Articles

Articles published by members of the Institute or hand selected by them.

Historicity of Jesus: Josephus

By Kyle Larson

Flavius Josephus was a well-known Jewish historian of the first century AD. He is remembered for his history of the Jewish people and a book about their struggle to free the land from Roman rule in the mid first century. He is also remembered for defecting to the Romans after a failed military campaign against them resulted in his surrender. At the time, many Jews called derided him as conceited and a traitor. Fortunately, history allows us a much more balanced picture of this historical figure.

Flavius JosephusFlavius Joesphus was born Joseph ben Matityaho in Jerusalem into a family in the line of the high priest; His mother’s heritage linked directly to the Maccabean dynasty. At a young age, he showed a thirst for knowledge; to know more about his Jewish heritage. As he notes, many of the Jewish Priests came to him while still a boy to ask him questions about the Jewish faith.

At 16, he became a Pharisee. Pharisees were a Jewish group that adhered very strictly to the written law of Moses as well as to the great body of oral tradition that had grown up around the written law. In 63 AD, at the of 26, he sailed to Rome to ask for the release of some Jewish Priests. The priests had apparently risen up in rebellion against Roman authority, had been captured, and were now in Rome as prisoners. Josephus ultimately gained the release of these Priests, and in the process, became good friends with one of the mistresses of Nero.

After returning to Judea from Rome, he found Judea on the brink of revolt against its Roman task masters. He tried to reason with some of the Jewish leaders trying to convince them that it was “suicide” to revolt against Rome.  Rome had far superior military forces. His pleadings failed to convince any of the Jewish leaders.

Over the course of  time, because of his eminence in the Jewish community, he was called into military service on behalf of the Jewish rebels against Rome in the siege of Gamala. Even at this point, he still tried to convince the Jewish rebels to lay down their arms against Rome. Josephus only went through the motions of supporting the Jewish rebels against Rome.

Later, at the siege of Jotapata, an overwhelming Roman force had Josephus and a number of other rebel leaders backed into a corner; There was no way out. In desperation, they entered into a suicide pact similar to that at Masada. However. Josephus was able to cunningly weasel out of the pact so that, in the end, all the other Jewish leaders committed suicide while he cheated death by suicide.

Ultimately, Josephus surrendered to the Romans and became a slave of the Roman general. He was in their service as translator. At the siege of Jerusalem, Josephus tried again to urge the rebels to lay down their arms. They would not and, as a result, Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple were destroyed. The city was sacked and the temple set on fire.

During the long siege, Josephus became good friends with Titus, the Roman commander against the Jewish rebellion. Fortunately for Josephus, Titus later became Emperor of Rome. After the rebellion, Josephus returned to Rome with Titus where he became the official historian of the rebellion.

Works of Josephus from 1640Josephus, in his book Antiquities of the Jews, which gives a historical account of the Jewish people, mentions Jesus, John the Baptist, and Jesus’ half brother James. The original quote speaking of Jesus, strangely enough, made it sound as if Josephus was a Christian. This was not the case. Josephus was a Jew. The passage was the subject of much controversy for centuries. Comparing Greek and Latin texts, it appeared that some Christian interpolation had occurred during the second century AD, but no scholar could say how it was altered or by whom.

The answer came in 1971. A Jewish scholar in Jerusalem found a 10th century Arabic version of Josephus’ work translated by Christians living in Arab lands. He also found an 11th century Syraic copy. Comparing the versions together, the interpolation could be removed and the original passage from the point of view of Jewish historian came to light:

“At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good and (he) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.”

In this much more historically accurate version, Josephus is basically reporting historical facts. He is not trying to get his fellow Jews to believe that Jesus is the Messiah which he himself did not believe. It’s a straight forward historical report which includes his neutral reporting that the disciples reported that Jesus appeared to them. Josephus says Jesus was a wise man and seriously wonders whether or not Jesus was the messiah, not that Jesus WAS the messiah.

This Arabic translation of Josephus’ “Jesus passage” is strong evidence that Jesus really existed and that the gospel narratives are correct.

