The Stumbling Stone: Of Moths and the Media


By Chuck Colson
You are probably familiar with the expression "like moths to a flame." It refers to the way people are attracted to those things that can harm them. As Shakespeare put it in The Merchant of Venice: "Thus hath the candle singed the moth."

What's true of people as individuals is equally true of them collectively. Take, for example, the media. They are irresistibly drawn to stories about discoveries that supposedly undermine historical Christianity. Yet every time, their credibility comes away looking like the proverbial moth after its encounter with the candle.

The latest "sensational" discovery is no different.

Over the July 4th weekend, the media was abuzz with a story about a stone—specifically, a "three-foot-tall tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew" that dated to the decades just prior to Jesus' birth.

According to the New York Times front-page story, the discovery is "causing a quiet stir in biblical and archaeological circles . . ." Why? Because, the Times says, "it may speak of a messiah who will rise from the dead after three days."

This in turn, the Times claims, "will contribute to a developing re-evaluation of both popular and scholarly views of Jesus since it suggests that the story of his death and resurrection was not unique, but part of a recognized Jewish tradition at the time."

If you are wondering what the big deal is and asking, "Don't Christians believe in the continuity between Judaism and Christianity?" you are obviously not a moth—or a New York Times reporter.

The article quotes a scholar who says that the continuity between Jewish tradition and the Gospel accounts will be "shocking" to "some Christians." Another spoke about "[shaking] our basic view of Christianity."

That is almost comical, because I wrote about this new evidence in my book The Faith as an apologetic argument for the historicity of the resurrection. The idea of a messianic figure rising from the dead goes way back in antiquity. Jesus simply fulfilled the truth written by God on the human heart.

The critics of Christianity point to this discovery of the new stone and imply that early Christians, in particular, the Gospel writers, knew of the idea of a resurrected Messiah, simply applying it after the fact to their accounts about Jesus. In other words, the passion narratives were based on the newly discovered texts.

New Testament scholar Ben Witherington will have none of that. Witherington points out that, for years, "most [liberal] Jesus scholars have argued that the passion and resurrection predictions by Jesus found in the Gospels" were not made by Jesus at all. Instead, they reflected "the later notions and theologizing of the Evangelists."

Now, Witherington asserts, "if this stone is genuine, there is no reason to argue this way." Instead, the stone is evidence that the passion and resurrection predictions could certainly have been Jesus' words. In other words, the significance of the discovery is more likely the opposite of what the Times suggests.

What you are smelling is a singed moth. This story joins the Gospel of Judas and the alleged finding of a "Jesus' tomb" in the "Shaking-the-Foundations-of-Christianity" Hall of Shame.

The newfound stone does not call Christianity's credibility into question. Instead, once again, when it comes to the historicity of Scripture, the only credibility at stake is the media's.

Copyright© 2008 Prison Fellowship Ministries
Reprinted with permission
BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries