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A Defense of the Deity of Christ
Islam claims Jesus was a mere human being, a prophet of God, superseded by Muhammad who was the last and greatest of the prophets. Christianity insists Jesus is God in human flesh. Whatever other points of commonality there may be between these two forms of monotheism, there is no adjudicating this conflict. Both beliefs are at the heart of their system, and each is diametrically opposed to the other. Since we have already considered the evidence for Muhammad’s claim, it remains to examine the Christian claim that Christ is the very Son of God.
Since the evidence for these claims is centered around Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection three days later, and since Muslims deny both, these claims will be the focus of this chapter.
According to Christian monotheism, God is one in essence (just like in Islamic monotheism), but three in persons. One of these persons is Christ, the Son of God who, like human sons, is of the same nature as his Father but is a different person. Muslim misunderstanding of Christian monotheism begins when they claim, as Ajijola does, that “Jesus claimed only to be a prophet or a messenger of God. The Gospels also accord Jesus a status not a shade higher than that of Prophet and Messenger.”1 Noted Muslim commentator Abdalati declares that “all [the passages about Jesus in the Qur’an] emphasize the fact that Jesus never claimed to be a god or the Son of God, and that he was only the servant and apostle of the Lord in the pattern of those before him.”2 Mufassir adds, “the biblical expression ‘Son of God’ cannot be said to have ever come, authentically, from the lips of Jesus himself.”3
At the heart of Christianity is the death and resurrection of Christ. Muslims deny that Jesus died on the cross and rose again from the dead three days later. Christians, on the other hand, not only claim that this is the central truth of Christianity but that it is also the central proof of Christ’s claim to be the Son of God in human flesh. Thus, it is necessary to address the Muslim misunderstanding about the death of Christ. Since the significance of Christ’s death will be discussed later (in Chapter 13), we will treat only the fact of Christ’s death here.
Contrary to Islamic thought, there is overwhelming historical and factual evidence that Jesus died on the cross and rose again on the third day. The evidence for Christ’s death is greater than for that of almost any event in the ancient world.
Many skeptics and Muslims believe that Jesus did not die on the cross. Some say that he took a drug that put him in a coma-like state and that he later revived in the tomb. But the Bible says repeatedly that Christ died on the cross (Rom. 5:8; 1 Cor. 15:3; 1 Thess. 4:14). But Jesus never fainted or swooned or was drugged on the cross. In fact, he refused the drug customarily offered to the victim before crucifixion to help deaden pain (Matt. 27:34), and accepted only “vinegar” later (v. 48) to quench his thirst.
Contrary to Muslim belief, the evidence that Christ actually died on the cross is overwhelming.4 Consider the following.
First of all, the Old Testament predicted that Christ would die (Isa. 53:5–10; Ps. 22:16; Dan. 9:26; Zech. 12:10). And Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah (Matt. 4:14; 5:17–18; 8:17; John 4:25–26; 5:39).
Second, Jesus announced many times during his ministry that he was going to die (John 2:19–21; 10:10–11; Matt. 12:40; Mark 8:31). Typical is Matthew 17:22–23 that says, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised.”
Third, all the predictions of his resurrection, both in the Old Testament (Ps. 16:10; Isa. 26:19; Dan. 12:2), and in the New Testament (John 2:19–21; Matt. 12:40; 17:22–23) are based on the fact that he would die. Only a dead body can be resurrected.
Fourth, the nature and extent of Jesus’ injuries indicate that he must have died. He had no sleep the night before he was crucified. He was beaten several times and whipped. And he collapsed on the way to his crucifixion carrying his cross. This in itself, to say nothing of the crucifixion to follow, was totally exhausting and life-draining.
Fifth, the nature of the crucifixion assures death. Jesus was on the cross from 9 a.m. (Mark 15:25) in the morning until just before sunset. He bled from wounded hands and feet plus from the thorns that pierced his head. There would be a tremendous loss of blood from enduring this for more than six hours. Plus, crucifixion demands that one constantly pull himself up in order to breathe, causing excruciating pain. Doing this all day would kill nearly anyone even if they were previously in good health.
Sixth, the piercing of Jesus’ side with the spear, from which came “blood and water” (John 19:34), is proof that he had physically died before the piercing. When this has happened, it is a medical proof that the person has already died.
Seventh, Jesus said he was in the act of dying on the cross when he declared “Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit” (Luke 23:46). And “having said this, He breathed His last” (v. 46). John renders this, “He gave up His spirit” (John 19:30). His death cry was heard by those who stood by (Luke 23:47–49).
Eighth, the Roman soldiers, accustomed to crucifixion and death, pronounced Jesus dead. Although it was a common practice to break the legs of the victim to speed death (so that the person can no longer lift himself and breathe), they did not even break Jesus’ legs (John 19:33).
Ninth, Pilate double-checked to make sure Jesus was dead before he gave the corpse to Joseph to be buried. “Summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time. And when he found out from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph” (Mark 15:44–45).
Tenth, Jesus was wrapped in about seventy-five pounds of cloth and spices and placed in a sealed tomb for three days (John 19:39–40; Matt. 27:60). If he was not dead by then, which he clearly was, he would have died from lack of food, water, and medical treatment.
Eleventh, medical authorities who have examined the circumstances and nature of Christ’s death have concluded that he actually died on the cross.5 An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (March 21, 1986) concludes:
Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted and supports the traditional view that the spear, thrust between his right rib, probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and heart and thereby ensured his death. Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.6
Twelveth, non-Christian historians and writers from the first and second centuries recorded the death of Christ. The Jewish historian of the time of Christ, Josephus, believed that Jesus died on the cross. He wrote, “Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross.”7 Likewise, the Roman historian, Cornelius Tacitus, wrote: “a wise man who was called Jesus.… Pilate condemned Him to be condemned and to die.” He also noted that Jesus’ disciples “reported that He had appeared to them three days after His crucifixion and that He was alive.”8 According to Julius Africanus (c. a.d. 221), the first-century historian, Thallus (c. a.d. 52), “when discussing the darkness which fell upon the land during the crucifixion of Christ,” spoke of it as an eclipse.9 The second-century Greek writer, Lucian, speaks of Christ as “the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced a new cult into the world.” He calls him the “crucified sophist.”10 The “letter of Mara Bar-Serapion” (c. a.d. 73), housed in the British Museum, speaks of Christ’s death, asking: “What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King?”11 Indeed, even the Jewish Talmud says, “on the eve of Passover they hanged Yeshu (of Nazareth).… Let everyone knowing aught in his defense come and plead for him. But they found naught in his defense and hanged him on the eve of Passover.”12 Finally, there was the Roman writer, Phlegon, who spoke of Christ’s death and resurrection in his Chronicles, saying, “Jesus, while alive, was of no assistance to himself, but that he arose after death, and exhibited the marks of his punishment, and showed how his hands had been pierced by nails.”13 Phlegon even mentioned “the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in whose reign Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquakes which then took place.”14
Thirteenth, the earliest Christian writers after the time of Christ affirmed his death on the cross by crucifixion. Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John, repeatedly affirmed the death of Christ, speaking, for example, of “our Lord Jesus Christ, who for our sins suffered even unto death.”15 Ignatius (a.d. c. 30–c. 107) was a friend of Polycarp. He clearly affirmed the suffering and death of Christ, saying, “And He really suffered and died, and rose again.” Otherwise, he adds, all his apostles who suffered for this belief, died in vain. “But, (in truth) none of these sufferings were in vain; for the Lord was really crucified by the ungodly.”16 In his Dialogue With Trypho the Jew, Justin Martyr notes that Jews of his day believed that “Jesus [was] a Galilean deceiver, whom we crucified.”17
This unbroken testimony from the Old Testament to the early church fathers, including believers and unbelievers, Jews and Gentiles, is overwhelming evidence that Jesus really suffered and died on the cross. But if it is an established fact that Jesus died, then it is also a fact that he rose from the dead, since the evidence is equally strong that he rose from the dead. Thus, this would miraculously confirm his unique claim to be the Son of God. Let us take a look at the evidence.