Historicity of Jesus: Lucian of Samasota

By Kyle Larson

Lucian the SatiristIn the last of our non Jewish writers who mention Jesus, we will look at Lucian of Samasota. Lucian was born in 125 AD in Samosota, a region which today lies in modern day southern Turkey. As a young man, Lucian studied law and Greek literature. As an adult, he became a well know rhetorician, someone who argues cases in the Roman court system. He was also a widely known and popular satirist, speaker, and writer of his day. His most popular writings include:

  1. A True Story – A take off on the stories found in the Odyssey written by the Greek author Homer several centuries earlier.
  2. The Passing of Peregrinas – A pagan’s contact with the earliest Christians.
  3. The Symposium – A satirical look at one of Plato’s writings

Lucian, in his writings on the Christians, views them with disdain. There are probably a few reasons for this. First, Lucian had a habit of satire; It’s not a surprise that he approached Christianity that way. Second, Christianity was still so new that, apparently, Lucian didn’t take the time to investigate Christianity for himself. Despite this, Lucian gives one of the earliest description of Jesus and the Christians by a non Christian:

“The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day — the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account … You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property.”

It is human nature that when a person does not understand something and has no further interest in checking it out, it is easier to make fun of the thing than to try and discredit it, especially if the person has little or no knowledge about it. This is what Lucian is doing here. He mocks Jesus and the early Christians. Yet for all the mocking that he does, Lucian does not deny the existence of the Christians “lawgiver”, Jesus. He also gives us evidence that early Christians worshiped Jesus as a divinity. So this is again, very early testimony that confirms the existence of Jesus by a non Christian writer

Next week, we will begin looking at Jewish authors who affirm the existence of Jesus as a historical figure.

Historicity of Jesus: Pliny the Younger

by Kyle Larson

Pliny the YoungerPliny the Younger was a well educated Roman lawyer who prosecuted and defended Provincial governors throughout the late first century and early second century Roman Empire. In a series of letters written to Emperor Trajan in the early second century, Pliny the Younger described how he would identify and punish those who refused to offer sacrifices to Emperor Trajan. In particular, these letters included his dealings with Christians.

Pliny the Younger born in Italy around 61 AD. To put that in perspective, Paul and Peter were executed by Nero in 64 AD. Pliny’s father died when he was young, and he was raised by his step-father. His step-father was an imperial official well known for putting down a revolt against the Emperor Nero in 68 AD.  Pliny the Younger was also very close to his uncle, Pliny the Elder, who was a close friend to Emperor Vespasian and notable scholar of the first century.

While still young, both Plinys were witness to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Both lived opposite the town of Pompeii when it erupted. Pliny the Younger vividly describes the horror that the people of Pompeii felt as a result. His uncle, Pliny the elder, died trying to rescue people caught in the volcanic eruption. As you can imagine, this was very difficult for Pliny the Younger to deal with.

Despite this, Pliny the Younger received an excellent Roman education which included studying rhetoric under Quintilian, the most famous Roman rhetorician of his day and a friend of the Emperor. After completing his education, Pliny entered the imperial service of the Roman Empire. In 110 AD, he became the Roman Governor of Bithynia, the area that covers modern day Turkey. As Governor, he had to deal with a small religious group known as Christians. There was no empire wide persecution, so Pliny was not sure how to deal with the Christians. He decided to write to the Emperor Trajan and share with him what his current policy was in dealing with the Christians.

Emperor TrajanEmperor Trajan stated that merely being a Christian was crime enough for judicial action. In response, Pliny explained his method of interrogation and the punishments awarded. First, he would give the accused three attempts to either confirm or deny the charge that they were Christians. If it was made clear to him that the accused were Christians, Pliny would then give them the opportunity to deny Jesus and offer burnt sacrifices to the Roman Emperor. If the Christians persistently and stubbornly refused to sacrifice to the Emperor, Pliny would pass judgement. Roman citizens would be sent to Rome for trial. Those not fortunate enough to be citizens were executed.

