It is fashionable in certain circles to assume that the Bible is but a collection of man-made stories, crafted from whole cloth, for the purpose of imparting a particular philosophy, or in order to stir up certain emotions.
By such a reckoning, the only value of the Bible is in its ability to encourage people to be nice to one another through the creation of a community of like-minded individuals; but, also by such a reckoning, one should not take the Bible too seriously. No more seriously than any other made-up story. Thus it is given equal weight to other such books and writings like the Quran or the myths of ancient Greece.
This attitude, so prevalent in our modern culture, is not new. We can see evidence of it throughout the history of the church, as men feel free to add their own stories, interpretations and explanations to the sacred page. Still today, there are many religious leaders who feel quite comfortable making whatever alterations they desire to the Bible message in order to conform its words to their own opinions or desires.
The problem with this sort of mentality is that it ignores the manner in which the message of the Gospel of Christ is grounded in actual historical events.
Peter recognized this fact, and the inclination of some to doubt the message, when he reminded his readers of the nature of his testimony: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.” (2 Peter 1:16-18; ESV)
This question of the historical reality of Christianity is one that is central to the discussion of the faith, and it really boils down to a single question: did Jesus rise from the dead, or did He not?
Nor does the Bible itself shy away from the importance of this question. The apostle Paul argued in his epistle to the Corinthians: “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.” (1 Corinthians 15:13-14; NKJV)
Not that Paul had any doubts about the historicity of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Concerning the risen Lord, Paul had evidence, the evidence of eyewitnesses. As he would write, the risen Jesus “was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also.” (1 Corinthians 15:5-7; NKJV)
So convicted was Paul by what he had seen and heard, he changed his life, giving up all that he had once held precious, facing poverty, persecution and ridicule — just so he could share with people the reality of a risen Christ. (cf. Philippians 3:7-11)
Nor was Paul alone in this. All of the apostles did the same. We know for a historical fact that these men preached the gospel all across the known world, spreading out from Jerusalem to share a message of a risen savior. We also know that they never benefitted materially from doing so. In fact, they eschewed riches and honor for the sake of sharing their message with as many as possible. They frequently died horrible, violent deaths, but they never recanted the simple facts to which they bore witness: that in the days of Pontius Pilate, a religious figure named Jesus was crucified on a cross, and after three days he rose from the dead.
If the claims of the apostles were mere fictions, then Christianity is a vain religion, with nothing but false claims and false hope. But if we accept the historical reality of their testimony, a reality attested to in the first century by hundreds of other eyewitnesses, then we must accept that the Gospel is a message that demands our full attention. Indeed, it demands of us the same dedication and sacrifice as that of its original witnesses.
The Church of Christ invites you to make the Gospel a part of your life. Won’t you come worship and study with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis?
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.