John A. Braun
I believe. I say those words regularly with others as we confess what we believe. I believe in a specific God who has stepped into history for all humanity.
When hearing that I believe, some suggest that I am hostile to investigation, critical thinking, and rational thought. I can understand why some would make that assertion about people of faith. All too often “faith” is so vague that it loses its object and becomes just faith in faith—a kind of dream without substance.
For that kind of faith, there is no proof; it’s just a feeling no one can verify. To make matters worse, thousands of faiths like that exist and new ones arise every day. But I believe in some important historical facts about Jesus and what he came to do. These facts can be verified just like other facts of history.
The first question is whether or not there was a Jesus in history. In a court of law, witnesses testify to what they have seen. In the case for Jesus, the eyewitnesses say there was someone called Jesus. John’s gospel begins with the note, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). Luke begins, “I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning” (l:3) which included talking with “eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (v. 2). Matthew and Mark confirm the testimony. Mark was Peter’s secretary, and Peter himself wrote in his second letter, “We did not follow cleverly devised stories . . . but we were eyewitnesses” (1:16). The testimony is remarkably accurate.
An opposing attorney would attempt to challenge their testimony with a host of arguments. He might suggest that the documents containing their eyewitness accounts were written long after the events took place. We’ve all heard that, but it did not happen. The words of the eyewitnesses have been verified as genuine historical documents written shortly after the events they relate. The challenges to their truthfulness have all proven to be without merit.
The attorney might suggest that the original handwritten documents of these witnesses do not exist, and therefore, they might have been doctored by others afterward. But over five thousand copies of their handwritten documents do exist, some of them coming almost a century after the events. That’s not a problem for ancient texts. Scholars of Latin and Greek writers like Caesar, Herodotus, and Aristotle do not have the originals of these writers either. The copies they study are relatively few and occur in some cases one thousand years after those writers died.
Then we also investigate what these eyewitnesses claim about Jesus. Why is he so important even today? Is he a teacher? A philosopher? A charismatic leader? Something else? Jesus claims to have come from his heavenly Father to tell us what comes directly from heaven: “I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence” (John 8:38). Amazing! Even astounding! Jesus makes that claim often. C.S. Lewis said what has so often been repeated: Either Jesus is a lunatic with a god complex or he is who he claims to be: God himself entering human history.
And why did he step into history? After Jesus came into the house of Zacchaeus, he said, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
My few words here are not enough to explore all the arguments for the Christian faith and the counterarguments against it. But I can confess that I believe. I believe, that is, I trust what the eyewitnesses tell me about Jesus.
Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019