The Emperor Trajan responded to Pliny and said he had no problem with this procedure. Because the Christians were still a small group, the Emperor wrote that no special effort should be made to actively hunt down the Christians. No anonymous accusations should be accepted. Only accusations by officials and interrogations were sufficient. However, once a person was identified as a Christian, Pliny should then follow the procedure that he outlined in his original letter to the Emperor Trajan.

Pliny, in another place, talks about the high ethical and moral standards that the early Christians received from their teacher Jesus and which they sought to put into practice. He also mentions that Christians sang worship songs to Jesus as “a god”. Both of these confirm the traditional view of what early Christians believed.

Because of his position and connections, we can confidently say that Pliny the Younger was in a good place to give accurate information on the early Christians he encountered. We can believe his descriptions of their moral behavior and how it had been shaped by the ethical teachings of the Jewish teacher named Jesus. So Pliny the Younger offers testimony that a Jewish teacher named Jesus existed, was a great moral teacher, and was worshiped as God at the end of the first century by a group called Christians.

Historicity of Jesus: Suetonius

by Kyle Larson

Jesus was real. He existed in a time and lived in a place. History has provided for us numerous sources for his life, his death, and the effect he had on the ancient world. This week, we are going to take a brief look at the Roman scholar and historian Suetonius. He left a short, but telling, account of a strange people causing an uproar in Rome.

SuetoniusSuetonius was a Roman scholar who wrote a notable history of the Roman emperors around the end of the first century AD. He was born in north Africa (modern Algeria) sometime between 67-72 AD. Raised in an upper class family, Suetonius received an excellent classical education by Roman standards, including time spent studying Greek literature and art. He also learned the political and economic aspects of the first century Roman Empire.

Like Tacitus, Suetonius studied Roman Law. He was a close friend of Pliny the Younger, the Roman Governor of what is modern day Turkey. He also had access to vast amounts of Roman historical and archival records once he was appointed to serve as the Director of the Imperial Library as well as other related posts.

His historical writings are many. He wrote on many aspects of Greco-Roman culture. This included such topics as the Greek games, physical disabilities, clothing, Roman festivals and customs. With all these credentials behind him, as we did with Tacitus, we can confidently assert that he was well connected, had access to Roman records, and thus could speak confidently on Jesus and the early Christians.

Lives of the Twelve CaesarsHis major historical work was entitled Lives of the Twelve Caesars. In it, Suetonius chronicles the major Roman Emperors from Julius Caesar to Domitian. When he gets to the reign of the Emperor Claudius, he makes a brief mention of Jesus and the early Christians:

“Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from the city.”

Bart Ehrman is uncertain if “Chrestus” refers to Jesus or not. Other historians point out that the name “Chrestus” is the same Latin Spelling that Tacitus uses when referring to Jesus.

And we know, Tacitus was an accurate Roman historian. This passage explains that the Jewish population in Rome caused problems for Roman officials because of the growing number of Christians in Rome. As a result, the Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome. Even Bart Ehrman admits that this historical incident in Suetonius is confirmed by Luke in Acts 18:2.

Both Tacitus and Suetonius confirm that the Christians in Rome followed a Jewish teacher named Jesus who lived in Judea, taught the people, and was ultimately killed under Governor Pontius Pilate of Judea while Tiberius was the Roman Emperor. It is possible that Pilate filed a formal report in Rome that both Tacitus and Suetonius may have had access to.

Now that we have looked at two of the top Gentile writers who mention Jesus, next week, we will look at what the first century Jewish historian Josephus had to say about Jesus.

Historicity of Jesus: Tacitus

by Kyle Larson

Tacitus: The Man

TacitusTacitus was born in Gaul, modern day France, and lived between 56 and 120 AD. At the time, Gaul was a Roman Province, having been conquered by Julius Caesar in the middle of the first century BC. Tacitus grew up in an upper class family. This afforded him an excellent education by Roman standards and enabled him to study Roman law. This, in turn, opened the doors for public administrative office. He married the daughter of Agricola, a Roman consul who later was appointed the governor of Britain. By the time he was an adult, Tacitus was well connected to the upper circles of Roman Imperial Administration

The Early Works

1. Agrcola

As stated above, Tacitus married the daughter of Agricola, who was a high ranking Roman official. Tacitus wanted to honor his father-in-Law Agricola by giving an account of his service to the Roman Empire, so he chose to chronicle Agricola’s reign as the Governor of Britain. In this work, we get a quick glimpse of what life in Britain was like under early Roman rule through the Governorship of Agricola; Britain became a Roman Province late in the first Century.

