What is the evidence, outside the Bible, that Jesus existed and was who He said He was? What is the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus? How was Jesus unique among other religious founders? And how do we know that the gospels are reliable records of first century history? Sean and Scott will answer these questions and many more as we discuss his new book, Evidence for Jesus.

Episode Transcript

Scott: What's the evidence outside the Bible that Jesus existed and was who He said He was? What's the evidence for the most important component of the life of Jesus, His resurrection? How is Jesus unique among other religious founders? And how do we know that the gospel records are reliable historical sources for information about the life of Jesus? Sean and I will talk about these questions. We have a lot more to answer as we talk about the new book that just come out with he and his dad called “Evidence for Jesus.” Sean, this is a great, accessible, it's meaty and it's substantive, but it's not, it's, you know, the cookies are on the lower shelf too for people who don't have a background in some of this material. So what's the story behind you guys, you and your dad writing this book?

Sean: So you mentioned my father and a lot of people recognize the name Josh McDowell. He grew up in a broken background, really set out to disprove Christianity in college. This is back in like the fifties, roughly, and was surprised by the evidence. And at this stage, there was no modern apologetics movement at all. It was like CS Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, and maybe one or two others doing this. Ends up becoming a Christian, wrote the book “Evidence that Demands Verdict,” which has obviously been just over the past few decades, one of the most influential books about really three things, deity of Christ and the resurrection reliability of scriptures. Well, I've actually had a lot of people tell me that they read that entire book, which is pretty impressive for many. It's a reference guide, but in partnership with a publisher, we thought, what if we could take, you know, the hundreds of pages on historical Jesus. The recent update to that book was in 2017 and also add some new material on this because the conversation is shifting just in an accessible way for people that probably aren't going to read the whole big book. That's the idea.

Scott: Yeah. Well, the big book is designed as a reference tool. It's not exactly bedtime reading, but this is the kind of thing you can read easily and excessively, and it's, I think, been a great service to the church in that regard. So you spend a lot of time talking about the state of the biblical scholarship about Jesus. Of course, not every biblical scholar, you know, shares your convictions about Jesus. So how would you assess where the state of scholarship on the person of Jesus is today?

Sean: Yeah, one of the interesting things about working on projects with my father, who is 83 years old, So he's been doing this six decades. So he's just got a perspective that you and I don't. And two ways I think there's been a shift. One I hinted at earlier is just in the apologetics world. There was a time where he felt like he was the only one answering these kinds of questions. Now there's masses and masses of scholars and just apologists that are known and not known in the local church moving the ball forward. So friend of mine, Alex McFarland said, “we live in a golden age of apologetics.” And I think he's right about that. But also in the scholarly world, in the New Testament world, there's been a shift not towards all becoming Christians and adopting the conclusions in this book, but a New Testament scholarship largely saying the contours of the life of Jesus, say where he was born, that he was known as being a miracle worker, where he did some of his ministry, even knowing where he died. These basic claims, there's been a movement towards accepting them in the world of scholarship that there wasn't in the past. So that's a really positive sign to see things move over the past few decades in that direction.

Scott: Yeah, and we'll get to this, I think, in a little more detail in a few minutes, but you also say there's evidence among biblical scholars that there's greater acceptance of things like they're very skeptical about in the past, about him being a miracle worker.

Sean: Yeah.

Scott: There's a lot of historical evidence outside the Bible that suggests that that was the case. So, uh, so where, you know, the discussions about the historical Jesus, you know, they run a pretty broad continuum of where people are and where the conclusions fall. But where are those discussions about the historical Jesus being held for the most part today? What are they focused on today?

Sean: Well, that's a huge question. I mean, people are debating pretty much all different areas of the life of Jesus. It just depends on what journal in which you go to look. So there's, I mean, it was Gary Habermas, who's doing this massive four volume tome. I think he said about 5,000 pages on the resurrection and just talked about the dozens and dozens of articles consistently coming out in professional journals. Now even some scholars will write blogs and that's not a professional journal, but if it's written by a scholar, that's a significant piece that needs to be taken seriously. Books are coming out. So there's no sign that discussions and debates about Jesus and all areas of his life are slowing down at all.

Scott: You know, you talk about the, this being more of a golden age of apologetics. And I think I would agree that that's true. We have more people engaged in this professionally than we've ever had before. And how much of that do you think is owed to your dad's influence on the field?

