anti-progress "theocratic, fundamentalist religious extremists" or the like. Under false flags of "liberation," "choice" and "progress," ever so many are instead being misled to be poisoned and hardened in heart against, reject and walk away from the gospel of truth, right and genuine liberty under the true God our Creator and loving redeemer. 

So bad is this, that many are being cleverly manipulated and warped in heart and mind so that they come to reject and dismiss the very concept of truth and our duties of care and wisdom to seek and live by its light. 

For such, there is little or nothing more to truth than perception or strongly held opinion: my truth

(Just so, we will shortly have to start our work in this course from -- literally -- the battle for truth. And, for the sufficient know-ability of truth to have the candle-light we need to see our way forward, step by step.)

CrossExamined.org aptly sums up some of the reason and context for that, by reference to North America. (Where, what is happening to our neighbour to our North, of course is highly relevant to us in the Caribbean; given that, proverbially, if the Americans sneeze, we all too soon come down with flu, usually with pneumonia as complication.) Clipping:
We have a problem in America
  • 70-75% of Christian youth leave the church after high school (see survey data at Barna and USA Today).
  • Intellectual skepticism is one of the major reasons they walk away.
  • Most Christian students are not equipped to resist rabidly anti-Christian college professors who are intent on converting their students to atheism.
  • College professors are five times more likely to identify themselves as atheists than the general public.[--> i.e. about 75%; yes, three out of four professors in the USA are explicitly atheistical]
  • More than half of all college professors view evangelical Christian students unfavorably (see article
    at Free Republic).
  • The “new atheists” — Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens — are writing books and are growing in popularity.
The reason for this exodus is that Christian youth in America are not being taught to cross examine the skeptical and atheistic views they encounter when they leave home.
Sobering. 

We are in a civilisation-wide desperate battle for hearts, minds, views, values and souls. But, it seems that too often we who lead, teach and shape opinions and values in the church and community here in the Caribbean are not paying adequate attention to it, or don't really  understand it, or don't take it seriously enough and/or lack capacity to respond effectively. 

That is a serious failure, given this sobering warning from the Apostle James of Jerusalem, our Lord's brother:
James 3: 1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we will be judged more strictly . . .  4 Look at ships too: Though they are so large and driven by harsh winds, they are steered by a tiny rudder wherever the pilot’s inclination directs. 

5 So too the tongue is a small part of the body, yet it has great pretensions. Think how small a flame sets a huge forest ablaze. 

6 And the tongue is a fire! The tongue represents the world of wrongdoing among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the entire body and sets fire to the course of human existence – and is set on fire by hell. [NET]
Now, we usually interpret and apply this in the context of unkind criticism, gossip, rumour- mongering, stirring up of hate, and spreading of bigotry, etc. 

That is indeed a legitimate and unfortunately highly needed application, but vv.1 & 4 plainly set the primary context: the power of teaching -- and thus of those who teach formally or informally, to guide for good or ill. The steering word guides the whole ship of the church and -- given how false teaching can easily spread like a wildfire and create great havoc (just like malicious gossip)  it is the duty of the helmsman to guide the people of God aright.

Just so, there is a plain duty of diligent care to the truth, to the right and to fairness, that demands that we who rise up to teach or to lead at whatever level, be sound morally and that we be sound in our knowledge base (as well as our skills as instructors!).

Otherwise, we risk falling under the weight of these terrible words of warning from Jesus:
Jn 8: 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 

44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 

45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. [ESV]
Where also -- as we saw in outline already -- one of the heaviest rhetorical machine guns we must face, is that we must reckon with those who would spread and deeply implant the deliberately polarising notion that Bible-believing Christian Faith worships at the feet of a "Bronze Age tribal war god and moral monster," leading "fundamentalist" Christians to be dangerous, potentially fanatical and violent enemies of "freedom," "choice" and "progress." 

Such will typically spend much time on one-sided litanies of the real and imagined sins of Christendom and on equally one sided remarks on troubling or difficult texts, aiming to poison and close minds and hearts to the gospel, thence to stir up hostility verging on hate , and finally to demonise Christians and Bible-believing, God-honouring Christian Faith as a menace to the good order of society. This has reached the outrageous point where some of the leading advocates of New Atheism -- cf. here for a survey, and here, here, and here for various critiques -- actually try to portray bringing children up in a God-fearing home, praying with and reading scriptures to them, carrying them to Sunday school or church etc as: "child abuse." (To begin to see the holes in the views being advanced, ask yourself: what is the good, how do we come to confidently and soundly know it from childhood on, what consequently is a good order for society, and who should lead it, why?)

Now, this spreading of bigotry and prejudice against Christians is not only slanderous but so potentially harmful, that a later unit in this course will address it in more detail. For the moment though, to restore a measure of balance, let us simply cite Paul as he sums up Moses and Jesus on the core of the Judaeo-Christian moral framework and how this speaks to civil society:
Rom 13: 8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. [ESV. Cf. here in context, here on and here on.]
That is as plan as it gets: s/he who loves will do no harm or wrong to neighbour. 

Let's pause and go back further, to c. 1446 BC, to hear that allegedly "morally monstrous Bronze Age tribal war god" speak for himself, through Moses in the Law:
Lev 19: 15 “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.
16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life  of your neighbor: I am the LORD. 17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him

18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.  [ESV]
 This is of course the classic text both Jesus and Paul were pointing to in stating their various forms of the Golden Rule. And remember, in reply to the challenging question, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?," Jesus said this: 
Mt 22: 37 . . .  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” [ESV]
  Not quite the moral monster strawman so often set up and set alight with incendiary New Atheist rhetoric!

Now, too, as the Mosaic text so strongly implies, plainly we all struggle with being finite, fallible morally fallen/ struggling and too often ill-willed. So also, Lord Acton was plainly right to say that power tends to corrupt, unlimited and unaccountable power corrupts without limit and that by and large the great tend to be corrupt. These are common challenges across all history, traditions and cultures. 

If we are honest and fair, we will therefore admit that all of us, all societies, all institutions, all cultures therefore face the struggle of virtue and the challenge to reform evils backed by power and willful deceit. 

Consequently, it is patently unfair to single out and demonise the Christian Faith as though -- in the teeth of core teachings like the just above -- it is the seed of all wrong across the history of our civilisation. And, it is even more unfair to slanderously conceal such central moral teachings and to rhetorically pretend that the Christian Faith, the Bible and Christians walking by that light have not consistently been at the forefront of a great many important and liberating reforms over these past 2,000 years. For just one instance, let us hear John Locke in his Second Treatise on Civil Government, Ch 2 Sect. 5 as he founds the core principles of modern democracy by citing "the judicious [Anglican Canon Richard] Hooker," from that worthy's Ecclesiastical Polity, 1594:
. . . if I cannot but wish to receive good, even as much at every man's hands, as any man can wish unto his own soul, how should I look to have any part of my desire herein satisfied, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire which is undoubtedly in other men . . . my desire, therefore, to be loved of my equals in Nature, as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to themward fully the like affection. From which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn for direction of life no man is ignorant . . . [Eccl. Polity, preface, Bk I, "ch." 8, p.80, cf. here. Emphasis added. Hooker immediately goes on to say, citing Aristotle in The Nicomachean Ethics, Bk 8: "as namely, That because we would take no harm, we must therefore do none; That since we would not be in any thing extremely dealt with, we must ourselves avoid all extremity in our dealings; That from all violence and wrong we are utterly to abstain, with such-like . . ."]
In short, we see here the roots of the ringing declaration that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights, which it is the duty of us all to respect and which it is the task of Government to guard through justice and accountability. 

But -- and I say this to the shame of many of the so-called New Atheists and others of like ilk -- the poisonous smearing we have had to pause just now to correct, is increasingly a part of the climate of opinions and patterns of rhetoric that we face.

Even more unfortunately, even in the teeth of such a perilous time, we in the church have too often neglected our duty to equip the people of God to advance in the face of a day of many winds and waves of doctrine driven by the cunning craftiness of deceitful schemers and those who may indeed be sincere but who are demonstrably unsound and so are sincerely wrong and just as destructively in error. 

Let us therefore notice the Apostle Paul's counsel, even as we set out on this study of the core Christian Faith:
 Eph 4:10 [Jesus Christ], the very one who descended, is also the one who ascended above all the heavens, in order to fill all things. 

11 It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God – a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature. 

14 So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes. 15 But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. 16 From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love. 

 17 So I say this, and insist in the Lord, that you no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 


18 They are darkened in their understanding, being alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts. 19 Because they are callous, they have given themselves over to indecency for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness

20 But you did not learn about Christ like this, 21 if indeed you heard about him and were taught in him, just as the truth is in Jesus. 

22 You were taught with reference to your former way of life to lay aside the old man who is being corrupted in accordance with deceitful desires, 23 to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and to put on the new man who has been created in God’s image – in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth. [NET]
 Sadly, we have too often neglected this plain duty.

We are therefore sending ever so many bright but spiritually, philosophically and theologically ill-equipped and often naive young people into the College campus, on the notion that this level of education will equip them for high-paying careers. But, we don't seem to fully realise that nowadays the campus is too often an ideological minefield covered by the heavy machine guns and artillery of atheistical rhetoric and radical skepticism disguised as "science," "knowledge," "criticism" and "progress." 

Now also, bit by bit -- or sometimes full-scale, this has been increasingly pushed into education in lower level schools; after all, Science sez. And, since this radicalisation has been going on for some time, the same pattern is spreading wider and wider across our communities, as can be seen by turning on Cable TV, looking in a news rack, or going on the Internet. Science sez. Increasingly, this is cropping up on middle class verandahs, on the street corner, at the domino game table by the rum shop, etc. For, Science sez. That is the new, hostile and spiritually hazardous environment of our civilisation.

But, clearly, by and large we have not  adequately prepared our young people to advance in the teeth of heavy rhetorical fire by using the equivalent of covering fire, accompanying armour and air support, to first knock out the sources of the opposing fire and clear the minefields, so they can make progress to their real goals, and to fulfillment of their calling to live and serve under God.  (Never mind, taking the lead in positive, peaceful, godly community transformation and reformation through prophetic intellectual, moral and cultural leadership.)

No wonder we are suffering casualty rates similar to those of the "young lions misled by donkeys" of the first world war.

Frankly, this is silly and predictably futile: sending the ill-prepared, ill-equipped and under-trained to take on entrenched and fortified zones of hostile fire:
killing grounds. Surely, we can do a lot better than that.

Worse,  we have long since been specifically counselled:
 ". . . in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame." [1 Pet 3:15 - 16]
 And, if you tend to think of "spiritual warfare" in overly spooky terms, or if you think the worldview/spiritual warfare metaphor is a bit "over the top" -- BTW, a saying from the days of soldiers under orders from generals sitting in comfortable headquarters far to the rear climbing over the tops of their trenches to charge futilely and at horrific cost into massed machine-gun fire -- the Apostle Paul has this to say:
2 Cor 10:For though we walk (live) in the flesh, we are not carrying on our warfare according to the flesh and using mere human weapons.

