Since faith is a decision to trust, throughout my life I have chosen to trust that Jesus is who the Bible says he is. I have also chosen to trust that the Bible, and specifically, the gospel accounts (the books in the Bible: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are true. I wouldn't describe this decision to trust as "blind faith", because there were good reasons for why I decided to trust the information I was reading or even my decision to believe in Jesus. There are many valid reasons why people make the initial decision to believe in Jesus and hold on to it, some reasons might even be experiential, which in a sense confirms what the Bible says in Romans 8:16, "The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God". My purpose in writing today, however, is to share with you my own experience as someone who has held tightly to that decision to trust, and reluctantly at first began to look into Christian apologetics and consequently the objections raised against the truthfulness of Christianity.
Although I was fulfilled, greatly enjoying a relationship with God and learning more about the Bible, I was made aware about the importance of learning how to respond to the things said against Christianity, for the sake of the people in our lives that may benefit from that information. Like many believers, I was someone that was convinced that the Bible is reliable as well as what it says about Jesus, however the reasons why I was convinced might have been a bit difficult to put into words at the time. When I began to consider the doubts other people had, I felt I was introducing doubt into my own life, voluntarily. I remember opening the Bible and for the first time having a very different and uncomfortable feeling, almost like a voice inside saying, "how do I know that what I'm reading is what it claims to be?". I wasn't taking the position that I didn't believe the Bible was trustworthy, but I was lacking a clear answer for that question, and it disturbed me.
If I didn't have a well thought out answer for this question, how could I even be encouraged to read the contents within it and believe them to be true? I could believe it simply because of what I've experienced in my relationship with God, as well as because it teaches what I believe is best, good, and moral. However, I wanted to find good reasons and answers someone would give when addressing this question. I wanted to learn that the process which resulted in the Bible we read from today, was trustworthy, even as I was still deciding to trust it was, without having all of the information or answers quite just yet. This embarked me into a journey where I am still trusting the Bible is true as well as what it says about Jesus, but I am also trusting I will find information that will confirm what I believe is true. Am I looking for any information that may not even answer my question in order to make myself feel better about my beliefs? No. I am sincerely seeking an answer to my question, and if there was nothing out there to seriously consider and support my beliefs, then I would be inclined to question my trust. However, what has been very interesting and satisfying is to find an ocean of information that actually makes doubt seem uninformed and unreasonable.
Although it has been over a year now into this learning journey, I want to share a few good reasons that help answer my question which I personally find satisfying, found in an easy to read book, "Can We Trust The Gospels?" by Peter J. Williams. Although, I should say that the book's actual purpose may not be what I'm personally taking away from it. Still, allow me to share how the information in this book is answering my own questions. The initial question asks how do I know what the Bible says is what it claims? In other words, how do I know the Bible wasn't tampered with including what it says about Jesus. From this question other questions arise, like the ones I would like to address here today.
Is the Bible the only source we have that claims what it says about Jesus, and is Jesus even a real person in history? Actually, the Bible isn't the only source that mentions Jesus, his crucifixion, or his followers. This means, we actually do have good reason to believe that Jesus is a real historical person, and really did live and die the death the Gospels claim, according to non-Christian sources.
Let's talk about one of those non-Christian sources, Cornelius Tacitus. He was born around the year AD 56, held a series of Roman offices, and is most well known for his writings. Although he was biased, just like everyone of us is, he is considered one of the greatest of historians. Tacitus referred to Christianity as a "disease", and yet in his writings, he documented some very important information relevant to my own question, as he wrote about the Great Fire in Rome, which occurred in AD 64: "...Therefore, to scotch the rumour, Nero substituted as culprits, and punished with the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men, loathed for their vices, whom the crowd called Chrestians. Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilatus, and the pernicious superstition was checked for a moment, only to break out once more, not merely in Judaea, the home of the disease, but in the capital [Rome] itself..."*
From this alone, I have reason to believe that Jesus 'Christ' (which means anointed, referring to the Messiah the Jews were anticipating) was witnessed and followed by many, he suffered the death penalty by Pilate (as claimed in the Gospels), and it happened in the region the Gospels also claim. Still, some people may wonder if what Tacitus wrote might have been tampered with by Christian scribes.
Here is something I found really interesting in Peter J. Williams' book:
"First, it should be remembered that all Greek and Latin literature transmitted to us from the classical period to the Middle Ages was handed down by Christian scribes. They preserved the references to Greek and Roman gods and faithfully copied religious ideas that differed from their own Christian views."*
Unless someone wants to actually demonstrate how Christian scribes changed texts since classical times, there is no good reason to entertain that idea.
My main take away in my journey has been to realize that it is easy to doubt anything, but we have to decide what is most reasonable to believe given the information we have. If we have no basis for doubting something, it is unreasonable to doubt it. Although there are more reasons that I hope to share in the future, to answer my question today, when I open up the Bible, to the Gospels specifically, I know someone did not make up the person Jesus, nor his followers. They were real historical people. I can reasonably trust this because someone who was not a believer, still wrote about Jesus' death by sentence of Pilate, and that his followers spread his message quickly. The Gospels accurate claims give us a basis for trusting the rest of the claims made about Jesus Christ. There are good reasons to trust in Jesus and the reliability of the Gospels, will you seek those reasons out?
*Can We Trust The Bible, by Peter J. Williams, Chapter 1
Williams goes more into detail in this chapter and provides more sources to look further into. Here is his book: https://amzn.to/358s4cy
(Art by Karl von Piloty, The Fire of Rome, 1861)
(Modern statue representing Tacitus outside the Austrian Parliament Building)