Sean: Oh gosh, that's a somewhat challenging question for me to answer because I have such a bias and I have skin in this game. But I'll tell you this Scott, it's really humbling on two levels. Every time I go speak anywhere, multiple people walk up to me and say, "You've probably heard this before." In fact, I was just speaking at Kansas State and it probably had four or five people say, "I heard your dad in 1973, 1976." So on a popular level, I don't even know that I can grasp it, but I can't tell you how many scholars have reached out to me. People like Craig Blomberg, people like Craig Keener, people like William Lane Craig saying that original book, “Evidence Demands a Verdict,” at its time, played a significant role in their life. Realizing this was true, realizing there was evidence for this. And uh, in many cases, even in their conversion to faith. So I don't know that we can quantify it, but I am consistently humbled at how many scholars reach out and say, your dad had an impact on my life.

Scott: I think when your dad gets to glory, whenever that is, uh, one of the really thrilling things he's going to encounter is getting the full picture of the impact that he's had. I think he's had a significant impact launching the careers of a lot of these folks who are very influential in apologetics today.

Sean: You know what, by the way, Norman Geisler said a few years ago, it just came to mind. He said on a popular level, he actually, he's like, Josh McDowell is the one going around for, I don't know, 15, 20 years on college campuses, popularizing apologetics. He says, Josh is the one who kicked off this movement. That's what Geisler said. So–

Scott: I think there's a lot to that. All right. Back to the stuff that surprised me. But I think it's a, it's a fair point to raise, you know, for people who are in apologetics today, because you, you don't know what the legacy of your work today is going to be on the next generation of folks who are coming down the pike. Um, and I think, you know, I mean, for, for anybody to, to aspire to just a fraction of your dad's impact, I think would be a life well-lived. Um, so a lot of the book uses evidence from the gospel accounts to provide you with the data that you're arguing for on various parts of the life of Jesus. So how do we use the Bible to support the Bible, essentially, without it being circular reasoning? Yeah, that's fair. If we start by saying, "Well, we know the Bible is true or inspired, and it says it, therefore it's true," that's begging the question. But I think we can look at the biblical documents and what comes to Jesus, of course, the Gospels other New Testament writings and say, let's look at what they claim about themselves and internal signs they have of whether they're reliable testimony or not. Let's look at them as we would any other historical source. And of course, over and over again, the gospel writers say things like Luke that begins his gospel saying “many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that happened before us, who were eyewitnesses of these events. I've carefully investigated everything.” So Luke is framing his gospel saying this is meant to be a historical account. You see all the gospels in different ways, and even John talking about in ways that this is eyewitness testimony. So then you can start to look and say, does it have the ring of eyewitness testimony? And a couple of ways that obviously we unpack in more depth is there's certain kinds of details that are so often added to certain stories that aren't necessary to advance the narrative but makes sense if somebody was there just describing the particular events. You see those kind of details. Lady McGrew's written an entire book just walking through those particular details. And then you find embarrassing material in the Gospels. Yes you do. All sorts of like the disciples not understanding the teachings of Jesus, fighting with one another, Jesus castigating Peter, debating on the road over who's going to be greater. Like why would they invent and make this stuff up. So they tell us they're writing careful history, and then we find these certain signs internally that have the ring of authenticity. That's one way we could look at the New Testament and consider as a historical source.

Scott: So let's go not to the original documents of the New Testament, but to the Bible that we hold in our hands today. Centuries of copying, some careful, some maybe not quite as much. So how do we know that the Bible that we hold in our hands today is, is for the most part, the same thing that the biblical writers wrote down?

Sean: A couple things I appreciate how you framed this. You said, “let's not go to the originals,” and that's good because we don't have them, what are called the autographs. And some people have never heard this and it freaks them out, but that's true for the vast majority of ancient documents. And second, you said, how do we know we can have confidence in this, not certainty? I think sometimes people think the Bible, I kid you not, literally like floated down from heaven, maybe the King James version or in modern English or something. And then when they uncover certain doubts about certain passages, it just upsets the entire apple cart. Basically what we need to do is look at, in particular, in this case, the New Testament and the gospels through the lens of of what's called textual criticism. How are books written down? How are they copied? And how much can we trust the copies that we have? And this is an entire discipline within itself. But a lot of it is, okay, how early copies do we have? How many copies do we have? What are the different lines of traditions and what do we know about the copyists and the care that they paid attention to these particular documents? You start to piece these things together. And I think even a lot of classical scholars would say there is particular care in the tradition of the New Testament that gives us a high level of confidence, not certainty. And there's a few passages, 1 John 5:7, the end of Mark that there's still debates about, and that's okay. But the vast majority of the New Testament, I would argue in particular the gospels, we have a reliable early tradition that can be trusted.

