Who Wrote the Gospel of Mark?

Critics today almost take it for granted that the gospels were not written by the people we think they were; that the names on each gospel were added at a much later date.  They further surmise that whoever wrote these books was not relying on any kind of eyewitness testimony for their material.

A few weeks ago we investigated the book of Matthew to see if there’s any evidence that the disciple Matthew actually wrote the gospel attributed to him.

Today, we are going to take a look at the gospel attributed to Mark.

Can we be confident that Mark wrote Mark?  Even if we were certain that he wrote the Gospel of Mark, why trust him?  Do we have good reason to think he had access to eyewitness testimony?

To answer these questions, there are a couple of things we must do:  First, we must look at some external evidence to figure out who wrote Mark.  And second, we will investigate to see whether or not Mark used Peter as an eyewitness source since some of the external evidence points in that direction.

If we can determine that Mark wrote the gospel that bears his name and that his material came from an eyewitness, we can be confident that his testimony is trustworthy.


Many sources outside the Scriptures assume that Mark, Peter’s interpreter, was the author of the Gospel According to Mark.

Papias of Asia Minor (60-130 AD)

Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements.1

Justin Martyr (100-166 AD)

It is said that he [Jesus] changed the name of one of the apostles to Peter; and it is written in his memoirs that he changed the names of others, two brothers, the sons of Zebedee, to Boanerges, which means ‘sons of thunder’…2

Justin, identifies a particular Gospel as the ‘memoir’ of Peter and he says that this memoir describes the sons of Zebedee as the ‘sons of thunder’. Only Mark’s Gospel describes John and James in this way, so it is reasonable to assume that the Gospel of Mark is the memoir of Peter.

Irenaeus of France (120-190 AD)

Mark, on the other hand, commences with [a reference to] the prophetical spirit coming down from on high to men, saying, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” as it is written in Esaias the prophet, pointing to the winged aspect of the Gospel; and on this account he made a compendious and cursory narrative, for such is the prophetical character.3

Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD)

Again, in the same books [the Hypotyposeis], Clement gives the tradition of the earliest presbyters, as to the order of the Gospels, in the following manner:The Gospels containing the genealogies [i.e. Matt and Luke], he says, were written first. The Gospel according to Mark had this occasion. As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it. But, last of all, John, perceiving that the external facts had been made plain in the Gospel, being urged by his friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel.This is the account of Clement.4

Tertullian of Carthage (160-220 AD)

The same authority of the apostolic churches will afford evidence to the other Gospels also, which we possess equally through their means, and according to their usage–I mean the Gospels of John and Matthew–whilst that which Mark published may be affirmed to be Peter’s whose interpreter Mark was. For even Luke’s form of the Gospel men usually ascribe to Paul. And it may well seem that the works which disciples publish belong to their masters.5

Origen (185-254 AD)

The second is by Mark, who composed it according to the instructions of Peter, who in his Catholic epistle acknowledges him as a son, saying, ‘The church that is at Babylon elected together with you, salutes you, and so does Marcus, my son.’6


Within the gospel of Mark, we find additional evidence to make our point that Mark’s gospel was not written by him, but that’s material is based upon eye-witness testimony.  There is a lot to suggest that Mark was especially fond of Peter, which is a good indicator that they had a special relationship.

Mentioning of Peter with Prominence

Mark referred to Peter twenty-six times in his short account, compared to Matthew who mentions Peter an additional 3 times in his much longer account.

Mark used Peter as a set of “bookends”

Peter is the first disciple mentioned (Mark 1:16) and the last mentioned (Mark 16:17). Scholars describe this type of “bookending” as “inclusio” and have noticed it in other ancient texts where a piece of history is attributed to a particular eyewitness.

Mark Identified Peter with the Most Familiarity

Mark is the only gospel that does not use “Simon Peter.” It’s always “Simon” or “Peter.” Mark consistently used the briefest, most familiar versions of Peter’s name.

Mark Paid Peter the Utmost Respect

Mark shows more respect towards Peter than any other gospel writer did; he repeatedly painted Peter in the kindest possible way, even when Peter made a fool of himself.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is walking on water and Peter fails in his attempt to do so. As he sinks into the sea; Jesus described him as a doubter and a man “of little faith.” Interestingly Mark omits Peter’s involvement altogether. (Matthew 14:22-33 vs Mark 6:45-52)

Similarly, Luke’s gospel includes a description of the “miraculous catch” of fish where Peter was heard to doubt Jesus’ wisdom in trying to catch fish after Peter had been unsuccessful all day. After catching more fish than his nets could hold, Peter says, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!”  Mark’s parallel omits this episode completely. (Luke 5:1-11 vs Mark 1:16-20)

While other gospels mention Peter directly as the source of some embarrassing statement or question, Mark’s gospel omits Peter’s name specifically and attributes the question or statement to “the disciples” or so other similarly unnamed member of the group. Over and over again, Mark offered a version of the story that is kinder to Peter.

