The chain of events from the incarnation through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ has been called the Christ event.
I would declare, without fear of contradiction, that this Christ event, in terms of its fact and significance, has no parallel in any religion and is either the most intricately concocted fairy tale or the most satisfying truth recorded for humankind.
I say that because belief in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ requires much faith yet not the kind of faith that is not reasonable. How do I define reasonable faith?
Reasonable faith in my book is conviction based on testable evidence or facts. By the way, no academic discipline nor any person can operate without this kind of faith.
Take the purest of the sciences, mathematics. The sum of the series 1+1/2+ ¼ + 1/8 +1/16 is tending towards 2 at infinity but infinity is a faith construct, and it is conceivable/possible that one could go on adding smaller fractions of 1 and never come to the last possible fraction of 1 in the series!
Belief in a future be it near or distant involves faith and so too does crossing a wide road safely by walking casually or running. Faith and especially reasonable faith is inescapable/indispensable in life.
It is reasonable to believe in the fact of the crucifixion because the event is documented not only by the New Testament writers but by non-Christian Roman and Jewish writers of the 1st and 2nd centuries of this era.
To believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead requires faith, reasonable faith, the kind of faith that is needed to believe many things that we take for granted without really probing a critical question that I raise now.
How do we know/prove there was a Plato, a Nero, a World War I or a Nanny of the Maroons?
How? We trust the combined testimony/value of documents, artifacts and people regarded as reliable and trustworthy. There is no other way, since none of us can verify everything that is even happening today in our corner of the world, worse in ancient history. Then there is the thorny problem of correct interpretation of documents and artifacts that need to be translated by adequately trained specialists.
Here’s the overlooked rub though. Every book/document that claims anything about ancient historical events must undergo tests of reliability.
When one is considering the reliability of any ancient document there are two basic issues to be considered, textual integrity and historical fidelity.
The textual integrity of any document involves, among other issues, the number and calibre of manuscripts (mss.), date of events vis-à-vis date of writing plus date of earliest mss.
Except for information on stone, clay pottery and the like, no original work (or autograph) has come down to us from antiquity. So, we are forced to operate from copies of mss. to read Plato or Paul, Herodotus or the book of Hebrews, Jeremiah or Josephus.
Every alleged event or person in ancient history attracts credibility if and only if the ancient document providing the data purporting to be factual, possesses textual integrity.
Historical fidelity, our second basic aspect of reliability, is the closeness of the content of a manuscript to what really was.
A critical caveat is necessary here. We are assuming that the literary genre (kind) of the text has been ascertained as historical as opposed to poetical.
Whether you are a Christian or a sceptic/atheist/agnostic or whatever, you need to reckon with a few undisputed facts about the New Testament (NT) documents, agreed on by the widest cross section of specialists in the field of testing the reliability of ancient documents (textual criticism).
Ponder these comparative statistics. There are approximately 25,000 mss and portions of the NT available to textual critics. In the entire body of ancient Greek and Latin literature, the closest rival is Homer’s Iliad with approximately 643 mss. The history of Thucydides, 8 mss., Aristotle’s Poetics, 5 mss., and Caesar’s Gallic Wars, 10 mss.
Incidentally, if all of the approximately 25,000 mss and portions of the NT were destroyed, we could reconstruct all but 11 verses of the NT from the approximately 89.000 quotations of the NT in the writings of the 2nd century church Fathers.
The time lapse from event to writing in the NT is the shortest of all ancient documents except for three writers—Pliny the younger, a late 1st century Roman judicial official and the BCE historians, Herodotus and Thucydides who were writing while the events were happening or within a few years after they happened—but the gap between writing and earliest manuscript for the NT is the shortest bar no other ancient document.
So, if you doubt or dismiss the reliability of the NT then you wipe out the reliability of almost all classical literature and beyond!!
I challenge any Bible critic to fault my reasoning here!
[Rev. Clinton Chisholm is a retired Jamaica Baptist Union Pastor, former academic Dean of the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology and author of the 2019 book A Controversial Clergyman]