In The Case for Christ, Yale Law School graduate and former Chicago Tribune legal-affairs reporter Lee Strobel approaches the history of Jesus Christ as though it were a story he was reporting on. He isolates the most important aspects of Jesus’s life and death—His biography, His divinity, His resurrection—and consults world-renowned experts in those aspects to determine their truth. A long-time religious skeptic, Strobel begins the book as an atheist; by the end, overwhelmed by the amount of evidence in favor of faith, Strobel is reborn as a follower of Christ.
In course of the book, Strobel visits 14 scholars with an array of expertise—in philosophy, archaeology, psychology, medicine, history, and theology—and subjects them to the same kind of cross-examination he might have used on a witness in a court of law. The results of his investigation are these:
Whereas Strobel once thought the gospels were legends concocted by biased authors, his conversation with Craig Blomberg, a scholar of the New Testament, confirms that the gospels bear all the markings of trustworthy eyewitness accounts: Their contradictions concern only small details; and even the gospel writers’ contemporary critics took much of Jesus’s story, including the working of miracles, for granted. If the central events of Jesus’s life weren’t contested in the years after his death, there’s no reason to question them today.
It has long been noted that the gospels of the New Testament don’t all tell the same story, and some skeptics have latched onto that phenomenon to call Jesus’s reality into question. However, the fact that the gospels harmonize on all the major points while diverging on minor ones suggests that (a) the gospels are reliable and (b) the overall contours of Jesus’s story are factually accurate. Also, Christianity couldn’t have thrived in Jerusalem—as it did almost immediately after Jesus’s death—if the gospels had been exaggerated: Everyone would have known the gospel authors were lying.
Strobel’s interview with Bruce Metzger, a Princeton professor specializing in the textual history of the New Testament, confirms that the documents on which the New Testament is based date to an extremely early period in the Church and are authentic. This finding answers the suspicion that Jesus’s supernatural activities were added to the Gospels after the fact to establish his divinity.
Many believe the only textual source for Jesus’s existence is the Bible itself, but Strobel’s investigation proves otherwise. In fact, there is more historical evidence for Jesus’s existence than for many historical personages whose reality we take for granted. And not only his existence: Secular sources, like Josephus’s Testimonium Flavianum and Tacitus’s writings, attest to Jesus’s ability to perform miracles as well as his crucifixion and his early followers’ belief in his Resurrection.
No archeological finding has disproved the New Testament, and **Luke’s gospel has...
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For much of his life, Lee Strobel, a Yale Law School graduate and legal affairs reporter for the Chicago Tribune, was an atheist. For him, belief in God required too many leaps of faith: Why was there evil in the world if people were created by a loving God? Wasn’t the evidence of evolution far more compelling than that of a divine creator? Weren’t miracles that flouted the laws of nature literally incredible?
Strobel’s attitude toward Christ began to change in 1979, when his wife, a longtime agnostic, declared that she had become a Christian. Strobel worried that she would become...
Strobel begins his investigation by interviewing Dr. Craig Blomberg, a renowned biblical scholar and author of the book The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. (The four gospels are, in essence, biographies of Jesus.) Strobel picks Blomberg because, although he’s a man of faith, he can be trusted not to paper over gaps in the historical record: He is known to have grappled with the objections to Christianity and nevertheless maintained his belief.
One of the primary points of controversy surrounding the first three gospels (also known as the “Synoptic” gospels) is their authorship: Did Matthew, Mark, and Luke truly write the gospels to which their names are attached?
The answer is yes. Although scholars don’t know for certain who wrote each gospel, early church testimony is uniform on the subject of the authorship of the first three gospels. According to writings by Papias (125 AD) and Irenaeus (180 AD), Matthew, a tax collector also known as Levi, was the author of the first gospel; John Mark, a disciple of Peter, was the author of the second gospel; and Luke, Paul’s...
Although Strobel finds Blomberg’s arguments compelling, he intends to make sure he raises as many objections as he can to strengthen the case for Jesus. So, putting on his lawyer cap, he subjects Blomberg’s account to eight tests.
Given the theological goals of the gospels’ authors—that is, their goal of persuading and converting nonbelievers—one might think they weren’t at all interested in providing an accurate historical account. This is not the case.
