If your goal was to begin a mystic cult surrounding one significant person would you openly allow, perhaps even encourage, critical examination and evidential investigation of your claims?
Many Christian converts in the church today aren’t interested in playing the detective. Caught up in a rush of emotion and hope at the Good News they may decide then and there to embrace it. Modern critics pounce on the converted and conclude that religion is made up of little more than emotional euphoria. Regarding the modern church I don’t believe their argument is all that contrary to the truth, but as we’ve uncovered throughout our investigation, the early Christians were of a wholly different disposition. The world the early Christians lived in was one of honor, shame, challenge, opposition, and loyalty. “Playing the detective” wasn’t only common, it was absolutely essential for anything new. If your faith taught many ideals that were offensive to the majority how much more would hearers want to check its claims?
You don’t make a wild claim that a crucified man, claiming to be YHWH, had been physically resurrected from the dead unless it actually happened or you could do so without leaving open a single opportunity for your opponents to fact check you. A modern day example we could use would be UFO sightings. If I claimed to have spotted a UFO in the black night sky along my country road and that it called out my name, how would you fact check me? There isn’t way to do so that would render my claim undoubtedly true or even plausible. What’s more, with such a vague description, I’ve inadvertently created more reasons not to believe me (i.e. I was drinking again; I hadn’t had enough sleep; my mind was playing tricks on me, etc.). Easily debunked and dismissed. A vague description will never work.
Ok, what if I claimed that the UFO had followed me home and landed in my back yard? Suddenly my claim becomes much more specific and reasons to believe it false become a lot slimmer. All you would need to do is visit my back yard. If a UFO is there I was right. If it isn’t I was wrong. Simple.
“But wait,” I could say. “It must have flown away. Maybe it’ll come back tonight!” If I could heap a number of vague reasons on top of my original claim I could potentially send us on a never ending goose chase (“Maybe it only appears to certain people? Yeah, it must only appear to people who really believe in it!”). The probability of this chase lasting is close to nil and even that is far greater than the possibility of the ancients being taken on a wild, never ending goose chase crafted by vague, non-specific claims and justifications about a faith that offended them. How could this be countered? How could the disciples possibly get people to believe them? Simple. They tell the truth-including all of the specificity of the events that had transpired-and encourage people to “play detective.”
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. (1 Thessalonians 5:21)
And of course people took them up on their offer. What happened?
These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few. (Acts 17:12)
Not only did it lead to converts, suggesting that it held up under scrutiny, but that they were called “noble” for having searched the scriptures and tested their claims. Likewise Pau, in 1 Corinthians 15, encouraged seekers to interview the witnesses, of which there were close to 500. So how many converts did early Christianity acquire? We’ll close this portion of our series with a look at this incredible, monumental movement.