Monday, September 09, 2002

Some Interesting Reading

I’ve been reading Lee Strobel’s The Case For Christ (Zondervan, 1998) and I must say it is very interesting. For those who are not familiar, Strobel uses his experience as an investigative journalist to research evidence supporting the historic Jesus and the trustworthiness of the Bible.

There is great deal of fascinating material contained in the 300 pages of this book. Strobel selects controversial topics, and then interviews experts as if they were witnesses in an investigation. Quite different from your garden-variety theology book. And yes, it must be added that journalists are better writers than theologians.

A couple of Strobel’s topics really got my attention. One is his look at the so called swoon theories which allege that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross. Through various methods of chicanery: collusion with Pilate, death simulating drugs, etc., He feigned death. No death means no resurrection. No resurrection means Christianity is a big hoax. Paul wrote:
And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. (1 Cor. 15:14, NIV)
And in case you missed it, he repeats it three verses later in 1 Cor. 15:17.

Strobel interviews Alexander Metherell, M.D. and Ph.D. Dr. Metherell describes in medical terms the ordeal that Christ suffered. Based on what is known of Roman flogging, the type beating Christ received can be fatal in its own right, and certainly resulted in debilitating blood loss. Then he describes what it was really like to be crucified. The details are chilling and gruesome, all the more so because they are related in dispassionate scientific terms. He even provides a medical explanation for the appearance of both blood and water when Christ’s side is pierced (John 19:34).

The bottom line: there is absolutely no way Jesus could have survived the crucifixtion.

It affected me very deeply. I will tell you why, and it is something of a confession. I have often heard people say that Christ died the most horrible death possible. I always thought that claim to be unsupportable and something of an exaggeration. Clearly man in his depraved state has devised even more hideous and painful methods of torture and execution. I still believe that—our ingenuity in inflicting pain knows few bounds. It was not necessary for Christ to die the most horrible death possible. I don’t even think the physical pain He suffered compared with whatever punishment he endured under the weight of our sins. But I do have an new appreciation (is that the right word?) for just how brutal His death was.

Another interview in Strobel’s book that I found fascinating concerned a finding in the dead sea scrolls. To set the stage, recall Christ’s answer to the John the Baptist’s messengers, when John, already imprisoned, sent an inquiry regarding Christ’s messianic authenticity. We read in Matthew:
4 Jesus replied, "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. (Matt. 11:4-5, NIV)
Jesus is proclaiming himself as the Messiah just as he did at the start of the ministry, by referring to messianic prophesy in Isaiah. The problem is if you read Isaiah it says nothing about the dead are raised. Jesus seems to be adding something to what was in Isaiah’s prophesy. Now Jesus had raised the dead, so he was truthful (obviously), but it would seem that if you wanted to refer to a specific prophesy, you would demonstrate how it was specifically fulfilled so as to be unambiguous.

Strobel interviewed archeologist John McRay, Ph.D. He described a manuscript from the dead sea scrolls (4Q521) that dates to thirty years before Jesus was born. It contains a version of Isaiah 61 that includes the phrase the dead are raised. Remarkable—archeology produces evidence that answers a biblical riddle.

Strobel’s book is probably worth its modest cost just for the interview with McRay, who discusses many fascinating reports of archeological findings supporting accounts given in the Bible. I read it completely spellbound.

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