This is a special guest post by Annie Olson, a 7th grader who wrote this as her final paper in a rhetoric class. It is reprinted here with the permission of Annie and her parents, and it's an excellent example of what young people can accomplish when we elevate our expectations. Don't underestimate the ability of your kids to understand the evidence and make the case, regardless of their age. You never know, they just might write something like this:
We believe in God the Father. We believe in Jesus Christ. We believe in the Holy Spirit and that He’s given us new life. We believe in the crucifixion. We believe that He conquered death. We believe in the resurrection and that He’s coming back again. We believe. So, why do we believe? Should we believe? Is the New Testament even reliable?
Most people recognize that the New Testament is used by Christians as a historical account and the basis of their faith. Some people believe that the New Testament accounts are reliable. Conversely, others do not believe that the New Testament accounts are reliable. As described by J. Warner Wallace, author of Cold-Case Christianity, there are strategic methods of investigation used to determine whether the facts of a case are reliable. For the purpose of this paper, the case or the issue, is whether or not the New Testament accounts are reliable. According to these methods, the New Testament accounts are reliable for three reasons: the writers lived early enough in the First Century to be true eyewitnesses of the events described; the testimonies given were verified by outside sources and evidence and were not corrupted over time; and the motives possessed by the authors were not biased.
The first piece of evidence supporting that the New Testament accounts are reliable is that the writers lived early enough in the First Century to be true eyewitnesses of the events described. Known historical events were not depicted in the writings because they had not yet happened. For example, the siege of Jerusalem in AD 67-70 and the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 were not mentioned in the New Testament because they had not occurred. The deaths of Jesus’ early followers were also not recorded because they were still living. For instance, the deaths of James, Peter, and Paul were not until AD 61-65. Paul’s letters, written between AD 53-57, directly referenced the Gospels, which means they had already been written. He referenced Mark’s gospel, which was written in AD 45-50 and Luke’s gospel, which was written in AD 50-53. All this evidence supports that the New Testament accounts were written close to the time and events that they describe. Substantial evidence that the authors lived during the time of Christ makes them powerful eyewitnesses.
Secondly, the testimonies given in the New Testament were verified by outside sources and evidence and were not corrupted over time. Archaeological findings and writings from early, external, non-Christians gave detailed descriptions of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Some of these non-Christian historians included Josephus, Thallus, Tacitus, Mara Bar-Serapion, and Phlegon. It is powerful to note that even non-followers and those who didn’t necessarily believe that Jesus was the Son of God provided documentation that Jesus lived in Judea, was a virtuous man, had wondrous powers, predicted the future, was the wise “King of the Jews”, was accused by Jewish leaders, and crucified by Pilate during the reign of Tiberius Caesar. They also described darkness and an earthquake that covered the land at the time of the crucifixion. Furthermore, these same non-believers stated that Jesus reportedly rose after death, was believed to be the Messiah, and was called the “Christ”. Supporting that the New Testament accounts were not corrupted over time, the students of the original apostles consistently echoed the same message even though they were spread out geographically. Moreover, true to the Jewish tradition, scribes were known for meticulously copying the Scriptures. For example, the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in caves in 1947. There were fragments of almost every book of the Old Testament and a complete copy of Isaiah in these scrolls. When the scroll of Isaiah was compared the book that we now have, 95% was word-for-word and the other 5% were simply some spelling differences and sometimes the presence of the word “and”. None of these differences changed the meaning of the Old Testament Scriptures at all. There is no reason to believe that the writers of the New Testament would not use these same methods for copying their work and passing it down to their students. It is clear that the New Testament accounts were verified by outside sources and were not corrupted over time.
Finally, the motives possessed by the authors of the New Testament accounts were not biased. We are all motivated do to the things we do, whether that be for good or for evil. Some of the prime motivations for anyone to take action include: financial greed, pursuit of power, and self-protection. The apostles were not driven by financial greed, as evidenced by the fact that they abandoned all of their earthly possessions to follow Jesus in the hope of finding the treasures of Heaven instead. The authors of the New Testament were also not driven by the pursuit of power. Indeed, their status in the Jewish community was crushed considerably, leaving them outcasts according to Jewish elite, like the Pharisees. Similarly, there is no evidence to support that the writers were concerned with self-preservation. In fact, none of the apostles recanted their testimony, even to save their lives. The evidence supports that the motives of the New Testament writers were pure.
Despite these facts, the opposing side will try to convince you that the New Testament accounts are not reliable. They try to prove this by suggesting that the Gospels were written late, meaning they were not written when the true eyewitness were alive. Therefore, they claim that they are a lie, saying that the Gospels were penned in the Second or Third Centuries. Furthermore, skeptics proclaim that the Gospels were written much closer to the establishment of Christianity in the Roman Empire than to the life of Jesus.
These suggested explanations are inadequate because there is substantial evidence that the historical events described in the New Testament all happened in the First Century and were actually written about by true eyewitnesses in that same time period.