2. Germania

Tacitus’ second early historical work had to do with life among the Germanic tribes. Tacitus wanted to chronicle how Greco-Roman Culture was superior to Germanic culture. This book gives us a personal, if biased, glimpse into late first century life in the far north of the Roman empire.

The Histories and The Annals

This two most important substantial works of Tacitus are the Histories and the Annals.

1. The Histories (69 AD – 96 AD)

This book covers a period ranging from the time of Emperor Galba to the Emperor Domitian. This historical work takes up 5 books. The first four books as well as part of the fifth book still exists.

2. The Annals (14 AD – 68 AD)

Tacitus, after finishing The Histories, decided to take a further step backwards and wrote on the Imperial reigns from Augustus Caesar to Nero. One thing that seems obvious as one reads Tacitus is that because of his position in the Roman Imperial administration, he had access to earlier sources. He made good use of them.

Tacitus on Christians and Jesus

From his writings, we can gain insight into what Tacitus wrote concerning Jesus and his earliest followers in Rome.

Tacitus wrote in The Annals:

“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular.”

Tacitus, based on earlier Roman governmental documentation, gives us specific glimpses into the early church. He confirms that Jesus was crucified while Tiberius was Emperor of Rome and Pontius Pilate was the Roman Governor of Judea. This places the crucifixion between 26 and 36 AD. Tacitus also writes that at some point after the death of Jesus, something happened that caused the Christians to re-surface in Judea, and later, into Rome itself.

At one point, Nero had it in mind to remake Rome into a beautiful, art filled Roman utopia. Soon after, old Rome went up in flames. Many to this day suspect Nero was behind it. To quell such rumors at the time, Nero decided to blame the early Christians for the fire. Thus began the first major persecution of the church. Tacitus records this in his Annals. Fortunately, this was not an empire wide persecution, but mainly localized in Rome.

So here we have genuine historical testimony from a Roman historian. According to Roman records of the day as accessed by Tacitus, Jesus was a real person. He actually lived and died a horrible death. He had numerous followers, even in Rome, and they continued to spread his message.

Next week, we will look into the background on Suetonius and on what he wrote on Jesus and the early Christians.

The “God of the Gaps” Fallacy

What is it?

The god-of-the-gaps fallacy is an argument commonly used to belittle faith. It is predicated on the notion that as our knowledge of the natural sciences increases, fewer supernaturally motivated conclusions about our universe will be necessary. In other words, God is only a placeholder explanation for phenomena until researchers discover the actual cause.

The God Thor creates lightningFor example, modern man is well aware that lighting and thunder has nothing to do with angry deities; Instead, it is understood that it is actually an arc of electricity in the atmosphere. In the same way, modern man is also rightly skeptical of the conclusion that illness results from the anger of malevolent “spirits”. Research has revealed the causes to be known bacteria, viruses, cancers, and other related things.

In the past, because god-of-the-gaps was utilized to explain what could not be understood, some theorize that there is a coming time when the “god” of the gaps will explain nothing. In other words, science will explain all of man’s questions. Not only is this conclusion misguided but actually is utilizing the same logic it is attempting to decry.

Positive Arguments

The classical arguments for the existence of God (ontological, axiological, cosmological, teleological) are not negative arguments. They are not responses to unexplained phenomenon. Rather they are responses to what is known about the world.

Creation paiting on Sistine ChapelFor example, because we know all things which begin to exist need a cause, it is impossible for anything that began to exist to be self-caused; It follows then that everything from human consciousness to the universe would need a cause. Further, in all cases where something is caused, the producer of the cause must have certain features which enable it to be the cause the observed effect.

