The case for trust in scripture:
(1) If the Gospels lie, who invented the lie and for what reason? If it was Jesus' apostles, what did they get out of the lie? Martyrdom -- hardly an attractive temptation. A liar always has some selfish motive.
(2) Why did thousands suffer torture and death for this lie if they knew it was a lie? The enemies of Christianity would have needed only one recanting from one of Jesus' disciples in order to destroy the upstart religion. They used many forms of torture and bribery and never succeeded.
(3) What force sent Christians to the lion's den with hymns on their lips? What lie ever transformed the world like that? What lie ever gave millions a moral fortitude and peace and joy like that? Christianity conquered the world mainly through the force of sanctity and love. Saints, not theologians, converted the world. You can fake theology, but you cannot fake sanctity. Saints are not liars and liars are not saints.
(4) If it was not a deliberate lie but a hallucination or a myth sincerely mistaken for literal truth, then who were the naive fools who first believed it? There isn't another idea a Jew would be less likely to believe. Imagine this: the transcendent God who for millenia had strictly forbidden his chosen people to confuse him with a creature as the pagans did -- this Creator-God became a creature, a man -- a crucified criminal. Hardly a myth that naturally arises in the Jewish mind.
(5) And if it was not the Jews but the Gentiles who started the myth, where did the myth come from in the New Testament? Of the twenty-seven books of the NT, twenty-five were written by Jews.
(6) Whether Jews or Gentiles started the myth, they could not have done so during the lifetime of those who knew the real Jesus, for it would have been publicly refuted by eyewitnesses who knew the facts. Other religious founders, like Buddha and Muhammad, were indeed "divinized" by later myths, but at least two or three generations had to pass before such myths could be believed. But the "myth" of Jesus' divinity goes back to the very earliest times and documents.
(7) Why has the "myth" continued to attract the brightest minds in history? Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Augustine, Aquinas, Ockham, Luther, Kepler, Dante, da Vinci, Descartes, Pascal, Copernicus, Newton, Kierkegaard, Galileo, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, T. S. Eliot, etc.
Aquinas argued that if the Incarnation did not really happen, then an even more unbelievable miracle happened: the conversion of the world by the biggest lie in history and the moral transformation of lives into unselfishness, detachment from worldly pleasures and radically new heights of holiness by a mere myth.
(8) If Jesus is not God, as Christians say he is, then who is he? If any answer to that question had even a specious staying power, it would have served as a mainstay of all unbelievers' arguments for all time. But hypothesis after weak hypothesis is tried and falls to the wayside. Indeed it is difficult to refute the data of history: there was a good and wise man who claimed to be God.
(9) If the same neutral, objective, scientific approach is used on the NT tests as is used on all other ancient documents, then texts prove remarkably reliable.
(10) The state of the manuscript is very good. Compared with any and all other ancient documents, the NT stands up as ten times more sure. For instance, we have 500 different copies earlier than A. D. 500. The next most reliable ancient text we have is the Iliad, for which we have only 50 copies that date from 500 years or less after its origin. Apparently we have only one very late manuscript of Tacitus's Annals, but no one is reluctant to treat that as authentic history. If the books of the NT did not contain accounts of miracles or make radical, uncomfortable claims on our lives, they would be accepted by every scholar in the world. In other words, it is not objective, neutral science but subjective prejudice or ideology that fuels skeptical scripture scholarship.
The manuscripts that we have, in addition to being old, are also mutually reinforcing and consistent. There are very few discrepancies and no really important ones. And all later discoveries of manuscripts, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, have confirmed rather than refuted previously existing manuscripts in every important sense. There is simply no other ancient text in nearly as good a shape.
(11) There is no evidence at all of anyone ever opposing the so-called myth of the divine Jesus, who rose from the dead, in the name of an earlier merely human Jesus. Again, no competent scholar today denies the first-century dating of virtually all of the NT -- certainly Paul's letters, which clearly affirm and presuppose Jesus' divinity and the fact that this doctrine was already universal Christian orthodoxy.