For the weapons of our warfare are not physical [weapons of flesh and blood], but they are mighty before God for the overthrow and destruction of strongholds,[Inasmuch as we] refute arguments and theories and reasonings and every proud and lofty thing that sets itself up against the [true] knowledge of God; and we lead every thought and purpose away captive into the obedience of Christ  . . . [AMP, cf. Col 2:3 "In [Christ] all the treasures of [divine] wisdom ([d]comprehensive insight into the ways and purposes of God) and [all the riches of spiritual] knowledge and enlightenment are stored up and lie hidden." (AMP)]
 Looks like worldview-level weapons that expose and refute willfully deceptive and/or inadvertently misleading arguments, shattering the foundations, defences and destructive rhetorical weapons of intellectual strongholds against the knowledge of God and that open the way to restructure knowledge in light of Christ, are just what the doctor ordered. All, of course, done in a civil but sound fashion. As Paul adds, on Christian ethics of communication, persuasion and education:
2 Cor 4:We have renounced disgraceful ways (secret thoughts, feelings, desires and underhandedness, the methods and arts that men hide through shame); we refuse to deal craftily (to practice trickery and cunning) or to adulterate or handle dishonestly the Word of God, but we state the truth openly (clearly and candidly). And so we commend ourselves in the sight and presence of God to every man’s conscience. [AMP]

A tall order, but one that has been met many times in many places by great Christian thinkers providing God-led, soundly prophetic well grounded intellectual and cultural leadership and reformation. This is a challenge and call which we have to now meet in our region.

In other words, we need local resource people and reference bases that provide instant, heavy , concentrated covering fire "on call" as well as to plan. We need fast-moving, well-protected "all terrain" heavy-hitter teams that can go to key points and have the power to lead breakthroughs by shattering local strongholds, silencing their rhetorical weapons. We need to draw on web based, broadcast media, multimedia and flying global resources. In addition, we need to be trained to handle basic challenges, as individuals and mutually supportive squads or cells on the ground, with the ability to call in heavy support quickly.  

As individuals, small-/cell- group, ministry team and wider leaders at home or in missionary service, seeking to fill all things with Christ's grace and fulness, we should -- must -- be theologically well grounded in our faith. That means we must understand it and its warrant as credibly true well enough that when we are questioned or challenged based on typical patterns of thought, we are not shaken. Instead we should be able to use it as an opportunity to explain why we believe and live as we do, and thus, why we are so confident in the gospel and the power of God to save us through the gospel. Then, we can counter-challenge the world-systems, cultural agendas and underlying philosophical strongholds that have hitherto blocked people from seeing the gospel as credible, listening to it seriously and following its call to transformation of life and community. 

Once that is done by breaking through at key strongholds and knocking out their heavy rhetorical weapons, we can then successfully present the same gospel as the life- and- community- transforming answer to the unmet individual, family and community/cultural needs of those who have been caught up in the skeptical systems, but are now free enough of its domination to actually hear the gospel as a message of hope. Jesus' parallel language was that of binding the strong man and seizing his armour so we can set his captives free.

To do such, we need to study, understand and confidently live out our gospel-based theology, experiencing its transforming power under God.  

There is a song that captures this better than I can put it in mere words, a song I have loved ever since Agape and the choir at my home church used to sing it in the late 1970's,
He's Everything to Me:




That's the bottom-line: "He is everything to me."

Just so, knowing, trusting, hearing, believing, receiving, being transformed by and living in the redemptive power of the Living God who is the power behind the gospel, in the end, is the reason for this course, and it is why we need to take it very seriously indeed. 

And, it is why we should first ground ourselves solidly, for:


There is good reason to believe . . . (i) the challenge of truth

Let's pause for a moment, for a pointed question or two: 
I: why are we placing our spiritually and theologically under-prepared young people into the hands of violently hostile, clever skeptics who too often are ever so willing to indoctrinate them in the precepts of unbelief, in the name of education, science, career preparation and liberation from the dark ages of "fundamentalism"?
II: what can -- and, should -- we do about it, how?
One answer is that if we are serious about the Faith, we must make the sacrifice to create a sound education alternative, understanding that the intellectual climate of our civilisation is increasingly anti-Christian because it has deliberately and erroneously turned away from the centrality of truth

Truth, understood as that which says of what is, that it is; and of what is not, that it is not. Accurate conformity of assertion or denial to reality, in short. [Cf. Metaphysics, 1011b. Yes, we are paraphrasing Aristotle -- he got it right, 2300 years ago.]

Where, the ultimate reality is Him who is The Truth himself.

As Paul, taken before the Areopagus in Athens by the learned -- but, by and large complacent -- Stoic and Epicurean philosophers who dominated that Council, c. 50 AD, put it:

Ac 17: 22 . . . “Men of Athens, I see that you are very religious in all respects. 

23 For as I went around and observed closely your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: To an unknown god.’ Therefore what you worship without knowing it, this I proclaim to you. 

24 The God who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives life and breath and everything to everyone.
26 From one man he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times . . .
[Gk: kairous, plural of kairos -- καιρός - Phonetic: kahee-ros' - 1.  due measure 2.  a measure of time, a larger or smaller portion of time, hence: a.  a fixed and definite time, the time when things are brought to crisis, the decisive epoch waited for  b.  opportune or seasonable time  c.  the right time d.  a limited period of time  e.  to what time brings, the state of the times, the things and events of time. (Thayer's Lexicon.)]
. . . and the fixed limits of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 For in him we live and move about and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ 

29 So since we are God’s offspring, we should not think the deity is like gold or silver or stone, an image made by human skill and imagination. 

30 Therefore, although God has overlooked such times of ignorance, he now commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to everyone by raising him from the dead.” [NET]
This, then, is the pivotal challenge of the Gospel: to liberate us from the deceptive, suicidally destructive subtle bondage of sin by calling people to turn from willful ignorance and sinful waywardness to serve him who is the Truth himself; in light of not only the signs of creation and conscience without and within, but even moreso the key sign of the resurrection of the Christ from the dead (with 500 witnesses).

Perhaps, you doubt or dispute that deliberate undermining of the credibility of Scripture-anchored confidence in Him who is "the way, the truth and the life" has been going on for generations. So, I invite you to consider the following diagram of the model of "Intellectual Development" in College pioneered by William G Perry c. 1970. This summary diagram by Wankat and Oreovicz is rooted in Perry's research at Harvard from the 1950's on: 


A summary of the Perry model of college-age intellectual (and ethical) "development."  God is of course the ultimate Father/Authority figure, and the scriptures and those who speak on its authority are also primary -- although equally implicit --  targets. Similarly, traditional views and morality reflective of the now fading Christian consensus of our civilisation (once known as Christendom), are also in the cross-hairs. (Source: Wankat & Oreovicz, Teaching Engineering, Fig 14-1, p. 270. Fair use.)
This view (with a few modifications for differences in the way women make similar "progress" and the like . . . ) seems to have captured the commanding heights of thought in educational circles. [Cf summaries here and here, as well as a slide show here -- on how College students should and do "grow" intellectually and ethically.]

Perry and many others clearly view dependence on traditional "authorities" and associated black/white "dualistic" thought that accepts absolute (or, more relevantly, objective) truth as dangerously immature and as needing to be "corrected" across the college years. (NB: Cf discussions of Plato here and here on this longstanding issue. Also, this more direct note.) Such, especially through the teaching of professors, through peer influences of fellow students and through the resulting general climate of the college.

As one "progresses" (some are dismissed as seeking to "escape" the progressive process), one first loses confidence in authorities as having answers. Then  -- under the impact of "multiple" views and areas where no-one seems to have answers -- one becomes relativistic, reducing truth to in effect the core beliefs or claims or views of diverse groups. 

Eventually, those who mature enough come to "choose" and hold a committed view in the face of the "reality" of relativism. Where "freedom" and "progress" are redefined in that light as a right to choose and act as I please, based on whatever now seems best to me. (And, how dare you object to "my truths" and "my right to my choices" on long since "outdated" bronze age oppressive sky god assertions and rules!)

Locke, in the introduction to his
Essay on Human Understanding, section 5 (c. 1690), has some choice words in anticipation of and correction to such:
Men have reason to be well satisfied with what God hath thought fit for them, since he hath given them (as St. Peter says [NB: i.e. 2 Pet 1:2 - 4]) pana pros zoen kaieusebeian, whatsoever is necessary for the conveniences of life and information of virtue; and has put within the reach of their discovery, the comfortable provision for this life, and the way that leads to a better. How short soever their knowledge may come of an universal or perfect comprehension of whatsoever is, it yet secures their great concernments [Prov 1: 1 - 7], that they have light enough to lead them to the knowledge of their Maker, and the sight of their own duties [cf Rom 1 - 2 & 13, Ac 17, Jn 3:19 - 21, Eph 4:17 - 24, Isaiah 5:18 & 20 - 21, Jer. 2:13Titus 2:11 - 14 etc, etc]. Men may find matter sufficient to busy their heads, and employ their hands with variety, delight, and satisfaction, if they will not boldly quarrel with their own constitution, and throw away the blessings their hands are filled with, because they are not big enough to grasp everything . . . It will be no excuse to an idle and untoward servant [Matt 24:42 - 51], who would not attend his business by candle light, to plead that he had not broad sunshine. The Candle that is set up in us [Prov 20:27] shines bright enough for all our purposes . . . If we will disbelieve everything, because we cannot certainly know all things, we shall do muchwhat as wisely as he who would not use his legs, but sit still and perish, because he had no wings to fly. [Text references added to document the biblical sources of Locke's allusions and citations.]
Yes, our knowledge is limited, and we are prone to error. That does not mean that the truth and the right are not sufficiently accessible, reasonable and indeed knowable that we have a duty of care to seek and serve such.  

Consequently, we will find Simon Greenleaf's remarks on evidence and warrant in the court of law as he opens his main discussion in Vol. I of his classic A Treatise on Evidence, helpful:
Evidence, in legal acceptation, includes all the means by which any alleged matter of fact, the truth of which is submitted to investigation, is established or disproved . . . None but mathematical truth is susceptible of that high degree of evidence, called demonstration, which excludes all possibility of error [--> Greenleaf wrote almost 100 years before Godel], and which, therefore, may reasonably be required in support of every mathematical deduction. 
Matters of fact are proved by moral evidence alone; by which is meant, not only that kind of evidence which is employed on subjects connected with moral conduct, but all the evidence which is not obtained either from intuition, or from demonstration. In the ordinary affairs of life, we do not require demonstrative evidence, because it is not consistent with the nature of the subject, and to insist upon it would be unreasonable and absurd. 
The most that can be affirmed of such things, is, that there is no reasonable doubt concerning them. 
The true question, therefore, in trials of fact, is not whether it is possible that the testimony may be false, but, whether there is sufficient probability of its truth; that is, whether the facts are shown by competent and satisfactory evidence. Things established by competent and satisfactory evidence are said to be proved.
By competent evidence, is meant that which the very-nature of the thing to be proved requires, as the fit and appropriate proof in the particular case, such as the production of a writing, where its contents are the subject of inquiry. By satisfactory evidence, which is sometimes called sufficient evidence, is intended that amount of proof, which ordinarily satisfies an unprejudiced mind, beyond reasonable doubt.
The circumstances which will amount to this degree of proof can never be previously defined; the only legal test of which they are susceptible, is their sufficiency to satisfy the mind and conscience of a common man; and so to convince him, that he would venture to act upon that conviction, in matters of the highest concern and importance to his own interest. [A Treatise on Evidence, Vol I, 11th edn. (Boston: Little, Brown, 1888) ch 1., sections 1 and 2. Shorter paragraphs added. (NB: Greenleaf was a founder of the modern Harvard Law School and is regarded as a founding father of the modern Anglophone school of thought on evidence, in large part on the strength of this classic work.)]
 When it comes to Christian evidences, Greenleaf then went on to speak rather directly about an error made by all too many skeptics, in his The Testimony of the Evangelists:
 [26] . . . It should be observed that the subject of inquiry [i.e. evidence relating to the credibility of the New Testament accounts] is a matter of fact, and not of abstract mathematical proof. The latter alone is susceptible of that high degree of proof, usually termed demonstration, which excludes the possibility of error . . . The error of the skeptic consists in pretending or supposing that there is a difference in the nature of things to be proved; and in demanding demonstrative evidence concerning things which are not susceptible of any other than moral evidence alone, and of which the utmost that can be said is, that there is no reasonable doubt about their truth . . . . 

If, therefore, the subject [were] a problem in mathematics, its truth [would] be shown by the certainty of demonstrative evidence. But if it is a question of fact in human affairs, nothing more than moral evidence can be required, for this is the best evidence which, from the nature of the case, is attainable. Now as the facts, stated in Scripture History, are not of the former kind, but are cognizable by the senses, they may be said to be proved when they are established by that kind and degree of evidence which, as we have just observed, would, in the affairs of human life, satisfy the mind and conscience of a common man. [Testimony, Sections 26, 27, emphases added.]
The result of this blunder, is to impose an inconsistency in standards of warrant demanded before accepting something as reasonably known. That is, one is tempted to impose an unduly high burden of warrant for things one is inclined not to accept, compared with substantially similar cases, that one is inclined to accept. Such selective hyperskepticism -- a descriptive term we may use for want of a better one -- is often expressed in a popular saying of Carl Sagan, reflecting W K Clifford's evidentialism:
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary [ADEQUATE] evidence
The strike and replace shows the basic error involved:  dismissing adequate evidence. But, sadly, that is exactly what is involved in Paul's warning as to how in the latter days perilous times would come, in which men would flock to those would-be teachers who would tickle their itching ears with what they want to hear (in stead of the sound things they need to hear and heed). This is also part of the sting in Jesus' rebuke to some of his hearers that because he spoke the truth, they were unable and/or unwilling to understand and heed his counsels.  

In short, down that road lies a heart-hardened endarkenment of mind and dulling of conscience that can keep one from responding appropriately to the adequately warranted truth.  A grim warning.
 
A second warning needs to be put on the table as well. For, there is a strong tendency of those influenced by the sort of radical relativism Perry et al advocate, to confuse liberty with its abuse, license -- and thus, to erroneously imagine that reasonable principles of responsible conduct towards God and man are an oppressive authoritarian imposition. So, we would do well to ponder the classic definition of liberty as is summarised in the 1828 original Webster's Dictionary, which is all too tellingly relevant:
LIBERTY: 1. Freedom from restraint, in a general sense, and applicable to the body, or to the will or mind. The body is at liberty, when not confined; the will or mind is at liberty, when not checked or controlled. A man enjoys liberty, when no physical force operates to restrain his actions or volitions.
2. Natural liberty, consists in the power of acting as one thinks fit, without any restraint or control, except from the laws of nature. It is a state of exemption from the control of others, and from positive laws and the institutions of social life. This liberty is abridged by the establishment of government.
3. Civil liberty, is the liberty of men in a state of society, or natural liberty, so far only abridged and restrained, as is necessary and expedient for the safety and interest of the society, state or nation. A restraint of natural liberty, not necessary or expedient for the public, is tyranny or oppression. Civil liberty is an exemption from the arbitrary will of others, which exemption is secured by established laws, which restrain every man from injuring or controlling another. Hence the restraints of law are essential to civil liberty . . .
4. Political liberty, is sometimes used as synonymous with civil liberty. But it more properly designates the liberty of a nation, the freedom of a nation or state from all unjust abridgment of its rights and independence by another nation. Hence we often speak of the political liberties of Europe, or the nations of Europe.
5. Religious liberty, is the free right of adopting and enjoying opinions on religious subjects, and of worshiping the Supreme Being according to the dictates of conscience, without external control.
6. Liberty, in metaphysics, as opposed to necessity, is the power of an agent to do or forbear any particular action, according to the determination or thought of the mind, by which either is preferred to the other.

In short, genuine liberty, credibly, does not mean unlimited freedom of action as one pleases or chooses, but is restrained by due understanding of and respect for one's neighbour, undergirded by just law. 

Thus the demand to act as one pleases with disregard for consequences to oneself, others and the community is not proper liberty but abusive and self-destructive license. A distinction, we have too often forgotten and which too many of those teachers who stand up to tickle and flatter itching ears with what we want to hear as opposed to what we need to hear, fail to remind us of. 

Hence, the force of Paul's parting counsel to Timothy:
2 Tim 4: 1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound1  teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. [ESV]
Sadly, an altogether apt description of our age.

Where also, all of these dangerous trends are going on in a context where College students and graduates are being prepared by their instructors, supervisors and mentors for positions of trust, influence and leadership.

Some will become tomorrow's professors. Others, teachers at different levels in school systems. Some will be journalists, informing and influencing the general public through news and views media materials. Others are going to be professionals shaped by the ethics they have absorbed. Others are going to man our pulpits. Many will be civil servants, not only carrying out but subtly shaping government policy. Some will become local, regional and national intellectual, cultural or political leaders or voices.

Where, it is also proverbial that the ideas of today's College Seminar Room or Lecture Hall, can easily become the driving force of national policy and social or cultural trends in as few as fifteen to twenty years. For, the college years and the first years thereafter are often the last time that people are truly flexible and open to change.

So, we have to take the radical relativistic, ideological and atheistical agendas that too often dominate the College campus and other key institutions of influence seriously indeed.

Moreover, it should be obvious -- yes, it is quite plain -- that the Perry-type "intellectual progress" to relativism view (ironically) is actually a new politically correct absolute view.

Specifically, even while claiming to be a neutral, objective survey of what is happening with students, it ends up establishing a new de facto authority. Namely the "progressive" "consensus" of the guild of secular scholars -- especially, as embedded in the thought of College professors and those they educate.

Such -- having been influenced in their own studies -- often seek to radically undermine and relativise the concept and value of objective truth

So, gradually and cumulatively, our civilisation is beginning to lose sight of what objective truth is -- that which, per good and reliable warrant or grounds, credibly accurately conforms to reality. We have begun to forget that such is pivotal to good thinking, and that we dare not reduce truth to rhetorical and political power games. Similarly, we must not forget that live under a duty of care (i.e. to neglect this is to act irresponsibly . . . ) to seek and serve the truth and its companion ideal, the right, the just and the fair.

But objectivity about truth, morality, rights and duties, fairness and justice is exactly what is being undermined.

For, today's post-/ultra- modernism (and this too often includes academic theology) asserts, assumes or argues that "truth [is] relative."

To spot the key fallacy, let us note the implied commitment, that this claim correctly describes how the world actually is.

Plainly, the claim is not intended to be just a mere report per opinion surveys that show that some people happen to think this is how the world is. That is, it insistently claims to be how the world actually is, on good warrant. But the very truth being dismissed by such radical relativism is the credible reality and binding nature of such objective truth!

Oops.

Radical relativism is thus self referentially incoherent and refutes itself.

It is necessarily and irretrievably false.

(Of course, that is a lot harder to see clearly when such a view is presented or subtly disguised under the bland declaration that "[properly maturing] students come to see truth as relative." Or, the like.)

To see how subtly and snidely persuasive this error can be in real life settings, let us look at a snippet usually attributed to the C20 Maryland, USA satirist, journalist and "freethinker" (that is, atheist or near-atheist) H. L. Mencken:
Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant. [Minority Report : H.L. Mencken's Notebooks (1956), p. 418, cf. also, this revealing snippet from p. 1: "We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart."]
Sounds like sweet reasonableness, doesn't it?

Let's look a little closer at the opening words:
Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong . . .
Mencken is of course speaking specifically and dismissively of moral certainty leading to convicted action on moral matters.

But, notice his own hidden moral certainties as highlighted, that snidely dismiss the felt certainties of others. So, he seems to be pretty certain about his own views, and highly confident that they represent progress and civilisation.  So confident that he subtly sneers at those who may differ with him.

Oops.

Where also, he roots ALL human progress in doubting current moral values.

But in fact this is simply not so.

Yes, one may doubt or seek to correct particular morally tinged but defective practices, habits, perceptions, rules and principles. But in so doing, great reformers of the ilk of  Moses or Jesus or Paul (yes, Paul too) or James or John, or even a Locke or a Jefferson or a Martin Luther King etc. invariably appeal to deeper rooted moral principles that help us spot and correct errors; especially the fundamental moral equality of human beings under God that warrants mutual respect, caring, benevolence and common decency. If you want a Caribbean word that is close to the idea, try: broughtupcy. Moral suasion, plainly, is not the verbal equivalent of a fight, in the end where the stronger and/or trickier or more ruthless is apt to win in a contest with those who are weaker, or less clever, or less ruthless.

So, we can and do see the identified underlying contradictions of relativism in action. Especially, where such relativists seek to promote their notion of "progress."

So also, we may answer to professor Perry: sure, students often "progress" to relativism.

This is, however, often because they have been immersed, unprepared, in a milieu that teaches them relativism, systematically undermines respect for traditional views and intimidates them to doubt traditional authorities, including especially God. (Presumably, God would have perfect knowledge and would call us to grow towards the perfect good expressed in love for our Creator and for our neighbours.)

And so, we see that if students' worldviews and value systems as brought from home, church and community have not been well founded prior to reaching college, they may then easily undergo the sort of belief and value system collapse summarised by the late Gene Denham of SCFSU in Jamaica back in the 1980's in student leadership training materials:
We are raised with a set of values and beliefs, primarily those of parents, siblings, church, school, and community.  For values to become internalised, they must be reflected on, and made the objects of our best efforts and judgement in decision making  . . . 

Many students (Christians, too!) have never worked at the former.  If we conceptualise the College experience as a situation in which one is confronted daily by radically differing value systems, be they religious, political, economic, racial, philosophical, and whether they be presented by peers, profs, or pals, we will see why there may be so many Christian victims in this area -- especially in the first year.  The total collapse of the value system can follow and is a catastrophe of major proportions  . . .

The alternative to this is for friends to recognise the symptoms and offer support through this period.  Or, students may find another set of values (often ready-made) and swallow it whole -- at least for now. [Denham, Gene.  Developmental Tasks of the College Student.   Paper presented to the 1983 National Conference of the University and Colleges Christian Fellowship, Jamaica.]
An alternative, sounder path of progress is to first firmly fix that truth is real and in many cases quite knowable (even though we may also err about it), as -- again echoing Aristotle in Metaphysics 1011b -- that which says of what is, that it is; and of what is not, that it is not. 

For instance, take the claim championed as a pivotal first truth by American philosophers Josiah Royce and Elton Trueblood: error exists.

From our painful memories of the elementary school Maths classroom, and especially of corrected work returned full of red X's, we would say, that is obvious.

But, it is more than just factually so, it is undeniably true.

To see that, (p) let us symbolise Error exists as statement E.
(NB: we already know this to be factually true from cases in point, so we are not dealing with an empty set. That is important in modern approaches to logic, as contrasting claims that literally talk about nothing can be argued to be just as true or just as false: "All martians are Green" and "No Martians are green" literally speak about nothing. But, we know that error exists as a fact, so that clever "out" is off the table. We are not discussing empty sets. So, we may freely proceed to look at why this proposition is not just factually true but undeniably, necessarily true.)
Next, we may symbolise its denial as (q) NOT-E.  Now, consider the two together:
(r) E AND NOT-E
Can both (p) and (q) be true?

No, as one is the direct denial of the other.

Similarly, they can both potentially refer to the real world, and so, one or the other must be false. Therefore, to join them together and assert that both are true, will be false; (r) cannot be true.