On the contrary, the gospel writers were at pains to adhere to the conventions of historical or biographical writing of the time. For example, Luke begins his gospel with an explicit statement of purpose; he defines his task as producing an “orderly account” of the events he relates, based on his own careful investigation.
Some scholars have argued that the gospel writers’ intent was not to record history accurately, but rather to provide a history where none existed. This argument relies on the fact that early Christians believed Jesus would return to consummate history during their lifetimes, and so they had no reason to preserve his teachings for...
The text of the gospels that we know today is the product of generations of copying: from the original manuscripts of the gospel writers, lost long ago, to modern-day laser printers. Given that early copies were made painstakingly by hand, how can we be sure that the present-day text of the gospels is exactly the same as the gospel writers’ manuscripts? And isn’t it possible that, in the early days of the Church, further biographies of Jesus were suppressed or discarded in favor in the four we know today?
These two questions lead Strobel to Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, where he meets with Bruce Metzger, an 84-year-old professor emeritus whose specialty is the New Testament.
With the advent of digital reproduction processes, we no longer have to worry about quality or fidelity loss as we copy materials, whether music files, digital images, or word-processing documents. Even modern-day Xerox machines produce near-pristine copies of originals.
When we’re dealing with ancient manuscripts, however, which had to be copied by hand onto fragile materials and transported on foot, the risk of corruption or loss is great.
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As convincing as Blomberg’s and Metzger’s arguments are, they do have one weak spot: They rely solely on the texts of the Christian tradition. If there were historical evidence for the gospels’ account that didn’t originate with the Church, then the gospels would be that much more credible.
Strobel pursues this line of inquiry by visiting Dr. Edwin Yamauchi, a professor at Miami University of Ohio and a renowned historian of the Mediterranean. Yamauchi participated in the 1968 excavation of the Herodian temple in Jerusalem (destroyed in 70 AD) and has published dozens of papers in scholarly journals. Although he was born into the Buddhist faith, he became a Christian in 1952.
It’s a common misconception that the evidence for Jesus’s life is confined to the Bible itself—that no secular source records his existence. In fact, there are clear and important references to Jesus in several non-Christian sources.
Primary among them are the works of Josephus, a Jewish historian active in the first century AD. In The Antiquities, a history of the Jewish people from Creation to the late first century AD, Josephus refers to Jesus as the “Christ,” or Messiah,...
With the documentary evidence for the historical Jesus well established, Strobel moves on to investigate the scientific evidence for Jesus’s existence. To do so, he visits John McRay, a professor of the New Testament and archaeology at Wheaton College in Illinois. McRay is the author of a 432-page textbook entitled Archaeology and the New Testament, and he supervised several archaeological digs in Israel over an eight-year period.
Strobel’s object in interviewing McRay is to determine whether the accounts in the gospels are true and accurate. Archaeology can tell us about the history and geography of the ancient world, but it can’t tell us whether the New Testament is the Word of God or whether we ought to commit our lives to Jesus. These are spiritual truths whose value cannot be underwritten by scientific discovery.
But if the gospel writers’ references to particular places and landmarks prove consistent and accurate, it lends credibility to the other parts of their accounts.
Luke’s contributions to the New Testament, his gospel and the book of Acts, comprise almost one quarter of the entire text of...
In the ’90s, a small group of New Testament scholars calling themselves the Jesus Seminar rose to prominence. These scholars, a tiny minority of New Testament experts, received a wealth of media coverage due to their idiosyncratic methods and radically new accounts of the Bible. For example, the group voted on the authenticity of each of Jesus’s sayings with colored beads; later, they published a book called The Five Gospels (the canonical four plus the Gospel of Thomas), which featured color-coded text reflecting their votes. 82% of the book was rendered in black, the color for words Jesus never said at all; only 2% of the book was in red, the color for words Jesus definitely said.
Given the attention paid to the Jesus Seminar in the media and their assertions of Jesus’s “materiality” (that is, his mortality rather than his deity), Strobel feels it’s vital to consider, and, hopefully, refute, the Jesus Seminar. To do so, he visits Dr. Gregory Boyd, a professor at Bethel College who received his graduate education in divinity at Yale and Princeton. Boyd is the author of a 416-page scholarly rebuttal to the Jesus Seminar entitled _Cynic Sage or Son of God? Recovering...
