Sermon illustrations

The Reliability of Scripture

The Authenticity of Scripture

For centuries the world of Islam has claimed that the Gospels are muharrif (corrupted) because they do not offer readers an accurate record of what Jesus said and did. For different reasons, some modern scholars have come to the same conclusion. The debate over the authenticity of the Gospels as records of what Jesus said and did raged over most of the twentieth century and continues on into the twenty-first.

Taken from Jacob & the Prodigal: How Jesus Retold Israel’s Story by Kenneth E. Bailey Copyright (c) 2009 by Kenneth E. Bailey. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

It Was Churchill

In the 1990s Winston Churchill’s granddaughter, Celia Sandys, set out to write a book about her famous grandfather. She intended to dedicate one chapter to the eight months Churchill spent in South Africa during the Boer War. Consequently, she traveled to South Africa to visit the places where Churchill was known to have been.

During a national television interview she asked viewers to contact her if they had any information about her grandfather. They did. Sandys was overwhelmed and delighted by the deluge of calls, faxes and letters she received and decided to write not a chapter but an entire book about Churchill’s sojourn in South Africa.

The book, now published, focuses entirely on the eight months he was in the country, and the information she gathered was almost all passed on orally, again, without any community controls. By the time those conversations and stories were related to her they were nearly one hundred years old. How could people remember? The simple answer is—it was Churchill! He was already a well-known figure when he went to South Africa. The question is: How could they forget?

Taken from Jacob & the Prodigal: How Jesus Retold Israel’s Story by Kenneth E. Bailey Copyright (c) 2009 by Kenneth E. Bailey. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Two Examples of Long Memories

As an amateur yet serious student of the American Civil War, I am constantly amazed at the sheer volume of material, which was preserved orally for half a century and longer, surrounding the key figures in that conflict. These recollections are called “reminiscences.” The Americans involved in the war knew they were experiencing events critical for their very existence as a nation. Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee and T. J. (Stonewall) Jackson were key figures in those events. Authors of books and essays on the American Civil War have drawn on these reminiscences, which flowed from people who knew and interacted with those towering personalities. Colleagues remembered what Lincoln and Lee said and did because of their pivotal roles in the conflict and because the conflict itself was an identity-forming epoch. Reminiscences of historic personalities were also passed down through the twentieth century. Television documentaries made in recent decades about Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy naturally include interviews with eyewitnesses. In these documentaries people who knew these famous men are asked questions. As they reply, with recollections of fifty-year-old conversations or stories, their voices pick up, the pace quickens and their eyes begin to flash. How can they remember back that far? Why are these recollections so vivid? The answer is simple—the eyewitnesses know they are talking about key figures in critical events, and, as a result, their memories reproduce those sayings and stories with accuracy and ease. Russian historian Edvard Radzinsky recently collected oral tradition about Czar Nicholas II focusing on the last six months of his life, a period for which there are almost no documents.

Once the Russian public learned that Radzinsky was seeking information about the czar, individuals began to search him out and tell him their stories. The events they described had been passed from grandfather to son and then to grandsons and granddaughters for more than seventy years. They were recalling the czar! How could they forget?

Radzinsky was often able to confirm the material he heard by cross checking the same story as it came to him from a variety of sources. While there were sometimes differences, the similarities were striking. In the end Radzinsky produced a 430-page book, much of which came from seventy-year-old oral tradition. All of this took place among the Russians—without the controls I discovered in the Middle East. Was the Russian grandfather telling the truth or trying to impress his grandchildren? There was no surrounding community to correct the recitation. In the Middle East there is.

Taken from Jacob & the Prodigal: How Jesus Retold Israel’s Story by Kenneth E. Bailey Copyright (c) 2009 by Kenneth E. Bailey. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Swoon Theory

The “swoon theory” argues that Jesus never really died, only appeared to have died, and then came back to life while buried in the tomb. It’s an interesting idea, one that was popularized in a book in the 1960s by a man named Hugh Schonfeld. Schonfield argued that Jesus had not only not died on the cross, but had in fact faked his own death and resurrection. What foresight on the part of Jesus! 

Pastor Greg Laurie shares a story about the “swoon theory” from a local newspaper on the topic:

“Our preacher on Easter said that Jesus just swooned on the cross and that His disciples nursed Him back to health. What do you think? Sincerely signed, Bewildered.” So somebody at the newspaper wrote back, “Dear Bewildered, beat your preacher with a cat o’ nine tails with 39 heavy strokes. Nail him to a cross, hang him out in the sun for six hours, run a spear through his heart, and embalm him, and put him in an airless tomb for 36 hours and see what happens.”

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material from Greg Laurie, Article: “Could Jesus Have Survived the Crucifixion?”, Christianity.com

See also Illustrations on Authority, The Bible God’s Voice, Scripture, Truth