This evidence, taken with what has been mentioned above, strongly suggests that not only did Mark write the gospel attributed to him, but that Peter, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, was a major source for its material.

  1.  Cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3.39.
  2.  Justin Martyr, Dialogue, 106.
  3.  Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 3.11.8.
  4.  Cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 6.14.5-7.
  5.  Tertullian Against Marcion, 4.5, 207 AD.
  6.  Cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 6.25.5.

Who Wrote the Gospel of Matthew?

If the accounts of Jesus’ life that we have were written by eyewitnesses, that would be considered good evidence for the reliability of their contents.  Most significantly, those portions that carry the most weight both historically and doctrinally in Christian faith–the death, deity and resurrection of Jesus.

Let’s turn our attention to Matthew’s Gospel and see if we have good reason to believe that the Gospel of Matthew was written by Matthew the tax collector and disciple of Jesus.

First, we will look at the internal evidence where we examine the gospel writer’s focus on currency terms and the special interest in the disciple Matthew portrayed in the book.  Next, we look at the external evidence for the testimony of other Church leaders on who they believed to be the author of that Gospel.

Knowledge and Interest in Currency Terms

  • Matthew is the only Gospel to mention gold, chrysos, 4 times1
  • This is something to expect from someone who works with money.
  • Matthew is the only gospel to mention the word argyros, which means silver.2
  • Only Gospel to mention tatanton which means talents, another form of currency: 13 times.3
  • The author of Matthew used the more precise term nomisma for the coin used in the dispute over tribute4 rather than Mark’s and Luke’s denarion in the same story.5
  • Only Gospel to mention didrachmon (a silver coin).6
  • Matthew is the only gospel to mention stater which means shekel, which is the standard coin.7
  • When Jesus was reciting the Lord’s Prayer: Matthew uses debts where the Lukan parallel has sins.8
  • Matthew uses trapezites for money broker or banker. Only Gospel writer to mention this word.9

Special Treatment of the Disciple Matthew

  • The calling of Matthew is less self-deprecating in Matthew’s Gospel. For example, in Luke’s account, it says that Matthew left everything and followed Jesus (5:28) while Matthew simply says that he got up and followed Jesus. If the first gospel were not by Matthew, one would be at a loss to explain why the author seemed to not be deprecating to Matthew in a subtle way.
  • Matthew 9:9 humanizes the individual by referring to him as “a man” rather than more formally referring to his ancestry10 or referring to his despised employment as a tax collector.11
  • Matthew 9:10 refers to “the house” rather than “his house”.12 “The house” is more natural coming from the house’s owner.
  • Matthew identifies himself as a tax collector in the roll call in Matthew’s gospel. (Matthew 10) Mark, and Luke don’t mention “tax collector” when describing Matthew in the roll call. (Mark 3 & Luke 6)

External Support

Papias of Asia Minor (60-130AD)

“So then Matthew composed the oracles in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as he could.”13

Irenaeus of France (120–190 A.D.)

“Now the Gospels, in which Christ is enthroned, are like these…Matthew proclaims his human birth, saying, ‘The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham,’ and, ‘The birth of Jesus Christ was in this manner.’ For this Gospel is manlike, and so through the whole Gospel [Christ] appears as a man of a humble mind, and gentle.”14

“Matthew published his own Gospel among the Hebrews in their own tongue, when Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel in Rome and founding the church there. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself handed down to us in writing the substance of Peter’s preaching. Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the Gospel preached by his teacher. Then John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned on his breast, himself produced his Gospel while he was living at Ephesus in Asia.”15

Pantaenus (180 AD)

Eusebius tells of a missionary named Pantaenus, who traveled to India around 180 A.D.:

“…he there found his own arrival anticipated by some who there were acquainted with the gospel of Matthew, to whom Bartholomew, one of the apostles, had preached, and had left them the gospel of Matthew in the Hebrew, which was also preserved until this time.”16

Tertullian in Carthage (160-220 A.D.)

“The same authority of the apostolic churches will afford evidence to the other Gospels also, which we possess equally through their means, and according to their usage–I mean the Gospels of John and Matthew–whilst that which Mark published may be affirmed to be Peter’s whose interpreter Mark was. For even Luke’s form of the Gospel men usually ascribe to Paul. And it may well seem that the works which disciples publish belong to their masters.”17

Origen (185-254 A.D.)

“Among the four gospels… I have learned by tradition that first was written that according to Matthew, who was once a tax collector but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, who published it for those who from Judaism came to believe, composed as it was in the Hebrew language.”18

Eusebius of Caesarea (260–339A.D.)

