The resurrection of Christ is the crux of Christianity and faith in the Scriptures is intelligent faith, preached apologist Dr Josh McDowell at City Harvest Church last weekend.
Renowned apologist and evangelist Dr Josh McDowell spoke at CHC over the weekend of March 16 and 17. He is the author of Evidence That Demands A Verdict, one of the most influential Christian books ever written and one which has sold in the millions and had two updates. Dr McDowell shared the evidence he gathered over 13 years of research to prove that the resurrection of Christ happened and that the Bible, as a work, is accurate and utterly reliable.
HOW DO WE KNOW CHRIST REALLY WAS RESURRECTED?
“The resurrection of Christ is the very crux of Christianity, so as a non-believer I sought to disprove the resurrection,” said Dr McDowell to the congregation on Saturday. “But all the evidence I encountered led me to the irresistible conclusion that Jesus Christ did resurrect from the dead.” He was speaking about his journey to disprove the resurrection that wound up in his becoming a believer. Dr McDowell then spent 13 years collecting evidence that would become the best-seller, Evidence That Demands A Verdict.
To explain how the resurrection of Christ is the foundation of the Christian faith, he referenced the verses of 1 Corinthians 15:13-17 and Mark 8:31, which proclaim that if Christ had not arisen from the dead, the Christian faith would be worthless.
Dr McDowell quoted Harvard Law academic Dr Simon Greenleaf, who declared that the resurrection of Christ is one of the best-supported events in history according to the laws of legal evidence administered in the courts of justice. He also shared the similar journey of Dr Frank Morison, author of Who Moved The Stone?, a naturalist and journalist who set out in the 1800s to disprove the resurrection, and became one of the Gospel’s most significant defenders.
Dr McDowell then went on to explore the historical accuracy of the crucifixion and the resurrection itself.
First, the historical accuracy of the crucifixion: the Bible spoke of Jesus being whipped before he was crucified on the Cross. Dr McDowell found that, historically, such an event was common before crucifixion. He provided evidence that the Jews would usually be whipped 39 times, which how many times Jesus was whipped as stated in the Bible.
Dr McDowell then explored the whip mechanism. The whip was crafted to ensure that the amount of whipping was consistent and that chunks of flesh would be ripped off from the back down the legs. He explained that the historians have attested that the crucifixion is the harshest punishment in history, leading to the creation of the term “excruciating”—which aptly describes what Jesus went through as He was crucified.
Secondly, Dr McDowell delved into the historical accuracy of the events after crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ. Dr McDowell read out John 19:39-40, which stated that Nicodemus brought mixture of spices and had it wrapped it around the body of Jesus. A hundred pounds of spices were placed in between the folds of linen that went around Jesus, which Dr McDowell, in comparing to the burial of other leaders of Jesus’s time, explained was not a substantial amount and is hence a reasonable amount.
After affirming the practice of the wrapping of linen and spices, Dr McDowell looked at the incident where the stone that closed off Jesus’ tomb had been rolled away. Matthew 27:60 spoke of how the stone was rolled from the entrance of the tomb, and Mark 16:4 claimed that the stone was “extremely large.”
As to how large that stone could have been, Dr McDowell sought help from engineers from Georgia Institute of Technology to calculate the weight of the stone from the circumference of the entrance of the tomb. The engineers estimated that the stone would have weigh one and a half to two tons.
Apart from the stone being of immense weight, Dr McDowell also presented two other pieces of evidence to show how the removal of Jesus from the tomb could not have been by human methods but was a supernatural event. Dr McDowell highlighted two pieces of information given in Matthew 27:64-66: there were guards and there was a seal on the stone covering the entrance of the tomb.
According to Roman history, a 16-person security unit would be sent for such guard duty. Each shift would consist of four guards and the shift would change every four hours to ensure that the guards were well-rested and alert. Apart from carrying five weapons, the guards also utilized psychological welfare by dressing in massive helmets, and sporting black and purple feathers. Regarding the seal over the stone, Dr McDowell said that the seal was easy to break–it was not meant for security, but for authentication.
The apologist explained how the Scriptures showed that it would have been impossible for the disappearance of Jesus from the tomb to be anything but a supernatural event. In Matthew 28:2-7, the Greek word for “roll” is kulio. In the book of Mark, the preposition ana was added to form anakulio, which means “to roll up a slope”.
Dr McDowell then went to the book of Luke where the preposition apo was added to form apokulio, which means “separation from” in the sense of distance. And in John 20:1, another Greek verb is used–airo, which means “pick up and carried away.” In providing all these, Dr McDowell showed how the stone was not merely shifted away from the entrance, but carried away over a substantial distance.
