Overview:

Christian apologists want us to accept their weak evidence for the divinity of Jesus. But why should we when Paul, John the Baptist, and even the disciples didnt accept far more compelling evidence?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The gospel story is from long ago and far away, and yet Christians insist it’s history. Even if we could accept the gospel story as true, why should we accept any element of the story that wasn’t convincing at the time?

The gospel story didn’t convince Paul

Paul was a dedicated Pharisee (the Pharisees were an influential Jewish group during the time of Jesus), and he emphasized in his letters how enthusiastically he persecuted Christians. Though he didn’t make his motivations clear, we can assume that he was offended by this upstart Christian movement within Judaism. That suggests that he understood Christianity’s claims but wasn’t convinced

He certainly had the opportunity. Paul heard Stephen’s long speech just before he was killed and was unmoved by Stephen’s reference to Jesus. Paul had the opportunity to discuss Christianity with the Christians he arrested.

Only after the death of Jesus, on a trip to Damascus to arrest more Christians, did Paul become a Christian. If Paul was unconvinced by the arguments of Christians of the time, at least one of whom had been a disciple, why should they convince us when we are far more separated from Jesus by language, culture, and time? If Paul was only satisfied by a personal vision from Jesus, why should we be satisfied with less?

See also: How Reliable is Apostle Paul When He Knew Very Little About Jesus?

The gospel story also didn’t convince John the Baptist

The skepticism of John the Baptist is even more remarkable. John knew exactly who Jesus was when he baptized him. He heard God’s voice from heaven proclaiming Jesus as God’s son and saw “the Spirit of God descending like a dove” (Matthew 3:16–17). He reported afterwards, “I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One” (John 1:34; see also 1:29).

John knew this even before he was born. Mary (when pregnant with Jesus) visited her relative Elizabeth (when pregnant with John). We read, “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb” (Luke 1:41), and she was filled with the Holy Spirit.

But John apparently forgot all that. During Jesus’s ministry, John was in prison, and he sent some of his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus said that he was, and he pointed to his healing miracles to support his claim (Matt. 11:1–5).

John needs to ask if Jesus is the One despite having heard the voice of God and seen the Holy Spirit descend to Jesus?! If John was entitled to question given that banquet of evidence, what are we to do with the watery gruel that we’re given?

If Paul was only satisfied by a personal vision from Jesus, why should we be satisfied with less?

Jesus explains the end game to the disciples and they … forget?

The end of the gospel story is pretty remarkable: Jesus will die by crucifixion and then rise from the dead. That is probably not the way the disciples expected it to end. But that’s okay, because Jesus explained it all to them.

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (Matthew 16:21)

When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” (Matt. 17:22-23)

“We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Matt. 20:18-19)

Crucified, three days, raised back to life—the key points are all there. And that’s just Matthew. The other two synoptic gospels explain this three times, and John has a few instances as well.

Since this was public knowledge, at least among the disciples, why the sad faces after the crucifixion? Why did the women go to the tomb with spices? The disciples should’ve been camped out in front of the tomb with picnic baskets and blankets to witness the most remarkable miracle since the creation of the world.

And if the disciples can get it this wrong, no one can fault modern Christians for being very skeptical given that they have the faintest whisper of evidence compared to what the disciples had.

In Mark, it’s like Jesus was
the 1000th customer of John the Baptist
and won the grand prize.
— commenter Greg G.

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CROSS EXAMINED After graduating from MIT, Bob Seidensticker designed digital hardware, and he is a co-contributor to 14 software patents. For more than a decade, he has explored the debate between Christianity...