In the case of the universe, for example, such features must include: intelligence, consciousness, intentionality, and sufficient power. Thus, because of what we do know about the world, and how cause and effect works, the existence of God is not a lowest common denominator god-of-the-gaps response. Instead, is the best possible response to the data we have at hand.

Even if one argues that the existence of the universe is not restrained to the laws of causality, as some theoretical physicists do, believing that the universe is an anomaly of the “quantum vacuum” is still highly problematic. If as a recent paper from Japan asserts, the universe is indeed the result of such a rare occurrence as a the expansion of a quantum vacuum bubble, then one would have no justification for believing that such causation would be reasonably possible; Possibility does not necessitate reality. On the other hand, if one assumes it is possible, as the Japanese paper asserts, then why do we only see one universe? An even better question is: Why only universes?

Big  Bang TimelineOf course, if one wanted to be honest and go the route of saying that the universe is an anomaly of which we have only mathematical models, with little actual physical evidence, then that same person has just argued that we have no reason to believe the philosophical conclusions they create based on such a model. In reality, the only reason atheists argue that the universe doesn’t need a cause is personal volition. Many argue this way because they personally, but not intellectually, prefer to believe in a religion which allows them to do as they wish. They do not like where alternative conclusions take them.

The god-of-the-gaps fallacy occurs when one goes from what he does not know to god (or some supernatural phenomenon). The apologist is not following that line of argumentation. Instead, he is going from what he does know (e.g. causality) to God. Basing conclusions on what is known and logical could hardly be considered the a god-of-the-gaps fallacy.

In an ironic twist, if one defends the belief that science will one day answer all of men’s questions, that one should use the belief in science to fill in the “gaps”, he is actually making the same argument … merely with a different conclusion. Scientific methodology and mathematical models become “gods-in-the-gap”.

Conclusion

While the theist is charged with arguing from what is unknown to God, the skeptic is going from what is scientifically unknown (i.e. the answers to man’s problems and questions) to no God; The justification or evidence is the same for both scenarios. Thus if a skeptic convinces someone that they are refuting a god-of-the-gaps fallacy, they may also refuting their own argument. Usually, they are making a straw man argument, because it does not accurately portray the evidence, the conclusion, or the methodology of the Christian.

Who is This Christmas Babe?

Dr. Phil Fernandes
Pastor of Trinity Bible Fellowship
President of the Institute of Biblical Defense

Once again, Christmas is here. As usual, this holiday will be accompanied by last minute shopping, the giving of gifts, the singing of carols, and a festive meal. However, in the midst of our holiday preparations, we rarely stop to think what Christmas is all about. We seldom contemplate the identity of the babe born in a Bethlehem manger 2,000 years ago. Christmas has become so commercialized and so hectic, that we often forget why we are even celebrating in the first place.

We find out about the first Christmas in the pages of the Bible. But the Bible also tells us the true identity of the Christmas babe, for though this child is a man, He is much more than a mere man. The Bible tells us that the Christmas babe, a man named Jesus, is not only fully man, but also fully God.

The apostle John called Jesus “the Word” and said that “the Word was God” (John 1:1). The apostles Peter and Paul referred to Jesus as “our God and Savior” (2 Peter 1:1; Titus 2:13), while the apostle Thomas addressed Jesus as “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28). The Bible teaches that, before He became a man, Jesus created the universe (John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:15-17).

Jesus Himself claimed to be God. He said “I and the Father are one,” and that “before Abraham was born, I Am” (John 10:30; 8:58-59). Jesus acted as if He were God by accepting worship and forgiving sins (Matthew 14:33; 28:9; John 9:35-38; Mark 2:5-7). In fact, He was arrested for blasphemy, because, according to His accusers, “He being a man was making Himself out to be God” (Mark 14:64; John 10:33).

Even the Old Testament prophets who predicted the coming of Christ said that He would be God incarnate. Isaiah calls Him “Immanuel” (which means “God with us”) and “the Mighty God” (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6). Jeremiah speaks of Jesus as “Jehovah our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:5-6), while Zechariah refers to the coming Messiah (i.e., Jesus) as “the Lord my God” (Zechariah 14:5).