“Matthew, also having first proclaimed the gospel in Hebrew, when on the point of going also to other nations, committed it to writing in his native tongue, and thus supplied the want of his presence to them, by his writings.”19

End Notes:

  1. Matthew 2:11, 10:9, 23:16, 23:17.
  2.  Matthew 10:9.
  3. Matthew 18:24, 25:15, 25:16, 25:17, 25:20, 25:22, 25:28.
  4. Matthew 22:19.
  5. Mark 12:15 & Luke 20:24.
  6.  Matthew 17:24.
  7. Matthew 17:27.
  8. Matthew 6:12 and Luke 11:4.
  9. Matthew 25:27.
  10. Mark 2:14.
  11. Luke 5:27.
  12. Mark 2:15 & Luke 5:29.
  13. Cited by Eusebius, The Ecclesiastical History, 3.39.16 from Papias’ work, Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord, around 120 AD.
  14.  Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 3.11.8.
  15.  Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 3.3.4.
  16. Ecclesiastical History, Book 5, Chapter 10.3.
  17. Tertullian, Against Marcion, 4.5, 207 AD.
  18.  Origin, Commentary on Matthew, quoted in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.25.4.
  19. Ecclesiastical History, Book 3, Chapter 24.6.

Did Jesus Appear to the Apostles?

Did Jesus’ disciples claim that he rose from the dead? If they did, were they sincere in this proclamation? This area is something else that many critics of the resurrection of Jesus often attack and it is an area I will address in this post. Do we have reasons to think that the disciples claimed Jesus rose from the dead and do we have reasons to think that they believed it?

They Claimed It

In order to figure whether they claimed it we will look at nine early and independent sources that fall into three categories: the testimony of Paul about the disciples; the oral tradition that passed through the early church; and the written works of the early church.

Paul’s Testimony

Why should we trust the apostle Paul? Paul claims that his own authority in the church was equal to that of the other apostles.1 That authority was acknowledged by a number of the apostolic fathers soon after the completion of the New Testament.2 Paul reported that he knew at least some of the other disciples, even the big three, Peter, James, and John.3

Acts reports that the disciples and Paul knew and fellowshipped with one another.4 It’s because of all this that we should take Paul seriously on what he says about the other disciples.

After writing on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul said he worked harder than all of the other apostles, but that whether “it was I or they, this [i.e., Jesus’ resurrection appearances] is what we preach.” Thus, Paul knew the apostles personally and reports that they claimed that Jesus rose from the dead.

Oral Tradition

Throughout the New Testament, specifically in the letters of Paul, are oral creeds or summaries that predate Paul’s letters. One that is of special interest is 1 Corinthians 15:3-5:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

There are many factors scholars have noted why this is an oral creed and that it predates Paul’s letter. In addition, many critical scholars believe that Paul received this creed from the disciples Peter and James when he visited Jerusalem three years after his conversion. If true, we have source material within 5 years of the resurrection showing that the disciples experienced appearances of Jesus.

Since tape recorders were unavailable in the first century, recorded dialogues, such as the sermons of Jesus and his apostles, had to have been summaries prepared after the fact by those who had heard them. Most sermons last longer than five minutes. Yet most of the sermons of the New Testament can be read in that amount of time or less. For these reasons and others, most scholars agree that many of the sermons in Acts contain oral summaries included in the text that can be traced to the earliest teachings of the church and possibly to the disciples themselves.

At minimum, these appear to have been standard sermons preached during the earliest times of the church, that are contemporary with the apostles, attributed to the apostles, and in agreement with Paul’s eyewitness testimony that this is what they were preaching. Admittedly, this does not prove that these sermons proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection and appearances were coming from the apostles. But if we are not there then we’re awfully close.

Written Tradition

In regards to written sources, we have to consider the Gospels. No matter what you think of them, they are ancient biographies written within the first century and attests to the resurrection of Jesus as well.

In addition we must consider the writings of the apostolic fathers, Clement, Bishop of Rome (c. 30-100 AD) and Polycarp (c. 69-155). These two specifically taught that the apostles were dramatically impacted by Jesus’ resurrection.

In regards to Clement of Rome, he wrote 1 Clement which is dated to 95AD but probably written earlier than that. Irenaeus5 (185 AD) and Tertullian6 (200 AD) mention in their own letters that Clement had seen the apostles and had fellowshipped with them, particularly Peter. This should render great historical value to Clement’s writings concerning the apostles and their teachings. In 1 Clement, Clement wrote that they were assured of Jesus’ resurrection and went out and spread the news of it.7

In regards to Polycarp, Irenaeus tells us that Polycarp was taught by the apostles, taught others what he had learned from them, appointed by the apostles as bishop of the church in Smyrna, and had talked with many who had seen Jesus.8 Tertullian further wrote that it was the apostle John who appointed Polycarp as bishop in Smyrna.9 Similarly with Clement, Polycarp talks about in his own letters about Jesus’ resurrection and the apostles witnessing Jesus after his crucifixion.10

So in conclusion we have nine early eyewitness testimonies to the disciples’ claims of witnessing the risen Jesus. The late New Testament critic of the University of Chicago, Norman Perrin (who rejected Jesus’ resurrection), wrote, “The more we study the tradition with regard to the appearances, the firmer the rock begins to appear upon which they are based.”11

The Believed It

Well how do we know that the disciples’ were willing to suffer and even die for their proclamation that Jesus rose from the dead for the forgiveness of their sins. This blog post is running long already so I’ll keep everything in the end notes for those interested. We have the accounts in Acts and the testimonies of Polycarp,12 Tertullian13 (200 AD), Clement of Rome14 (95 AD), Ignatius15 (110 AD), Origen16 (185-254 AD), and Dionysius of Corinth17 (writing about 170 AD but cited by Eusebius around 325 AD).

