“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Do you have blind faith? The crossexamined.org site describes blind faith “as an unquestioning belief in something, even when it is unreasonable or wrong”. Christ’s gift of salvation doesn’t require us to have something other than blind faith, but is that really all we’re left with? It makes me think of a picnic where you put a paper plate out on the table. It could be fine, but even just a small gust of wind sends you chasing the plate. Your walk with God might remain strong with a blind faith, but without some kind of anchor, your walk with God is far more vulnerable. So what will act like a nice cold bottle of cream soda on our paper plate of faith? Fortunately there is a virtual cornucopia of reasons that ground our faith. You might have seen God working a miracle in someone’s life, seen prayer work, or attribute the path your life has taken to the providence of God. Maybe you are fascinated by evidences found in cosmology, physics, biology, archaeology or philosophy. I personally love digging into the sciences, but I also enjoy how textual criticism plays an important role. We will wander down that unassuming road of textual criticism and hopefully bring to life the support it lends to the reliability of the New Testament. We will finish by looking at how that and other evidence support the resurrection.
Belief in Alexander the Great
Perhaps in a slightly unorthodox approach, let’s consider Alexander the Great. Have you ever asked how we know Alexander actually lived? There were no Instagram reels, pictures, or videos available. Our primary means of knowledge are written accounts. There are a number of things historians consider when examining written accounts, but we’ll look at three. One is how close to the event or person the account was written. Second is how close to the event or person the earliest copy is available. Third is how many copies we still have of that account. If you kept score, on questions one and two, the earlier dates get more points. On question three, the higher number of copies gets more points. The earlier the dates, the less likely fanciful material creeps in. The more copies you have, the easier you can catch changes along the way.
So what does this look like for Alexander the Great? He lived from 361 to 281 BC and the original texts of the first historical account came from a man named Diodorus around 45 BC¹ . The earliest copy is from the 10th century and we still have about 59 copies². As a second example let’s look at the “Annals” by Tacitus, a well respected ancient historian. Tacitus completed his work in about 100 AD with the earliest surviving copy coming from about 1100 AD³. We have 20 copies still available to us today. There are more we could examine, but these represent early and high quality examples. These are not cherry-picked to make Alexander’s case seem weaker, but I attempt to provide a fair look. Bringing in every historical account you get to a few hundred copies depending on exactly how you count them. These documents are further bolstered by findings of archaeology and the otherwise unexpected spread of Greek culture. It is built on this kind of evidence historians feel confident in knowing Alexander the Great lived and in general accomplished what is written about him.
Jesus in the Spotlight
So how does the evidence stack up for Jesus compared with Alexander? We can start outside the Bible with Josephus. His work titled “Antiquities” speaks to many of the aspects of Jesus’s life. It was written in 93-94 AD, with the earliest copy appearing in the 11th century with around 120 copies available⁴. We can also look at the “Annals” by Tacitus again, since he also says many confirming things regarding Jesus. These two sources pass the first two tests mentioned earlier with a higher grade than for the sources we have for Alexander the Great since they existed closer to the time of Jesus, who died either in 30 or 33 AD. These sources, among others, are interesting because they confirm many aspects of His life, even though they were not friendly to the movement.
Setting these sources aside, how do accounts that agree with the teachings of Jesus – namely, the Bible – stack up with this criticism? We put a great deal of trust that the New Testament we have today accurately represents what the authors wrote. It may be surprising, but Paul’s epistles were the first to be written, not the gospels. The first was 1 Thessalonians that even the Encyclopedia Britannica says was penned in about 50 AD⁵. Somewhat separate, but fascinating is that there is strong evidence that the creed in 1 Corinthians 15 was established a mere two to three years after the crucifixion⁶. Paul Copan and many others argue for Mark’s Gospel being written in the 50’s-60’s AD with Luke writing both his gospel and Acts no later than 64 AD⁷. Others argue for a post 70 AD date, but that mostly hinges on their perception that Jesus could not see the future. John’s gospel was the latest, written around 100 AD⁸. Then in the early 20th century, the John Ryland papyrus was found and dated between 125-140 AD⁹. It’s only the size of a business card, but lines up perfectly with the gospel of John it included. Later finds, such as the Beatty papyri from 200 AD, contain major portions of the New Testament¹⁰. In total the New Testament boasts roughly 25,000 copies of manuscripts¹¹. Similarly to Alexander, Jesus and the Bible are well attested to by archaeology.
To quickly sum up, the earliest written account (with surviving copies), of Alexander the Great was completed two centuries after he died. The oldest surviving copy of this account is from over a thousand years after his death, and across all written accounts we only have a few hundred copies. The evidence for Jesus includes written accounts from roughly 30 years after His death with the earliest large copy from about 170 years after His death. Today we have a total of roughly 25,000 copies. None of the ancient accounts of the most famous people from antiquity survive to modern times, to include any portion of the Bible. However, based on the same standard professional, secular historians use to deem those ancient works reliable, the Bible far exceeds them all. No other work from ancient times even comes close. The next best in terms of number of copies is the Iliad coming in at 643¹¹. In the words of the highly critical scholar Bruce Metzger of Princeton University “we can have a high degree of confidence that we can reconstruct the original text of the New Testament, the text that is in the Bibles we use, because of the abundance of textual evidence we have to compare. The variations are largely minor and don’t obscure our ability to construct an accurate text”¹².
A Use Case – The Resurrection
There are several other strong lines of evidence supporting the Bible being reliable. I don’t have the space here to dive into them, but a couple include embarrassing testimony, such as women discovering the tomb empty. Another are incidental details such as common sayings of the time, location names, and people also lend credibility. The mountain of evidence piles up so that, especially when taken together, skeptics have yet to mount a successful expedition to overcome it. With a new foundation of reliability to stand on, let’s see where the discussion of reliability can end up taking us.
