You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.Exodus 23:1
To a great extent, faith in Jesus is based on the testimony of people we’ve never met. Since none of us were around when Jesus was present in the flesh, we are counting on the credibility of those who were. While there are historical references to Jesus in sources other than the Bible, most of what we know about Him comes from the gospel witnesses (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John).
This is where the credibility of the Bible becomes a big concern for people. Specifically, the integrity of the gospel accounts is an issue. How reliable are they? What if the authors were playing a game to see how many people they could mislead? What if the whole story about Jesus – his virgin birth, all the miracles, the crucifixion, the resurrection – what if that was just something they made up for attention? What if they were just trying to sell a sensational story to pay their bills? What if it was just a hoax?
Why should we believe them?
Take a little time to study Jewish culture in the Old Testament and it will become clear that truth-telling is a core value. This fact is critically important to your evaluation of the believability of the Bible and its testimony about Jesus. Why? Because the authors of the Bible and the witnesses to the life of Jesus are mostly Jewish (Luke would be a possible exception).
In other words, the people that recorded what they witnessed concerning the Son of God were part of a culture that shamed and despised liars and insisted that people tell the truth. From the ninth commandment forward, it was etched in stone that lying was forbidden. Over and over again in the wisdom literature, in which every ancient Jewish person was well-versed, there are cautions like this one:
“A false witness will not go unpunished, nor will a liar escape.”Proverbs 19:5
And the Hebrew judicial system, severe and demanding as it may have been, was also picky about telling the truth. Evidence was always required and the standard was high. Two or three witnesses were needed to establish a fact, and pity the witness that lied, for the penalty would be severe.
The bottom line is that from the time Jewish people were young, the environment in which they were reared was one where lying was condemned and truth-telling was upheld as supremely important. The people whose testimony about Jesus we rely upon were raised in a culture unlike our own when it comes to speaking truth. They were taught to tell the truth regardless of the cost.
It’s almost as if God was providentially setting up a rigid credibility system before the time of Christ so that when it was time for people to testify about Jesus, they would not be easily written off as just another scammer. Given the stigma and penalty associated with being a false witness, more often than not, if someone said it happened, it happened.
In our post-modern culture lying has become an acceptable means of survival and a normal way of playing the game, but for ancient Jews it was simply unacceptable. This helps us understand what Paul was getting at when defending his credibility as a witness to the resurrected Christ:
“And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.”1 Corinthians 15:14-15
Paraphrased, Paul is saying, “You think we would lie? Make this story up? Really? Who would do that?”
No doubt, the writers of the Bible had their issues, but deceiving people wasn’t one of them. In their world, it just wasn’t an option. All the more reason to believe the witness of the Holy Spirit and take their testimony at face value.
Something to think about today and to encourage you in your faith. Hope the additional perspective helps you as much as it helped me.
It’s a new day with God. Run with it.