  1. 2 Corinthians 10:8; 11:5; 13:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:6; 4:2; Philemon 1:21; 2 Thessalonians 3:4.
  2. Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 51.
  3. Galatians 1:18-19; 2:2-20.
  4. Acts 9:26-30; 15:1-35.
  5. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.3.3.
  6. Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, 32.
  7. Clement, First Clement, 42:3.
  8. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.3.4.
  9. Tertullian, Prescription Against Heresies, 32.
  10. Polycarp, To the Philippians 9:2.
  11. Norman Perrin, The Resurrection According to Matthew, Mark and Luke (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), 80.
  12. To the Philippians 9:2.
  13. Scorpiace, 15.
  14. 1 Clement 5:2-7.
  15. To the Smyrnaeans 3:2.
  16. Origen, Contra Celsum, 2:56.
  17. Ecclesiastical History 2.25.8; 3.1.

What Do Extraordinary Claims Require?

Closeup portrait beautiful young woman, lady looking at you camera over glasses gesture skeptically, isolated very green background. Negative human emotions, facial expression, feeling, body language

Some skeptics like to claim that the resurrection and other miracles by Jesus are possible but it would require extraordinary amount of evidence to believe it. If the New Testament makes extraordinary claims of miracles, as the skeptic would tell us, we must have extraordinary evidence in order to believe those claims. The objection, on face value, seems reasonable until you ask, “What does ‘extraordinary’ mean?”

If by “extraordinary” the skeptic means “beyond the natural,” then the skeptic is asking the Resurrection to be confirmed by another miracle (a “beyond the natural” event). How is that supposed to work? In order to believe in the first miracle (the Resurrection), the skeptic would then need a second miracle to support it. He would then demand a third to support the second, and this would go on to infinity. So by this criteria, the skeptic would never believe in the Resurrection even if it really happened. There’s something wrong with a standard of proof that makes it impossible for you to believe what actually has occurred.

If “extraordinary” means repeatable as in a laboratory, then no event from history can be believed because historical events cannot be repeated. The believability of historical events can only be confirmed by looking at the quality of the eyewitness evidence and the nature of the forensic evidence in the light of the principles of uniformity and causality.

If “extraordinary” means more than usual, then that’s exactly what we have to support the Resurrection. We have more eyewitness documents and earlier documents for the Resurrection than for anything else from the ancient world. Moreover, these documents include more historical details and figures that have been corroborated by more independent and external sources than anything else from the ancient world.

Finally, the skeptic’s presupposition can be challenged. We don’t need “extraordinary” evidence to believe something. Atheists affirm that from their own worldview. They believe in the Big Bang not because they have “extraordinary” evidence for it but because there is good evidence that the universe exploded into being out of nothing. Good evidence is all you need to believe something.

Furthermore, skeptics don’t demand “extraordinary” evidence for other “extraordinary” events from history. For example, few events from ancient history are more “extraordinary” than the accomplishments of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC). Despite living only 33 years, Alexander achieved unparalleled success. He conquered much of the civilized world at the time, from Greece, east to India and south to Egypt. Yet how do we know this about Alexander? We have no sources from his lifetime or soon after his death. The truth is, we base virtually everything we know about the “extraordinary” life of Alexander the Great from historians who wrote 300 to 500 years after his death! In light of the robust evidence for the life of Christ, anyone who doubts Christ’s historicity should also doubt the historicity of Alexander the Great. In fact, to be consistent, such a skeptic would have to doubt all of ancient history.

Why do skeptics demand “extraordinary” evidence for the life of Christ but not the life of Alexander the Great? Because they’re hung up on miracles again. Despite the fact that miracles are possible if God exists—and despite the fact that miracles were predicted [in the Old Testament] and then witnessed [in the Gospels and Acts]—skeptics can’t bear to admit that miracles have actually occurred. So they set the bar for believability too high. It’s as if some skeptics are saying, “I won’t believe in miracles because I haven’t seen one. If the resurrected Jesus were to appear to me, then I would believe in him.” Now that would be extraordinary evidence.

It certainly would be extraordinary, but is it really necessary? Does Jesus have to appear to every person in the world to make his claim credible? Why would he? We don’t have to witness every event firsthand in order to believe the event actually occurred. In fact, it would be physically impossible to do so. We believe the testimony of others if they are trustworthy individuals, and especially if their testimony is corroborated by other data. This is exactly the case with the testimony of the New Testament writers.