Scott: And the variations that we see for the most part are there. There are lots of them.

Sean: There are.

Scott: But mostly insignificant ones.

Sean: Yeah. So yes, I think there's only two that are larger than two verses. That's John 7:53-8:11 and the end of Mark.

Scott: One caught in adultery.

Sean: One caught adultery, and then the great commission that's added at the end of Mark. Those are only two of that length. There are some passages that are significant and interesting where there's debate about, say, the number of the mark of the beast. You know, is it 666 or 616? That's that's interesting. So it's not that there's insignificant kinds of finds, but none that are central to a core doctrine that's at stake. Deity of Christ, you know, that Jesus was born of a virgin, salvation by faith. And we would expect so many variations and differences, given that we have so many copies made over such a long period of time. So the more copies we have, the more variants we have. But interestingly enough, the more confidence we can have by sifting through them. And I thank God textual critics do that, and I don't have to do that. That give us confidence in the text that we do have.

Scott: Yeah. I'm grateful that God's not called me to do that work either.

Sean: Amen to that. I don't want to do it.

Scott: You and I are not wired to do that. That takes a special wiring. So, okay. So we've got, we've got confidence that the gospels are an accurate historical record, and we've got confidence that the text we hold in our hands is essentially the same as what would have existed in some of the first and second century copies.

Sean: Sure.

Scott: But let's, let's give the skeptic their kind of full concession.

Sean: Okay.

Scott: What do we know about the life of Jesus simply based on sources outside the Bible?

Sean: Okay, fair enough. So if we're gonna look at written sources outside the Bible, we've got two basic lanes. One would be early Christian fathers, and then it would be non-Christian writings, whether it's Romans or Jews or Greeks. And of course the Christian writers, We're talking about writers like Ignatius and Polycarp and Clement of Rome. They're going to tell us a lot. They're going to quote early scriptures. They're going to talk about the deity of Christ and more theological insights. And a case can be made that some of these early church fathers knew some of the apostles directly kind of with a chain of command and they're writing and affirming many things within the New Testament. That would be the early church fathers. Now, of course, people are going to say, well, they're biased and that's fair, but everybody has a bias. And they're one additional piece of evidence to the basic storyline of Jesus.

Scott: The skeptic though, is really after that latter group.

Sean: Uh, sure. That's fair, but we have to piece together all the lines that we have. And of course the next one would be writings outside of the New Testament. What authors do we have? How reliable are they? What information do they give us? Of course, in the 90s, you have Josephus who mentions Jesus twice. One passage is contested, but I think we have confidence that we can know he's the brother of James. We can know that he was at least crucified and arguably believed to be the Messiah. This basic line with Josephus moving to the second century, we have Roman writers like Tacitus that talk about basic lines around the crucifixion of Jesus and even the persecution of Christians. So we don't have non-Christian writers saying Jesus rose from the grave and is God, because then they'd be Christians. But we have sufficient outside writings that help piece together this larger story we see within the New Testament. And I think it's surprising in some sense that we really have any about Jesus, because his public ministry was probably two to three years in an obscure area of the Roman Empire. The fact that he has the coverage he does have, I think is pretty significant.

Scott: Would it be fair to say that you could accurately present the gospel to someone based on those, that second group of sources that have been–

Sean: The early church fathers?

Scott: No, the, uh, you know, Josephus and Roman historians.

Sean: Uh–

Scott: Or is that going farther than–

Sean: I don't know if you could present the gospel. I'd have to think about that a little bit. I mean, you move into early in the second century you have like plenty of the younger reporting that they worship Jesus as if he was a god, was believed to be the Messiah, died by crucifixion. So there's basic historical components are there, but when you get to some of the theological truths in terms of the gospel, I'd have to think about that a little bit more.

Scott: All right, so what do you say to the person who insists that Jesus was this terrific moral teacher but has skepticism about his claims to be God?

Sean: Yeah, so I think we have to go back to the teachings of Jesus directly and ask what he taught. And then the question becomes, can we divorce some of the moral teachings from the identity that Jesus claimed about himself? And I think when we start to do that, we're starting to pick and choose, I prefer this about Jesus and I don't prefer that. That becomes a problem. So I think from the things that Jesus did, like forgiving sins by his own authority, in Mark chapter two, by doing miracles from his own authority, yes, others did miracles, but they would point to God for the power to do that. Jesus does it by his own authority, casting out demons by his own authority, being considered the ultimate judge. The things Jesus did are in line with him being God, But then you also see the claims that Jesus makes.

