Basics of the Christian Faith
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
LEAF ONE: THE EYEWITNESSES
To establish credible evidence, two factors are required, credible eyewitnesses and credible testimony. In this section, we deal with the first factor, seeking to establish the fact the original followers of Jesus were credible, believable, trustworthy eyewitnesses of His resurrection.
When in college, I met an older student who was an ex-priest. He had renounced his vows, Roman Catholicism, and Christianity as a whole. We were one day discussing our lives. He had left behind the ministry and faith, I was in the beginning stages of ministry. I asked why he had renounced the faith. He answered, and then asked why I believed. No one had ever confronted me with the question head-on. My spontaneous answer to him then remains my more developed answer today. I am a believer primarily because the original followers of Jesus were willing to die for what they claimed about His resurrection. The Twelve, except for Judas the betrayer and possibly John the Beloved, all died a martyr’s death.
It stretches credulity past the breaking point to believe all these men would have died for a concocted lie. When believers put forth this argument, skeptics quickly point out the fact all religions have produced martyrs aplenty. This is true, but Christianity is unique in that its original proponents died for the foundational truths that are its underpinnings.
Martyrs have died by the millions for many religions, including Christianity, but none of these prove the truth of their religion. Their deaths merely prove they believe what others have told them about their religion.
The testimonies that ultimately count are the ones that deal with the credibility of a religion’s first teachings. This is what Christianity offers. We have evidence that could stand up in a court of law. Our original eyewitnesses were credible.
I believe in the resurrection of Jesus also because His followers were radically altered by what happened on that Sunday morning. The disciples had been cowards before, but became as bold as lions afterwards. A concocted lie could not change a group of people this dramatically. These timid souls became zealous evangelists who, according to their enemies, fearlessly filled Jerusalem with their teachings (Acts 5:28). Their antagonists later accused them of having turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6).
Another reason I believe in Jesus’ resurrection is because His siblings changed from being unbelievers before that Sunday to being believers later. Two of Jesus’ brothers, James and Jude, wrote books included in the New Testament.
I believe also because the resurrection story was first told by women. Had the disciples wanted to fabricate a credible story, they would not have started with women, whose testimony was not considered valid in a court of law. The disciples let the women speak and relate their story for one reason, what they were saying was true.
Over one billion people believe Jesus rose from the dead. We find in His resurrection the basis for our understanding that Christ is the fullness of Deity in human form (Colossians 2:10). If He was (and is) God in the flesh, Emmanuel (meaning God with us), then why should a resurrection be deemed unbelievable? He who created the world could easily rise from death.
Christ’s first followers were credible eyewitnesses providing facts to support an occurrence believable, possible, and feasible. Because of their testimony, to believe in the resurrection requires a step, not a leap, of faith.
Two Oxford professors, Gilbert West and Lord Lyttleton, were determined to destroy Christianity. West set out to disprove the resurrection of Jesus, Lyttleton decided to prove Saul of Tarsus never converted to Christianity. As a result of their extensive research, both became ardent believers in Christ.
Others have sought in vain to destroy Christianity. Voltaire believed his arguments and teachings would bring about the end of Christianity in his lifetime. His prediction of doom was premature. After he died, his house was purchased by a Bible Society and used as a warehouse to store Bibles in.
Why does Christianity survive amidst a flood of opposition? Because it is based not on philosophy or rhetoric, but rather on a historical event supported by the testimony of credible witnesses. All who accept the evidence, and choose to believe in the risen Christ, find in His resurrection a new beginning, forgiveness for sins, power for living, and hope for the future.