Proof That Jesus Is the Son of God
There are several basic steps in the argument that Jesus is the Son of God. First, are the New Testament documents that record the words of Christ accurate? Second, did the writers of the manuscripts give an accurate account of what Jesus taught? Third, did Jesus actually claim to be the Son of God? Fourth, did Jesus perform unique miracles that confirmed he was the Son of God?
The Reliability of New Testament Documents
It may come as a surprise to those not familiar with the facts that there is more documentary evidence for the reliability of the New Testament than for any other book from the ancient world.18 Nevertheless, as we shall see, it is true for several reasons.
It is not uncommon for some of the great classics from antiquity to survive in only a handful of manuscript copies. According to the great Manchester scholar F. F. Bruce, we have about nine or ten good copies of Caesar’s Gallic War, twenty copies of Livy’s Roman History, two copies of Tacitus’s Annals, and eight manuscripts of Thucydides’ History.19 The most documented secular work from the ancient world is Homer’s Iliad, surviving in some 643 manuscript copies. By contrast, there are now over 5,686 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. The New Testament is the most highly documented book from the ancient world!20
One of the marks of a good manuscript is its age. Generally the older the better, since the closer to the time of original composition the less likely it is that the text has been corrupted. Most books from the ancient world survive not only in a handful of manuscripts but in manuscripts that were made about one thousand years after they were originally composed. This is true of the above books.
(It is rare to have, as the Odyssey does, only one manuscript copied five hundred years after the original). The New Testament, by contrast, survives in complete books from a little over 150 years after the books were composed. And one fragment21 survives from within about a generation of the time it was composed. No other book from the ancient world has as small a time gap (between composition and earliest manuscript copies) as the New Testament.
Muslims make a strong point of the fact that the Qur’an has been completely preserved. While this is largely true, at least after the Uthmanic revisions, it misses the point, since the Qur’an is only a medieval book (seventh century a.d.). But most Muslims are totally unaware that for an ancient book (first century a.d.) the New Testament is the most accurately copied book in the world.22
There is widespread misunderstanding among Muslims and others about the so-called errors in the biblical manuscripts. Some have estimated there are about 200,000 of them. These are not really “errors” but only variant readings, the vast majority of which are strictly grammatical. These readings are spread throughout more than 5,300 manuscripts, so that a variant spelling of one letter of one word in one verse in 3,000 manuscripts is counted as 3,000 “errors.” The famous textual scholars Westcott and Hort estimated that only one-sixtieth of these variants rise above “trivialities.” This would leave a text 98.33 percent pure.23 The great scholar A. T. Robertson said that the real concern is only with a “thousandth part of the entire text.”24 This would make the New Testament 99.9 percent free of significant variants. The noted historian Philip Schaff calculated that, of the 150,000 variants known in his day, only 400 affected the meaning of the passage, only 50 were of real significance, and not even one affected “an article of faith or a precept of duty which is not abundantly sustained by other and undoubted passages, or by the whole tenor of Scripture teaching.”25
The overwhelming evidence for the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts over other books from the ancient world is summarized in the following comparisons:26
(From Geisler and Nix, General Introduction to the Bible, 408)
Of course, like any ancient book, there are minor transcription errors in the copies. But none of these affect the message of the Bible. To illustrate, note the following telegrams, one that is received one day and the other the next.
1) “Y#U HAVE WON TEN MILLION DOLLARS.”
2) “YO# HAVE WON TEN MILLION DOLLARS.”
Even if we received only the first telegram we know what the exact message is in spite of the error. And if we received twenty telegrams, each one having a similar mistake in a different place, we would say that the message is beyond all reasonable doubt. Now it is noteworthy that the New Testament manuscripts have a much smaller percentage of significant copyist errors than this telegram.27 Further, with some 5,700 manuscripts (compared to a few telegrams), the real message of the New Testament is no more affected than is the message of the telegram.
By comparison with the New Testament, most other books from the ancient world are not nearly so well authenticated. The well-known New Testament scholar Bruce Metzger estimated that the Mahabharata of Hinduism is copied with only about 90 percent accuracy and Homer’s Iliad with about 95 percent. By comparison, he estimated the New Testament is about 99.5 percent accurate.28 So the New Testament text can be reconstructed with over 99 percent accuracy. And, what is more, 100 percent of the message of the New Testament has been preserved in its manuscripts!
Islamic scholars recognize the textual scholar Sir Frederic Kenyon as an authority on the subject. Yusuf Ali, the great Muslim scholar and translator of the Qur’an, cites Kenyon several times as a recognized authority on ancient manuscripts. Yet Kenyon concluded that:
The number of manuscripts of the New Testament, of early translations from it, and of quotations from it in the oldest writers of the Church, is so large that it is practically certain that the true reading of every doubtful passage is preserved in some one or other of these ancient authorities. This can be said of no other ancient book in the world.29
The Reliability of New Testament Witnesses
Tracing the manuscripts back to the first century does not prove, of course, that those who wrote them were either honest or accurate. In order to establish the truth of what the manuscripts say, one must examine the evidence relating to the witnesses.
New Testament Writers Were Contemporaries of the Events
Most (if not all) of the New Testament claims to be written by eyewitnesses and contemporaries of the events of Jesus’ ministry (c. a.d. 29–33). Matthew is written by a disciple and observer who gives long and direct quotes from Jesus (e.g., 5–7; 13; 23; 24–25). He was accustomed to taking records as a tax collector (Matt. 9:9). Mark was a disciple of Peter (1 Peter 5:13) and an eyewitness of Christ (2 Peter 1:16). Luke was an educated contemporary of Christ who said that “just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (viz., the apostles), so too “it seemed fitting for me as well, beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order” (Luke 1:1–3). John the apostle was a direct eyewitness (John 21:24; cf. 1 John 1:1), as was Peter (2 Peter 1:16). Paul was a contemporary of Christ and a witness of his resurrection (1 Cor. 15:8). Paul lists many others who saw the resurrected Christ, together with a group of over five hundred, most of whom were still alive when he wrote (1 Cor. 15:6).
The evidence that these claims should be taken at face value is weighty. First, there is the general rule of historical research expressed by the philosopher Immanuel Kant. This rule says in effect that historical reports are “innocent until proven guilty.” That is, what purports to be authentic would be accepted as authentic, until it is shown to be unauthentic. As many have pointed out, this is indeed the rule used in the normal discourses of life. Were the opposite used, there would be a breakdown of all everyday communication.