Therefore, it is clear that the testimony of Scripture declares the Christmas babe to be God. As God, the babe born in a manger could one day say, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). As we celebrate Christmas this year, let us never forget the true reason why we celebrate: God has become a man and has provided salvation for all who trust in Him. The Christmas babe is truly God, the only Savior this world will ever know.

The Uniqueness of Christianity

Dr. Phil Fernandes
Pastor of Trinity Bible Fellowship
President of the Institute of Biblical Defense

Today, many people believe that all religions teach the same salvation message and acknowledge the same God. However, this is not the case. Even a cursory examination of the world’s major religions reveals the uniqueness of Christianity.

Christianity differs greatly from the two leading eastern religions: Hinduism and Buddhism. The God of Christianity is a personal God, a God that we can personally know and love, for He has revealed Himself to us in His Word, the Bible. But the god of Hinduism is an impersonal force, a god that cannot love and a god that cannot be known. Buddhists are often atheists or agnostics; many Buddhists either deny God’s existence or claim to have no knowledge of His existence.

Salvation in Hinduism and Buddhism is attained through human effort and reincarnation (the cycle of death and rebirth). The goal is the cessation of all desire when a person becomes one with the impersonal universe. On the other hand, Christianity claims that salvation comes only as a gift from God—it cannot be earned through human effort, and that salvation satisfies the greatest desires of the human heart. Clearly, in doctrines such as the nature of God and the way of salvation, there is very little common ground between Christianity and the eastern religions. The eastern religions have no concept of a God who loves us and seeks to save us.

When Christianity is compared to its two western counterparts, its uniqueness is still evident. Though Judaism and the Islamic faith proclaim the existence of one creator God who is a personal being, essential differences with Christianity remain. The God of Judaism and Islam can forgive the sins of men without demanding an ultimately worthy substitute sacrifice. But the justice of the Christian God demands that all sin be paid for in full. Christianity teaches that God the second Person of the Trinity became a man and died as the substitute sacrifice for the sins of mankind. In this way God remains just for He has punished all sin by punishing Jesus on the cross of Calvary. Still, God can justify and forgive sinners who accept Jesus as Savior, for Jesus paid the price for their sins (Romans 3:20-26). Therefore, the God of Christianity is more just than the God of Islam or Judaism. When the Christian God forgives sin, He does not ignore sin, for all sin has been paid for in full. Since Jesus is God-incarnate, He is the ultimately worthy sacrifice and able to atone for the sins of all mankind.

The God of Christianity is also more loving than the God of Islam or Judaism. For only the God of Christianity loved mankind so much that He sacrificed His only begotten Son in our place (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). And only the Christian God can feel our pain. Only He knows what it is like to suffer, to die, and to be rejected, for only the Christian God has become a man.

In short, the Christian God is superior to the gods of other religions. He is a personal God who loves us, a totally just God that must punish all sin, and an all-loving God that offers us the free gift of salvation that comes only through His Son. Christianity teaches a salvation that is so great that no man can earn it; it is a gift of God that man must humbly accept. Therefore, all religions do not teach the same thing. Christianity is unique, for it teaches a superior God and a superior way of salvation.

The State of the American Church

Dr. Phil Fernandes
Pastor of Trinity Bible Fellowship
President of the Institute of Biblical Defense

An elderly man lost his wife of forty years to cancer. He is heart-broken. He is looking for answers, but his quest appears futile. Sleepless nights have caused him to spend the early hours of each morning channel-surfing on his television set. He passes through the maze of shows until he stumbles upon a “Christian” television program. Hoping to find answers to his deepest questions, he sets the remote control aside, placing it on a chair—a chair his deceased wife once occupied. Unfortunately, the man finds no answers on this program. Instead, he is shocked by what he sees: the televangelist blows on his congregation as parishioners fall to the ground, many of them engaging in “holy laughter” and uncontrollable barking.

The widower mentioned above is a fictional character. But, there are real people just like him—people looking for answers to life’s deepest mysteries. As an evangelical minister, I believe the Bible has these answers. However, the American Church no longer seems interested in the diligent study of Scripture necessary to answer these questions.