Test your knowledge of the evidentiary record for Jesus’s existence.
If someone skeptical of Jesus’s existence asked you for proof, what might you say? (Helpful hint: Review the chapters just above and pick the pieces of evidence most convincing to you.)
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A crucial facet of the “case for Christ” is understanding what Jesus thought about himself. Did he view himself simply as a rabbi or prophet, one who would be aghast at his subsequent deification? Or was he indeed convinced of his own deity? Did Jesus truly believe he was the Christ?
To answer these questions, Strobel travels to Kentucky to interview Dr. Ben Witherington III, a professor at the Asbury Theological Seminary. Educated at UNC-Chapel Hill, the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and the University of Durham in England, Witherington has taught at the Divinity School of Duke University and written over fifty books, including The Many Faces of the Christ, Jesus, Paul, and the Ends of the World, and Women in the Ministry of Jesus.
It has long been remarked that the Jesus presented in the gospels is hesitant to refer to himself as the Messiah or Son of God. In 1977, a book coauthored by more than a dozen theologians argued that Jesus never thought of himself as God or the Messiah, and that any references to his deity were added after his death.
However, **there are a number of clues that suggest that Jesus did indeed think of...
The evidence that Jesus believed he was the Son of God, the Messiah, cuts two ways: While it establishes that he did indeed believe himself to be divine, it also raises questions about his sanity. If no other rabbi of the time felt compelled to make similar claims about his divinity, isn’t it possible that Jesus was simply crazy?
Of course, the person to ask is a psychologist. Strobel visits Gary Collins, a clinical psychologist (Ph.D., Purdue University) who taught at the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for twenty years. He has written well over 100 articles for scholarly journals and has written 45 books on psychological and theological themes, including Christian Counseling: A Comprehensive Guide.
A common symptom of mental illness is delusion, particularly delusions of grandeur. Many paranoid schizophrenics will at times believe they are someone famous or important: a Nobel Prize winner, the President of the United States—even Jesus himself. If misbegotten beliefs like this are so common among the mentally ill, who’s to say Jesus too wasn’t suffering from psychosis?
**What distinguishes Jesus from the mentally ill _is the lack of...
It goes without saying that Christians believe Jesus is God, but what exactly does being God entail? The Old Testament provides a number of details about God that, if Christian doctrine is right, would have to hold true for Jesus as well. For example:
Some of these attributes immediately present problems for Christian apologists. For example, how can Jesus be omnipresent? When he was delivering the Sermon on the Mount by the Sea of Galilee, he wasn’t simultaneously standing on a street in Nazareth!
To get some clarity on these issues, Strobel visits D. A. Carson, a professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Carson has authored or edited over 40 books and reads a dozen languages. He holds a bachelor of science from McGill University and a doctorate in the New Testament from Cambridge.
Another way to establish Jesus’s deity, separate and apart from his divine traits, is to compare him with Old Testament descriptions of the Messiah. Jewish scriptures are full of prophecies about the arrival of the Messiah, an emissary of God who would redeem humanity. These prognostications often feature specific details (so that the Jewish people would recognize the Messiah when he came). If Jesus matches these details, which were articulated generations before Jesus’s birth, there’s good reason to believe Jesus is indeed the Anointed One.
To explore this possibility, Strobel visits Louis Lapides, a pastor at a church in California. Lapides’s path to Christ was a winding one. Raised Jewish in New Jersey, Lapides was drafted and sent to Vietnam, where he began exploring Eastern religions. When he returned home, depressed and rootless, he experimented with drugs and even contemplated suicide.
Eventually, Lapides ended up in California, where he continued to search for a religious path. In 1969, an impromptu encounter with a pastor led to Lapides’s revisiting the Old Testament. The pastor had told him that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah—a figure entirely absent from...
Review what you’ve learned about Jesus Christ.
How would you respond if someone claimed that Jesus never said explicitly that he was the Messiah? (Hint: Review Chapter 7)
For all the other tokens of Jesus’s deity—his forgiveness of humanity’s sins, his healing of the sick, his raising of the dead—the truth of his divinity rests on his resurrection: the fact that he died on the cross and returned to life.
However, almost as long as there have been believers in Christ, there have been skeptics who argue the Resurrection was a hoax. The Koran, for example, written in the seventh century, floats the idea that Jesus never died on the cross; and conspiracy theorists throughout the centuries have speculated that Jesus simply swooned on the cross and was revived later on.