Scott: So that first part, that's the circumstantial evidence that you're describing?

Sean: Yeah, you could probably frame it that way. You could say these are not the direct pieces of evidence, but they're circumstantial that fit the claims that Jesus made himself. That's a fair way to think about it. But, you know, in particular, like where the gospel of Mark climaxes, and you get towards the latter chapters, 15 and 16, you have the Roman centurion saying, "Surely this is the Son of God." So what is like a drumbeat through that book, now the Roman centurion says it. And of course, on trial before that, Jesus affirms that he is the divine Son of Man figure coming on the clouds. That is on the lips of Jesus. Clearly, I think, identified not only in a messianic status, but being a divine figure. And that's in Mark. And there's other pieces of evidence in Mark. I think from the very beginning, basically this book is framed with the coming of John the Baptist, who's preparing in the Old Testament, there's a preparation for the coming of the Lord. And then John the Baptist is preparing for the coming of Jesus because Jesus is the Lord of the Old Testament. That's how Mark starts and then really climaxes at the end. And of course, some of the more direct statements about deity we see in Jesus, where he says things like “before Abraham was born, I am.” So I think when we understand who Jesus claimed to be, his identity and his mission is all through the gospels from beginning to end. So you're gonna have to do a lot of picking and choosing to say, I like this thing Jesus said, but not that. And I haven't seen consistent criteria that can account for really doing that well.

Scott: And so when Jesus says, you know, before Abraham existed, I am, that's, I mean, he's quoting God directly himself in the way God revealed himself to Moses.

Sean: That's right.

Scott: And so he's, so what may look like an innocent statement is actually theologically very rich. And it really is a direct claim to be God.

Sean: Yeah. That's why they tear their robes and ultimately want to stone Jesus and run him out of town. He claimed to be God.

Scott: So some of our listeners may recall what how C.S. Lewis spoke about this. Now remind them what Lewis had to say on this particular topic about Jesus being a great moral teacher but not necessarily being God.

Sean: Yeah, these arguments actually go way back even before Lewis, centuries and centuries ago, but in “Mere Christianity” Lewis famously popularized it. We're basically saying we only have so many options about the identity of Jesus. Either he's crazy, either he's a liar, or he's Lord, in a sense. Now, of course, this does assume that the transmission of the text has been passed reliably and that Jesus made these kinds of claims. So the argument by C.S. Lewis is not airtight. Some could say, how do we know he's not a legend, so to speak? And then we have to talk about the existence of Jesus and the reliability claims that he made. So I get that, but Lewis is kind of popularizing this idea saying, “if we have the words of Jesus and he did the things that are recorded, we only have so many options about who Jesus was.” And I think he uses a phrase of like, “if he claims to be God and wasn't, either he's just crazy, he's a madman who considers himself a poached egg,” I think is the claim Lewis made that's memorable. But- -

Scott: And hardly this great moral teacher.

Sean: Yeah, I don't think you can separate them because Jesus taught that somebody's eternal destiny rests upon what you believe about him. So if we have those words recorded accurately and Jesus made that claim and it's not true and his identity is not right, that narrows down the options of who Jesus was and doesn't allow us to just say, well, I'm gonna leave that radical claim out, but stick with what he said about, say, serving the poor, caring for the marginalized. It's all of that is a piece of who Jesus was and what he did.

Scott: So when you mentioned the ending of the Gospel of Mark, you use the term Jesus calling himself, referring to himself as “the Son of Man.” I find that term is often misunderstood. And most people, I think, who have not studied that will say that that's a reference to his humanity. But you say it refers to something actually quite different than that.