Others may deny the reliability of the New Testament accounts, saying that because Mark’s account seemed to be written in a hurry, it is not correct. Because the facts are brief and jumbled, some may think they cannot be trusted. There could also be concerns that Mark’s sense of urgency in his writing could have led to inaccuracy of the facts.
This proof against the reliability of the New Testament accounts is inadequate because it is plausible that Mark put together the facts quickly because he wanted to world to know about the life of Jesus before it was too late. For all he knew, Jesus would return before there would be any need for an ordered biography of sorts. Mark wrote almost word-for-word what his teacher, Peter, who had been a direct eyewitness, said. Mark was very careful and unlikely to have written any false accounts. The accuracy was simply more important to Mark than an ordered description.
The opposing side alleges to have accurate and reliable evidence to disprove the reliability of the New Testament; however, there are clear ways to refute their claims.
The New Testament accounts are reliable. We know this because the writers lived early enough in the First Century to be true eyewitnesses of the events described. The testimonies given were also verified by outside sources and evidence and were not corrupted over time. Finally, the motives possessed by the authors were not biased.
The reliability of the New Testament accounts matters to Christians. As stated by J Warner Wallace, “While we are often willing to spend time reading the Bible, praying, or participating in church programs and services, few of us recognize the importance of becoming good Christian case makers.” Now that we are able to make a case, based on evidence, to strongly support the New Testament’s reliability, we need to use this knowledge to defend our faith.
(Reference: Wallace, J Warner. Cold-Case Christianity. David C Cook, Colorado Springs, 2013. Lyrics: We Believe by the Newsboys)
At 13, Annie is already well equipped to defend the truth. When I got her letter, I thought, "This is why I wrote Cold-Case Christianity, and this is why I'm so glad we had the opportunity to write Cold-Case Christianity for Kids." Our kids book is written for children 8-12 years old to help them understand how to evaluate evidence and make the case for Christianity. It's accompanied by an interactive Academy Website with videos and downloadable activities. Pre-order Cold-Case Christianity for Kids and get a free activity sheet. Let's encourage our young people to raise the bar and make the case for Christ.
In Cold-Case Christianity, I make the case for the reliability of the New Testament Gospels based on a template we use to test eyewitnesses in criminal trials. This book traces my own personal journey as I investigated the Gospels and ultimately became a Christian. When I first started considering the words of Jesus, I was only interested in gleaning some wisdom from an ancient sage. But the more I read through the Gospel narratives, the more I realized Jesus spoke and taught as though He were God Himself. Jesus possessed more than the authority of a wise teacher; He demonstrated a power and authority that can only be described as Divine:
The Authority to Create
The writers of Scripture described Jesus as more than simply our Savior. According the Bible, Jesus is also our creator:
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:3)
For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. (Colossians 1:16)
The Authority to Forgive
Jesus also repeatedly demonstrated His Divine authority to forgive sin:
Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!” Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . .” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe. (Matthew 9:1-8)
The Authority to Grant Eternal Life
As the creator of life, Jesus also demonstrated the ability to give of eternal life:
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:28)
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)
The Authority to Judge
As the author of our lives, Jesus proclaimed the right to evaluate how we have lived as His creation:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.” (Matthew 25:31-33)
The Biblical eyewitnesses described Jesus as a uniquely authoritative teacher. But this authority appears to be rooted in much more than exceptional wisdom or persuasive communication skills. Jesus’ authority is grounded in His power; a Divine power that separated Him from other wise rabbis. Jesus’ authority was based on His Deity.
When we heard about the shootings last week, my wife and I were heartsick. Seven people died in what feels like an escalating national crisis. Two people died at the hands of police officers, while five officers died at the hands of a single suspect. The tension and distrust between African Americans and police officers is at the highest level in my lifetime. As my son Jimmy (a third-generation police officer himself) flew as a member of the Honor Guard to represent our agency at five officer funerals in Dallas this week, I began to gather my thoughts about how we, as Christians, might respond to the growing dilemma. I’ve tried to accurately communicate the nature of police work, but for every person who asks for my police perspective, there’s another who wants my advice as a pastor and Christian Case Maker. In this article, I’d like to outline six things each of us, as citizens and Christians, can do to respond to the growing dilemma:
After the horrific events of last week, I’ve been asked repeatedly about race relations in America, the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of police officers, and the increasing violence against police officers. As a member of the law-enforcement family (and a member of the Christian community), I would like to respond by providing some insight into the training and daily practices of police officers, particularly given the number of requests I’ve received. Although most of us are familiar with police work from television dramas and news reports, few people actually understand the nature of the environment in which police officers work. Once you understand what police officers are asked to do on a daily basis, it may be easier for you to assess the current situation and respond in a more reasonable way. Here are six important things everyone should keep in mind (and prayer) when assessing the actions of police officers in our country... (read more)