Why Paul Was A Christian – Part 4

Speaker: Scott Jarrett | May 7, 2017

Acts 17:16-32 represents the discourse Paul delivered to the Athenians at Mars Hill (or the “Areopagus”). In it, we find a total of three reasons Paul chose Christianity (though other religions/viewpoints did exist). And they (along w/the resurrection) sb the same reasons you and I are Christians (today):

1. Because all people are religious whether they like it or not (22, 26-28).

Every human being’s moral choices are determined by the answer they give to three questions some philosophers call “the ultimate questions” since the answers (we all give) are – by reason of our absence/inability to be eyewitnesses, entirely faith-based. Those three questions are: 1) The question of our existence (How did I get here? Who or What made us?), 2) The question of our purpose (Why am I here? What is our human responsibility?), 3) The question of our future (Where am I heading? What is the end-game for humanity?). Paul (therefore) knew he wb a part of some religion whether he liked it or not (since he too was answering these questions by his lifestyle).

2. Because all other religions fail miserably in their answers and proof (regarding the ultimate questions) (23, 18, 29-30).

Paul was a Christian, not b/c it was the religion he was raised in, or b/c it was the one that best fit w/his lifestyle choices or made him feel good. He chose Christianity b/c he saw that the others failed miserably in their attempts to answer the three ultimate questions and their ability to prove they indeed had the absolute/unchanging truth. This includes Agnosticism, Atheism and all other non-Christian and pseudo-Christian religions. The response of Paul to our current culture’s love affair w/these false religions and man-made doctrines/gods would be the same as it was in his day (30).

3. Because Christianity is the only religion with the answers and the proof (regarding the ultimate questions).

3.1. The question of our existence (How did I get here? Who or what made us?)

Answer: The material universe of time, space and matter as well as the immaterial world of spirits, were intentionally and intelligently created by the exclusive, personal and sovereign God, Who is uncreated, eternal, and therefore outside the laws of time and space which govern the material world. He is likewise self-sustaining, or not dependent upon the either the material or immaterial world for His existence. Rather, we are fully dependent upon Him for all things. Human beings are also not the result of evolutionary mutation or the descendants of animals, but rather are the direct offspring of God (24-26).

Proof = Special Revelation (i.e. the Bible’s answer) is confirmed by General Revelation (e.g. Science and Philosophy: The Cosmological Argument or Law of Causality and the necessity of a primary cause/unmoved mover who is uncreated, eternal and outside time and space; The theory of General Relativity and evidence supporting the fact that the universe is not eternal but had a beginning; Intelligent Design as the conclusion to DNA complexity and the Teleological/Watchmaker Argument; Modern genetic studies such as the HapMap Project which reveals the DNA of all humans beings to be connected to a very small original population of human beings;  Mathematical impossibility of evolution).

3.2 The question of our purpose (Why am I here? What is our human responsibility?)

Answer: To pursue and experience a close relationship w/God through the imitation of His righteousness as His image-bearers (27-31).

Proof  = Humanity cannot escape the fact that objective/absolute morality exists and therefore demands an objective moral law giver. God and the Bible’s existence supply both the Objective Moral Lawgiver and the object Moral Law.

3.3. The question of our future (Where am I heading? What is the end-game for humanity?)

Answer: Judgment before the throne of the God-man Jesus Christ.