Second, there is what is known in law as the “ancient document rule.” According to this rule, “a writing is sufficiently authenticated as an ancient document if the party who offers it satisfies the judge that the writing is thirty years old, that is unsuspicious in appearance, and further proves that the writing is produced from a place of custody natural for such a document.” According to the noted American legal authority, McCormick, “Any combination of circumstances sufficient to support a finding of genuineness will be appropriate authentication.”30 Now, using the rule, the New Testament should be considered authentic. It is an ancient document whose transmission can be traced and whose custodianship has been proper. In fact, many great legal minds have been convinced of the truth of Christianity on the basis of the rules of evidence used to try life-and-death cases in the courtroom. Simon Greenleaf, a professor of law at Harvard who wrote the book on legal evidence, was converted to Christianity in just this way.31 Using the canons of legal evidence he concludes that, “Copies which had been as universally received and acted upon as the Four Gospels, would have been received in evidence in any court of justice, without the slightest hesitation.”32
Third, the early dating of the New Testament manuscripts supports their truthfulness. The most knowledgeable scholars date the New Testament books within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses and alleged authors. Archaeologist Nelson Glueck wrote, “We can already say emphatically that there is no longer any solid basis for dating any book of the New Testament after about a.d. 80.”33 The renowned paleographer William F. Albright declared that “every book of the New Testament was written by a baptized Jew between the forties and the eighties of the first century a.d. (very probably between about a.d. 50 and 75).”34
The tendency of Muslim scholars, like Deedat, to follow the older more liberal Christian scholars who give a late date for the New Testament is ill-fated. Many of these scholars have had to change their position in view of more recent arguments (see Appendix 4). Even the radical death-of-God theologian Bishop John Robinson, famous for writing Honest to God, became honest with the facts and declared that the New Testament was written by contemporaries beginning as early as seven years or so after the events and were circulated among other eyewitnesses and/or contemporaries of the events.35 Another Bultmannian scholar has broken ranks with the radical view, arguing that the Gospels were written by eyewitness disciples of Jesus. After exposing the bankruptcy of the critical presuppositions, she forthrightly proclaimed, “That is why I say ‘No’ to historical-critical theology. I regard everything that I taught and wrote … as refuse. I wish to use this opportunity to mention that I have pitched my two books Gleichnisse Jesu … and Studien zur Passionsgeschichte … I threw them into the trash with my own hands in 1978.”36 Subsequently, she has produced a scholarly tome on the Gospels, showing that there is no literary dependency on prior sources, as she had once argued as a critic of the Bible.37
Indeed, there are many good reasons for holding that the Gospel writers were first-century contemporaries of Christ who gave independent, firsthand accounts of what Jesus said and did.38 The manuscript evidence (listed above) reveals that the New Testament was a first-century document. The critical arguments against the authenticity of the New Testament documents are not based on factual evidence but on an unjustified antisupernatural bias that even Muslims reject. To put it another way, if this same critical bias accepted by Muslim scholars against the Bible were applied to the Qur’an, they would have to reject the Qur’an as well! The New Testament writings were cited by contemporary first-century documents, such as the Shepherd of Hermas, showing that they must have been in existence in the first century. The Gospel of John claims to be written by an eyewitness disciple (John). He signs off his book, saying, “This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24).
Luke claims to be a careful contemporary historian of the events he records, saying, “having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, [I decided] to write to you an orderly account … that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed” (Luke 1:3, 4). After spending many years researching the area, the noted expert on the first-century Near East, Sir William Ramsay, concluded that Luke was a first-rate historian. For in reference to thirty-two countries, fifty-four cities, and nine islands he did not make a single mistake!39 The New Testament writers were honest men who willingly died for what they believed. And they were careful to distinguish their words from those of Jesus, revealing that they were not inventing them but reporting them (Acts 20:35; 1 Cor. 7:10, 12, 25; Rev. 1:17–20; 2:1f; 3:1f; 22:16–20). The New Testament is markedly different from Christian folklore, such as is found in the second- and third-century Christian apocryphal books. Noted Oxford expert on literature and myths, C. S. Lewis, insightfully notes about New Testament critics:
I distrust them as critics. They seem to me to lack literary judgement, to be imperceptive about the very quality of the texts they are reading.… If he tells me that something in a Gospel is legend or romance, I want to know how many legends and romances he has read. . . . I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this [the Gospels].40
In short, there is no basis for the Muslim claim that the New Testament is dependent on earlier sources. Rather, it is clearly a firsthand, first-century account by disciples and contemporaries of Christ. And contrary to widely believed liberal myths, each account is independent. Everyone acknowledges the differences between and independence of John and Luke, which is all that is necessary to manifest their authenticity. And, even though it is unnecessary for the overall argument in defense of the authenticity of the basic life and words of Christ, a good case can be made for the independence of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) as well.41
Fourth, the science of archaeology has confirmed the historical accuracy of the Gospel records. This can be dramatically illustrated through the writings of Sir William Ramsay, whose conversion from a skeptical view of the New Testament was supported by a lifetime of research in the Near Eastern world. Ramsay speaks for himself:
I began with a mind unfavorable to it [Acts], for the ingenuity and apparent completeness of the Tubingen theory had at one time quite convinced me. It did not lie then in my line of life to investigate the subject minutely; but more recently I found myself often brought in contact with the book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities, and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth.42
As already noted, Ramsay discovered that Luke was a first-rate historian, not making a single error in the numerous details he was able to check. Noted Roman historian Colin Hemer has demonstrated the historicity and authenticity of the New Testament in an incredible way.43 His work shows: 1) that the Books of Acts was written no later than a.d. 62; 2) that it is minutely accurate history written by an eyewitness and contemporary of the events of Jesus’ life; 3) that the same highly accurate contemporary historian, Dr. Luke, also wrote a Gospel (cf. Acts 1:1 and Luke 1:1) which tells the same basic story as the other Gospels, namely, that Jesus claimed to be and proved to be the Son of God by numerous and incredible miracles, and that he died on the Cross and rose from the grave three days later. This is of course a strong confirmation of the central Christian message and a refutation of the central message of Islam that God has no Son and that Jesus did not die on the Cross and rise from the dead three days later. So Luke’s narration of the life and miracles of Christ must likewise be accepted as authentic. And since Luke’s narration of Christ’s life and miracles in it accord with that of the other Gospels, we have here an archaeological confirmation of the Gospels that record the miracles and resurrection of Christ. In brief, from a strictly historical point of view, we could not have better evidence for the authenticity of events than we possess for the events in the life of Christ recorded in the New Testament.
Hume’s Criteria for Credibility
David Hume, perhaps the greatest skeptic of modern times, outlines the basic criteria that he believes necessary for testing the credibility of witnesses: “We entertain suspicion concerning any matter of fact when the witnesses contradict each other, when they are but few or of a doubtful character, when they have an interest in what they affirm, when they deliver their testimony with hesitation, or with too violent asseverations [declarations].”44 Basically, these can be translated into four questions: Do the witnesses contradict each other? Are there a sufficient number of witnesses? Were the witnesses truthful? Were they nonprejudicial? Let us apply Hume’s tests to the New Testament witnesses for the resurrection of Christ.
The evidence is that the testimony of the witnesses is not contradictory.45 Each New Testament writer tells a crucial and overlapping part of the whole story. Christ was crucified (around a.d. 30) under Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem. He claimed to be the Son of God and offered miracles in support of his claim. He was crucified, confirmed to be dead and buried, and yet three days later the tomb was empty. Further, to many groups of people on many occasions over the next month or so, Jesus physically appeared in the same nail-scarred body that had died. He proved his physical reality to them so convincingly that these skeptical men boldly preached the resurrection a little over a month later in the same city, whereupon thousands of Jews were converted to Christianity.