Sean: Yeah. This isn't unique to me just for the record. I'm not the one making this argument, but it's same growing up as a Christian in the church, I always was taught Jesus is God and man. So when he claimed to be the son of God, he's divine claim to be the Son of Man. He's showing that he's human. That was just my assumption. Nobody ever taught me this, but you actually look at what that phrase means and how Jesus used it. I think it means something very different. Now it is one of the most common designations that Jesus uses for himself. And scholars have a certain criteria in so far as it goes, where they'll say, you know, kind of double dissimilarity. This wasn't used frequently and regularly by the Jewish authorities beforehand. And it's not used consistently by the church afterwards. So Jesus isn't borrowing and ripping this off from his religious milieu. And on the flip side, the church is not inserting this back on the lips of Jesus, so it probably goes back to the historical Jesus. That's the way the argument is made. But when you get to the end of the Gospel of Mark in chapter 14, Jesus is on trial and he's asked about his identity. And his response is he affirms the claim and says, "You will see me coming on the clouds like the Son of Man or A Son of Man. What does Jesus cite? He cites Daniel chapter seven, where there is this biblical passage that refers to this divine figure who is like a son of man. And Jesus says that in Daniel seven, “that's who I am.” So all through his life, he's doing insane things about his identity. But in that moment, he makes it clear that he is divine and that the Son of Man is not just a son of man. It's The Son of Man that he used is his identity. So the Son of Man means that Jesus is God in human flesh, I think.

Scott: Yeah. So you can't, you really can't understand that without going back to Daniel seven.

Sean: That's right.

Scott: Seeing that in its context, that's clearly, as you point out, a divine figure. And that's hard to mistake. Now let's look at, compared to other religious founders, you know, Buddha, Muhammad, and others, it's often said that there's really not much difference between these founders. And the correlator that goes with that is that basically all these religions are pointing in the same direction in any case. So what difference does it make that you have one that might be a little bit different than the other. But most people, I think, see these as all on this list or level playing field. So how is Jesus unique? And what I'd be curious to know, kind of what do these other, some of the other religious founders say about Jesus if they had if they said something about that.

Sean: That's interesting. There's two questions here. How is Jesus unique in terms of major religious figures? He's the only one who claimed to be God in human flesh and pointed towards a specific event in history that would confirm it, namely the resurrection. That sets Jesus apart. Now I'd say other things like the earlier accounts of miracles are far better tested than, for example, in the life of Muhammad. We're talking centuries removed. So there's other differences. But you might think about other religious figures, in a sense, are saying pointing towards truth outside. They're a pointer to truth. Jesus says, "I am the truth. I am the way and the life." That's a very different approach. Now what you find about Jesus, and this is one of my favorite parts of the book, and by the way, again, this isn't, this is not a unique argument to me. In fact, I've heard Craig Hazen, my boss here at Biola on our Apologized Program, really unpack this because he has a background in a PhD at UCSB in world religions. And he said, all the other religious figures want a piece of Jesus. He's the one religious figure that kind of stands in a category by himself. So nobody outside of Islam really claims Muhammad. Nobody outside of Mormonism is going to claim Joseph Smith. Nobody outside of Hinduism is going to claim Krishna and so on. But everybody wants a piece of Jesus. He's the one religious figure that transcends all religious figures. So many Buddhists will talk about Jesus being an enlightened one. Many Hindus will talk about Jesus being a God or an avatar, so to speak, within their system. Even many Jews will say Jesus was a good religious figure and understood Judaism, but certainly got some things wrong and we differ here. Muslims, if you read the Quran and Islamic tradition, Jesus was a virgin born sinless miracle working prophet. So Craig's point was, if you're investigating different religions, why not start with the one religious figure that transcends all of them? And Jesus does. That's why he said the most important question is, "Who do you say that I am?" And we see this, I think this was a part of your question. We also see this impacted not just in religions, but everywhere in world history. So you just look at things like music. In the East and in the West, the story of Jesus has arguably shaped music. And Christians, in light of the story of Jesus, more than anybody else, is transformed architecture, is transformed how we think about government, entertainment on and on and on. You see the residue and influence of this person, Jesus, which is kind of amazing given that he wrote notebooks, although we believe Jesus inspired the New Testament, the immediate pen was the different authors of the New Testament. He had no political power. He had no military, had no government position, had minimal economic resources. You know, his public ministry was in a small, obscure area of the kingdom, and yet his life and his teachings have shaped the world more than anyone who's ever lived, that minimally cries out for a significant explanation.

Scott: Yeah, I think I'd encourage our listeners to Google “the one solitary life,” which summarizes the impact of the life of Jesus. And one of the parts at the very end, it says, “all the armies that ever marched, all the the navies that ever sailed, and all the parliaments that have ever sat, have not had the influence as has that one solitary life.”

Sean: Wow.