“But it was not the empty tomb that convinced the critics that he was raised from the dead—it was his appearance,” declared Dr McDowell, bringing the congregation through Acts 1:3, which states that Jesus appeared to many people over a period of 40 days; and 1 Corinthians 15:5-8, which states that Jesus appeared not only to Peter and His disciples, but also to 500 other believers.
Dr McDowell pointed out that Jesus did not only appear to “friendly eye-witnesses”, but He also appeared to people against Him. Saul of Tarsus was one such example—he eventually became Paul the Apostle.
So why do people still doubt the authenticity of Jesus’ resurrection? “The shallowness of the critic speaks louder than the opinion of the strongest believer,” Dr McDowell explained as he brought up different theories of critics and quickly refuted them. The first was the “wrong tomb” theory: the people who propagated the news that Jesus had arisen went to the wrong tomb. Dr McDowell counter-argued by stating that if the women went to the wrong tomb, then the disciples went to the wrong tomb, which meant the Jews went to the wrong tomb, which meant the Romans went to the wrong tomb, and etc. This argument received chuckles and applause from the audience.
Dr McDowell then addressed the “mass hallucination” theory, which states that the sighting of Jesus post-death was all a figment of the imagination. Showing studies from the American Psychiatric Association, Dr McDowell explained that it is unlikely that more than two can have the same hallucinations at the same time. “If all 500 had hallucinations, that would be a greater miracle than the resurrection!” exclaimed Dr McDowell.
Finally, the teacher discussed the circumstantial evidence that proved the resurrection was real. He pointed out the existence of the church, the change of the Saturday worship of Sabbath to Sunday, the baptism, and the communion to prove that show that “so much of history balances on the fulcrum of resurrection.”
“He is risen! He is risen, indeed!” Dr McDowell exclaimed as he concluded the Saturday service sermon.
JUST HOW ACCURATE IS THE BIBLE?
“This morning I want to get to your heart through your mind. I want you to use your mind,” said Dr McDowell as he started off his sermon on Sunday morning. “I am not going to preach from the Scriptures, but about the Scriptures.”
The apologist explained that faith in the Bible is an intelligent faith, and he would be sharing on the evidence of the reliability of the Bible.
“I want to answer two questions about the Bible. One, is what we have written down the same as what was written down 2000 years ago? Two, was what was written down true?”
Dr McDowell tackled the first question by asking several pointed questions to determine the authenticity of the Scriptures. He first asked questions about the physical manuscript. He noted that the manuscripts were made of papyrus, an extremely durable material that had even been used to fashion boats.
The next question he asked was, what the timeline from the original to the copied version was, noting that the closer the time in between those two, the fewer errors there would be. Dr McDowell provided evidence that the closest copy was 1,400 years, which was a remarkably short amount of time compared to other great works from Plato and Aristotle.
The final question he asked was the number of manuscripts in existence. Ancient texts were commonly copied by hand to spread and preserve the text. Dr McDowell pointed out that the New Testament had 66,463 manuscripts, way more than that of the famous works in classical history. The number two most number of manuscripts was The Iliad by Homer, which only had 1,800 copied manuscripts.
Because of the sheer amount of manuscripts, the relatively short amount time between the original version and the copy, and the durable material of the manuscripts, the authenticity of the Scriptures could be verified.
Dr McDowell then went on to examine if what were written down in the manuscripts were true accounts of Jesus having risen from the dead. Dr McDowell pointed out that the manuscripts were written by Jesus’ followers who faced the prospect of dying by adhering to the heretical belief that Jesus has risen from the dead.
He pointed out that many of the accounts were eyewitness accounts (1 John 1:1; 2 Peter 1:16). The followers further appealed to the knowledge of the sceptical crowds they often spoke to, challenging them to refute their claims. This, Dr McDowell explained, further establishes the authenticity of the accounts in the manuscripts.
“A common criticism is that a lot of the people died for a lie,” said Dr McDowell. He countered this: “Jesus was with them for 40 days, living among them. If the resurrection was a lie, the disciples had to know it. And to die knowing that it was a lie goes against human nature.”
Another common criticism is that “people have been known to die for a great cause”. To counter that argument, he explained that the Jews were expecting a Messiah who would come and rescue them from oppression. At the moment when Christ was crucified, their great cause died. For them to be willing to die for the Gospel in Acts, they must have seen Jesus come back from the dead.
To end off his sermon, Dr McDowell brought the congregation through evidence of how the Old Testament scrolls had been copied under high standards, and accuracy of those copies were so minimal compared to the great works published in the Library of Alexandria. “With such great accuracy, I can hold the Bible and say accurately ‘thus saith the Lord’,” he declared.