Even if the atheist is convinced as to the insufficiency of their unbelief, there still exists a dizzying array of theistic options available to select from that would end up sending the individual down the same road to Hell if the apologetic task is botched or mishandled. Thus it is imperative to guide the nascent theist into the arms of Christ before they are gobbled up by competing heresies, cults, and world religions.
Since man is a sentient creature that lives amidst the flow of time, the primary revelation and outreach of this Deity would therefore need to consist of some pivotal event occurring in what we know as history. As one of the world's foremost texts detailing the earliest eras of mankind's religious experience, the Bible ought to be one of the first sources considered.
The Bible is perhaps the best-known book in the world and contains within its pages the account of the most widely known person in the world, namely Jesus Christ. Love Him or hate Him, no other figure from ancient times has elicited as much of a response down to this very day. For though many distort His very nature and the claims made by this Nazarene carpenter, scores hoping to sway hearts and minds have often presented themselves as if they had the endorsement of what should have been a figure otherwise forgotten centuries ago.
One of the first objections the atheist that does not want to consider the claims of Christ raises is that the Bible cannot be trusted as an objective factual account. At best, all the Bible can provide is a chronicle of the biases of the early Church and these assumptions not even necessarily from the time when Jesus was supposed to have walked the earth.
In this era of instantaneous global communications, any event that does not have a CNN crew there on the ground to Twitter about it is hardly even considered newsworthy. Thus, it is only natural that, given the nature of the documentary evidence that has come down to us, that the unreflective would cast a leery eye towards it.
According to Geisler and Turek, the gap between the original autographs and the earliest surviving copies is about twenty-five years (226). To put this into perspective, one needs to compare it with other texts coming down to us from the Classical Mediterranean.
For example, there is a gap of 1200 years between the earliest surviving copies of Plato and the originals. Likewise, there is a gap of 1000 years between the earliest surviving works of Julius Caesar and the originals. Yet one does not find many scholars attempting to make careers of respectable renown and adulation by discrediting and throwing into doubt these Greco-Roman pillars of the Western tradition.
The skeptically inclined will likely still not be impressed as to the small gap in time between the earliest surviving copies of a text and the time when the document was believed to have been written if what was written about occurred decades and even centuries before the time in which it was written down. On this point also, however, the New Testament Scriptures in general and the Gospels in particular remain in good standing.
For example, it is believed that most of these works were likely written down in a time frame no later than between AD 62 to 70. Such an assertion is conjectured along the following lines of argumentation.
In Mark 13, Jesus predicts that the Jerusalem Temple will be destroyed before the generation He was speaking to at that time passed away. That prophesy was fulfilled by the Romans in AD 70 in what the historian Josephus categorized as “the greatest war of all time”, a conflict in which the Jews not only lost the focal point of their religious material culture but also tens of thousands of their fellow countrymen (238). Yet not a word of this fulfillment is mentioned in the pages of Scripture even though it could have been one of the greatest "see I told you so" moments in all of history. This causes conservative scholars to conclude that most of the New Testament had likely been written by the time of that event.
Even if the apologist is able to martial a number of these historical technicalities to blunt this particular variety of skepticism, the unbeliever is likely to respond that such details do not validate the content. After all, numerous works can be authenticated to the era in which they are believed to describe and been written in, but are filled either with mild distortions, shushed-over omissions, or even outright lies.
For example, the works of Julius Caesar no doubt cast events in a way to put him in the best possible light and scholars to this day speculate as to what Plato was actually doing during the trial of his beloved Socrates. It is simply an aspect of human nature to obfuscate when we are embarrassed by our responses to certain situations whether we take pen to paper for publication or merely try to get out of a speeding ticket. The Bible, on the other hand, is one of the few books where the warts of its protagonists and even those overseeing the compilation of its documents are put out there for all the world to see. For example, it is believed that Mark penned his Gospel under the oversight of the Apostle Peter. Yet in that very document, Christ chastised Peter as Satan, the very embodiment of evil, and elsewhere in the New Testament this rock upon which Christ is said to have built His church comes across like any other human being as a loudmouth coward that often fails to live up to his bellicose promises.