So, we see that some one or more of these three statements p, q, r MUST be false -- must be an error, and that we can thus see that error must exist. So we can draw up some premises [a, b, c] and infer some implied conclusions [d, e, f, g, h, and i]  that are soundly established on following logically from known true premises:
a: Statement E is true, and MUST be true.

b: It is undeniably true.

c: It can be shown and known to be undeniably true.
____________________________________

d: Truth exists as that which conforms accurately to reality

e: We can in some cases warrant our belief in such truths as E

f: Thus knowledge exists as warranted, credibly true beliefs.

g: In some cases, that warrant is to the point of being undeniable.
(NB: In others, it can be to moral certainty, where it is foolishly irresponsible to think or act as though such a truth were dubious or false. In others, warrant is provisional, on balance of evidence, as in a lot of science and practical affairs.)
h: However, that E is true means that we can be in error about what is true.
(NB: So, we must be humble and open to correction, that we may grow in responsible and confident knowledge of the truth.)
i: As a result, views that dismiss truth and knowledge as merely relative to opinions or views, are themselves in error.
In short, the whole concept that represents becoming a relativist thinker on truth is a major step of intellectual development, is deeply questionable.  But, this questionable view is, beyond dispute, deeply embedded in contemporary culture all over the world to the point of being a largely unquestioned axiom among those who view themselves as intelligent, informed, sophisticated and educated. (Not like those stupid, insane, ignorant and/or wicked -- I here echo Dr Richard Dawkins -- fundamentalists.)

In that context, such are conditioned to dispute claimed authority that does not have their seal of approval: sez who? However, this often encountered rhetorical challenge/ dismissive talking point fails to appreciate that in actuality 99+% of real world arguments rest on explicit or implicit appeals to experts and other authorities ranging from the dictionary and Wikipedia back to newspapers and other mass media, professors and teachers, "Science sez," and many other similar appeals.

So, a wiser view is that no authority is better than his or her facts, reasoning and underlying assumptions.

This means that we need to audit the quality of the authorities we are inclined to use in general, and to check the basis of their claims on particular cases that may be under examination or dispute.

What we must not fall into the trap of, is to allow an authentic and reliable authority to be discredited and dismissed unfairly, and then blindly switch to a more politically correct or fashionable one in response to pressure on campus or media campaigns or talking points spread in the community.

Where also, the case of "error exists" vs relativism above should show how such pressure to go along and be squeezed into a new shape by undue pressure can all too easily happen. This leads to the significance of Jesus' warning in the Sermon on the Mount:
Matt 6: 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If then your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! [NET]
In Eph 4, Paul similarly warns:
Eph 4:11 It was [the risen Christ] who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God – a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.

14 So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes. 15 But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. 16 From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love.

 17 So I say this, and insist in the Lord, that you no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, being alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts. 19 Because they are callous, they have given themselves over to indecency for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.

20 But you did not learn about Christ like this, 21 if indeed you heard about him and were taught in him, just as the truth is in Jesus. 22 You were taught with reference to your former way of life to lay aside the old man who is being corrupted in accordance with deceitful desires, 23 to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and to put on the new man who has been created in God’s image – in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth. [NET]
Both of these respond to the idea of false enlightenment -- via manipulative shadow-shows set up by the leaders and influences of opinion -- that was current in C1 educated circles.  Such an idea traces, for instance, to the impact of the parable of Plato's Cave, which it would be good to pause and view:



Clearly, we have to help people break the chains of deceitful manipulated conventional wisdom and then move out of the cave of shadow shows to the full light of day. That is the first step.

Beyond this, we must also learn to think in terms of comparison of worldviews, and to understand that the very fact that error exists is itself a point of knowable objective truth that then undergirds the possibility of knowable and livable truth despite our finiteness, fallibility, sinful fallen-ness, and too frequent ill-will.

So, we should instead learn how to grow towards reformation and renewal rather than abandoning the insight that truth and right are real, they can be knowable and it counts.

Similarly, we should recognise that some things -- such as: the consequences of the truth that error exists -- can be sufficiently warranted that we would be irresponsible to then act as though they were false. That is, they are warranted to moral certainty and can and should serve as a guide to sound decision-making. (Cf Unit 2 in this course, here and here, with key backdrop here and onward remarks here on in Unit 9 on indoctrination in hostility to God.)

A second pivotal point, is that we must therefore determine to transform the level of equipping that disciples receive in our churches, so that we can be matured and stabilised in Christ "that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes."  [Eph 4:14.]

These, too, are goals for this course, helping to equip the "equippers" for our churches. (And of course the power of the Web allows us to do such things in cost-effective ways we could not dream of in years gone by.) 

We have now broken through at a decisive point. It is time to exploit the breakthrough.


So, enough of web porn (cf. recovery steps here and here), inane banter on social networking sites, silly time-wasting games and manipulative misinformation. It is high time to harness the web to the service of the gospel.


There is good reason to believe . . . (ii) the historical grounding
 
Many skeptics, of course, make a great show of their brilliance and erudition as they marshal impressive- sounding points as to why we should discard the Christian gospel. But  -- despite their dismissals and even their scorn, the game-changing truth of the credibility of the gospel firmly rests today on the same basis it always has:



Case for Christ 1/8
by apologetics
 

Namely, the historicity of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, as attested by its eyewitnesses. 

And, as truthfully recorded within their lifetime then accurately transmitted to our own day in what are credible, primary source historical documents (also, cf. here and here) -- i.e. our New Testament. This, at a cost dearly paid for in the blood of the martyrs and the sufferings of the confessors. 

The price and sacrifice paid to bring this breakthrough message to us, we may see from how Peter testified as he drew near to his own martyrdom, c. AD 65 (as a supposed chief instigator of the sect reported by Cornelius Tacitus as being unjustly blamed by Nero for the fire in Rome of AD 64):
2 Pet 1:16 . . .  we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased," 18we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts . . . [ESV]
Eyewitnesses: to the fulfillment of prophecy and to the manifested glory and power of God, including through the passion and resurrection of our Lord. 

As to the credibility and pivotal impact of that testimony, it is worth pausing to reflect on the challenge made by English Barrister Frank Morison in his well-known book:
[N]ow the peculiar thing . . . is that not only did [belief in Jesus' resurrection as in part testified to by the empty tomb] spread to every member of the Party of Jesus of whom we have any trace, but they brought it to Jerusalem and carried it with inconceivable audacity into the most keenly intellectual centre of Judaea . . . and in the face of every impediment which a brilliant and highly organised camarilla could devise. And they won. Within twenty years the claim of these Galilean peasants had disrupted the Jewish Church and impressed itself upon every town on the Eastern littoral of the Mediterranean from Caesarea to Troas. In less than fifty years it had began to threaten the peace of the Roman Empire . . . .
Why did it win? . . . .
We have to account not only for the enthusiasm of its friends, but for the paralysis of its enemies and for the ever growing stream of new converts . . . When we remember what certain highly placed personages would almost certainly have given to have strangled this movement at its birth but could not - how one desperate expedient after another was adopted to silence the apostles, until that veritable bow of Ulysses, the Great Persecution, was tried and broke in pieces in their hands [the chief persecutor became the leading C1 Missionary/Apostle!] - we begin to realise that behind all these subterfuges and makeshifts there must have been a silent, unanswerable fact. [Who Moved the Stone, (Faber, 1971; nb. orig. pub. 1930), pp. 114 - 115.]
Moreover, as NT Scholar Craig Evans highlighted in the 2004 University of Calgary Benthal Public Lecture, the Gospel narratives are full of the marks of accuracy and authenticity, clearly showing their character as reliable primary source documents:
The story told in the New Testament Gospels—in contrast to the greatly embellished versions found in the Gospel of Peter and other writings— smacks of verisimilitude. The women went to the tomb to mourn privately and to perform duties fully in step with Jewish burial customs. They expected to find the body of Jesus; ideas of resurrection were the last thing on their minds. The careful attention given the temporary tomb is exactly what we should expect. Pious fiction—like that seen in the Gospel of Peter— would emphasize other things. Archaeology can neither prove nor disprove the resurrection, but it can and has shed important light on the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ death, burial, and missing corpse . . . .
Research in the historical Jesus has taken several positive steps in recent years. Archaeology, remarkable literary discoveries, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, and progress in reassessing the social, economic, and political setting of first-century Palestine have been major factors. Notwithstanding the eccentricities and skepticism of the Jesus Seminar, the persistent trend in recent years is to see the Gospels as essentially reliable, especially when properly understood, and to view the historical Jesus in terms much closer to Christianity’s traditional understanding, i.e., as proclaimer of God’s rule, as understanding himself as the Lord’s anointed, and, indeed, as God’s own son, destined to rule Israel. But this does not mean that the historical Jesus that has begun to emerge in recent years is simply a throwback to the traditional portrait. The picture of Jesus that has emerged is more finely nuanced, more obviously Jewish, and in some ways more unpredictable than ever. The last word on the subject has not been written and probably never will be. Ongoing discovery and further investigation will likely force us to make further revisions as we read and read again the old Gospel stories and try to come to grips with the life of this remarkable Galilean Jew.
That fitting in of the gospels is of great importance, for reasons that Simon Greenleaf, a founder of the Anglophone theory of evidence in Jurisprudence, and a founder of the modern Harvard Law School, noted in his classic Testimony of the Evangelists:
 In trials of fact, by oral testimony, the proper inquiry is not whether it is possible that the testimony may be false, but whether there is a sufficient probability that it is true . . . . A proposition of fact is proved, when its truth is established by competent and satisfactory evidence. By competent evidence is meant such as the nature of the thing to be proved requires; and by satisfactory evidence is meant that amount of proof, which ordinarily satisfies an unprejudiced mind, beyond any reasonable doubt. [Testimony, Kregel Reprint (1995), pp. 28 - 9. (Full online version, here.)]

[T]he ability of a witness to speak the truth depends on the opportunities which he has had for observing the facts, the accuracy of his powers of discerning, and the faithfulness of his memory in retaining the facts, once observed and known . . . It is always to be presumed that men are honest, and of sound mind, and of the average and ordinary degree of intelligence . . . Whenever an objection is raised in opposition to ordinary presumptions of law, or to the ordinary experience of mankind, the burden of proof is devolved on the objector. [pp. 33 - 4.]

 Every event which actually transpires has its appropriate relation and place in the vast complication of circumstances, of which the affairs of men consist; it owes its origin to the events which have preceded it, it is intimately connected with all others which occur at the same time and place, and often with those of remote regions, and in its turn gives birth to numberless others which succeed. In all this almost inconceivable contexture, and seeming discord, there is perfect harmony; and while the fact, which really happened, tallies exactly with every other contemporaneous incident, related to it in the remotest degree, it is not possible for the wit of man to invent a story, which, if closely compared with the actual occurrences of the same time and place, may not be shown to be false. [p. 39.]
A measure of the confidence of the C1 Christians in their command of the facts can be taken from the opening remarks of Luke in this two-volume work, Luke-Acts, which provides the historical backbone of the founding era of the church, from c. 6 - 5 BC - 62 AD; and likely written as at least a first draft towards the end of that period. Where his use of Mark as a trusted and credible source puts that work in turn to significantly earlier, perhaps 50 - 60 AD -- and subtly goes to corroborate the testimony of Papias that Mark records Peter's testimony. And, in citing Luke and Acts just now, we must note that Luke's habitual, detailed accuracy has been abundantly confirmed by archeological investigations:
Lk 1: 1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

 5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah,1  of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth . . . .

Ac 1: 1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

 4 And while staying  with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with2  the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

 6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” [ESV]
Now, since it is too often suggested that by referring to the NT we are using biased and unreliable, Christian sources [that name often being pronounced as an epithet], it is worth the while to now pause a moment and cite Paul Barnett's summary of the record of early non-Christian sources on the basic facts of the early Christian movement and particularly the existence of Jesus as an historical figure:
On the basis of . . . non-Christian sources [i.e. Tacitus (Annals, on the fire in Rome, AD 64; written ~ AD 115), Rabbi Eliezer (~ 90's AD; cited J. Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth (London: Collier-Macmillan, 1929), p. 34), Pliny (Letters to Trajan from Bithynia, ~ AD 112), Josephus (Antiquities, ~ 90's)] it is possible to draw the following conclusions:
    1. Jesus Christ was executed (by crucifixion?) in Judaea during the period where Tiberius was Emperor (AD 14 - 37) and Pontius Pilate was Governor (AD 26 - 36). [Tacitus]
    2. The movement spread from Judaea to Rome. [Tacitus]
    3. Jesus claimed to be God and that he would depart and return. [Eliezer]
    4. His followers worshipped him as (a) god. [Pliny]
    5. He was called "the Christ." [Josephus]
    6. His followers were called "Christians." [Tacitus, Pliny]
    7. They were numerous in Bithynia and Rome [Tacitus, Pliny]
    8. It was a world-wide movement. [Eliezer]
    9. His brother was James. [Josephus]
[Is the New Testament History? (London, Hodder, 1987), pp. 30 - 31. Cf. McDowell & Wilson, He Walked Among Us (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1993) for more details; free for download here.]
It is no surprise to see that Habermas and others note how per an ever growing survey of the literature across the range of views (apparently now approaching or in excess of three thousand sources), the majority to an overwhelming majority of scholarship on the passion and resurrection of Jesus accept that we can identify a core of "minimal facts," up to twelve in number. 

The point of this, is to look at well attested, well-grounded, widely accepted facts that are "a game-changer." 

For, if these facts are so, there is but one really good explanation for them, the well-warranted truth of the core gospel message. The good news:
i: of God who so loved us that 
ii: he gave his one and only Eternal Son as our Saviour, 
iii: who died on a cross for our sins, 
iv: was buried, rose, was seen of altogether 500 witnesses, and 
v: who commissioned the church to go forth to all nations and all generations with that good news, and 
vi: to thereby call us all to repentance, trust in Christ, and a new life of discipleship. 
vii: All of us, no exceptions.
And, once that is grounded as well-warranted, bedrock foundation truth, the compelling force of truth and our patent duty to face the truth at the heart of the Christian Faith and message and live by it then changes everything.

Everything.

So, as Paul said, this is "of first importance."

Thus, the method is potentially decisive.

The method, in a nutshell -- and Greenleaf's remarks are also highly relevant, is:

The minimal facts method only uses sources which are multiply attested, and agreed to by a majority of scholars (ranging from atheist to conservative). This requires that they have one or more of the following criteria which are relevant to textual criticism:
    1. Multiple sources - If two or more sources attest to the same fact, it is more likely authentic
    2. Enemy attestation - If the writers enemies corroborate a given fact, it is more likely authentic
    3. Principle of embarrassment - If the text embarrasses the writer, it is more likely authentic
    4. Eyewitness testimony - First hand accounts are to be prefered
      Early testimony - an early account is more likely accurate than a later one

Having first established the well attested facts, the approach then argues that the best explanation of these agreed to facts is the resurrection of Jesus Christ . . . . [Source: "Minimal facts" From Apologetics Wiki. Full article: here. (Courtesy, Wayback Machine.)]

Why is that so?

The easiest answer is to simply list the facts that meet the above criteria and are accepted by a majority to an overwhelming majority of recent and current scholarship after centuries of intense debate:
1. Jesus died by crucifixion [--> which implies his historicity!].
2. He was buried.
3. His death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope.
4. The tomb was empty (the most contested).
5. The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus (the most important proof).
6. The disciples were transformed from doubters to bold proclaimers.
7. The resurrection was the central message.
8. They preached the message of Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem.
9. The Church was born and grew.
10. Orthodox Jews who believed in Christ made Sunday their primary day of worship.
11. James was converted to the faith when he saw the resurrected Jesus (James was a family skeptic).
12. Paul was converted to the faith (Paul was an outsider skeptic).
[Cf. Habermas' paper here and a broader more popular discussion here. NT Wright's papers here and here give a rich and deep background analysis. Here is a video of a pastoral presentation of a subset of the facts. Habermas presents the case as videos here and here, in two parts. Here is a video of a debate he had with Antony Flew.]
The list of facts is in some respects fairly obvious. 

That a Messiah candidate was captured, tried and crucified -- as Gamaliel hinted at -- was effectively the death-knell for most such movements in Israel in the era of Roman control; to have to report such a fate was normally embarrassing and discrediting to the extreme in a shame-honour culture. The Jews of C1 Judaea wanted a victorious Greater David to defeat the Romans and usher in the day of ultimate triumph for Israel, not a crucified suffering servant.  In the cases where a movement continued, the near relatives took up the mantle. That is facts 1 - 3 right there. Facts 10 - 12 are notorious. While some (it looks like about 25% of the survey of scholarship, from what I have seen) reject no 4, in fact it is hard to see a message about a resurrection in C1 that did not imply that the body was living again, as Wright discusses here. Facts 5 - 9 are again, pretty clearly grounded.

So, the challenge is to explain this cluster or important subsets of it, without begging questions and without selective hyperskepticism. The old Deist objections (though sometimes renewed today) have deservedly fallen by the wayside. [Also, cf. ten video shorts on popular myths here.] 

 We may briefly compare:
 
"Theory"
Match to four major credible facts regarding Jesus of Nazareth & his Passion
Overall score/20
Died by crucifixion
(under Pontius Pilate) at
Jerusalem
c 30 AD
Was buried, tomb was found empty
Appeared to multiple disciples,
many of whom proclaimed
& suffered for their
faith
Appeared to key
objectors who then became church leaders: James & Paul
Bodily Resurrection
5
5
5
5
20
Visions/
hallucinations
5
2
2
1
10
Swoon/recovery
1
3
2
2
8
Wrong tomb
5
1
1
1
8
Stolen body/fraud
5
2
1
1
9
Quran 4:155 -6: "They did not slay him, neither crucified him." 1 1 1 1 4
 "Jesus never existed" 1 1 1 1 4
 "Christianity as we know it was cooked up by Constantine and  others at Nicea, who censored/ distorted the original record" 1 1 1 1 4
"What we have today is 'Paulianity,' not the original teachings of Jesus and his disciples" 2 1 1 2 6
Christianity -- including the resurrection --  is a gradually emerging legend based on a real figure
5
1
1
1
8
Complete legend/pagan copycat (Greek, Persian, Egyptian, etc)
1
1
1
1
4
  
(I have given my scores above, based on reasoning that should be fairly obvious. As an exercise you may want to come up with your own scores on a 5 - 1 scale: 5 = v. good/ 4 = good/ 3 = fair/ 2 = poor/ 1 = v. poor, with explanations. Try out blends of the common skeptical theories to see how they would fare.)

 Laying a priori anti-supernaturalism aside as a patent case of worldview level question-begging closed mindedness, the above table shows that there are two serious candidates today, the resurrection as historically understood, or some version of a collective vision/hallucination that led to a sincere (but plainly mistaken) movement. 

The latter of course runs into  the problem that such collective visions are not psychologically plausible as the cultural expectations of a resurrection would have been of a general one in the context of the obvious military triumph of Israel. Nor, does it explain the apparently missing body. Moreover, we know separately, that the culturally accepted alternative would have been individual prophetic visions of the exalted that on being shared would comfort the grieving that the departed rested with God. So, an ahead of time individual breakthrough resurrection -- even, one that may be accompanied by some straws in the wind of what is to come in fulness at the end -- is not part of the mental furniture of expectations in C1 Judaism.  Where, hallucinations and culturally induced visions are going to be rooted in such pre-existing mental "furniture."  

Where, also -- tellingly -- the women who bought spices and went to the tomb that morning plainly expected to find it occupied by a dead prophet, one unjustly judicially murdered as so many others had been.  (And if you doubt the account that reports how these women became the first to discover the tomb and to see the risen Messiah, consider how dismissive C1 Jews were to the testimony of "hysterical" -- that very word in English is rooted in the Greek for womb, hustera (reflecting a very old prejudice . . . ) -- women. Such an embarrassing point would only be admitted if the reporter was seeking to tell the full truth as best as he could, regardless of how poorly it would come across to his audience; a C1 audience, not a C21 one.)

The Easter event cuts across all reasonable cultural expectations, and obviously forced a much closer -- transforming -- look at messianic prophetic passages such as Isa 52 - 53 which plainly led to an aha moment.

Moreover, the visions suggestion also runs into the problem of the empty tomb; hence the skeptical resistance to that otherwise quite reasonable fact. 

(Remember, the NT record is that the women disciples who went to the tomb that first Easter Sunday morning to complete the burial rituals that had been hastily begun just before the Sabbath, on finding the grave open and the body missing at first thought the authorities had taken the body. These primary documents subsequently record the Sanhedrin's official talking point as that the disciples stole the body while the guards slept. Oops. The point of agreement is obvious: the body was missing, and neither group seemed to be responsible for it. [Cf below for more.])

You may think that this sort of balance of evidence should be well known and that educated, responsible and reasonable people would at minimum be willing to accept it as well-grounded that Jesus of Nazareth was a significant Galilean Jew and teacher who had clashes with the Jerusalem authorities which cost him his life. Whereupon, his followers then proclaimed to one and all across the eastern littoral of the Mediterranean and beyond over the next several decades, that Jesus was the prophesied Jewish Messiah, and that though shamefully (though unjustly) crucified -- blatantly true by the criterion of admitting an utterly embarrassing claim -- he was risen from death as Lord and eschatological Judge; until Nero would find it convenient to divert suspicion be falsely accusing Christians of setting fire to Rome in 64 AD.

But, sadly, that is not the case. 

For instance, we can find the dean of the New Atheists, Dr Richard Dawkins (late of Oxford University) in an interview with the September 2012 Playboy magazine (HT: UD News):


DAWKINS: The evidence [Jesus] existed is surprisingly shaky. The earliest books in the New Testament to be written were the Epistles, not the Gospels. It’s almost as though Saint Paul and others who wrote the Epistles weren’t that interested in whether Jesus was real. Even if he’s fictional, whoever wrote his lines was ahead of his time in terms of moral philosophy.

PLAYBOY: You’ve read the Bible.

DAWKINS: I haven’t read it all, but my knowledge of the Bible is a lot better than most fundamentalist Christians’.

 Of course, this confident manner, breezy and contemptuous dismissal is the very opposite to what Paul wrote c. 55 AD, to the Corinthians regarding the core facts of the gospel transmitted to him through the official testimony communicated by Peter, James, John and other leading witnesses in Jerusalem, c. 35 - 38 AD.

Video:

 

Text:
1 Cor 15: 1 Now I would remind you, brothers,1  of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you-unless you believed in vain.
 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me . . . 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. 

 12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins . . . [ESV]
 So, Peter -- contemplating an impending  martyr's death -- makes it clear that we have not followed cunningly devised myths, while Paul identifies the factual status of Jesus' death, burial and resurrection as the ground on which we are confident of salvation by trusting in him. He goes so far as to state that if Jesus has not risen, the gospel is futile and we have no hope of forgiveness in it. 

So, whose report do we believe, the eyewitness lifetime record of the apostles or dismissals by the likes of professor Dawkins et al, 2,000 years later?


Plainly, the two are not even comparable as historical sources, so that is not a hard choice. Unfortunately, the sort of cavalier dismissiveness and -- frankly -- irresponsibility we see from latter-day skeptics has swept up all too many in its meshes.


Nor is the problem confined to laymen.