(31) “because He (God) has fixed a day when He will judge the world = This creation is not eternal. It instead has an ending date. And (according to Paul) that day has already been set (or “fixed”) by God. The last day will be a day of judgment for every human being who has ever lived. That this is what Paul is referring to when he uses the word “world” (in v31) is confirmed by (Rev 20:11-13 = No – one will escape standing before God’s throne in judgment. Just as the day is fixed, so also is our presence before God! We wb there whether we like it or not). That this judgment will indeed mark the last day of our current created order is also confirmed elsewhere in Scripture (2Pe 3:10-12). What is important not to miss about this coming judgment is two things: 1) it wb “in righteousness” = Human beings will be judged (i.e. commended or condemned) according to the morality they demonstrated during their life: did they practice righteousness or unrighteousness (1Joh 3:7-10)? Every mention of Judgment Day in the Bible is according to moral categories only (e.g. Ecc 12:14; Joh 5:28-29; Rom 2:6-11). Never does the Bible say that humanity’s judgment wb based on something else – e.g. “our faith/beliefs” (Jam 2:14-19) or our accomplishments for Jesus (Mat 7:21-23) or our pedigree (Joh 8:39; Rom 2:28-29). Even what John sees regarding this day implies morality as the sole deciding factor (Rev 20:12-13 – “what they had done” w/15 – “not found written in the book of life” = See Deu 29:18-20; Exo 32:33; Rev 3:5). 2) it wb by a man whom He (God) has appointed.”  = This is a reference to Jesus Christ, God’s Divine Son Who also became a man. This is confirmed by Paul’s reference to His resurrection (“and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead.”). Jesus Himself also taught that He would be the One we (as human beings) stand before in judgment (Joh 5:22-23, 26-28). This is why Paul (elsewhere) calls it “the judgment seat of Christ” (2Co 5:9-10 – Notice again, the judgment is according to what we have done from a moral perspective – “good or evil”). This (then) is where everything –and everyone is headed. To an eternally fixed appointment (or “day”) that every human being will keep or be a part of. It will be the one day in all of creation’s days when every human being who ever existed in this world will exist together at the same time, and participate in the same event. This, the bible teaches is the end-game to our existence. This (btw) makes perfect sense given our purpose as righteous image-bearers. We would expect that if this is indeed our purpose for living (the reason God created us), then it must also be the key factor in deciding our eternal destiny.

3.3. Proof  (31) “and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead.”  = Christianity stands out among the other religions of the world not only b/c it is the one religion whose answers (in special revelation) are confirmed by general revelation (science and philosophy), but also the one religion with supernatural proof. And this in the most grandiose way, the conquering of death. As such he resurrection of Jesus Christ is both Christianity’s greatest proof. If God did indeed raise “Him from the dead”, then the debate is immediately over (Christianity wins!). Making the case, however means working from the place of absence. The Bible records this event taking place sometime in the early to mid-thirties of the first century (i.e. almost 2,000 years ago), and shortly after that, Jesus ascending back to heaven. IOW: The physical evidence of the resurrected person of Jesus does not exist today.[1] For some, this lack of evidence is proof that Jesus’ miraculous resurrection never happened – nor could happen (i.e. miracles are impossible). Such lack of evidence however is more than compensated for by what remains. Here then is what must be considered by such skeptics:

3.3.1. If there is a God Who can act, then there can be acts of God (miracles) such as the resurrection.

IOW: Any argument launched against the resurrection due to its miraculous nature, is an argument that fails to consider how possible the impossible becomes once the fact of God’s existence is submitted to (since it is irrefutable given the aforementioned evidence/proof). This fact obviously eluded those laughing when Paul mentioned the resurrection (32).

3.3.2. The New Testament which proclaims the reality of Jesus’ miraculous resurrection, is itself a reliable historical source given: The number of copies in existence.

The first place to start when assessing the validity of historical claims is its primary sources. In this respect, what is required (among other things) is sufficient documentation in the form of multiple copies written in close proximity to the originals.  In this regard, the NT crushes the competition[2]. The fact that we have consistent-yet-dissimilar testimonies from multiple authors (e.g. Luk 24:4 w/Mat 28:3)[3].

Again, not other source document, ancient or modern has accomplished such a feat (e.g. Mormonism/Islam’s stmts about Jesus/OT). Luke’s identification of over eighty specific people, places or things is confirmed by various non-Christian writers and archaeological discoveries proving his claims to careful research throughout both his books – Luke and Acts (Luk 1:1-4).