(12) If a mythic "layer" had been added later onto an originally merely human Jesus, we should find some evidence, at least indirectly and secondhand, of this earlier layer. We find instead an absolute and total absence of any such evidence anywhere, either internal (in the NT texts themselves) or external, anywhere else, in Christian, anti-Christian, or non-Christian sources.
(13) The style of the Gospels is not the style of myth, but that of real, though unscientific, eyewitness description. They are full of little details, both of external observation and internal feelings that are found only in eyewitness descriptions. The Gospels also include dozens of little details of life in first-century Israel that could not have been known by someone not living in that time and place. And there are no second-century anachronisms, either in language or content.
(14) The claim of Jesus to be God makes sense of his trial and crucifixion. The Jewish sensitivity to blasphemy was unique; no one else would so fanatically insist on death as punishment for claiming divinity.
(15) There are four Gospels, not just one. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written by four different writers, at four different times, probably for four different audiences and for four somewhat different purposes and emphases. So a lot of cross-checking is possible. By comparing the four Gospels we can fix the facts with far greater assurance here than with any other ancient personage or series of events. The only inconsistencies are in chronology and accidentals like numbers.
(16) Again, if the divine Jesus of the Gospels is a myth, who invented it? Whether it was his first disciples or some later generation, no possible motive can account for this invention. Christians were subject to persecution, often tortured and martyred, and hated and oppressed for their beliefs. No one invents an elaborate practical joke in order to be crucified, stoned or beheaded. And if they didn't know they would be persecuted for their "myth," they would certainly give it up as soon as they were. Yet no one ever confessed that they made it all up -- even when martyred.
(17) If a person would read the Gospels with an open mind and heart, he or she may well conclude, along with Dostoyevsky and Kierkegaard, that no mere man could possibly have invented this story.
(18) Regarding Christ himself and his trustworthiness, I trust him because his teachings are good and wise.
(19) Quintilemma -- Christ: Lord, Liar, Lunatic, Myth, or Guru?
Jesus couldn't be a liar because:
(a) He has the wrong psychological profile. He was unselfish, loving, caring, compassionate, and passionate about teaching truth and helping others to truth. Liars lie for selfish reasons, like money, fame, pleasure or power. Jesus gave up all worldly goods, and life itself.
(b) There is no conceivable motive for his lie. It brought him hatred, rejection, misunderstanding, persecution, torture and death.
(c) He could not have hoped that his "lie" would be successful, for the Jews were the least likely people in the world to have worshiped a man, and Jesus, as a Jew, would have known that. In fact, we see him at every step of his life's way fully knowing and predicting his own execution, and claiming that he came to earth precisely for that reason: to suffer and die.
Why Jesus or his apostles couldn't be lunatics:
(a) The psychological profiles are opposite. The lunatic lacks the very qualities that shine in Jesus: practical wisdom, tough love, and unpredictable creativity.
(b) When we meet a lunatic, we are uncomfortable because we feel superior to him; when his enemies met Jesus, they were uncomfortable for the opposite reason. A lunatic does not make you feel personally challenged, only embarrassed and, eventually, bored. But Jesus made everyone feel challenged and uncomfortable, never bored.
(c) The writers of the Gospels certainly were not lunatics. If they invented their Jesus, they invented the most compelling fictional character in history. No lunatic could have invented a single chapter of the Gospels, much less all of it.
(d) Nor could lunacy have changed so many lives for the better for so many centuries. Consider the enormity of the lunacy of confusing a man with God, then consider the enormity of the change wrought in millions of lives by this "lunacy," and you will see the size of the camel you have to swallow to avoid swallowing the gnat of faith.
(e) Whoever was first "deceived," what accounts for the deception? It is hard to account for the origin of the lunacy as to account for the origin and motivation of the "lie."