We often hear that faith is matter of personal belief. But for Christians, faith is based on God’s past actions in history as a sign of how he will act in the future. A historical event cannot be recreated but the record of that event can be shown to be accurate and trustworthy.
The Christian faith centres on one historical event: the death and resurrection of Jesus. Its teachings might give good practical advice, and they might make you feel good, but those things are not its foundation. At its core, the Christian faith is a belief about the significance of one historical event in the middle of a great account of God’s dealing with humanity.
The details of the death and resurrection of Jesus are recorded for us, primarily, in the books of the New Testament. The fullest accounts are In the four gospels. The earliest accounts are in Paul’s writings.
The details of the event are interwoven with its interpretation in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. In about 50AD Paul wrote about an event that occurred less than twenty years earlier and quoted a tradition that had already formed and been passed to him:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…
Many have set out to disprove the historical accuracy of this account – such as Simon Greenleaf, Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel. They have questioned whether the Bible really claimed Jesus died and rose again, whether the Bible has been accurately preserved for us, and whether the Bible has externally corroborated evidence.
The story of Jesus’ trial, crucifixion and resurrection is recounted in each of the four gospels, and its significance is reflected on and applied in every other New Testament book. Many times these same writings reflect on how it fits with the Old Testaments story. The Bible certainly claims Jesus died and rose again.
We have thousands of copies of parts of the New Testament preserved for us from ancient times. The earliest copy we have dates from within 50 years of the original manuscript being written. And comparing so many copies, which are identical in over 98% of the text, allows us to see where scribes made trivial mistakes. The Bible has been accurately preserved for us.
The details of the gospel accounts have been externally verified. Other ancient non-Christian records, especially Josephus, have been important for verifying biblical details such as that Pilate was a governor in Jerusalem. Hostile pagan historians mocked Christians for worshipping a God who had been raised from the dead. The Bible has externally corroborated evidence that those first Christians were convinced of Jesus’ resurrection.
When you are trying to help people consider Christianity, one of our strongest approaches is to focus on historical events that can be verified. It is not a matter of personal opinion or of what makes you feel good. The central issue – Jesus’ death and resurrection – is an event which can be demonstrated to be a historical fact. And the significance of that event is inextricably linked to God’s forgiveness of our sins and the great biblical story of God’s saving work through time.