To be sure, there are minor discrepancies in the Gospel accounts. One account (Matt. 28:5) says there was one angel at the tomb; John says there were two angels (John 20:12). But two things should be noted about these kinds of discrepancies. First, they are conflicts but not contradictions. That is, they are not irreconcilable. Matthew does not say there was only one angel there, that would be a contradiction. The simple rule of harmony is this: “Where there are two, there is one.”46 Second, conflict of testimony is just what one would expect from authentic, independent witnesses. Any perceptive judge who heard several witnesses give identical testimony would discount their testimony, assuming they were in collusion.
There are twenty-seven books in the New Testament. As already noted, they were written by some nine different persons, all of whom were eyewitnesses or contemporaries of the events they recorded. Of these books, six are crucial to the topic of New Testament miracles (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, and 1 Corinthians). All of these books bear witness to the miracle of the resurrection. Further, even critical scholars now acknowledge that these books are first-century documents most of which were written before a.d. 70, while contemporaries of Christ were still alive. Virtually all scholars acknowledge that 1 Corinthians was written by the apostle Paul around a.d. 55 or 56, only about two decades after the death of Christ. This is a powerful witness to the reality of the miracle of the resurrection for several reasons. It is a very early document, written a little more than two decades after the event occurred. It is written by an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ (1 Cor. 15:8; cf. Acts 9). It provides a list referring to over five hundred eyewitnesses of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:6). It contains a reference to the fact that most of these witnesses were still alive and could check out the reliability of the evidence for the resurrection.
Few challenge the fact that the New Testament provides one of the greatest standards of morality known to man in Jesus’ emphasis on love (Matt. 22:36–37) and in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7). His apostles repeated this same teaching in their writings (cf. Rom. 13; 1 Cor. 13; Gal. 5). Furthermore, their lives exemplified their moral teaching. Most of them even died for what they taught about Christ (2 Tim. 4:6–8; 2 Peter 1:14), an unmistakable sign of their sincerity.
In addition to teaching that truth is a divine imperative (Rom. 12:9), it is evident that the New Testament writers were scrupulous about expressing it in their writings. Peter declared: “We did not follow cunningly devised fables” (2 Peter 1:16). The apostle Paul insisted, “Do not lie one to another” (Col. 3:9). The New Testament writers were honest men, most of whom sealed the truth of their testimony with their own willingness to die for the truth of what they had written. Where the
New Testament writers’ statements overlap with the discovery of historians and archaeologists, they have proven to be accurate. Noted archaeologist Nelson Glueck concludes, “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or exact detail historical statements in the Bible.”47 Millar Burrows notes that “more than one archaeologist has found his respect for the Bible increased by the experience of excavation in Palestine.”48 Clifford A. Wilson has added still more support to the historical reliability of the Bible.49 In fact, there is no proof that the New Testament writers ever lied in their writings or deliberately falsified the facts of the case. If they were asked in court “to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” their testimony would be accepted as valid by any unbiased jury in the world. In brief, as the great Harvard legal expert concluded, their testimony is devoid of any sign of perjury.50
Evidence for the Resurrection
There is every reason to believe that New Testament witnesses of the miracles of Christ, particularly of his resurrection, were not predisposed to believe the events to which they gave testimony.
First, the apostles themselves did not believe the testimony of others that Christ had risen from the dead. When the women reported it, “their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11). Even when some of the disciples saw Christ themselves they were “slow of heart to believe” (Luke 24:25). Indeed, when Jesus ap-peared to ten apostles and showed them his crucifixion scars, “they still did not believe for joy, and marveled” (Luke 24:41). And even after they were convinced by Jesus’ eating of food, their absent colleague Thomas protested that he would not believe unless he could put his finger in the scars in Jesus’ hand (John 20:25).
Second, Jesus not only appeared to believers; he also appeared to unbelievers. He appeared to his unbelieving half-brother James (John 7:5; 1 Cor. 15:7). Indeed, he appeared to the greatest unbeliever of the day—a Jewish Pharisee named Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9). If Jesus had only appeared to those who were either believers or with the propensity to believe, then there might be some legitimacy to the charge that the witnesses were prejudiced. But just the opposite is the case.
Third, the witnesses to the resurrection had nothing to gain personally for their witness to the resurrection. They were persecuted and threatened with death for their stand (Acts 4, 5, 8). As a matter of fact, most of the apostles were martyred for their belief. Certainly, it would have been much more profitable personally for them to deny the resurrection. Rather, they proclaimed and defended it in the face of death.
Fourth, to discount their testimonies because they believed in the resurrected Christ is like discounting an eyewitness of a murder because he actually saw it occur! The prejudice in this case is not with the witnesses but with those who reject their testimony.
Evidence That Jesus Claimed to Be the Son of God
Since Muslims believe that Jesus performed miracles to confirm his claims to be speaking for God, we need not spend much time on this point. The Qur’an affirms Jesus’ virgin birth (19:16–21; 3:37–47), and his many miraculous acts recorded in the New Testament (and even the New Testament Apocrypha), such as his healings and raising people from the dead (see 19:29–31; 5:110). The Qur’an even affirms that God “raised him up” to heaven (4:158),51 though Muslims do not believe this refers to Jesus’ resurrection three days after his crucifixion, as recorded in the Gospels.52 But the fact that Jesus performed miracles, even resurrections, to prove his message was of God, is clearly affirmed by the Qur’an. So Muslims believe in the supernatural birth, life, and end of the life of Christ on earth (viz., the ascension). He is in fact the only prophet who possessed all three of these. This makes him, even according to the Muslims’ own teaching, the most unique supernatural person ever to live.
Christians, of course, believe more. Unlike Muslims, they believe that Jesus is also the unique Son of God. But since Muslims believe that whatever Jesus taught was true, it remains to provide evidence for Christ’s claim to be the Son of God.
Like the Qur’an, the Bible also lays down miracles as the test for the authenticity of a prophet (Exod. 4; 1 Kings 18; John 3:2; Heb. 2:3–4). What remains, then, is to examine the evidence to see if indeed the words of the Jewish Rabbi Nicodemus were correct, when he said to Jesus, “We know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2).
Since we have already shown that the New Testament documents and witnesses are reliable, it remains only to see what they tell us about the claims of Christ. In brief, they inform us that Jesus of Nazareth, born of the virgin Mary, claimed to be the unique Son of God, deity incarnated in human flesh. There are a number of ways in which Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. In an attempt to find support for this conclusion, Muslim scholars often misconstrue biblical claims about Christ. These will be considered later (in Chapter 12).