Today, in many evangelical churches, love for theology (the study of God) has been replaced with a love for psychology (the study of the soul or the self). Doctrinal truths are now considered unimportant; experience and feelings are all that matter. Expository preaching of the Bible is now shunned.

A recent poll conducted by the Barna Research Group revealed some startling facts about the state of the evangelical church in America. Large percentages of professing believers denied several vital Christian doctrines. A few examples will suffice. 52 percent of “born-again” Christians denied the existence of Satan, while 55 percent rejected the existence of the Holy Spirit. 33 percent denied the biblical doctrine of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone by agreeing that a person could earn his or her own salvation through good works. 35 percent denied the physical resurrection of Christ.

In short, a large percentage of professing Christians in the American Church are not Christians at all. The essential doctrines that identify one as a true Christian are often rejected by those who profess faith in Christ. A totally experience based Christianity has replaced the traditional biblically based Christianity, making American Christianity look more like traditional Hinduism than traditional Christianity.

The primary emphasis of the church should be leading the lost to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. It would be nice if the evangelical church in America could turn the world upside down. But first, we must lead our own congregations to Christ. The days of preaching “feel-good” messages and seeking religious experiences void of theological content must cease. Instead, evangelical pastors must teach their people the essential doctrines of the Christian Faith, for Jesus said, “and you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). The American Church cannot help quench the spiritual thirst of an elderly, channel-surfing widower, if she has yet to drink of the Living Water herself.

The First Easter

Dr. Phil Fernandes
Pastor of Trinity Bible Fellowship
President of the Institute of Biblical Defense

Once again, Easter is just around the corner. It will bring with it spring weather, the Easter bunny, and Easter egg hunts. More importantly, however, Easter is supposed to be a celebration of Christ’s resurrection but did that resurrection really occur? Did Jesus really rise from the dead? What occurred on that first Easter?

The Apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians around 52 to 54AD. In that letter Paul repeats an ancient creed or hymn that was recited or sung in the early church (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). New Testament scholars tell us that this creed or hymn was originally written in Aramaic and it dates back to before 42AD when the church was primarily Jewish. This ancient creed or hymn lists some of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. It states that, after His death, Jesus appeared to Cephas (the Apostle Peter), the twelve apostles, over five hundred people (most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote this letter), James (the half-brother of Jesus), and Paul himself.

There are several reasons why this ancient creed or hymn is historically reliable. First, as a leader in the early church, it was unlikely that Paul would fabricate this account. Since most of the witnesses were still alive, if Paul had lied, his lie could be easily exposed. Second, Paul was himself a reliable eyewitness since he was sincere enough to die for his testimony. He was beheaded in 67AD. Third, the research of historian A. N. Sherwin-White shows that legends take several centuries to form. Legends do not gain a wide following until long after the eyewitnesses are dead. But the creed or hymn of 1 Corinthians 15 can be dated to within 12 years of the death and resurrection of Christ. Therefore, many of the eyewitnesses were still alive. In fact, some of them were leaders in the early church. Fourth, there was no reason for Paul to fabricate this account since it would not bring him any earthly gain; this testimony would only bring him suffering and persecution on earth.

In short, this ancient creed or hymn gives us historically trustworthy evidence for Christ’s resurrection. Skeptics can deny the resurrection 2,000 years after the fact; but, to do so, they must reject reliable eyewitness testimony. The witness of history proclaims that Jesus has indeed risen from the dead.

What does this mean for us as we enter the twenty-first century? It means that when one scans the pages of history, one finds that men and women, even great men and women, die and stay dead. But, there is one exception: Jesus of Nazareth, a carpenter who claimed to be God and the only Savior this world will ever know. For Jesus has conquered death and offers salvation to all who trust in Him. Easter is more than the return of spring weather, the Easter Bunny, or egg hunts. Easter is a celebration of the empty tomb, a tomb vacated by the risen Savior. Easter is a celebration because death, man’s greatest enemy, has been defeated. Easter means that there is hope for mankind because Jesus has risen from the dead.