Furthermore, if God were too overt because of frequent miraculous displays, then he might, in some cases, infringe on our free will. If the purpose of this life is to allow us to freely make choices that will prepare us for eternity, then God will give us convincing evidence but not compelling evidence of his existence and purposes. Therefore, those who want to follow God can do so with confidence, and those who do not can suppress or ignore the evidence and live as if he didn’t exist.


The Crucifixion of Jesus

Jesus nailed hand on cross on marble stone

One of the reasons people disbelieve in the resurrection of Jesus is because they don’t believe he really died. Sometimes when we’re defending the idea that Jesus rose from the dead, we have to give reasons that he died in the first place. In order to do this we must introduce the idea of multiple attestation. For those who do not know what that is, multiple attestation is used when you are trying to validate whether a historical event actually happened. The basic idea is this: the more independent sources you have of an historical event the more likely it actually happened.  In the case of the death of Jesus, we happen to have five independent sources (not including biblical or Christian writers) for his crucifixion/killing.

Josephus, first-century Jewish historian

When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned to be crucified… 1

Tacitus, first-century Roman historian

Nero fastened the guilt [the burning of Rome] and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators Pontius Pilate. 2

Lucian of Samosata, the Greek satirist

The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day—the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account. 3

Mara Bar-Serapion, the prisoner

Or [what advantage came to] the Jews by the murder of their Wise King, seeing that from that very time their kingdom was driven away from them. 4

The Talmud

“…on the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged.” 5

In response to this overwhelming evidence, the atheist New Testament scholar of the Jesus Seminar, John Dominic Crossan writes:

“That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.” 6

There is a common objection thoughtlessly tossed around, however, despite the abundance of evidence to the contrary.  That objection questions whether Jesus died at all. Maybe he swooned or faked his death, they suggest. It’s not uncommon for someone to be declared dead, only to start breathing again a few hours later. If this could happen in our modern society why think that this could not have happened in ancient times? Perhaps Jesus’ death wasn’t really a death but he just fainted on the cross. After being taken down and placed in a cave-like tomb, the cool air revived him and he was able to escape the tomb.

There are three main reasons why this isn’t a viable objection. This is often called the Apparent Death Theory or Swoon Theory.

First, such an occurrence would be highly unlikely given our understanding of crucifixion, thanks to modern science. 7 The main problem with crucifixion is that it slowly kills the crucified through asphyxiation which means the victim will have a hard time trying to breathe. Once the victim is on the cross they would have to push down on their pierced feet in order to move their body up, releasing the pressure on their lungs, allowing them to get more air to breathe. After which they slide back down while breathing out. This is an exhausting process. While it’s been known for crucifixion victims to remain on the cross for days, Roman guards standing to the side can speed up the process by using a heavy club or mallet to break both legs. With both legs broken the crucified cannot push down on the legs for the purpose of taking in more air. The cause of death would be simple: the victim could not breathe.

Moreover, a spear wound that is described in John 19:34-35 would have done Jesus in. The Roman author Quintilian (35-95AD) reports of this procedure being performed on crucifixion victims. 8

Second, the critique by one liberal nonChristian German scholar D.F. Strauss puts another nail in the coffin of this swoon theory. 9  Strauss wrote that the whole situation is very implausible. Here we have Jesus, having been whipped and crucified, pushing the heavy stone away from the tomb with pierced hands and walked blocks or even miles on pierced feet. Oh and let’s not forget about the contingent of armed guards guarding the tomb that Jesus would have to fight through. Were the disciples to see him in this pathetic and mutilated state, would this really convince them that Jesus is the Prince of Life? Alive? Barely. Risen? No.

Upon seeing a swooned Jesus who was limping, bleeding, pale, and stooped over in pain, Peter would not have responded with, “Wow, I can’t wait to have a resurrection body just like that!” Rather the disciples would have said, “Let’s get you a doctor. You need help!” Could you imagine Jesus grimacing as Thomas touches him and responds, “Wait! That still hurts! Ouch!”

Seeing Jesus in that kind of state would not inspire these scared disciples to give their lives for the gospel.

Third, the Swoon Theory cannot account for Paul’s dramatic reversal of worldviews. Paul, who handed out death sentences to Jews who said Jesus was their Messiah, claimed that his conversion was the result of experiencing a glorified appearance of the risen Jesus. A blinding light that both he and his companions saw on the road to Damascus. A merely healed Jesus would not be able to give such a glorified appearance.

Therefore, the Swoon Theory is dead and has no hopes of a resurrection. We can confidently say that based on the historical evidence that Jesus was killed by crucifixion.

  1.  Josephus, Antiquities 18.64. Josephus in Ten Volumes, Vol. 9, Jewish Antiquities, Loeb Classical Library, Louis H. Feldman, trans. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981.
  2.  Tacitus, Annals 1544 (c. 115 AD)
  3.  Lucian of Samosata, The Death of Peregrine, 11-13 (c. mid-second century)
  4.  This document is currently at the British Museum, Syriac Manuscript, Additional 14,658 (c. late first-third century). The translation is from Logos Protestant Edition of the early church fathers, A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, and A.C. Coxe, eds. and trans., The Anti-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325 (Oak Harbor, Ore.: Logos Research Systems, 1997).
  5.  Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a (c. late second century).
  6.  John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1991), 145, see also 154, 196, 201.
  7.  William D. Edwards, Wesley J. Gabel, and Floyd E. Hosmer, “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 255.11 (21 March 1986): 1457, 1460, 1461, 1463.
  8.  Quintilian, Declarationes maiores 6:9
  9.  David Strauss, A New Life of Jesus, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: Williams and Norgate, 1879), 1:412.