Muslim Misunderstanding of “Son of God”
Before discussing Jesus’ specific claims to be the Son of God, it is necessary to respond briefly to the Muslim misunderstanding of this claim. Many Muslims understand the phrase “Son of God” to imply that Jesus was the offspring of physical relations. Indeed, appeal is often made to 19:35 which declares: “It is not befitting To (the majesty of) God That He should beget A son.” Indeed, many Muslims grossly conceive of Jesus as the offspring of sexual relations between God and the virgin Mary. This, of course, is a straw man and is easily refuted by reference to what the Bible actually says about the miraculous conception of Jesus without any sexual relations (Matt. 1:18–24; Luke 1:26–35). There is, however, another problem in the Muslim mind with the phrase “Son of God.” There are two Arabic words for “son” that must be distinguished. The word walad denotes a son born of sexual relations. Jesus is definitely not a son in this sense. However, there is another Arabic word for son, ibn, that can be used in a wider figurative or metaphorical sense. A traveler, for example, is spoken of as a “son of the road” (ibnussabil). It is in this wider sense that it makes sense to speak of Jesus as the “Son (ibn) of God.”
Jesus’ Claim to be God
Jehovah or Yahweh (YHWH) is the special name given by God for himself in the Old Testament. It is the name revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14, when God said, “I AM THAT I AM.” While other titles for God may be used of men (Adonai [Lord] in Gen. 18:12) or false gods (elohim [gods] in Deut. 6:14), Jehovah is only used to refer to the one true God. No other person or thing was to be worshiped or served (Exod. 20:5), and his name and glory were not to be given to another. Isaiah wrote, “Thus saith Jehovah … I am the first, and I am the last; and besides me there is no God” (Isa. 44:6 ASV)53 and, “I am Jehovah, that is my name; and my glory I will not give to another, neither my praise unto graven images” (42:8).
Yet Jesus claimed to be Jehovah on many occasions. Jesus prayed, “Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made” (John 17:5). But Jehovah of the Old Testament says, “My glory I will not give to another” (Isa. 42:8). Jesus also declares, “I am the first and the last” (Rev. 1:17)—precisely the words Jehovah uses in Isaiah 42:8. Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd,” (John 10:11), but the Old Testament says, “Jehovah is my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1). Further, Jesus claims to be the judge of all men (John 5:27f.; Matt. 25:31f.), but Joel quotes Jehovah as saying, “for there I will sit to judge all the nations round about” (Joel 3:12). Likewise, Jesus spoke of himself as the “bridegroom” (Matt. 25:1) while the Old Testament identifies Jehovah in this way (Isa. 62:5; Hos. 2:16). While the Psalmist declares, “Jehovah is our light” (Ps. 27:1), Jesus says, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).
Perhaps the strongest claim Jesus made to be Jehovah is in John 8:58, where he says, “Before Abraham was, I am.” This statement claims not only existence before Abraham, but equality with the “I AM” of Exodus 3:14. The Jews around him clearly understood his meaning and picked up stones to kill him for blaspheming (cf. John 8:58; 10:31–33). The same claim is made in Mark 14:62 and John 18:5–6.
Jesus claimed to be equal with God in other ways. One was by claiming for himself the prerogatives of God. He said to a paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5f.). The scribes correctly responded, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” So, to prove that his claim was not an empty boast he healed the man, offering direct proof that what he had said about forgiving sins was true also.
Another prerogative that Jesus claimed was the power to raise and judge the dead: “Truly, truly I say to you, the hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live . . . and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29). He removed all doubt about his meaning when he added, “For as the Father raised the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom He will” (v. 21). But the Old Testament clearly teaches that only God is the giver of life (1 Sam. 2:6; Deut. 32:39) and the one to raise the dead (Ps. 2:7) and the only judge (Joel 3:12; Deut. 32:35). Jesus boldly assumed for himself powers that only God has.
Jesus also claimed that he should be honored as God. He said that all men should, “Honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the father.” The Jews listening knew that no one should claim to be equal with God in this way and again they reached for stones (John 5:18).
Even the Qur’an recognizes that Jesus is the Messiah (5:14, 75). But the Old Testament teaches that the coming Messiah would be God himself. So when Jesus claimed to be that Messiah, he was also claiming to be God. For example, the prophet Isaiah (9:6) calls the Messiah, “Mighty God.” The psalmist wrote of the Messiah, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever” (Ps. 45:6; cf. Heb. 1:8). Psalm 110:1 records a conversation between the Father and the Son: “Jehovah said to my Lord (Adoni), sit thou at my right hand.” Jesus applied this passage to himself in Matthew 22:43–44. In the great messianic prophecy of Daniel 7, the Son of Man is called the “ancient of days” (v. 22), a phrase used twice in the same passage of God the Father (vv. 9, 13). Jesus also said he was the Messiah at his trial before the high priest. When asked, “Are you the Christ [Greek for Messiah], the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus responded, “I am; and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” At this, the high priest tore his robe and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard this blasphemy!” (Mark 14:61–64). There was no doubt that in claiming to be Messiah (see also Luke 24:27; Matt. 26:54), Jesus also claimed to be God.
The Old Testament forbids worshiping anyone other than God (Exod. 20:1–4; Deut. 5:6–9). The New Testament agrees, showing that men refused worship (Acts
14:15) as did angels (Rev. 22:8–9). But Jesus accepted worship on numerous occasions, showing his claim to be God. A healed leper worshiped him (Matt. 8:2), and a ruler knelt before him with a request (Matt. 9:18). After he stilled the storm, “those in the boat worshiped Him saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’ ” (Matt. 14:33). A group of Canaanite women (Matt. 15:25), the mother of James and John (Matt. 20:20), the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:6), all worshiped Jesus without one word of rebuke. But Christ also elicited worship in some cases, as when Thomas saw the risen Christ and cried out, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). This could only be done by a person who seriously considered himself to be God.
Jesus also put his words on a par with God’s. “You have heard that it was said to men of old … But I say unto you” (Matt. 5:21–22) is repeated over and over again. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:18–19). God had given the Ten Commandments to Moses, but Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another” (John 13:34). Jesus said, “Till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot will pass from the Law” (Matt. 5:18), but later Jesus said of his own words, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). Speaking of those who reject him, Jesus said, “The word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day” (John 12:48). There is no question that Jesus expected his words to have equal authority with God’s declarations in the Old Testament.
Jesus not only asked men to believe in him and obey his commandments, but he also asked them to pray in his name. “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it.… If you ask anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13–14). “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). Jesus even insisted, “no man comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). In response to this the disciples not only prayed in Jesus’ name (1 Cor. 5:4), but prayed to Christ (Acts 7:59). Jesus certainly intended that his name be invoked both before God and as God in prayer.
In view of these many clear ways in which Jesus claimed to be God, any unbiased observer aware of the Gospels should recognize, whether he accepts the claim or not, that Jesus of Nazareth did indeed claim to be God in human flesh. That is, he claimed to be identical to the Jehovah of the Old Testament.
In addition to Jesus’ claim about himself, his disciples also acknowledged his claim to deity. This they manifested in many ways.
In agreement with their Master, Jesus’ Apostles called him “the first and the last” (Rev. 1:17; 2:8; 22:13), “the true light” (John 1:9), their “rock” or “stone” (1 Cor. 10:4; 1 Pet. 2:6–8; cf. Ps. 18:2; 95:1), the “bridegroom” (Eph. 5:28–33; Rev. 21:2), “the chief Shepherd” (1 Pet. 5:4), and “the great Shepherd” (Heb. 13:20). The Old Testament role of “redeemer” (Hos. 13:14; Ps. 130:7) is given to Jesus in the New Testament (Tit. 2:13; Rev. 5:9). He is seen as the forgiver of sins (Acts 5:31; Col. 3:13; cf. Jer. 31:34; Ps. 130:4) and savior of the world (John 4:42; cf. Isa. 43:3). The apostles also taught that, “Jesus Christ … is to judge the living and the dead” (2 Tim. 4:1). All of these titles are given to Jehovah in the Old Testament but to Jesus in the New.
