In A.D. 303, the Roman Emperor Diocletian issued an edict to stop Christians from worshipping Jesus Christ and to destroy their Scriptures. Every official in the empire was ordered to raze the churches to the ground and burn every Bible found in their districts (Stanley Greenslade, Cambridge History of the Bible). Twenty-five years later Diocletian’s successor, Constantine, issued another edict ordering fifty Bibles to be published at government expense (Eusebius).
In 1778 the French infidel Voltaire boasted that in 100 years Christianity would cease to exist, but within 50 years the Geneva Bible Society used his press and house to publish Bibles (Geisler and Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, 1986, pp. 123, 124).
Robert Ingersoll once boasted, “Within 15 years I’ll have the Bible lodged in a morgue.” But Ingersoll is dead, and the Bible is alive and well.
In fact, many who set out to disprove the Bible have been converted, instead. The following are a few examples:
Gilbert West (1703-1756)
Gilbert West was included in Samuel Johnson’s Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets. As a student at Oxford, West set out to debunk the Bible’s account of Christ’s resurrection. Instead, having proved to himself that Christ did rise from the dead, he was converted. West published his conclusions in the book Observations on the History and Evidences of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (1747). On the fly-leaf he had the following printed: “Blame not before thou hast examined the truth.”
West concluded his book with these words:
“If Christ had not risen, and proved himself by many infallible tokens to have risen from the dead, the Apostles and Disciples could have had no inducement to believe in him, that is to acknowledge him for the Messiah, the Anointed of God; on the contrary, they must have taken him for an impostor, and under that persuasion could never have become preachers of the Gospel, without becoming euthusiasts or impostors, in either of which characters it is impossible they should have succeeded, to the degree which we are assured they did, considering their natural insufficiency, the strong opposition of all the world to the doctrines of Christianity, and their own high pretensions to miraculous powers, about which they could neither have been deceived themselves, nor have deceived others. Supposing therefore that Christ did not rise from the Dead, it is certain, according to all human probability, there could never have been any such thing at all as Christianity, or it must have been stifled soon after its birth. This is a fact about which there is no dispute, but Christians and Infidels disagree in accounting for this fact. Christians affirm their religion to be of divine original, and to have grown up and prevailed under the miraculous assistance and protection of God; and this they not only affirm, and offer to prove by the same kind of evidence, by which all remote facts are proved, but think it may very fairly be inferred form the wonderful circumstances of its growth and increase, and its present existence. Infidels, on the other hand, assert Christianity to be an imposture, invented and carried on by men. In the maintenance of which assertion, their great argument against the credibility of the Resurrection, and the other miraculous proofs of the divine original of the Gospel, founded in their being miraculous, that is, out of the ordinary course of nature, will be of no service to them, since they will still find a miracle in their way, namely, the amazing birth, growth, and increase of Christianity.Which facts, though they should not be able to account for them, they cannot however deny. In order therefore to destroy the evidence drawn from them by Christians, they must prove them not to have been miraculous, by shewing how they could have been effected in the natural course of human affairs, by such weak instruments as Christ and his Apostles (taking them to be what they are pleased to call them, enthusiasts or impostors) and by such means as they were possessed of and employed But this I imagine to be as much above the capacity of the greatest philosophers to shew, as it is to prove the possibility of executing the proud boast of Archimedes (even granting his Postulatum) of moving and wielding the globe of this earth, by machines of human invention, and composed of such materials only, as nature furnishes for the ordinary use of man” (Observations on the History and Evidences of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, pp. 442-445).
George Lyttelton (1709-1773)
George Lyttelton was an English statesman, author, and poet who was educated at Eton and Oxford. Among other things he published a History of Henry II.
As a young man he set out to prove that Paul was not converted as the Bible states. Instead, he wrote a book containing evidence that Paul was indeed converted and that his conversion is evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. The book was titled Observations on the Conversion and Apostleship of St. Paul (1747). Lyttleton observed that from an earthly perspective Paul had absolutely nothing to gain and everything to lose by testifying that he had seen the risen Christ. Giving up his position and prestige as a Jewish religious leader, he joined the despised Christian sect and was hounded, mocked, and persecuted for the rest of his life, finally paying the ultimate price for his Christian faith, death by beheading.
Lyttlelton began his book with these words:
“In a late conversation we had together upon the subject of the Christian religion, I told you, that besides all the proofs of it which may be drawn from the prophecies of the Old Testament, from the necessary connection it has with the whole system of the Jewish religion, from the miracles of Christ, and from the evidence given of his Resurrection by al the other Apostles, I thought the conversion and the apostleship of St. Paul alone, duly considered, was of itself a demonstration sufficient to prove Christianity to be a divine Revelation. As you seemed to think that so compendious a proof might be of use to convince those unbelievers that will not attend to a longer series of arguments, I have thrown together the reasons upon which I suppose that proposition” (page 4).
The famous British lexicographer Samuel Johnson said “infidelity has never been able to fabricate a specious answer” to Lyttelton’s book.
Albert Henry Ross (Frank Morison) (1881-1950)
Albert Ross was a lawyer, journalist, and novelist who grew up in Stratford-on-Avon, England. He was deeply affected by the skepticism of the times, particularly the attacks on the Bible by theological liberalism and Darwinism. After becoming a lawyer he set out to write a book to disprove the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Instead, he was converted and wrote a book in defense of the resurrection entitled WHO MOVED THE STONE? -- which is still in print today. He wrote the book under the name of Frank Morison.