Given the commonness of these conjectures, Strobel decides to consult someone who can speak to the medical evidence of Jesus’s death and resurrection: Dr. Alexander Metherell, a former research scientist and radiologist who has published widely on topics in both engineering and medicine (in addition to an MD from the University of Miami in Florida, he has a PhD in Engineering from University of Bristol in England).
(Shortform note: Metherell gives a graphic account of Jesus’s torture and execution. The following sections feature descriptions of extreme...
Jesus’s death on the cross, as conclusively established by Dr. Metherell, confirms the initial condition for the Resurrection (i.e., Jesus’s medical death). But what evidence do we have he was indeed raised?
There are two proofs for Jesus’s rise: The eyewitness accounts of his disciples (discussed in the next chapter), and the fact of his empty tomb.
To analyze the latter, Strobel visits William Lane Craig, an expert on the Resurrection and author of a number of classics of Christian apologetics, including Reasonable Faith, The Only Wise God, and The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe. Craig is also a renowned debater of atheists and skeptics.
It goes without saying that, in order for Jesus’s tomb to be empty, he would have had to be buried in a tomb in the first place.
As it turns out, this fact can’t be taken for granted. Historians have shown that the bodies of crucified criminals were generally left on the cross to be eaten by birds or thrown in mass graves.
But those skeptics that appeal to the general case ignore the specific circumstances of Jesus’s burial.
First of all, there’s ample textual evidence that...
The authenticity of the empty tomb established, Strobel sets out to determine whether the second key proof of the Resurrection—that certain people encountered Jesus after he was buried—holds up.
To do so, he travels to Lynchburg, Virginia, to meet with Gary Habermas, one of the most formidable apologists of Christianity in the world. A professor at Liberty University, Habermas has participated in high-profile debates with leading atheists, including Antony Flew, author of The Presumption of Atheism. Famously, in his debate with Flew, four of the five judges—who were philosophers affiliated with various colleges and universities—declared Habermas the winner, and the fifth said the debate was a draw.
Habermas earned his PhD at Michigan State University, and he has authored seven books concerning the Resurrection, including The Resurrection of Jesus: An Apologetic and Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate.
Critics of Christianity are eager to point out that, whatever other evidence there might be for the Resurrection, no one actually saw Jesus rise from the dead and leave the tomb.
Scholars like Habermas concede this...
Through his discussions with Drs. Craig and Habermas, Strobel has grounded both the empty tomb and Jesus’s subsequent appearance in solid evidence—which is to say, he’s grounded the Resurrection in evidence.
But let’s say for the sake of argument that the accounts in the gospels and in Acts and Corinthians aren’t true. Is there circumstantial evidence—that is, evidence ancillary to the various narratives of the Resurrection themselves—that supports the truth of the Resurrection?
To answer this question, Strobel visits J.P. Moreland, a professor at the Talbot School of Theology. A chemist and philosopher by training, Moreland has published widely in scholarly journals on topics in theology and philosophy, and he’s written a number of books, including Christianity and the Nature of Science, The Life and Death Debate, and Love Your God with All Your Mind.
What are the facts—either historically or canonically grounded beyond a reasonable doubt—that prove the Resurrection happened as it did?
The skeptic’s argument that the Resurrection was a hoax entails an extraordinary ramification:...
Revisit what you’ve learned about the Resurrection.
Isn’t it possible Jesus never died on the cross, and so was never really resurrected? Why or why not? (Hint: Review Chapter 11.)
At the culmination of his investigation, Strobel locks himself in his home office to review everything he’s learned. Through his interviews and research, he’s established the following:
Whereas Strobel once thought the gospels were legends concocted by biased authors, his conversation with Blomberg confirmed that the gospels bear all the markings of trustworthy eyewitness accounts.
That the gospels harmonize on the major points while diverging on minor ones suggests that (a) the authors are reliable and (b) the overall contours of Jesus’s story are factually accurate. Also, the early church couldn’t have thrived in Jerusalem—as it did—if the gospels had been exaggerated: everyone would have known the disciples were lying.
Strobel’s interview with Bruce Metzger confirmed that the documents on which the New Testament is based date to an extremely early period in the church and are authentic.