The Road Runner and Self-defeating Statements

drawing of man sitting on side of tree branch that he's cutting off

I remember when I was a kid I would watch the Coyote and the Road Runner cartoon show. I’m not sure what it was that attracted me to the show.  Maybe it was the random devices the coyote strapped to himself to catch the Road Runner or the fact they always backfire on him. I just know the show itself was very entertaining. What is the Coyote’s only mission in life? To catch the Road Runner, right? And the Road Runner is just a little bit too fast and smart for the Coyote. As the Coyote is chasing the Road Runner, the Road Runner stops just short of the cliff and the Coyote blows right past him. Then there’s that moment when he’s hanging in mid-air with that question mark over his head until he realizes he has no ground to stand on and then he plummets to the ground in a heap. By using this conversation tactic that I’m about to talk discuss, you can do the same thing to a skeptic or an interlocutor who utters self-defeating statements. You can show them their argument has no ground and they plummet to the ground in a heap and the entire argument collapses on itself.

What this tactic does is it helps you become a lie detector. We have a built-in lie detector called the law of non-contradiction. The law of non-contradiction is a law of logic that states something cannot be both true and not true at the same time when dealing with the same context. So using this tactic allows you to not expend needless energy addressing views that self-destruct on their own.

The first step in using this tactic is pay attention to the basic idea, premise, conviction, or claim. Try to identify what is being said. After identifying the claim, apply it to itself. Is there a conflict when you do this? Does the statement live up to its own standard? If there is conflict then it is not true.

The second step is to simply point out the contradiction in a gracious way. You can do this with a question. Using questions opens up the person to their own presuppositions and it causes them to think through what they’re saying to you. When asking questions, you always want to watch your tone as well.

Let’s look at some examples of self-defeating statements that unbelievers often use and some potential responses you could use to help reveal their underlying problems:

Statement #1: “There is no truth!”

Response: Is that true?

Statement #2: “You can’t know truth!”

Response: Then how do you know that’s truth?

Statement #3: “All truth is relative!”

Response: Is that a relative truth?

Statement #4: “No one has the truth!”

Response: If we can’t know the truth, then how can you have the truth that nobody has the truth? Because if you have the truth that nobody has the truth, then I guess somebody does have the truth, namely you which means that the statement–no one has the truth–isn’t true.

Statement #5: “You should only believe what can be scientifically proven!”

Response: Can that statement be scientifically proven? No, you can’t go in a laboratory and prove that statement. That’s a philosophical claim right there and thus refutes itself.

Statement #6: “Everything is meaningless!”

Response: Hey…what do you mean? I mean if everything is meaningless then what do you mean by that?

Statement #7: “You should doubt everything!”

Response: Should I doubt that?

Why are skeptics skeptical about everything except skepticism? Why don’t they start doubting their doubts? See if you start doubting your doubts then you go back to knowing something for sure, right? Maybe skeptics should start doubting their doubts.

Statement #8: “You ought not judge!”

Response: Isn’t that a judgment? If judging is wrong, then why are you judging me for judging?

These responses are not meant to make the unbeliever feel bad or intimidate them, but to show them that their claim doesn’t make sense and so they should abandon them as intellectually honest people. When I first learned about this tactic, I was shocked, much to my dismay, that some of the most intelligent unbelieving friends of mine started using these self-defeating statements left and right when I defended the Gospel. When I pointed these self-defeating statement out, they would often ignore my question. Sometimes they would shout louder at me or type to me in all caps (as if I couldn’t hear them or I couldn’t see the statement on my computer screen). I’m sorry but violating a law of logic does not become okay when you speak louder or type in all caps. That’s just not how reality works.

I say that with a warning that some people don’t care if they are illogical. Unfortunately there are some people out there who are ideologues. They are so attached to their ideologies that they are willing to ignore logic in order to adhere to them. Once you made your point with the self-defeating statements and they are not willing to admit they’re wrong; it’s best to bow out of the conversation as graciously as possible. As I often come across people who think like this, I can’t help but think back to Romans 1:21-22:

“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools…”

At this point, once we’ve exposed the problems with a persons claims, we commit ourselves to humble prayer.  We ask that God would open their eyes to see the truth and to draw them to Himself.  One person plants, another waters, but only God gives the growth.

“If You Were Born in India…”

boys from india with painted faces and turbans

The common argument goes that if you were born in India, you would most likely be a Hindu. If you were born in Saudi Arabia, then you would most likely be a Muslim. If you were born in a Christian family, you would most likely be a Christian. From this, skeptics would conclude: your Christian beliefs are just the product of where you were born and not based on what is true. Some skeptics will even go so far as to say that therefore Christianity is not true.