The New Testament opens with a passage concluding that Jesus is Immanuel (God with us), which refers to the messianic prediction of Isaiah 7:14. The very title “Christ” carries the same meaning as the Hebrew appellation “Messiah” (Anointed). In Zechariah 12:10, Jehovah says, “They will look on me whom they have pierced.” But the New Testament writers apply this passage to Jesus twice (John 19:37; Rev. 1:7) as referring to his crucifixion. Paul interprets Isaiah’s message, “For I am God, and there is no other.… To me every knee shall bow and every tongue swear,” (Isa. 45:22–23) as applying to his Lord, “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10). The implications of this are strong, because Paul says that all created beings will call Jesus both Messiah (Christ) and Jehovah (Lord).
Some things only God can do, but these very things are attributed to Jesus by his disciples. He is said to be able to raise the dead (John 5, 11) and forgive sins (Acts 5:31; 13:38). Moreover, he is said to have been the primary agent in creating the universe (John 1:2; Col. 1:16) and in sustaining its existence (Col. 1:17). Surely only God can be said to be the Creator of all things, but the disciples claim this power for Jesus.
The disciples’ use of Jesus’ name as the agent and recipient of prayer has been noted (1 Cor. 5:4; Acts 7:59). Often in prayers or benedictions, Jesus’ name is used alongside God’s, as in, “grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2). The name of Jesus appears with equal status to God’s in the so-called trinitarian formulas. For example, the command to go and baptize “in the name [singular] of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19, emphasis added). Again this association is made at the end of 2 Corinthians, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (13:14). If there is only one God, then these three persons must by nature be equated.
Thomas saw his wounds and cried, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Paul calls Jesus, “the one in whom the fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9). In Titus, Jesus is called, “our great God and savior” (2:13), and the writer to the Hebrews says of him, “Thy throne, O God, is forever” (1:8). Paul says that before Christ existed in the “form of man,” which clearly refers to being really human, he existed in the “form of God” (Phil. 2:5–8). The parallel phrases suggest that if Jesus was fully human, then he was also fully God. A similar phrase, “the image of God,” is used in Colossians 1:15 to mean the manifestation of God himself. This description is strengthened in Hebrews where it says, “He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of His nature, upholding the universe by the power of His word” (Heb. 1:3). The prologue to John’s Gospel also minces no words, stating, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word [Jesus] was God” (John 1:1, emphasis ours).
The disciples did not simply believe that Christ was more than a man, they believed him to be greater than any created being including angels. Paul says Jesus is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Eph. 1:21). The demons submitted to his command (Matt. 8:32) and even angels that refused to be worshiped are seen worshiping him (Rev. 22:8–9). The author of Hebrews presents a complete argument for Christ’s superiority over angels saying, “For to what angel did God ever say, ‘Thou art my Son, today I have begotten Thee?’ … And when He again brings the first-born into the world, He says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship Him’ ” (Heb. 1:5–6). There could be no clearer teaching that Christ was not an angel, but God whom the angels were to worship.
In summary, there is manifold testimony from Jesus himself and from those who knew him best that Jesus claimed to be God and that his followers believed that to be the case. They claimed for the carpenter of Nazareth unique titles, powers, prerogatives and activities that apply only to God. Whether or not this was the case, there is no doubt that this is what they believed and what Jesus thought of himself. As C. S. Lewis insightfully observed, when confronted with the boldness of Christ’s claims, we are faced with distinct alternatives.
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish things that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of thing Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would rather be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg— Or else he would be the Devil of Hell.54
Jesus’ Miraculous Prophetic Confirmation to Be God
To say that Jesus and his disciples made claims that he was God in human flesh does not in itself prove that he is God. The real question is whether or not there is any good reason to believe that the claims are true. What kind of evidence did Jesus offer to support his claims to deity? The answer is: he offered unique and repeated supernatural confirmations of his claims, the very thing Muhammad recognized as the mark of a true prophet in biblical times (see 2:92, 210, 248). The logic of this argument goes like this:
1. A miracle is an act of God that confirms the truth claim associated with it.
2. Jesus offered unique and multiple lines of miraculous evidence to confirm his claim to be God:
3. Therefore, Jesus’ unique miracles confirm that he is God.
There were dozens of predictive prophecies in the Old Testament regarding the Messiah. Consider the following predictions made centuries in advance that Jesus would be:
1. born of a woman (Gen. 3:15; cf. Gal. 4:4);
2. born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14; cf. Matt. 1:21f.);
3. “cut off” (die) 483 years after the declaration to reconstruct the city of Jerusalem in 444 B.C. (Dan. 9:24f.);55
4. of the seed of Abraham (Gen. 12:1–3 and 22:18; cf. Matt. 1:1 and Gal. 3:16);
5. of the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10; cf. Luke 3:23, 33 and Heb. 7:14);
6. of the house of David (2 Sam. 7:12f.; cf. Matt. 1:1);
7. born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2; cf. Matt. 2:1 and Luke 2:4–7);
8. anointed by the Holy Spirit (Isa. 11:2; cf. Matt. 3:16–17);
9. heralded by the messenger of the Lord (Isa. 40:3 and Mal. 3:1; cf. Matt. 3:1–2);
10. that Jesus would perform miracles (Isa. 35:5–6; cf. Matt. 9:35);
11. would cleanse the temple (Mal. 3:1; cf. Matt. 21:12f.);
12. would be rejected by Jews (Ps. 118:22; cf. 1 Pet. 2:7);
13. die a humiliating death (Ps. 22 and Isa. 53; cf. Matt. 9:35) involving:
14. that he would rise from the dead (Ps. 2:7 and 16:10; cf. Acts 2:31 and Mark 16:6);
15. ascend into heaven (Ps. 68:8; cf. Acts 1:9);
16. and sit at the right hand of God (Ps. 110:1; cf. Heb. 1:3).
It is important to understand that these prophecies were written hundreds of years before Christ was born. No one could have been reading the trends of the times or just making intelligent guesses, like the “prophecies” we see in the check out line at the supermarket. They could not be done by natural powers reading the trends of the times.
Furthermore, unlike the alleged prophecies of Muhammad in the Qur’an (see Chapter 9), notice the specific nature of biblical predictions, pointing to the very time, tribe (Judah), lineage (Davidic), city of birth (Bethlehem) of Christ. What is more, even the most liberal critics admit that the prophetic books were completed at least four hundred years before Christ and the Book of Daniel by about 165 B.C. Though there is good evidence to date most of these books much earlier (some of the Psalms and earlier prophets were in the eighth and ninth centuries B.C.), it would make little difference. It is humanly impossible to make clear, repeated, and accurate predictions two hundred years in the future. But God knows all things and can predict the future with no difficulty. So even using the late date for the Old Testament given by critics, the fulfillment of these prophecies in a theistic universe is miraculous and points to a divine confirmation of Jesus as the Messiah.