Scott: “From someone who never traveled more than 200 miles outside of where he grew up,” you know, was born in relative obscurity, you know, died a criminal's death and crucifixion, and has had this extraordinary influence." Now, let me go back to what you said about, it's a really interesting point, I think, about how a number of other war religions one a piece of Jesus, because they see that there's, I think, something there that's worth grabbing onto. But yet culturally it's widespread to critique Christianity for being narrow, arrogant, and intolerant because of Jesus' claim to be the only way to God and to salvation. So help us reconcile both of those things.

Sean: So there's a lot of pieces here, and tell me if I don't answer this. I think one reason why is, in our age of critical theory, the world is divided up into oppressors and the oppressed. And there is a history of Christians certainly not living out the way that Jesus called His followers to live. And frankly, we see some of that continuing today. So in some ways, that's a piece of the puzzle. But also because Christianity is so big and influences the world so much, it's kind of easy to put it in the category of being an oppressor. This is just the worldview of critical theory. Everything is divided up to that. I think it's true, especially in the West, because Christianity, just our language and our holidays shape culture more than anything else. For better or worse, that's the way that we look at it. On the other hand, I think some people will look at Christianity and think, well, it's intolerant and it's exclusive because frankly, we as Christians don't always live towards others the way we're supposed to. I just get on social media and I just see the way Christians comment about others and it just pains me and fills the narrative that Christians are closed-minded, we're bigoted, we're intolerant, we're hateful, we're thin-skinned. Like we don't always do a great job. So when the skeptic says, well, “Christians are intolerant,” part of me wants to get defensive because I'm a Christian. The other part is like, yeah, we got to do a lot better at this. Now with that said, in some ways this is also a side issue from whether or not Christianity is true or false. Every religion makes exclusive claims to be true. So oftentimes the narrative today is if you think you're right, that's oppressive and exclusive within itself. Well, atheists think they're right. Fine. Good for them. Muslims think they're right. Hindus think they're right. To have a belief is to think that you're right. Now many Hindus would say they won't try to convert you in the same way because Christianity is a vehicle ultimately in their system. So we don't face judgment within the Hindu system after we die the way you and I think a Hindu faces judgment. So there's an urgency from Christians to reach out to Hindus that Hindus don't feel. But on its own terms, I've had Hindus tell me, they say, “well, Jesus is true or kind of your truth. That's your way.” And I said, Jesus claimed to be the only way he didn't claim to be a part of a pantheon of gods. So you're saying Christianity is true, but you're bringing it within the Hindu system, which is to, I hate to use the term to do violence to, but to disregard the claims of Christianity within itself and actually say that Christianity is false. So when I hear this claim, the first thing I want to say is, you know, Christians are arrogant. I want to say, if I've been arrogant towards you, I'm sorry. Let's own it. Humility is a Christian virtue, but everybody claims to be right. That's what it means to hold a belief. By that definition, everybody would be arrogant because of what they claim. Let's go back to the evidence and see which one is true. And that's why I'm a Christian, because I think Jesus made these claims and can actually back it up.

Scott: Yeah, and I think what most people mean with that accusation is not that they've been treated in a way that's arrogant, So that may be part of it, but it's just the claim itself to be the only way to God is narrow and intolerant and not respecting of other religions.

Sean: Well, so that's fair. And Jesus, by the way, is the one who said the road is narrow. So I did have someone say to me one time, they said, "How can you say Jesus is the only way?" And I said, "I'm not. Jesus is the one who said it. Take it up with him." Now I'm not trying to divert. I'm trying to say, I don't have the authority to talk about the only way to get to salvation. But if Jesus really lived a sinless life, if he was born of a virgin, if he did the miracles that the New Testament says that he did, if he died and this was prophesied or predicted ahead of time, he claimed, and then rose on the third day, Jesus has more authority than anyone who's ever lived to talk about eternal life. He's the one who made that claim. So I wanna push it to the person of Jesus and say, “reconcile with him.” If you're comfortable saying Jesus got it wrong and why, more power to you. But because I think Jesus is God, whether I like it or not, I'm not comfortable doing so.

Scott: Yeah, and I'd wanna point out as well that Jesus is the only one who claims to have dealt with the central problem separating God and human beings.

Sean: Amen.

Scott: Which is taken care of on the cross. So here's one that I'm not super familiar with.

Sean: Okay.

Scott: And I think one that maybe some of our listeners have not heard before. And that is the charge that Christianity is actually a copycat religion. And that it really wasn't anything new, that it copied, deliberately copied some of the predominant Greco-Roman religious views that were prevalent around the time of Jesus and in the early church. Spell out a little bit, what is that view and what do you think of it?