To see this, it will be helpful to
excerpt Wikipedia (a known to be generally hostile popular reference), from its article on Bishop J A T Robinson [acc: Aug 23, 2012], on the dating of the NT documents, as it remarks on his well known 1976 work, Redating the New Testament, not least because this is revealing of the climate that confronts Christians who take the NT documents seriously as primary historical materials. C H Dodd's response is particularly revealing:
Although Robinson was within the liberal theology tradition, he challenged the work of colleagues in the field of exegetical criticism. Specifically, Robinson examined the New Testament's reliability, because he believed that very little original research had been completed in the field during the period between 1900 and the mid-1970s. Concluding his research, he wrote in his work, Redating the New Testament,[13] that past scholarship was based on a "tyranny of unexamined assumptions" and an "almost willful blindness".
Robinson concluded that much of the New Testament was written before AD 64, partly based on his judgement that there is little textual evidence that the New Testament reflects knowledge of the Temple's AD 70 destruction. In relation to the four gospels' dates of authorship, Robinson placed Matthew at 40 to after 60, Mark at about 45 to 60, Luke at before 57 to after 60, and John at from 40 to after 65.[14][15] Robinson also argued that the letter of James was penned by a brother of Jesus Christ within twenty years of Jesus’ death, that Paul authored all the books that bear his name, and that the apostle John wrote the fourth Gospel. Robinson also opined that because of his investigations, a rewriting of many theologies of the New Testament was in order.[16][17][18]
C. H. Dodd, in a frank letter to Robinson wrote: "I should agree with you that much of the late dating is quite arbitrary, even wanton, the offspring not of any argument that can be presented, but rather of the critic's prejudice that, if he appears to assent to the traditional position of the early church, he will be thought no better than a stick-in-the-mud."[19]
This is sadly revealing.


Going further, we often encounter a dismissive attitude to the weight of the manuscripts (MSS). So, it is well worth also pausing to note the summary compiled by McDowell on the comparative weight of MSS for the NT and other classical literature:


Copies of Classical works
AuthorWhen WrittenEarliest CopyTime SpanNo. of Copies
Caesar100-44 900 A.D.1,000 yrs.10
Livy59 B.C.-A.D.

20
Plato (Tetralogies)427-347 B.C.900 A.D.1,200 yrs.7
Tacitus (Annals)100 A.D.1,100 A.D.1,000 yrs.20
 also minor works100 A.D.1,000 A.D.900 yrs.1
Pliny the Younger (History) 61-113 A.D.850 A.D..750 yrs.7
Thucydides
(History)
460-400 B.C.900 A.D.1,300 yrs.8
Suetonius
(De Vita Caesarum)
75-160 A.D.950 A.D.800 yrs.8
Herodotus
(History)
480-425 B.C.900 A.D.1,300 yrs.8
Horace

900 yrs.
Sophocles430-406 B.C.1,000 A.D.1,400 yrs.100
LucretiusDied 55 or 53 B.C .
1,100 yrs.2
Catullus54 B.C.1,550 A.D.1,600 yrs.3
Euripedes480-406 B.C.1,100 A.D.1,500 yrs.9
Demosthenes383-322 B.C.1,100 A.D.1,300 yrs.200*
Aristotle384-322 B.C.1,100 A.D.1,400 yrs.5**
Aristophanes450-385 B .C.900 A. D.1,200 yrs.10
*All from one copy. **Of any one work.
From Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, rev ed. (San Bernardino, Calif.: Here's Life,1979), p. 42.


The well known philosopher-theologian, J P Moreland (who cites McDowell as above) goes on to aptly observe as follows, in his online essay, The Historicity of the New Testament:
A brief perusal of the table indicates that for a representative sample of ancient historical works, we possess only a handful of manuscripts which are, on the average, one thousand years removed from their originals.

In contrast to this, the New Testament documents have a staggering quantity of manuscript attestation. [6] Approximately 5,000 Greek manuscripts, containing all or part of the New Testament, exist. There are 8,000 manuscript copies of the Vulgate (a Latin translation of the Bible done by Jerome from 382-405) and more than 350 copies of Syriac (Christian Aramaic) versions of the New Testament (these originated from 150-250; most of the copies are from the 400s+). Besides this, virtually the entire New Testament could be reproduced from citations contained in the works of the early church fathers. There are some thirty-two thousand citations in the writings of the Fathers prior to the Council of Nicea (325).

The dates of the manuscript copies range from early in the second century to the time of the Reformation. Many of the manuscripts are early-for example, the John Rylands manuscript (about 120; it was found in Egypt and contains a few verses from the Gospel of John), the Chester Beatty Papyri (200; it contains major portions of the New Testament), Codex Sinaiticus (350; it contains virtually all of the New Testament), and Codex Vaticanus (325-50; it contains almost the entire Bible).
McDowell and Williams, in He Walked Among Us (1993) also help us to pull together a picture of the chain of custody of the historical materials behind the NT:



The chain of custody on the historical information reported in the NT
(Adapted: McDowell & Wilson, He Walked Among Us, 1993, p. 89.)

































Noted American legal scholar (and a founder of the modern Anglophone theory of evidence), Simon Greenleaf, in assessing the testimony of the Evangelists, remarks on the significance of such a chain of custody in his citation of the Ancient Documents Rule of jurisprudence:
 Every document, apparently ancient, coming from the proper repository or custody, and bearing on its face no evident marks of forgery, the law presumes to be genuine, and devolves on the opposing party the burden of proving it to be otherwise. [Testimony of the Evangelists, Kregel reprint, 1995, p.16. There is of course -- ill-foundeed assertions notwithstanding (cf. on Dan Brown et al below) -- no credible evidence of fraud, and the above summarises the chain of custody to the point where we have the flood of manuscripts that carry us onward to the invention of printing; it being notorious that the very first book printed by Gutenberg was the Bible.]
 It is therefore a good start-point for this course to begin with the historical record of the very first Christian sermon. This was preached by the very same eye-witness we cited above when he was about to be unjustly put to death by Nero, i.e. Peter, to a crowd of thousands drawn by the miraculous wind and fire accompanying the descent of the Spirit, within walking distance of the notoriously empty tomb, and only several weeks after the crucifixion (c. 30 AD):
 Ac 2:14 . . . Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
 17 "'And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh . . . . 21And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.' 
22"Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it . . . . 32This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing . . . .  36Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified." [ESV]
 With three thousand responding to the altar call,  the church was unstoppably launched, in the teeth of determined and violently fierce opposition. It has steadfastly borne the same foundational witness ever since.

The foundational witness


The foundational centrality of the gospel is underscored in Paul's AD 55 letter to the Corinthians, where we may see the primary source document, eyewitness-lifetime "official summary" of the testimony of the 500+ eyewitnesses to the central facts and truths of the gospel. This, as communicated to Paul by the Jerusalem circle of leaders by AD 35 - 38; three years after his conversion through his own personal encounter with the risen Christ and as recorded by him some twenty years later in the well known letter:

1 Cor 15:1Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received in which you stand, 2and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you . . .

3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures [--> cf. esp. the c. 700 BC Isa 52:23 - 53:12], 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
8Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God . . . 11Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. [ESV]

"[T]hat . . . that . . . that . . . . that . . ." 

With these drum-beat words -- hoti in the Greek (= "that, because, since," Thayer) -- Paul quoted and framed the five core historical facts of the "official testimony" of the very first Christians; whom he acknowledges as being prior to him in the faith (by a few years):
  • Christ died for our sins
  • in accordance with the Scriptures,
  • he was buried,
  • he was raised on the third day,
  • he appeared
Let us pay close attention, too, to Paul's preface: " the gospel . . . preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word . . . " That is, it is by accepting the gospel with penitent and steadfast faith that its power (or, rather, the power of God through his promises) is released in our lives, effecting spiritual transformation; as millions across the ages and in our day have experienced and do testify.

Thus, also, we see the significance of the six foundation stones of discipleship of Heb 6:1 - 2, literally, the words of the ABC-beginnings [ἀρχῆς -- arches: a commencement] of Christ:

. . . this foundation . . . repentance from dead works and faith in God, teaching about baptisms [βαπτισµός -- baptismos: ceremonial washing as a ritual (nb: the root-word bapto, means to dip or immerse)], laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. [NET, both definitions Strongs]



Briefly expanding:

a: Learning to trust and serve God through repentance: penitently changing our hearts and minds in surrender to God, and

b: faith: trusting God based on his Word. [Isaiah 55:1 - 9; Rom. 1:1 - 4, 16 - 17; 4:4 - 8 & 10:17; Heb. 11:6.]

c: Celebrating death to sin, new life in Christ, eternal hope and the indwelling and empowering Spirit, through water baptism — a symbolic burial and resurrection. [Rom. 6:3 - 7, cf. 1 - 14; Acts 1:4 - 8 & 2:32 - 39; Rom 8:9 - 17; 1 Cor 12:1 - 13 & Eph. 5:15 – 21.]

d: Learning the principle of service from the laying on of hands: our hands, but God's initiative, control and power. [Acts 8:14 - 23, 2 Cor 4:1 - 11. Also cf. Jn 5:19 - 20, in its context.]

e: Living life from an eternal point of view: Jesus rose, validating the gospel and giving us an eternal hope of resurrection; but this also means that God "has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed," Christ.

f: Accordingly, we must live as stewards who shall give an account for our lives and service, before the bar of eternal judgement. [Acts 17:30 - 31; 1 Cor 3:10 - 17, 4:1 - 5, 15:1 – 8; Matt. 6:19 - 24; 2 Cor 4:17 – 5:10.]

These, as the writer to the Hebrews stresses, we must lay in our lives and build upon. To this, we may freely add from Paul's final letter of counsel to Timothy as he neared his martyrdom at the hands of Nero, c. 67 AD; regarding the Scriptures that are so emphasised in 1 Cor 15:1 - 11:
2 Tim 3: 10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra-which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me.
12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom  you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God  may be competent, equipped for every good work. [ESV. cf. vv 1 - 9. Also, ch 4:1 - 8.]
This, from a man whose recently rediscovered/confirmed tombstone reads: 
Paulo Apostolo Mart

Now, too, the summary in 1 Cor 15:1 - 11 is the eyewitness- lifetime record of the report of altogether over five hundred eyewitnesses. Of these, with the aid of the Gospels, we may identify nearly two dozen: Mary Magdalene and several other women, the twelve -- including candidate members Joses and Matthias, James (and the rest of Jesus' family), Cleopas and his companion on that never to be forgotten walk to Emmaus.

And, of course, Paulo Apostolo Mart.

A "spiritual" resurrection?

In our day, the appearance to Paul on the road to Damascus that stopped him in his career of making bloody havoc of the church has been sometimes turned into an attempt to claim that all the resurrection appearances were "visionary" or "spiritual," and not "physical." That is, it is being said that since the appearance to Paul was "merely" visionary and was listed alongside the earlier appearances, there was no body that got up from death in 30 (or, 33) AD.

However, this is a typical example of the principles of assessing evidence highlighted by Simon Greenleaf in his classic, Testimony of the Evangelists: made up stories do not and cannot fit ALL the relevant, credible facts, immediate and remote.

For instance, Paul by all accounts was a leading persecutor of the church and agent of its chief opponent, the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.

So, let us first ask: why did he not simply dismiss the "vision" as sunstroke or the like, as one who knew the facts and the "official" explanations about the tomb and body? [In short, the implication is that the tomb was indeed empty as of the first Easter Sunday, and -- discounting the Sanhedrin's crude "stolen body" talking point -- the officials did not have a reasonable explanation for the fact.]

In addition, Paul's "vision" had plainly extra-mental effects: what caused that light "brighter than the sun" that -- almost literally -- knocked Paul off his high horse? Whence, that voice speaking in Hebrew?