For instance, Josephus confirms the biblical accuracy of 29 historical figures including such contested people as John the Baptist, Annas the high priest, Gamaliel the Pharisee, Judas the Galilean (Luk 3:2; Act 5:34, 37), Likewise, two inscriptions found in 1909 near Lystra confirm Luke’s hotly-debated record of Zeus and Hermes worship as well as the fact that its inhabitants retained their native tongue of Lyconian though being a part of the Hellenistic (i.e. Greek-speaking) Roman world (Act 14:11-13)[4].

Given the above evidence, the New Testament more than adequately meets the criteria required by all scholars today to be considered a reliable historical source.

3.3.3. The recording of Jesus’ resurrection in the New Testament includes elements which – when considered together, also reveals its authenticity: Multiple eyewitness testimonies, versus simply communicating the event.

(Peter = Act 2:32, 3:15, 5:30-32, 10:39-40; 1Pe 5:1; 2Pe 1:16; John = Joh 19:33-35, 20:24-30; 1Jo 1:1-2; the other apostles = 1Co 15:3-8; Heb 2:3-4). The inclusion of embarrassing facts.

Another important tool used by historians to prove authenticity of an account is what is known as the “principle of embarrassment”. This principle operates on the idea that when people are making something up or skewing the facts, they will do so by leaving out those elements that make them look stupid or bad. In contrast, when a person is simply communicating what actually happened, all details will be conveyed- including the embarrassing ones. The events in and around the resurrection are filled with things that would have been considered embarrassing by those living in the first century (even today). This is especially true as it relates to Peter- the apostle mentioned most as an eyewitness to the resurrection (e.g. Peter is called “Satan” for trying to forbid Jesus from dying – Mar 8:33; Peter also denies Jesus three times after His arrest – Mat 26:33-35). We are also told that the apostles run away like cowards at Jesus’ arrest and later are found doubting His resurrection (e.g. Mat 28:17). Additionally, they do nothing to prepare Jesus a proper burial. They instead leave this to a man who was a part of the Sanhedrin- the very group of Jews who condemned Jesus to death! And, possibly more embarrassing than all of the above, is the fact that it is several women who are recorded as being the only ones kind enough to prepare His body after death, the only ones brave enough to visit His guarded tomb, and the first to discover Jesus alive after His death (e.g. Luk 20:1). If the account of Jesus’ resurrection was the fabrication of His disciples/apostles – why include such embarrassing details?[5].     

3.3.4.  The apostles proved their sincerity as eyewitnesses by their willingness to suffer.

People suffering for what they have accepted only by faith is understandable (e.g. Muslim martyrs). However, suffering for what you know to be a lie (i.e. you never saw the resurrected Jesus after His death, but claim that you did), is absolutely inexplicable – especially when considering that it was more than one person (i.e. all the apostles) who suffered for such claims. No-one recanted from their claims. Studies show perfect-mass collusion to be a product of convenience only. The only answer (then) is that the apostles were telling the truth.

3.3.5. Jesus’ death and resurrection find prophetic support in the Scriptures.

Christianity is not a novel religion. Rather it is the fulfilment of thousands of years of prophecy. This includes the death, resurrection and exaltation of God’s Messiah (Isa 53:1-12; Psa 16:8-11 w/Act 2:25-28; Psa 110:110:1 w/Act 2:34-36 w/Mat 22:41-46 w/Mat 22:23-33). Once more, no other religion can claim such credentials.

3.3.6. Several ancient non-Christian or even anti-Christian historians mention Jesus’ resurrection. (e.g. Josephus, Tacitus, Celsus)

This is not surprising, given Paul’s mention of its common knowledge w/in the Roman empire (Act 26:24-28).

[1] This is true even as it pertains to His current state in heaven, and what we will witness upon His return. He no longer possesses the crucified body after His death, but rather resides in His glorified-eternal body (Compare Joh 20:25-27w/Rev 1:12-18).