It is at this level of detail that the Christian is able to present the case that the Gospels are an actual historical account rather than a mythological legend. Geisler and Turek write, “Now think about this: If you were a New Testament writer, would you include these embarrassing details if you were making up a story...Would you depict yourselves as uncaring, bumbling cowards, and the women --- whose testimony wasn’t even admissible in court --- as the brave ones who stood by Jesus and later discovered the empty tomb? Of course not (277).”
Once the credibility of the New Testament eyewitnesses is established, the unbeliever is forced to confront the underlying claims of the Gospel narrative and ultimately of Scripture. Those happen to be nothing less than what happened to Jesus and whom did Jesus claim Himself to be.
The central event in the life of Jesus was nothing less than His resurrection from the dead. No one living in the contemporary technocratic world --- be they devout or atheist alike --- believes that rising from the dead is a common occurrence. Where opinion diverges is on the issue of whether such an event is an impossibility or rather one requiring divine intervention in order to be orchestrated.
Skeptics not wanting to accept the account at face value have over the decades concocted a number of theories as to why the orthodox understanding as to what happened is not entirely accurate. These accuse the parties involved of a variety of shortcomings from a naive innocence, to incompetence, to outright criminality.
The first attempt to explain away the Resurrection is the Swoon Theory. This theory posits that Jesus did not really die on the cross but rather merely lost consciousness. It really does take more faith to believe in this particular explanation than the one provided in the Gospels.
This theory, in fact, does not take the facts into account. For starters, to say Jesus merely passed out or even went into a temporary coma is to seriously underestimate the brutality the Romans had perfected as an art of terror. Even from non-Christian disciplines such as contemporary archaeology and ancient sources such as Quintilian, we learn about practices such as plunging a spear into the heart to make sure that the victim was really dead (304).
Even if the Romans had botched the job in failing to kill Jesus (as we all know of instances where government employees have been less than dutiful), Jesus would have been in no physical shape to accomplish what the Gospels said He did following the Crucifixion. Even Jack Bauer could not have pulled it off as it must be remembered anyone in such a condition would have had their body broken beyond repair.
The following makes the Swoon Theory downright impossible. Jesus would have been embalmed with nearly 75 pounds of spices and bandages (305). To affect an escape, a man critically injured would have not only had to remove these, but also to remove the two-ton stone closing the tomb as well as take on the Roman soldiers. Had such a scenario transpired, Geisler and Turek humorously quip, "Even if he could get out of the tomb and past the Roman guards, Jesus would have been a battered...man whom the disciples would pity, not worship They'd say, 'You may be alive, but you're certainly not risen. Let's get you to a doctor' (305)."
For starters, to accuse the Disciples of stealing the body is to ignore that all but one of Christ's most loyal Apostles were believed to have died violent martyrs’ deaths and the one that did not was essentially exiled on a desolate island. While history and the evening news is replete with examples of those that give their lives for things that are ultimately proven to be falsehoods, seldom will someone give their life willingly for what they themselves know to be a lie. For example, would someone like Peter, whose survival instinct was so strong that he ended up denying his beloved Jesus multiple times, have willingly allowed himself to be crucified upside down, if legends are to be believed, if he knew that the account of the Resurrection was merely a fabrication?
Ironically, as scholars eager to tear down the traditional intellectual structures of Western civilization in favor of ones more socialistic in orientation are often fond of pointing out in their preferred narrative of Jesus as a merely human Apocalyptic revolutionary, the Jerusalem and Greater Palestine of that day were powder kegs set to go off in terms of violence at any moment. No on in authority --- be they Jewish religious leaders, the Herodians holding tenuous political power, or the occupying Roman military forces --- would have allowed news of a Resurrected Jesus to continue to spread if they could have found a plausible grave robber on which to pin the blame.