We can go on: what became of the body of Jesus? Why did the authorities feel obliged to bribe the guards to spread a preposterous tale of the -- in fact, terrified and hiding -- disciples mounting a raid and stealing the body while the guards slept, then claiming it had risen from the dead? And, just who did the apostles eat supper with that first Easter Sunday evening? Not to mention, the following Sunday evening, where Thomas -- being dubious about the implications of the empty tomb and the reports of his fellow disciples -- was invited to inspect the now powerless crucifixion wounds for himself?

A video debate between Dr William Lane Craig and Dr Bart Ehrman that at first glance may seem to be a rough draw on points (it is quite hard to score a knockout in a debate at this level), with the intensity of Ehrman perhaps tipping the balance of appearances in his favour will be helpful. Not least, as, on deeper reflection:

a: it makes plain by capital example the now common pattern of imposition of question- begging, militantly objecting skepticism that infers the practical impossibility of miracles before facts and evidence can be allowed to speak (on reasonable criteria) towards grounding knowledge claims,

b: it gives an example of selectively hyper-skeptical dismissal of unwelcome but otherwise credible factual evidence,

c: for instance, we can observe a strained attempt to dismiss eyewitness lifetime documentation from multiple sources -- 25 - 65 years [AD 55 - 95] is within the reasonable span of eyewitness testimony, as Paul explicitly observes in 1 Cor 15:3 - 6.

d: Nor does Ehrman acknowledge the valid point that (a lot of modernist theology and skeptical thought since C18 notwithstanding) one may -- and in the case of Josh McDowell, did (cf. shocking video) -- first examine the NT record objectively as authentic, adequately preserved and transmitted eyewitness-lifetime primary historical source material, then find it sound as history, then go on to personal encounter with the living God in the face of the risen Christ, and then on that strength of miraculous spiritual transformation draw the further spiritual conclusion that it is also God-inspired Holy Scripture that "cannot be broken."

e: Notice, too, how eyewitness lifetime record is derided in favour of Gnostic or similar myths (e.g. the Jesus' twin brother story comes from the C3 Gnostic Acts of Thomas, which is artfully not clearly admitted) from 100 - 200 years later (or even stories Ehrman made up on the spot, i.e. 2,000 years later!).

f: Overall, Ehrman's approach typifies the unfortunate but all too common pattern of skeptical rhetoric that works by distracting us from decisive issues and telling evidence, then gallops on to dismissive caricatures of serious arguments and ends in subtle or blatant personally denigratory and polarising characterisations of those who do not go along with the naturalistic agenda. Or, more directly, this is the trifecta fallacy pattern: red herring distractions led away to strawman caricatures soaked in ad hominem attacks or insinuations and ignited through incendiary rhetoric (or even subtle sparks of snide suggestions); thus clouding, choking, poisoning and polarising the atmosphere to the frustration of honest search for the well-warranted truth.

g: Also, it shows how the notion of "visions" and how exaggeration of the inevitable diversity of eyewitness perspectives on secondary details into alleged contradictions on core matters can be used to distract us from the telling point that the C1 disciples went out and risked (then, often lost) their lives for their eyewitness testimony to core facts of the risen Christ.

h: Such tactics may also distract us from the record that the eye-witness lifetime testimony is not to mere visionary appearances: the disciples report that they not only saw or heard, but hugged, spoke, walked, inspected the wounds of and ate supper with -- then even ate a breakfast cooked by -- the risen Jesus.

i: It would be hard to think of what more could be needed to give a clearer testimony to their understanding that the resurrection was physical, and objective, not merely subjective visions.

j: As well, the miracle was not in the disciples' experiences of interacting with Jesus, but in the timeline: walking and talking with, or eating with, or hugging a person, etc., are ordinary activities that we do every day; just, they are not usually done after someone has been violently and unjustly put to death by abusive authorities, before our appalled, helplessly watching eyes.

k: So, the skeptical quip that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" popularised by Sagan -- NB: a fallacy, we only need adequate evidence -- is misdirected. We routinely know that event B happens after event A, and we just as routinely interact with other people. In this case, though, the disciples interacted with Jesus after he had been unjustly put to death. The miracle is in the implication of the timeline, not so much in the substance of it.

l: The debate also shows how the onward experience of millions ever since the C1 where they have met God in the face of the risen Christ and have had their lives miraculously transformed thereby -- including thousands upon thousands of cases of miracles in answer to prayer -- is routinely given scornful short shrift or passed over in dismissive silence. (That is, the skeptics are dodging The Morison Challenge: you have to adequately answer to the life and community-transforming impact of the testimony of the core 500 witnesses, from C1 – C21, in the teeth of the fiercest and even most violent opposition, starting with the notoriously empty tomb. With now millions of cases in point.)

m: Most of all, it shows that, once skeptics are permitted to always be on the attack and to shoot out repeated volleys of scatter-shot objections instead of having to put their own assumptions under the microscope of comparative difficulties on factual adequacy, coherence and explanatory power, their rhetoric will seem far stronger than it is.

n: For just one instance, if the human mind and senses are so prone to convincing mass hallucinations delusions that the 500 core witnesses and the millions since are sincerely wrong, i.e. deluded, what does that imply about the general capacity of the human mind and senses to arrive at warranted, credible truth; i.e. knowledge? (Do we then have any good reason to trust any observations, testimony, arguments and conclusions, much less those of the skeptics? Where does that leave us? NB: It would be helpful to examine this survey of epistemology: the critical study of the nature, grounding, credibility and conditions of knowledge.)

So, let us now observe the debate in light of the above:



For more, cf. Craig's later response here:



[Also, to assess the similar objections made by Islamist advocates, you may want to cf. also, the online text books here and here, hosted by Answering-Islam.org. (Egyptian Coptic priest Fr Zakaria Botros' video programmes, e.g. here, and web site here, will also be helpful.)]

Before getting on to the main focus of this unit, however, we need to more specifically address the now common error of trying to suggest on Paul's remarks in 1 Cor 15:44 "[i]t is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body" that there was no physical, bodily resurrection. We may do so by simply observing the record in Luke; a tested, habitually accurate historian:

LK 24:36 While they [the twelve and others] were still talking about this [Jesus' walk to Emmaus and partaking of the beginnings of a meal with two disciples on Easter Sunday afternoon, who then ran back to Jerusalem and met with the twelve then at their own supper], Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. [where obvious wounds were to be seen] It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost [Strong's G4151: πνεῦµα -- pneuma: a current of air, i.e. breath (blast) or a breeze 2. (by analogy or figuratively) a spirit] does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence. [Consider the level of multi-person hallucination that his would imply, then compare the psychology of hallucinations . . . ]

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

Plainly, the unshakable conviction of the circle of 500 was that they had met, conversed, ate with and knew the long prophesied, now risen Messiah of Israel. This is the only credible basis for their bold testimony and its impact on history.

In turn, based on his teachings -- while standing among them yet bearing fearsome but now powerless wounds --- Jesus was explicitly standing in the OT Hebraic, monotheistic, prophetic covenantal tradition. And, he specifically claimed to fulfill its messianic prophecies, e.g. those of Is 52:13 – 53:12. (Cf. here on how the Dead Sea Scrolls strikingly support the authenticity of the text of Isa 53.) Thus, the gospel is set in a context of history on the ground rather than subjective, hallucinatory visions of vague spirits.

It is further set in the context of the fulfillment of the prophecies at the heart of the covenantal religion of Israel.

Thus, it is rooted in the Creator God and Lord of all who so controls the course of history that he makes prophecies that come true, even centuries ahead. (In this context, we must recognise one significance of the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the OT made about 2- 300 years before Jesus' birth and widely circulated across the Mediterranean: the relevant prophecies were undeniably on record and publicly accessible to any interested party long before Jesus' time. Long before the 1947 discoveries of the Dead Sea Scroll Isaiah from some 160 BC that bears the same text.)

But, all of these need to be brought out, justified and explained in an orderly way, if we are to have a solidly grounded faith that we know, understand and are confident of.

That defines the main task of this first unit of study.


"According to the Scriptures . . . "



This key phrase sets the testimony of the 500 witnesses in context: God acting to fulfill his promises to his covenant people, Israel, that he would send a Messiah; an anointed Deliverer.

Indeed, the promise is not just to Israel but to all mankind, as can be seen from the curse put upon the deceiving serpent of Genesis 3:

Gen 3:15 I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel."

Here, we see that the power of evil over humanity gained through the fall of our fore-parents, was to be utterly broken by one who would be the seed of the woman -- a subtle prophecy of the virgin birth.

Also, the blow of victory would be crushing, but it would be costly. The Messiah was to be a wounded healer.

Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12 -- from its context of the reign of Hezekiah and the then recent attacks of the Assyrians, c. 700 BC -- gives us far more details:

Isa: 52:13Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
he shall be high and lifted up,
and shall be exalted.
14As many were astonished at you—
his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
15so shall he sprinkle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which has not been told them they see,
and that which they have not heard they understand.

Isa 53:1 Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

7He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation,
who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?

9And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
11Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors. [ESV. The source of the Christian theology of the redemptive,
saving, healing, delivering substitute is not hard to discern!]

The predictive prophecies of the rejection of and redemptive death, burial, and resurrection of Messiah and the theology of saving, healing, liberating atonement through our wounded redeemer and healer are plain. In the teeth of the hopes for a political and military deliverer that dominated the hopes of a colonised and oppressed nation in the First Century, we see here a suffering servant who is a wounded healer and atoning sacrifice, not only for Israel but for the whole world.

And so also we come to Jehovah's taunt to the gods (and their priests):

Isa 45:21 Declare and present your case;
let them take counsel together!
Who told this long ago?
Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD?
And there is no other god besides me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
there is none besides me . . . .
Isa 46:9remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
10 declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying 'My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose[ESV]

The God of prophecy is the only God, the Lord of History, the Saviour. (And yes: "Saviour," here, is plainly a Divine title.)

So, the conviction, testimony and message of the church -- from the first to the twenty-first century – is that that Lord has acted in his Christ, who came according to the scriptures, died for our sins as our substitute, was buried, and rose again as triumphant Lord. This same Jesus the Christ, is our Saviour; who shall return one day to judge the world and break the power of evil forever. It is therefore no surprise to see just that testimony summarised in the core of the AD 325 and 381 Nicene Creed. Here, we read in the Book of Common Prayer translation:

We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And we believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. And we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

"[T]he faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people"



In our day in the Caribbean and wider world, this historic faith has been under increasingly strident attack.

From the North, a de-Christianising tidal wave of evolutionary materialist secular humanists, neo-pagans and modernist apostates beats on our shores. From the East, we see a similar wave of IslamIST Dawah advocates confidently (but mistakenly) declare -- never mind the verdict of the textual critics after over 100 years of close study and recovery of papyri all the way back to 125 AD -- that the Biblical text we have in our hands has been willfully corrupted.

And, in our midst, since they have not been well-grounded, all too many fall victim to such claims as are made by Dan Brown, speaking in the voice of his fictional historian Teabing.

Or, decoding the name: “Teabing” speaks with the voice of Leigh and Baigent, two of the three authors of the 1982 book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail (which followed up on a BBC Mini-series from the Chronicles programme); the third author being a certain Mr Lincoln. For, we may observe: (i) Leigh's surname is Teabing's given name, and (ii) a rearrangement of the letters of Michael Baigent's surname (an anagram) forms his surname: Leigh Teabing.

We read the following confident assertions in Brown's 2003 The Da Vinci Code:

“FACT . . . . All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.” [Page 1, emphases added]

"Constantine [the first “Christian” Roman Emperor] commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ's human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike. The earlier gospels were outlawed, gathered up, and burned." [Page 234] . . . .