[2] Regarding the NT copies in our possession, Dr. Frank Turek states, “At last count, there are nearly 5,800 hand-written Greek manuscripts of The New Testament. In addition, there are some 20,000 manuscripts in other languages (e.g. Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Arabic). There is nothing from the ancient world that even comes close in terms of manuscript support. The next closest work is the Iliad by Homer, with 1,800 manuscripts. Most other ancient works survive on fewer than a dozen manuscripts, yet few historians question the historicity of the events those works describe. [In relation to time gaps between original and copies], the New Testament gap is 25 years and maybe less. The Iliad has the next shortest gap at about 500 years How (then) does the NT documents fare? Extremely well. The NT documents have more manuscripts, earlier manuscripts, and more abundantly supported manuscripts than the best ten pieces of classical literature combined.”(I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist”, p.225). In addition, these copies possess little to no variation in content (99.5% match, grammatical errors or content exclusion e.g. Joh 7:53-8:11 w/no doctrine being affected) exposing the false nature of those religions which claim the NT to be corrupt (e.g. Mormonism, Islam).

[3] Forensic historians find something less believable the more the accounts of particular events are the same since this is rarely (if ever) how witnesses recall or relay information regarding a shared experience. IOW: though there will be consistency, there will also be aspects of each person’s story that are unique to their vantage point or way of assessing things. This phenomenon historians call, “coherence with dissimilarity”. As such, the differences in testimony among those claiming to witness the same event, is actually a positive or convincing element of its veracity, where there is also consistency (versus contradiction). Likewise, a telling sign of collusion among people, is when their stories are exactly the same in every way or too similar in the number details left in or out.

[4] “Classical scholar and archaeologist William M. Ramsay began his investigation into Acts with great skepticism, but his discoveries helped change his mind. He wrote: ‘I began with a mind unfavorable to it (Acts)…It did not lie then in my line of life to investigate the subject minutely; but more recently I found myself often brought into contact with the book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities, and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truths.’…Details like this led Ramsay to [also] say, ‘Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect to its trustworthiness,’ and ‘Luke is an historian of the first rank…(He) should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.’ Now, here’s where skeptics get very uncomfortable. Luke reports a total of 35 miracles in the same book in which he records all 84 of these historically confirmed details. And the miracle accounts show no signs of embellishment or extravagance – they are told with the same level-headed efficiency as the rest of the historical narrative. Now, why would Luke be so accurate with trivial details like wind directions, water depths, and peculiar town names, but not be accurate when it comes to important events like miracles? In light of the fact that Luke has proven accurate with so many trivial details, it is nothing but pure anti-supernatural bias to say he’s not telling the truth about the miracles he records. In other words, Luke’s credentials as a historian have been proven on so many points that it takes more faith not to believe his miracle accounts than to believe them.” – Frank Turek (ibid, p.260-262)

[5] “Now think about this: If you were a New Testament writer, would you include embarrassing details if you were making up a story? Would you write that one of your primary leaders was called ‘Satan’ by Jesus, denied the Lord three times, [and] hid during the crucifixion? Would you depict yourselves as uncaring, bumbling cowards, and the women – whose testimony was not even admissible in court – as the brave ones who stood by Jesus and later discovered the empty tomb? Would you admit that some of you doubted the very Son of God after He had proven Himself risen to all of you? Of course not. What do you think the New Testament writers would have done if they were making up a story? You know perfectly well: they would have left out the ineptness, their cowardice, the rebuke, the three denials, and their theological problems, and depicted themselves as bold believers who stood by Jesus through it all and who confidently marched down to the tomb on Sunday morning right through the elite Roman guards to find the risen Jesus waiting to congratulate them on their great faith! It also would say that they declared the risen Jesus to the women, who were the ones hiding for fear of the Jews. And, of course, if the story was a concoction, no disciple, at any time, would have been portrayed as doubting (especially after Jesus had risen). In short, we don’t have enough faith to believe that the New Testament writers included all of those embarrassing details in a made-up story. The best explanation is that they were really telling the truth- warts and all.” – Frank Turek (ibid, p. 276-277)