Some have suggested that there is a natural explanation for what only seem to be supernatural predictions here. One explanation is that the prophecies were accidentally fulfilled in Jesus. In other words, he happened to be in the right place at the right time. But what are we to say about the prophecies involving miracles? He just happened to make the blind man see? He just happened to be resurrected from the dead? These hardly seem like chance events. If there is a God who is in control of the universe, as we have said, then chance is ruled out. Furthermore, it is unlikely that all these events would have converged in the life of one man. Mathematicians56 have calculated the probability of 16 predictions being fulfilled in one man at 1 in 1045. If we go to forty-eight predictions, the probability is 1 in 10157. It is almost impossible for us to conceive of a number that big.
But it is not just a logical improbability that rules out this theory; it is the moral implausibility of an all-powerful and all-knowing God letting things get out of control so that all his plans for prophetic fulfillment are ruined by someone who just happened to be in the right place at the right time. God cannot lie, nor can he break a promise (Heb. 6:18). So we must conclude that he did not allow his prophetic promises to be thwarted by chance. All the evidence points to Jesus as the divinely appointed fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies. He was God’s man confirmed by God’s signs. In brief, if God made the predictions to be fulfilled in the life of Christ, then he would not allow them to be fulfilled in the life of any other. The God of truth would not allow a lie to be confirmed as true.
Evidence of Jesus’ Miraculous and Sinless Life
The very nature of Christ’s life demonstrates his claim to deity. To live a truly sinless life would be a momentous accomplishment for any human being in itself, but to claim to be God and offer a sinless life as evidence is another matter. Muhammad never did.57 Some of Jesus’ enemies brought false accusations against him, but the verdict of Pilate at his trial has been the verdict of history: “I find no crime in this man” (Luke 23:4). A soldier at the cross agreed saying, “Certainly this man was innocent” (Luke 23:47), and the thief on the cross next to Jesus said, “This man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41). But the real test is what those who were closest to Jesus said of his character. His disciples had lived and worked with him for several years at close range, yet their opinions of him are not diminished at all. Peter called Christ, “a lamb without spot or blemish” (1 Pet. 1:19) and added “no guile was found on his lips” (2:22). John called him “Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1; cf. 3:7). Paul expressed the unanimous belief of the early church that Christ “knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21), and the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus was tempted as a man “yet without sinning” (4:15). Jesus himself once challenged his accusers, “Which of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46), but no one was able to find him guilty of anything. He forbid retaliation on one’s enemies (Matt. 5:38–42) and, unlike Muhammad, he never used the sword to spread his message (Matt. 26:52). This being the case, the impeccable character of Christ gives a double testimony to the truth of his claim. It provides supporting evidence as he suggested, but it also assures us that he was not lying when he said that he was God.
Beyond the moral aspects of his life, we are confronted with the miraculous nature of Jesus’ ministry, which even Muslims acknowledge is a divine confirmation of a prophet’s claim. Jesus, however, did perform an unprecedented display of miracles. He turned water to wine (John 2:7f.), walked on water (Matt. 14:25), multiplied bread (John 6:11f.), opened the eyes of the blind (John 9:7f.), made the lame to walk (Mark 2:3f.), cast out demons (Mark 3:11f.), healed the multitudes of all kinds of sickness (Matt. 9:35), including leprosy (Mark 1:40–42), and even raised the dead to life on several occasions (John 11:43–44; Luke 7:11–15; Mark 5:35f.). When asked if he was the Messiah, Jesus used his miracles as evidence to support the claim saying, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up” (Matt. 11:4–5). This special outpouring of miracles was a special sign that the Messiah had come (see Isa. 35:5–6). The Jewish leader Nicodemus even said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with Him” (John 3:2). To a first-century Jew, miracles such as Christ performed were clear indications of God’s approval of the performer’s message. But in Jesus’ case, part of that message was that he was God in human flesh. Thus, his miracles verify his claim to be true deity.
Jesus’ Miraculous Resurrection
The third line of evidence supporting Jesus’ claim to be God is the greatest of them all. Nothing like it is claimed by any other religion and no miracle has as much historical evidence to confirm it. Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day in the same physical body, now transformed, in which he died. In this resurrected physical body he appeared to more than five hundred of his disciples on twelve different occasions over a forty-day period and conversed with them. Consider the overwhelming evidence summarized in this chart:
The nature, extent, and times of these appearances remove any doubt that Jesus indeed rose from the dead in the numerically same body of flesh and bones in which he died. Notice he appeared to over five hundred people on twelve different occasions scattered over a forty-day period of time (Acts 1:3). During each appearance he was seen and heard with the natural senses of the observer. On four occasions he was either touched or offered himself to be touched. Twice he definitely was touched with physical hands. Four times Jesus ate physical food with his disciples. Four times they saw his empty tomb, and twice he showed them his crucifixion scars. He literally exhausted the ways it is possible to prove that he rose bodily from the grave. No event in the ancient world has more eyewitness verification than does the resurrection of Jesus.
What is even more amazing about the resurrection of Christ is the fact that both the Old Testament and Jesus himself predicted that he would rise from the dead. This highlights the evidential value of the resurrection of Christ in a unique way.
Jewish prophets predicted the resurrection both in specific statements and by logical deduction. First, there are specific passages that the apostles cited from the Old Testament as applying to the resurrection of Christ. Peter says that since we know that David died and was buried, he must have been speaking of the Christ when he said, “Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Hades, nor allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay” (Ps. 16:8–11 quoted in Acts 2:25–31). No doubt it was passages like this that Paul used in the Jewish synagogues when “he argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead” (Acts 17:2–3).
Also, the Old Testament teaches the resurrection by logical deduction. There is clear teaching that the Messiah was to die (Isa. 53; Ps. 22) and equally evident teaching that he is to have an enduring political reign from Jerusalem (Isa. 9:6; Dan. 2:44; Zech. 13:1). There is no viable way to reconcile these two teachings unless the Messiah who dies is raised from the dead to reign forever.58 Jesus died before he could begin a reign. Only by his resurrection could the prophecies of a Messianic kingdom be fulfilled.
On several occasions Jesus also predicted his resurrection from the dead. Even in the earliest part of his ministry, he said, “Destroy this temple [of my body] and in three days I will raise it up again” (John 2:19, 21). In Matthew 12:40, later he said, “As Jonah was three days and nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of Man be three days and nights in the heart of the earth.” To those who had seen his miracles and still stubbornly would not believe, he often said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah” (Matt. 12:39; 16:4). After Peter’s confession, “He began to teach them that the son of man must suffer many things … and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31), and this became a central part of his teaching from that point until his death (Mark 14:58; Matt. 27:63). Further, Jesus taught that he would raise himself from the dead, saying of his life, “I have the power to lay it down and I have the power to take it up again” (John 10:18).59
In brief, Jesus claimed to be God and proved to be God. He proved it by a convergence of three unprecedented sets of miracles: fulfilled prophecy, a miraculous life, and his resurrection from the dead. This unique convergence of supernatural events not only confirms his claim to be God in human flesh, but it also demonstrates Jesus’ claim to be the only way to God. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me” (John 14:6; cf. 10:1, 9–10). Jesus’ apostles added, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12; cf. 1 Tim. 2:5).
One Last Objection
Earlier we showed how David Hume’s argument about the self-canceling nature of miracle claims undermined the Muslim claim about Muhammad (see Chapter 4). And we have just shown how this very same argument proves that Christ’s claims are miraculously confirmed. It remains now to show that this divine confirmation is unique to Christianity and no other religion.