“If you will carry your mind back in imagination to the late nineties [1890s] you will find in the prevailing intellectual attitude of that period the key to much of my thought. ... the work of the higher critics -- particularly the German critics -- had succeeded in spreading a prevalent impression among students that the particular form in which the narrative of His life and death had come down to us was unreliable, and that one of the four records was nothing other than a brilliant apologetic written many years, and perhaps many decades, after the first generation had passed away.
“Like most other young men deeply immersed in other things, I had no means of verifying or forming an independent judgment upon these statements, but the fact that almost every word of the Gospels was just then the subject of high wrangling and dispute did very largely color the thought of the time, and I suppose I could hardly escape its influence.
“But there was one aspect of the subject that touched me closely. I had already begun to take a deep interest in physical science, and one did not have to go very far in those days to discover that scientific thought was obstinately and even dogmatically opposed to what are called the miraculous elements in the Gospels. Very often the few things the textual critics had left standing science proceeded to undermine. Personally I did not attach anything like the same weight to the conclusions of the textual critics that I did to this fundamental matter of the miraculous. It seemed to me that purely documentary criticism might be mistaken, but that the laws of the universe should go back on themselves in a quite arbitrary and inconsequential manner seemed very improbable. Had not Huxley himself declared in a peculiarly final way that ‘miracles do not happen,’ while Matthew Arnold, with his famous gospel of ‘Sweet Reasonableness,’ had spent a great deal of his time in trying to evolve a non-miraculous Christianity?
“It was about this time -- more for the sake of my own peace of mind than for publication -- that I conceived the idea of writing a short monograph on what seemed to me to be the supremely important and critical phase in the life of Christ -- the last seven days -- though later I came to see that the days immediately succeeding the Crucifixion were quite as crucial. The title I chose was ‘Jesus, the Last Phase,’ a conscious reminiscence of a famous historical study by Lord Rosebery. ...
“Such, briefly, was the purpose of the book I had planned. I wanted to take this last phase of the life of Jesus, with all its quick and pulsating drama, its sharp, clear-cut background of antiquity, and its tremendous psychological and human interest--to strip it of its overgrowth of primitive beliefs and dogmatic suppositions, and to see this supremely great person as He really was.
“I need not stay to describe here how, fully ten years later, opportunity came to study the life of Christ as I had long wanted to study it, to investigate the origins of its literature, to examine some of the evidence at first hand, and to form my own judgment on the problem it presents. I will only say that it effected a revolution in my thought. Things emerged from old-world story that previously I should have thought impossible. Slowly but very definitely the conviction grew that the drama of those unforgettable weeks of human history was stranger and deeper than it seemed. It was the strangeness of many notable things in the story that first arrested and held my interest. It was only later that the irresistible logic of their meaning came into view.
“I want to try, in the remaining chapters of this book, to explain why that other venture never came to port, what were hidden rocks on which it foundered, and how I landed to me, an unexpected shore” (“The Book That Refused to Be Written,” chapter 1, Who Moved the Stone?).
Morison concluded that the only explanation that can satisfy all of the historical facts was that Jesus Christ actually rose from the dead. Morison became a C.S. Lewis-type Christian, believing in Christ’s divinity and resurrection, but not believing in the infallible inspiration of Scripture, and his book Who Moved the Stone? is handicapped by this position. While Morison accepted the four Gospels as basically historical, he believed that some statements are more trustworthy than others and some things might have been added later. Thus, though he threw off the shackles of theological modernism pertaining to the person of Christ, he did not throw off the shackles of the equally erroneous “principles of modern textual criticism.” He held, for example, to the fallacy that Mark’s Gospel should end at chapter 16 verse 8.
Simon Greenleaf (1783-1853)
Simon Greenleaf, Royall Professor of Law at Harvard University, was one of the most celebrated legal minds in American history. His Treatise on the Law of Evidence “is still considered the greatest single authority on evidence in the entire literature of legal procedure.”
As a law professor, he determined to expose the “myth” of the resurrection of Christ once and for all, but his thorough examination forced him to conclude, instead, that Jesus did rise from the dead. In 1846 he published An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists by the Rules of Evidence Administered in the Courts of Justice.
Thus, one of the most celebrated minds in the legal profession of the past two centuries took the resurrection of Christ to trial, diligently examined the evidence, and judged it to be an established fact of history! And this was in spite of the fact that he began his investigation as a skeptic.
One of Greenleaf’s points is that nothing but the resurrection itself can explain the dramatic change in Christ’s disciples and their willingness to suffer and die for their testimony.
Consider an excerpt:
“Their master had recently perished as a malefactor, by the sentence of a public tribunal. His religion sought to overthrow the religions of the whole world. The laws of every country were against the teachings of His disciples. The interests and passions of all the rulers and great men in the world were against them. The fashion of the world was against them. Propagating this new faith, even in the most inoffensive and peaceful manner, they could expect nothing but contempt, opposition, revilings, bitter persecutions, stripes, imprisonments, torments, and cruel deaths. Yet this faith they zealously did propagate; and all these miseries they endured undismayed, nay, rejoicing. As one after another was put to a miserable death, the survivors only prosecuted their work with increased vigor and resolution. The annals of military warfare afford scarcely an example of the like heroic constancy, patience, and unblenching courage. They had every possible motive to review carefully the grounds of their faith, and the evidences of the great facts and truths which they asserted; and these motives were pressed upon their attention with the most melancholy and terrific frequency. It was therefore impossible that they could have persisted in affirming the truths they have narrated, had not Jesus actually risen from the dead, and had they not known this fact as certainly as they knew any other fact. ... If then their testimony was not true, there was no possible motive for its fabrication” (Greenleaf, An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists by the Rules of Evidence).
Read Part 2
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