Sean: This is actually pretty personal to me because you know, when I was at Biola in the mid '90s, '94 to '98. Somewhere around 1994, '95, people started getting email addresses. There was no Google, but you could search online for websites, and much of kind of the atheist online secular web, as far as I could tell, was built on responding to evidence that demands verdict chapter by chapter. And I'm just sitting in my dorm here at Biola and I'm fishing through, figuring out what is this internet thing? What does it even mean? And I don't know why I came across that, but all of a sudden I see this whole website by doctors and lawyers and historians, if I remember correctly, taking every chapter in that book and giving thoughtful responses to it. I remember my heart sank. That was really the first time I thought, wow, my parents mean well, but what if they're wrong about this? And one of the first things I came across was this idea that Jesus didn't even exist. And Mithras and Adonis and Isis and Horus, these ancient, what are called mystery religions from other parts of the ancient Near East, had the Christianity was copied from these pagan mystery religions. And I had no response to that. The evidence demands verdict at that time didn't even deal with that issue. And it really sent me into an intellectual and an emotional tizzy for lack of a better word, trying to figure out what I believed and why. Now, looking back on that, if I were skeptic and I was going to attack the Christian faith, that is probably the last way I would critique Jesus. But at the time it was just unsettling. I didn't know how to answer it. I mean, there's very few scholars. I mean, you could probably count them on two hands who would embrace the idea that Jesus didn't exist and that it's copied from these pagan mystery religions. I mean, even Bart Ehrman has written a book, one of the leading skeptics of our day on the existence of Jesus, pushing back on this narrative saying, I think if I remember correctly, it's the idea that Jesus didn't exist is really a modern myth that started in like the 18th or 19th century. So the bottom line is, just a couple of quick points. And one of the reasons I put that in this book was because I wanted this objection has become popular today, largely because of the internet and certain movies and social medias more so than scholarship. So this is a popular argument to respond to. You won't see as much engagement in the scholarly world. But one of the big things is is we now know that Jesus and the understanding of his faith and teachings are rooted in Judaism, not primarily in the Greco-Roman culture. Jesus saw himself as the Jewish Messiah and scholarship has recognized that. Second, the parallels are really thin and exaggerated. Like it talks about at times, Osiris resurrecting, but he was murdered, thrown in the chest in a sea and becomes kind of a God of the underworld. And that is so different from the Christian story of Jesus willingly laying down His life, resurrecting back to this life, that the idea that Christianity borrowed from them is just, I think, really vacuous. There's other objections to this, but there's no reason to think that Christianity is just a modern day copycat religion.

Scott: I wonder too, if a factor in this is to just to point out how incredibly countercultural most of the things that Jesus taught and the apostles taught actually were compared to what was prevalent in Greco-Roman culture at that time. I mean, the teaching of Jesus and the apostles turned the Greco-Roman world upside down and challenged its cultural norms at every turn. You know, we have, you know, there are some pretty good scholarly accounts of how the apostles teaching on sexuality.


Scott: It was just so countercultural.

Sean: Agreed.

Scott: And actually was one of the reasons why they postulate that women.

Sean: That's right.

Scott: You know, came to faith so readily.

Sean: That's right.

Scott: Was that the sexual ethic that was prescribed, it gave so much dignity to women that they didn't have prior to that. And so that's a practice of Christians that was countercultural. But what was it, the heart of the Christian faith? It was a resurrection movement. From the earliest account we have in 1 Corinthians 15 to the teachings in Acts. It was a resurrection movement. Well, Paul's right. It's a stumbling block to the Jews, and it is foolishness to the Greeks. So at the heart of it is not taking what a heroic death looked like and adding it to Jesus. If anything, they did the exact wrong move if they were trying to copy what was prevalent in the culture. And it grew because, like you said, I think it resonated with people's hearts made in the image of God, sexual teachings that actually protected people from the harm in culture. So I think the opposite is really the case.

Scott: And that's just one area that their practice was incredibly countercultural. I mean, there There are dozens and dozens of those. So you've touched on the part that you save till the end in the book, which I think is you left the best stuff to the end and the most important part to the end, which is the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. So summarize, assuming that we have the Gospels are an accurate historical account, summarize what is the evidence that was presented that was so persuasive that Jesus has actually risen from the dead, such that, you know, all the disciples had basically given up, they've gone back to their occupations and they get word that the resurrection has occurred. And they, you know, they launched this movement that turns the world upside down.