The Apostle Paul said “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (1 Corinthians 15:17-18). Essentially without the resurrection there is no Christianity. The gospels explicitly testify from multiple authors that Jesus was raised from the dead. Our new line of evidence from above gives us a firmer foundation in which we can rely on those testimonies. Building on that claim, the New Testament makes the bold claim that over 500 saw the risen Jesus. This is bold because this would have been easy to prove wrong. We can also combine Biblical and non-Biblical sources. For instance, after the resurrection, there is a major shift in those that followed him closely. They gained new boldness, and many, if not all, would be tortured and killed for their belief in Jesus as the risen Messiah. James, the brother of Jesus, had previously refused to believe, but a third century Greek historian, Eusebius¹³, along with the books of Acts and Galatians provide evidence he became a pillar of the church and was martyred. There are other examples, but that provides at least a sampling.
What are some of the more popular alternatives to Jesus being raised bodily from the grave? Probably my favorite is the swoon theory. It says after Jesus endured enormous blood loss, horrendous beatings, dehydration, hours on the cross, nails in His hands and feet and finally a spear piercing His side, He was not dead. After tricking the professional executioners, Jesus was able to escape His wrappings, roll a heavy stone up hill, get past the guards, walk around and convince everyone He was victorious over death. To me it sounds more like the start to a zombie movie. A second is that the body was stolen – either by Jewish officials or by the disciples. Frankly, this is just as absurd a claim as the last. If the officials stole the body, they could have just produced it to shutdown the fledgling movement. They would get no benefit from such an action, and it would defeat the purpose of posting guards. Perhaps on the surface it might seem viable for the disciples to have stolen it. However, when was the last time you heard of someone dying for something they knew was a lie? It may have saved them initial embarrassment, but in return they were persecuted, tortured, and killed the rest of their lives. It also doesn’t explain the abrupt changes in the disciples including James as discussed earlier. There are other proposed explanations, but none come close to being a better solution for all the evidence that claims Jesus was actually raised from the dead.
This is just a tiny glimpse into the kinds of evidences supporting the Bible as a reliable account of the resurrection. There is so much more and I will provide links to some other resources at the end. I guess this is a really long way of saying no, we don’t have blind faith. So what do you do with this? For me I am emboldened knowing we have excellent reasons to believe what we do. Second, it releases a lot of fear that I’ll be caught unprepared. By no means at all does it mean I have every answer. It really just means I have a good base of knowledge and can seek answers to hard questions. Finally, diving into the evidence grants me an awe of God I otherwise would not have. Understanding a little more about cosmology and biology in relation to God leaves me speechless. Human language falls woefully short in describing how truly amazing He is. It becomes easier to trust and obey Him. I challenge you to make sure your paper plate of faith is truly anchored against the winds of life.
Dr. William Lane Craig “Evidence for the Resurrection” –
Kalam Cosmological Argument –
Argument from fine tuning –
The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel
Not actual evidence, but a fascinating idea –
1. Taylor, A. T. (2020, August 8). Reliability of Sources for Alexander the Great. Academia.
Retrieved August 7, 2022, from
2. Pearse, R. P. (2007). Diodorus Siculus: the Manuscripts of the “Bibliotheca Historica.”
Tertullian. Retrieved August 7, 2022, from
3. McDowell, J. M. (1979). Evidence That Demands a Verdict (Revised ed.). Thomas Nelson
4. Zeitlin, Solomon. “The Christ Passage in Josephus.” The Jewish Quarterly Review, vol.
18, no. 3, 1928, pp. 231–55. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/1451577. Accessed 6 Feb. 2023.
5. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Letters of Paul to the Thessalonians”.
Encyclopedia Britannica, 20 Aug. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/topic/letters-of-Paul-to-
the-Thessalonians. Accessed 29 January 2023.
6. Chris. “Gary Habermas on the Pre-Pauline Creed of 1 Cor. 15.” Cloud of Witnesses, 22
Aug. 2010, greatcloud.wordpress.com/2010/08/21/gary-habermas-on-the-pre-pauline-creed-
of-1-cor-15/. Accessed 6 Feb. 2023.
7. Copan, Paul. True for You but Not for Me : Overcoming Objections to Christian Faith.
Minneapolis, Minn., Bethany House Publishers, 2009.
8. Britannica. “Gospel according to John | Description, Authorship, & Facts | Britannica.”
Encyclopædia Britannica, 2019, www.britannica.com/topic/Gospel-According-to-John.
9. “Earliest New Testament Fragment.” The BAS Library, 31 Aug. 2015,
www.baslibrary.org/biblical-archaeology-review/41/2/5. Accessed 6 Feb. 2023.
10. Moreland, J. M. (2007, August 21). The Historicity of the New Testament. Bethinking.
Retrieved August 7, 2022, from https://www.bethinking.org/is-the-bible-reliable/the-historicity-
11. Geisler, Norman L, and Ronald M Brooks. When Skeptics Ask : A Handbook on Christian
Evidences. Grand Rapids, Mich., Baker Books, 2013
12. Turek, Frank. “Is the New Testament Reliable? Even Bart Ehrman Says Yes.” Cross Examined,
1 Sept. 2010, crossexamined.org/is-the-new-testament-reliable-erhman-refutes-ehrman/.
13. Eusebius, S. C. W. (n.d.). Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History. Topos Text. Retrieved August 7,
2022, from https://topostext.org/work/732