Now to an extent, this is true. Statistically speaking if you were born in India, you would be a Hindu and if you were born in Saudi Arabia then you would most likely be a Muslim, but it doesn’t follow that Christianity is false because some of us may only be Christians because we were born in a Christian family. To put forth the argument that Christianity is false because we are more likely to adopt the beliefs of our family because of where we’re born is to commit the genetic fallacy.

The Genetic Fallacy

What’s the genetic fallacy you might ask? Well, the genetic fallacy is when you try to invalidate a belief by showing how someone came to accept it. For example, if I were to say: You only believe western democracy is the best form of government because you were raised in a western democracy. Well, that may be true but it doesn’t follow that democracy is not the best form of government. Or to put it another way, what if I came to conclusion that the earth is round based off what I learned in a comic book? Does it follow that the earth is not round? Of course not. You can’t invalidate a belief by showing how one comes to believe it. That’s just nonsense.

Here is something to consider: What if we have good, solid reasons for believing that God exists? What if we have excellent reasons for believing that not only Jesus existed but also have good reasons to believe his ministry, death, and resurrection actually happened?

Going further with this, what if a personal God has graciously revealed himself, both generally and specifically? What if there are good solid reasons to believe Christianity is true and every religion that contradicts it is false? How we came to our beliefs is irrelevant if Christianity is true. So to the skeptics out there reading this, let’s examine the arguments and evidences for Christianity being true rather committing the genetic fallacy.

Is the Tomb Empty?

stack of old books

Another way someone denies the truth of the resurrection is through attacking the historicity of Jesus’ burial and empty tomb on the third day. In order to give a case that Jesus was buried and his tomb was empty we must look at three factors: the Jerusalem factor, enemy attestation, and the testimony of women.

The Jerusalem Factor

Jesus was publicly executed in Jerusalem. His post-mortem appearances and empty tomb were first proclaimed publicly there. 1  The point is that because of these inconvenient facts, it would have been impossible for Christianity to get off the ground in Jerusalem if the body had still been in the tomb.

Had the Roman government and/or the Jewish Sanhedrin wanted to, they could have located the tomb and dragged the body all around Jerusalem for everyone to see. After all, they know where the tomb is because two Pharisees buried Jesus: Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.

If there was a decaying body in the tomb of Jesus we would expect Christian apologists in the 2nd and 3rd century (like Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Origen among others) to be talking about this and explaining it away. We would be expecting this from 2nd century critics of Christianity like Celsus to mention an occupied tomb. Yet no one made this claim in the first, second, or third century AD.

Enemy Attestation

If someone loves you and says you’re an honest person, we may have no reason to believe this person. After all, that person might be biased. However if someone who doesn’t even like you says, “Yeah that person is pretty honest…and I still hate him.” Chances are he’s telling the truth. People who have a bias against you have no reason to lie about you in a positive way. This is what we have with the empty tomb. Rather than point to an empty tomb, early critics accused Jesus’ disciples of stealing away his body. 2  Why go on accusing the disciples of stealing the body if the body is still in the tomb? Yet this is the position of the early pagan and Jewish critics of Christianity claimed of Jesus’ empty tomb. This is the only early opposing theory we know of that was offered by Jesus’ enemies.

Testimony of Women

When we read the accounts in all four gospels we notice that women are the first eye-witnesses of the empty tomb whereas men appear only later and in only two gospels. If the gospels are just made up propaganda to get more followers then why use women as eyewitnesses of the empty tomb. This is a rather odd invention considering that in Jewish and Roman cultures, women were lowly esteemed and their testimony was regarded as questionable, certainly not as credible as a man’s. Let’s consider some Jewish writings:

Sooner let the words of the Law be burnt than delivered to women. 3

The world cannot exist without males and without females—happy is he whose children are males and woe to him whose children are females. 4

But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex, nor let servants be admitted to give testimony on account of the ignobility of their soul; since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment.  5

Any evidence which a woman [gives] is not valid (to offer), also they are not valid to offer. This is equivalent to saying that one who is Rabbinically accounted a robber is qualified to give the same evidence as a woman. 6

It’s no wonder that the disciples did not believe the women’s testimony at first, if they were brought up in such a culture.

“But these words seemed like nonsense to them [the disciples], and they did not believe the women.” Luke 24:11

Some Romans shared a similar attitude toward women. The Roman historian Suetonius (115 AD) writes of Caesar Augustus who was emperor at the time of Jesus’ birth through 14 AD:

Whereas men and women had hitherto always sat together, Augustus confined women to the back rows even at gladiatorial shows: the only ones exempt from this rule being the Vestal Virgins, for whom separate accommodation was provided, facing the praetor’s tribunal. No women at all were allowed to witness the athletic contests; indeed, when the audience clamoured at the Games for a special boxing match to celebrate his appointment as Chief Priest, Augustus postponed this until early the next morning, and issued a proclamation to the effect that it was the Chief Priest’s desire that women should not attend the Theatre before ten o’clock. 7

If the account of the empty tomb was made up by liars then why list women as the first eyewitnesses especially when the disciples didn’t believe them and the Jewish and Roman culture at the time did not hold a woman’s opinion in high regard? The only credible explanation is that the tomb was really empty and the women were the first eyewitnesses to that event. Thus the empty tomb seems rather historically credible given how embarrassing it is for the Christian writers of that day.