"Fortunately for historians... some of the gospels that Constantine attempted to eradicate managed to survive. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the 1950s [note the wrong decade: the original discovery of the caves dates to 1947; also the materials are specifically Jewish and contain no Gospels, Gnostic or canonical] hidden in a cave near Qumran in the Judean desert." [Page 234] . . . .

"Almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false." [Page 235]

These seemingly plausible assertions are in demonstrable fact outright willful fabrications.
(NB: Such claims unfortunately closely echo the similar claims by some of the more strident Islamist apologists who claim that the Bible is corrupted and corrupting [cf. the book for the McDowell and Gilchrist vs Deedat debate here, Samuel Green on Deedat here, and Botros on Deedat, here,   as well as Nehls & Eric on the general case here].)
Indeed, sadly, this sort of claim goes so far beyond what even basic responsible research would instantly reveal that these claims warrant us in going beyond normal academic language: such claims are slanderous lies. That is, willful deception, by utter failure to do manifest and basic duties of care and respect for truth and fairness regarding accuracy on a supremely important matter.

In the case of the First Council of Nicea, such a check (cf also Wikipedia here and the Catholic Encyclopedia here) would at once reveal:

a: The 325 AD First Council of Nicaea is where Constantine addressed theological matters on the record. But, it simply did not address which books of the NT should be regarded as canonical. (On the rise of the canon, cf, here.)

b: Roughly 150 years before the time of the council, Justin Martyr spoke of the four Gospels as a known collection, and Tatian had prepared his Diatessaron harmony of the four.

c: By 180 AD, in Against Heresies 3.11.8, Irenaeus famously saw it as as axiomatic that there should be four Gospels: "there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the church has been scattered throughout the world, and since the 'pillar and ground' of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life, it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing incorruption on every side, and vivifying human[s] afresh." ( Against Heresies, 3.11.18)

d: So, that there were four authentic gospels was a long since settled matter in 325 AD. (Brown's speculations about "eighty gospels" being cherry-picked down to four are without foundation.)

e: The well-known 66-book Canon was not formalised as an official list until much later than the Nicene Council, but the process that led to such lists was neither mysterious nor sinister.

f: The OT (including the LXX translation; the KJV of its day) was accepted and taken -- as a matter of course-- as the God-breathed unbreakable Word of God by Jesus and the Apostles, thus establishing the Scripture principle of a list of recognised, standard inspired books. Indeed, Jesus was seen as fulfilling, in details, the prophecy of the Messiah, especially as we may see from Isaiah 53. And, it was taken for granted that only the one true God who is Lord of history could do that. The apostle Peter, on the eve of his own martyrdom, therefore aptly summed up the view of the Scriptures of what we now call the Old and New Testaments:
2 Pet 1:13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body,8  to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.

 16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son,9  with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation.

21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along [Thayer: φέρω . . . Phero . . . 1.  to carry . . . b.  to move by bearing; move or, to be conveyed or borne, with the suggestion of force or speed   1.  of persons borne in a ship over the sea  2.  of a gust of wind, to rush] by the Holy Spirit. [ESV]
g: The OT was therefore accepted as a block, as were the four gospels, the Acts and Paul's collection of epistles, as the Spirit-inspired memoirs, history and teaching of God-authenticated men. Some of the other epistles were less generally known, or there were questions on authorship etc, but a core of 20 of 27 books was a generally accepted, informal working canon from the earliest days of the church.

h: That is, the major writings of the Apostles and their close associates were soon recognised as similarly God-inspired as the OT along the terms described by Peter in 2 Pet 1:13 - 21, and became an objective reference standard for Christian belief and practice.

i: So, once there was a collection of authentic OT and NT books like that, there was an informal working canon; never mind that it was first formally recognised as a list at the Council of Carthage in 397.

j: Six years after the Nicene council, in 331 AD, Constantine did instruct Eusebius to prepare fifty copies of the recognised Christian Scriptures for use in the new churches of Constantinople, and it is said that he also instructed that works of the Arian heretics be destroyed (there being no concept of broad freedom of speech as a legal right at that time); but, that plainly has no bearing on the number of acknowledged authentic gospels.

k: That question had been settled generations before Constantine or Eusebius were born: there are four Gospels, Mark writing in the voice of Peter, Matthew writing as an apostolic eyewitness [with perhaps some underlying earlier notes in Aramaic], Luke researching and writing a relatively polished Greek-style history, and John supplementing the others in his old age.

l: Instead of trying to determine what was to be in the canon, the historical record is that the council in the main met to address questions on the nature of Christ raised some years before by Arius, and which had provoked a considerable popular controversy.

m: Constantine's primary concern was to preserve the unity of the empire, and he did not determine the outcome of the theological debate -- and, yes: there was a debate on whether “only-begotten Son” meant an eternal Sonship or simply being the first creation of God -- by imposing his royal power. [Indeed, in subsequent years he (and much moreso his son and successor!) turned out to have some sympathies for Arius and -- arguably – his views.] (Cf. McDowell and Larson, here, on the Deity of Christ.)

n: Moreover, the C1, NT scriptures already take a decisive position on the substantial matter, e.g.: "All things were made through him [the Eternal Logos, i.e. the Son], and without him was not any thing made that was made." [Jn 1:3, ESV.]

o: As a consequence of the onward see-sawing of imperial support for some decades (including the rise of Julian the Apostate who tried to overthrow Christianity), the Nicene Creed was re-affirmed and expanded in 381.

p: That is, there was also an opportunity for onward debate; over the span of a half century. And, that onward debate came out as reinforcing the conclusion of 325.

q: Now, too, as Acts 15, 1 Cor 15:1 - 11, Acts 10:26 - 48 and Gal 1 - 2 amply document, Paul of Tarsus -- the other usual target for accusations of alleged "perversion" of the original Christian faith -- similarly, did not materially alter the substance of the gospel (far from it!), but instead was welcomed by the circle of the twelve and by James as a colleague in the gospel.

r: Instead of such alleged frauds by Constantine and Paul, in debating the main questions on the nature of Christ, both sides of the Arian controversy simply accepted the received scriptural texts we find in our NT. The participants debated the precise way in which the texts describing Jesus' nature should be understood as teaching how Jesus was Divine, not whether he was Divine. (That is, no question of fraudulent alteration or of improper exclusion of other books was at stake.)

s: This is reflected in the main resolution issued by the council and supported by all but a few of the 300 Bishops gathered, i.e. the Nicene Creed.

t: This Creed demonstrably reflects the substance of the NT teaching on Jesus, as can be seen here.

u: A comparison of the Chester Beatty NT papyri P45 (c. 200 - 250 AD, parts of Mt, Mk, Lk, Jn, Ac), P46 (c. 200, parts of Rm, Hb, Ep, Gal, Ph, Col, 1 & 2 Cor, 1 Th), and P47 (c. 250 - 300, part of Rev.), and the Bodmer papyrus P66 (c. 200, nearly complete Jn) -- the first papyri with extensive parts of the NT -- with the more or less complete Bible Codices Vaticanus (c. 300 ) and Sinaiticus (c. 350) will show that there was no text tampering along the general lines Brown suggests.

v: Moreover, the NT documents credibly date to the C1 of the Christian era.

w: For instance, Australian NT scholar Paul Barnett summarises that, by 95 - 115 AD, the very first writing church fathers -- Clement of Rome [c. AD 96], Ignatius [c. 108] and Polycarp [c. 110] -- were on record as citing or alluding to 25 of the 27 books as scripture on par with the already accepted OT. (Only Jude and 2 John, two of the shortest, were not documented.) For classic instance, the Rylands fragment [containing part of Jn 18] credibly dates c. 125, and is from a site – Egypt – about 300 miles from the place of composition, Asia.

x: The impact and significance of this discovery in the 1930's  are discussed in a short Tyndale House (Cambridge, UK) video clip:






y: Ever since, the NT documents are traceable in copies and citations down to the origin of printing.

z: There is therefore no good evidence to support such a skeptical, conspiracy theory claim of tampering and substitution of the fraudulent for the true as Brown, Baigent, Leigh et al make, and there is every evidence to support the authenticity of the text we have received.

One therefore hopes that such unworthy rhetorical tactics will be abandoned, retracted and apologised for.

For those needing a bit more in response to Mr Brown's claims, cf. Ward Gasque 's lecture here:
  


George Oviatt's well researched The Da Vinci Code Delusion (pt. 1 here) is also worth watching, especially if you prefer a documentary to a lecture:



Similarly, Paul James-Griffiths adds some significant perspectives, starting with the OT roots of NT Christian faith:



But, such errors are unfortunately plausible to millions today, who -- sadly -- inadvertently fulfill another Biblical prophecy and warning:

2 Tim 4:3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. . . . [ESV]

Thus, we see the central importance of our steadfast fidelity to the Scriptures and their teaching:

2 Tim 3:14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. [ESV]

This in turn identifies the key reference and focus for this course: the scriptures. 

(In the next unit, we will focus on warranting our confidence in those scriptures and their main message, in the face of worldview level challenges.)

FOR DISCUSSION AND ASSIGNMENTS:

First, draw up a table of comparison, laying out the Nicene Creed on the left, then in following columns, excerpts from Isa 52 - 53, 1 Cor 15:1 - 11, Acts 2:16 - 42 and Heb 1:1 - 14. In light of what you see there: 

1] Examine the summary of the gospel as presented above, in the Nicene Creed, in the comparative table you have prepared of the creed and scriptures (cf. also, this table) and in the preliminary remarks. Critically assess:
(a) do the remarks provide a true and fair summary of the gospel?
(b) is the gospel authentic as the fulfillment of Israel's messianic hopes, as grounded in reasonably established facts and as the actual message of the NT era church?

(c)  is it a fair conclusion that the gospel as reported is the core foundation of the Christian Faith and of one's personal discipleship?
(d) Why or why not -- i.e., on what grounds?
2] In light of your experience and observation, discuss the current strengths and weaknesses of the church in the Caribbean relative to the gospel and to its application through soundly founded discipleship per the six ABC-teachings of Heb 6:1 - 2, and current trends, opportunities and challenges in the region and wider world.
3] If we continue with "business as usual," what would be the likely outcome over the next 10 - 20 years?

4] is it fair to think of the college experience in terms of a battle pivoting on the reality of objective truth and the validity of right rooted in our inherent value as human beings, in a stronghold that often erects barriers against the knowledge of God? Why or why not, in light of the statistics and trends cited or that you can find for yourself?

5] Based on trends and counter-trends you find plausible, how is that experience likely to affect the wider community in our region across time, one way or another? What can and should we therefore do?

6] In light of chain of custody on documents, the likely original documents, the internal coherence and quality of the testimony therein, as well as external corroboration, what is the overall degree of credibility of the historical grounding of the Christian faith? On what grounds do you so conclude?

7] How would you share your conclusions with:
(a) a naive but bright youngster heading off for college,
 (b) someone who has been told that there is no good evidence that Jesus existed and was the messiah of Israel,
(c) an atheistic advocate of this claim,
(d) an Islamic advocate who would try to dismiss the gospels as anonymous and the substance as suspect, probably deliberately falsified by church authorities [Hint: cf. here and here (go to books tab for shorter notes on points) for point-counterpoint, here for a concrete case (the McDowell-Deedat debate, html format), and on underlying issues, here],
(e) someone who takes the sort of claims we may see from Dan Brown, or skeptical cable TV [or Internet video] shows, or The Jesus Seminar or similar radical NT scholars seriously?
8] Based on your reflections and findings, what then should we -- individually, as families, as  congregations, as part of the church in your territory, as part of the church in the region -- do? Why? How?