One theory that seeks to deny the truth of the Resurrection while upholding the good but somewhat naive natures of Christ's disciples is the Hallucination Theory (302). According to this hypothesis, those that loved Jesus were so distraught with grief that Jesus merely appeared to them in their own minds as part of a mental breakdown.
While this might be a valid line of argumentation if there were only one or two followers stepping forward to claim they had seen the risen Christ, such was not the case. Bible scholars and theologians such as Norman Geisler point out that not only did 500 see Christ after the Resurrection took place but some of these interactions were tactilely tangible such as when Thomas touched our Lord’s wounds. Hallucinations would not be a communal experience but rather something highly individualized.
Once the unbeliever has been presented with evidence attesting to Christ’s resurrection, they will have to pay attention to his claims and the claims made about Him for no other reason than that someone having been risen from the dead needs to be considered seriously because of having accomplished something so outside the historical norm. In the attempt to accommodate a place for Jesus somewhere in their worldview, many people as well as most religions will concede that Jesus was a very good man but certainly not God or God’s only Begotten Son. Such a position may be even more intellectually disingenuous and self-deluding than the brand of atheism espoused by the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche. To his credit, at least this crazed syphilitic was consistent in heaping condemnation on both God and Christ.
One must either embrace Jesus as Savior, Lord, and God or one cannot embrace Him at all. Perhaps the greatest summation of this idea was formulated by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity when he said, “That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the things that Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would 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 (Geisler, 346).”
The astute unbeliever then might point out that what was it exactly that Jesus said since the elaborate Christologies that developed could be accretions that attached themselves to the narrative at a later date and might not be actual components of the original texts. After all, it is common for Christians in this hypersensitive era to point out that not everything done throughout history in the name of Jesus would necessarily be approved of by Jesus. Dan Brown, because of his blockbuster The Da Vinci Code, will never have to work another day in his life, having capitalized on the assumption in the popular culture that the Jesus of orthodoxy presented to the ecclesiastical world might not exactly be the Jesus of raw history.
The idea that Jesus never claimed to be deity is clearly refuted by His own words recorded in the pages of Scripture. There are numerous instances where Jesus clearly addresses the matter to both the accepting and critical alike.
For example, in John 8, Jesus says, "before Abraham was, I AM." This is in fact a name of God the Lord first reveals to Moses when He imparted to Moses instructions as to what Moses was supposed to say on behalf of the Israelites. The title attests to God being self-existent and dependent on no one; in other words, the Unmoved Mover to formulate the concept in a manner preferable to those more familiar with the terminology of Aristotle and Aquinas.
In accounts of those that already believed in Jesus or would come to believe in Jesus, Jesus asked them whom they thought He was. For example, after Thomas examined the scars of the resurrected Jesus, upon resolving his initial skepticism, Thomas declared Jesus to be his Lord and his God. And when Peter was asked by Jesus who he thought Jesus was, Peter responded in Mark 16:16, "Thou art the Christ."
In neither of these instances did Jesus refute the claims. And in the case of Peter, Jesus said, "thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church." Though theologians might debate as to whether Jesus meant the faith and devotion of Peter or rather the divinity of Christ upon which all other assumptions of the faith flow, that is not the point of this particular exposition.
The road to embracing the Christian faith can be a long and arduous journey. The climate in which we find ourselves is of little assistance in alleviating the doubts that arise within ourselves as fallen creatures wanting to embrace our own sinful desires as well as elaborate systems of thought external to ourselves that have been crafted in the attempt to justify refusal to accept the one solution capable of rescuing man from his Hell-bound situation. It is, thus, the purpose of Apologetics to assure the skeptic that Christianity is a faith founded on fact and that it is atheism which stretches the bounds of reason beyond belief.
By Frederick Meekins