Recently I had the opportunity to do a Q&A session with the youth group at North Ridge Church in Raleigh, NC. The students submitted a variety of excellent questions about God and his word. In a previous post, we looked at six of their questions. In this post, we’ll take a look at five more of their questions: Is there proof other then the Bible that Jesus and his kingdom are real? Why does God love us so much? Are than any books of the Bible that are still in question whether or not they should be in the Bible? What are other historical documents that point to the Bible’s reliability? and Why are books like the apocrypha left out of the Bible, even though some Christians think they should be?
Is there proof other than the Bible that Jesus and his kingdom are real?
Great question. A few proofs are the power of God’s word (Hebrews 4:12: living and active, penetrating), the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:16: Spirit bears witness to our spirit that we are children of God; 1 John 5:6–7), the power of truth (John 8:31: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”: so first you need to take a reasonable step of faith and choose to trust Christ and believe in him and then you will grow in your knowledge of the truth; Jesus to Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”; John 20:29), and fulfilled biblical prophecy (especially surrounding the birth, ministry, and crucifixion of Jesus; see especially the “fulfillment quotations” in the Gospel of Matthew and John). Scholars say that we can piece together much of Jesus’ life just from extrabiblical sources alone.
Another piece of confirmation comes from extrabiblical sources: from Jewish historians such as Josephus (AD 37–100) and even from Roman historians such as Tacitus (Annals). Very few doubt that Jesus was a historical person. Even Bart Ehrman, chair of religion department at UNC-Chapel Hill, an agnostic, wrote a book defending the historicity of Jesus. We know that Jesus lived in first-century Galilee and Jerusalem, and that he was born during the reign of Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus (31/27 BC–AD 14) and died by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate (AD 26–36) during the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius (AD 14–37). We also know that his body was never found but that hundred of people claimed they saw him raised from the dead (1 Cor 15:5–7). I’ll come back to some of that under a later question.
Why does God love us so much?
First, the Bible tells us that God is love, so love is his very essence. Second, God loves us because he created us, because we are, as the Bible says, the work of his hands (Ps 100:3: “Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. … the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations”). If you’ve created anything, or had a child, you know that there is a strong affection and bond. As Paul writes in Romans, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? [long list: nothing] No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. [Nothing] in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31-39)
Are than any books of the Bible that are still in question whether or not they should be in the Bible?
Not really. In the OT, Roman Catholics also add the Apocrypha, which Protestants reject (books such as Bel and the Dragon, Susanna, Tobit, Judith, etc.). In the New Testament, some say Paul didn’t write certain letters attributed to him such as 1-2 Timothy and Titus, but they generally still acknowledge they are part of the canon. See further question 11 below. I said, “not really,” because there are some critical scholars, such as the Jesus Seminar, who say that other books should be added, such as the Gospel of Thomas (The Five Gospels) or feminists who say the books we have were all written by men and there should also be books written by women, so they call for a new canon. But more common is that people accept the existing canon because it has been in place for so long and they pick and choose what they want to believe or discard portions they find unbelievable such as miracles or say Jesus was a mere man, etc.
What are other historical documents that point to the Bible’s reliability?
Josephus (Jewish historian, AD 37–100): “About this time, Jesus came. He was a wise man, if it is really proper to call him a man, because he was a person who did incredible works, a teacher of those people who gladly welcomed the truth. He won over many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was the Messiah. And when Pilate condemned him to the cross based on evidence from the men of high standing from among us, the ones who loved him at the beginning did not abandon their love for him, because on the third day he appeared to them alive. And these and a thousand other wonderful things had been told about him by the divine prophets. And the tribe which is called ‘the Christians’ has not died out even to this very day.” (Ant. 18.3.3)
Babylonian Talmud: “On the eve of Passover they hanged Jesus the Nazarene. And a herald went out before him for forty days, saying, ‘He is going to be stoned, because he practiced sorcery and enticed and led Israel astray.’ … not having found anything in his favor, they hanged him on the eve of Passover.” (b. Sanh. 43a)
Roman historian Tacitus (AD 56–113): “Therefore, to squelch the rumor, Nero created scapegoats and subject ted to the most refined tortures those whom the common people called ‘Christians,’ a group hated for their abominable crimes. Their name comes from Christ, who, during the reign of Tiberius, had been executed by the procurator Pontius Pilate. Suppressed for the moment, the deadly superstition broke out again, not only in Judea, the land which originated the evil, but also in the city of Rome, where all sorts of horrendous and shameful practices of every part of the world converge and are fervently cultivated.” (Annals 15.44)
Why are books like the apocrypha left out of the Bible, even though some Christians think they should be?
There are OT and NT apocrypha. OT apocrypha are 1-2 Esdras, Tobit Judith, Additions to Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch, Epistle of Jeremiah, Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, Prayer of Manasseh, and 1-2 Maccabees. Apocrypha means “hidden,” referring to the mysterious or esoteric nature of some of these books. All of them were written later than Malachi, the last Old Testament book, in the so-called intertestamental or Second Temple period. Those books are in the Roman Catholic Bible but during the Protestant Reformation they were excluded from our Bibles. New Testament apocrypha are later Gospels, Acts, and Apocalypses; neither Catholics nor Protestants include those. Motivation is to fill perceived gaps in Scripture, trying to read between the lines. Some apocrypha are helpful history, but others include unorthodox doctrines, such as prayer for the dead. In any case, we believe that they were written later and not inspired by God. We can learn certain things from them, but we should not submit to them as authoritative and inspired.
You can find Part 1 of the Q&A here.