Former Oxford University church historian William Wand writes: All the strictly historical evidence we have is in favor of [the empty tomb], and those scholars who reject it ought to recognize that they do so on some other ground than that of scientific history.  8

  1. Testimony from the New Testament – Acts 2 and Tacitus reports the church started in Judea – Annals 15:44.
  2.  Matthew 28:12-13; Justin Martyr, Trypho 108; Tertullian, De Spectaculis 30.
  3.  Talmud, Sotah 19a.
  4.  Talmud, Kiddushin 82b.
  5.  Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.15.
  6.  Talmud, Rosh Hashannah 1.8.
  7.  Gaius Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, Augustus 44, Robert Graves, trans. (New York: Penguin, 1989), 80.
  8.  William Wand, Christianity: A Historical Religion? (Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson, 1972), 93-94.

Jesus on the Old Testament

tin mail boxes bunched together on a wall with a set of stairs by the side in an amber lit room

If Jesus is God, then would he be in a good position to know whether the Old Testament is reliable in any way.  It seems that that would be a safe assumption to make. The fact is that when you read the gospels, you will see that Jesus has a very high view regarding the Old Testament. According to Jesus, the Old Testament:

Is Imperishable

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus claimed that not even the smallest little mark in the Scriptures—the equivalent of a dot on an “i” or a cross on a “t”—will ever perish. He said:

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. —Matthew 5:17

Is Infallible

In John 10, Jesus was about to be stoned for blasphemy. To get himself out of this jam, Jesus cited the Old Testament and declared:

“The Scripture cannot be broken.” —John 10:35

When his life was on the line, Jesus referred to what he sees as an infallible authority that cannot be broken—the Scriptures. He later affirmed the truth of the Scriptures when he prayed for the disciples,

“Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” —John 17:17

Is Inerrant

When the Sadducees tried to trap Jesus with a question, Jesus said to them:

“You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”  —Matthew 22:29

The implication, it seems, is that Jesus is implying that the Scriptures are inerrant. It wouldn’t make much sense for Jesus to say: You are in error because you don’t know the Scriptures, which also err!  Jesus clearly believed that the Scriptures were total truth.  What is more, during Jesus’ entire earthly ministry, he never pointed out any errors in the Old Testament. He only pointed out misinterpretations by the religious authorities. If God had any chance to correct an error in the Old Testament, Jesus’ ministry would be the perfect time to do it, but we don’t get anything from Jesus, his disciples or even the apostle Paul for that matter.

Has Ultimate Supremacy

Since Jesus implicitly taught that the Old Testament is divinely authoritative, imperishable, infallible, and inerrant, you would expect him to assert that it has ultimate supremacy over any teaching of man. This is exactly what Jesus said. He corrected the religious authorities by claiming that they should be obeying the Old Testament Scriptures instead of their own man-made traditions.

“Why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?…You nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” —Matthew 15:3, 6

He then blasted them for failing to live up to the Scriptures by quoting from the Old Testament:

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” —Matthew 15:7-9

Why would Jesus correct the religious leaders of Israel with the Old Testament unless the Old Testament had ultimate supremacy over their own ideas?

Is Complete

In light of Jesus’ teaching, there’s no question he considered the entire Old Testament to be the inerrant, written Word of God. He said he came to fulfill the entirety of scripture (Matthew 5:17), which he referred to as “the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 5:17; Luke 24:26-27). And he told the Jews,

“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” —John 5:39-40.

So Jesus came to fulfill the Scriptures that testify to him. But what did that Old Testament comprise? To what books was Jesus referring when he spoke of “the Scriptures”? In his rebuke of the Pharisees in Matthew 23, Jesus covered every book in the Jewish Old Testament, first to last, when he declared,

“Upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.” —Matthew 23:35

Abel was killed in the first book of the Old Testament (Genesis) and Zechariah was killed in the last (Chronicles). 1 2

So to conclude, Jesus affirmed that the Old Testament is imperishable, infallible, inerrant, has ultimate supremacy and is complete. Why should we not take Jesus’ word for it and take the same position on the Old Testament?

  1.  For those who do not know, the original ordering of the Hebrew Bible had Chronicles (and not Malachi) as the last book of the Old Testament canon. With the exception of the ordering of books, our Old Testament mirrors the canon the Jews had in place before Christ was born.
  2.  Much of this comes from the book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be An Atheist by Frank Turek and Norman Geisler of which I highly recommend reading.