Sean: So as you know, this is another huge question. I teach a full semester class here in our grad program on the evidence for the resurrection. But the way you frame this is if you're going to have...

Scott: So give me a full semesters course in about 30 seconds.

Sean: There you go. So tweet it basically. Bottom line is if you're going to have these Jewish followers proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah after being crucified publicly in a shameful fashion, there's going to have to be a good explanation for this. And very quickly, there's different ways of coming across this. If you think the New Testament is reliable and you make a case for this, and you can, then the resurrection comes with it, like some part of the narrative. The other way is to just kind of look at the New Testament through the lens of saying, okay, which stories and facts are reliable, even if the entire New Testament is not? And scholars agree on a few things. We know Jesus lived. We know we died by crucifixion. We have very good reason to believe Jesus was buried. There's no other alternative accounts. In fact, we know the name of the person, where this person was from and his position in Jerusalem at this time, Joseph of Arimathea, four accounts that attest to this. That's pretty significant. We have good reason to believe that the tomb was empty. The fact that it was discovered by women is so unlikely to have been invented.

Scott: Very counter-cultural.

Sean: Very counter-cultural. I mean Habermas has laid out, I think, about 21 arguments for the empty tomb, and in his updated tome, maybe he even has some more. We have good reason to believe the tomb is empty. And even the first religious challenge was the disciples stole the body. Well, you only say somebody stole a body if the body's gone, right? You don't say, you know, "My dog ate my homework," if you have your homework. And then third, you have all these different groups of people saying they had seen the risen Jesus. You have multiple accounts of this, whether it's the Gospels, whether it's Acts, whether it's the writing of Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. We have multiple accounts of appearances to individuals, to the women, to the seven, to the 12, to the 500. Then we see people going out and proclaiming this message, in particular the apostles, when it cost them something. You can put a good solid historical case together that only the resurrection accounts for all the known facts that we have. So when people come up with different alternative scenarios, they'll account for some of the facts, but never all of the facts. So I think the biggest barrier is just that the resurrection implies something supernatural. Like Paul says in Romans 1, this is a confirmation that Jesus is God. That's at the heart of the objection. And I have some sympathy for that. I know when people die, they stay dead. And I'm asking people to believe 2000 years ago that Jesus was buried in the tomb after crucifixion, rose on the third day. That's a radical claim. But I think that evidence is there for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

Scott: I think what's so significant about that too, is that for about the first 30, 40 years of the history of the church, They didn't have these gospel accounts. All they had was the evidence that you describe. The tomb was empty, the post-resurrection appearances, and then the changed lives of the people who embraced the truth of the resurrection. But they didn't have any biblical account to go on like we do today.

Sean: So let me comment. So they had a biblical account, they just didn't have the written text.

They had the stories and accounts just for clarification.

Scott: They had the evidence.

Sean: For clarification, yes, I agree.

Scott: So one last question here. How do you hope people will use this?

Sean: So every chapter is like 1,500 words. We came up with the number of chapters, the word count the publisher gave us. And when you say 1,500 words, that's not a lot. That forces you, like literally every sentence has to be economic and put in there to move things forward. So the idea was to take a book like “Evidence Demands Verdict,” a number one for small groups. Somebody says, "We want to study the historical Jesus, "read a small chapter together and discuss it." Very doable in that setting. Great for a Christian school. I still teach private three mornings a week at a high school outside of Biola and could use a text on the historical Jesus like this. So it's also meant for individual study. It's just a practical, simple book where the substance is packed in there. It's framed by my dad's story and my story at the end in a way that's just accessible to people. That's the goal.

Scott: Yeah. And the emphasis on accessible, but it's got a lot of meat to it too. There's a lot of substance and you guys have done a great job of putting a lot of material in a very accessible form, but packing a lot of material in. So I would have expected with the number of topics that you cover for the book to be at least twice long as it is. And the fact that it is the size it is, I think, bodes well for getting a really good readership out of this. So our hope is that lots of people get hold of this. It's called “Evidence for Jesus,” Josh and Sean McDowell, that we heartily recommended to our viewers. And this is the kind of thing that you can give to a non-Christian neighbor or a friend or students can give this to their friends who they want to have a conversation about Jesus with. So thanks. This has been a great conversation.

Sean: Thanks, God.

Scott: I know, lots of good stuff. Glad you could join us. We'll see you next time.