Hume argues that “every miracle, therefore, pretended to have been wrought in any of these religions (and all of them abound in miracles) … so has it the same force, though more indirectly, to overthrow every other system: and in destroying a rival system, it likewise destroys the credit of those miracles on which that system was established.” In short, since a miracle’s “direct scope is to establish the particular system to which it is attributed, so has it the same force … to overthrow every other system.”60 In other words, miracles, being all of the same kind, are self-canceling as witnesses to the truth of a religious system.
Rather than being a disproof of New Testament miracles, Hume’s argument unwittingly supports the authenticity of Jesus’ miracles. For while this is a sound argument against all non-Christian miracle claims, such as those of Islam, it is not an argument against the unique miracles performed by Christ. We may restate the argument this way.
1. All non-Christian religions (which claim miracles) are supported by similar “miracles” claims.61
2. But such “miracles” have no evidential value (since they are self-canceling and based on poor testimony).
3. Therefore, no non-Christian religion is supported by miracles.
If this is so, then one can argue, in addition, that only Christianity is divinely confirmed as true.
1. Only Christianity has unique miracle claims confirmed by sufficient testimony.
2. What has unique miraculous confirmation of its claims is true (as opposed to contrary views).
3. Therefore, Christianity is true (as opposed to contrary views, such as Islam).
No other world religious leader has been confirmed by a convergence of unique miracles as Jesus has. Indeed, as we have seen (in Chapter 8), Muhammad refused to perform miracles like Jesus did to support his claim (see 3:181–84). In fact, no other world religious leader claimed to be God, including Muhammad. And, regardless of what they claimed for themselves, no other world religious leader ever proved his claims by fulfilling numerous prophecies made hundreds of years in advance, living a miraculous and sinless life, and predicting and accomplishing his own resurrection from the dead. Thus, Jesus alone deserves to be recognized as the Son of God, God incarnated in human flesh.
1 Ajijola, 183.
2 Abdalati, 158.
3 Mufassir, 22.
4 For a response to Ahmed Deedat’s arguments that Christ never died on the cross, see McDowell and Gilchnst, 47f.
5 A number of noted medical experts have written in confirmation of Christ’s death on the cross, including Dr. Pierre Barbet, A Doctor at Calvary, and W. Stroud, Treatise on the Physical Cause of the Death of Christ and Its Relation to the Principles and Practice of Christianity, 2nd ed. (London: Hamilton & Adams, 1871), 28–156, 489–94.
6 See The Journal of the American Medical Association (March 21, 1986), 1463.
7 Flavius Josephus, “Antiquities of the Jews” 18:3, trans. William Whiston, Josephus: Complete Works (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1963), 379, emphasis ours.
8 Cornelius Tacitus (a.d. 55?—after 117), Annals, 15.44.
9 See F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Chicago: InterVarsity Press, 1968), 113.
10 Lucian, On the Death of Peregrine.
11 See Bruce, 114.
12 Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 43a, “Eve of Passover”).
13 Phlegon, “Chronicles,” as cited by Origen, “Against Celsus” from The Ante-Nicene Fathers, trans. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), vol. 4, 455, emphasis ours.
15 Polycarp, “The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians,” Chapter 1 in “The Apostolic Fathers,” ed. A. Cleveland Coxe, in Roberts and Donaldson, 33.
16 Ignatius, The Epistle of Ignatius to the Tarsians, Chapter 3 in “The Apostolic Fathers,” ed. by A. Cleveland Coxe, in Roberts and Donaldson, The Ante-Nicene Fathers 107; emphasis ours.
17 Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho.
18 The Qur’an comes from the medieval world, not the ancient world.
19 See Bruce, 16.
20 Geisler and Nix, Chapter 26.
21 John Rylands papyri (P52), dated a.d. 117–38.
22 We deal only with the New Testament here because it alone is crucial for establishing the claims of Christ. However, the manuscript evidence overwhelmingly supports the accuracy of the Old Testament manuscripts as well. See the discussion in Geisler and Nix, Chapter 21.
23 See Geisler and Nix, 365.
24 A. T. Robertson, An Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman, 1925), 22.
25 Philip Schaff, Companion to the Greek Testament and English Version (New York: Harper, 1883), 177.
26 See Geisler and Nix, 408.
27 For examples and classes of scribal errors, see ibid., 469–73.
28 Bruce Metzger, Chapters in the History of New Testament Textual Criticism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963).
29 Frederic Kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, 4th ed. (New York: Harper, 1958), 55.
30 McCormick’s Handbook of the Law of Evidence, 2d ed. (St. Paul, Minn.: West, 1972), sec. 223.
31 John W. Montgomery, The Law above the Law (Minneapolis: Bethany, 1975).
32 Greenleaf, 9–10.
33 Nelson Glueck, Rivers in the Desert: A History of the Negev (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1969), 136.
34 Interview with William F. Albright, Christianity Today, January 18, 1963, 359.
35 John A. T. Robinson, Honest to God (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963), esp. 352–53.
36 Eta Linnemann, Historical Criticism of the Bible: Methodology or Ideology? (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 20.
38 For a more detailed argument, see Geisler and Nix, 440–47.
39 Sir William Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen (New York: G. Putnam’s Sons, 1896), esp. 8.
40 C. S. Lewis, Christian Reflections (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), 154–55.
41 For a strong argument by a former biblical critic that the Gospels are not literally dependent on one another, see Linnemann, ibid.
42 See Ramsay, 8.
43 See Colin Hemer, Acts in the Setting of Hellenic History (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990).
44 Hume, 120.
45 For further support of this point, see Geisler and Howe, Chapter 10.
46 For a further discussion on all the rules of harmonization, see Geisler and Howe, Chapter 1.
47 Glueck, 31.
48 Millar Burrows, What Mean These Stones? (New Haven: American Schools of Oriental Research, 1941), 1.
49 Clifford A. Wilson, Rocks, Relics, and Biblical Reliability (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977).
50 Cited in note 31.
51 For an excellent work on all the Qur’anic references to Jesus, see Parrinder.
52 Rather, they believe this sura is a reference to Jesus’ ascension.
53 Bible references in this section are taken from the American Standard Version since they translate the sacred name for God (Yahweh) as Jehovah.
54 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1943), 55–56.
55 Professor Harold W. Hoehner shows that this was fulfilled to the year when Jesus was crucified in 33 a.d. See his Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 115–38.
56 Peter W. Stoner, Science Speaks (Wheaton: Van Kampen Press, 1952), 108.
57 Muslims believe in the basic sinlessness of Muhammad and all prophets, at least after becoming a prophet. However, Muhammad fell far short of this claim.
58 There is no indication in the Old Testament, as some Jewish scholars have suggested, that there were to be two Messiahs, one suffering and one reigning. References to the Messiah are always in the singular (cf. Dan. 9:26; Isa. 9:6; 53:1f.), and no second Messiah is ever designated.
59 Famous philosopher of science, Karl Popper, argued that whenever a “risky prediction” is fulfilled, it counts as confirmation of the theory that comes with it. If so, then the fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction of his own resurrection is confirmation of his claim to be God. For what could be riskier than predicting your own resurrection? If a person will not accept that as evidence of a truth claim, then he has a bias that will not accept anything as evidence.
60 Ibid., 129–30.
61 For a discussion of so-called Satanic miracles and other alleged miracles, see N. L. Geisler, Signs and Wonders (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1988), esp. Chapters 4 through 8.
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