Debate Part 2 – A Christian and an Athiest Discuss Faith, Free Will, and the Bible

Posted: April 15, 2014 in Apologetics, Arguments for God's Existence, Atheism, Christians & Culture

debateBelow you will find part 2 of my debate with local Owensboro atheist and founder of the Owensboro Humanists, Matt White. In the previous podcast, we discussed issues of God’s existence, atheism accounting for the universe, and moral objectivity. In part 2, I answer why Christian’s live by faith and what that means. I also tackle the question of why I believe the Bible to be the Word of God. Additionally, Matt answers a question from me on how his worldview can account for free will and rationality.

Here are a few comments about the debate.

During the early part of our dialogue about free will, Matt indicated that free will created several theological problems. His example was that if heaven is sinless, then we can’t have free will, but if we could have free will and no sin in heaven, then why did God not make it this way in the first place. This is certainly a question to be asked, but it is by no means and objection or problem for the Christian view. So long as God had a sufficient reason for creating the world in the way he did, then there is no problem. Just because we don’t fully know the answer does not make it a theological conundrum.

Just to reiterate my point about free will in the podcast, a naturalistic world is nothing more than a series of dominoes falling, where each event is predetermined by the events behind it. This bottom up process, in principle, CANNOT produce the top down process of free will and rationality. I repeat, IT CANNOT produce free will. God, on the other hand, is a very simple explanation. Either human minds/souls were created with the power of free will/rationality or they are truly mindless machines with the illusion (although I’m not sure who is having the actual illusion) that he/she has free will. Attempts by modern philosophers of mind have proved fruitless (e.g. Dennett, Tye, Harris, etc.). For a further reading on this topic, check out R. Scott Smith’s Naturalism and our Knowledge of Reality, Victor Ruppert’s C.S. Lewis’ Dangerous Idea, and Angus Menuge’s Agents Under Fire.

To be honest, my response to the question of why I believe the Bible was not well prepared. Although I think my reasoning was sufficient (i.e. the six reasons I gave), I was not prepared to answer some of the specific objections raised by Matt. Matt is a student of history and was more prepared to tackle this topic. That being said, I have since done some research and want to give you some responses to his objections.

To begin, my first reason given was that God must testify to the truthfulness of his Word in the heart and mind of the believer. If God is the highest authority – the buck stops with him – then there is no standard outside him by which I can judge his truth. For if there was such a standard, then that standard would be above God and hence God. Therefore, the ultimate attestation of Scripture must come from God himself to the individual. Puritan John Owen speaks to this well when he writes: “He [the Spirit] gives unto believers a spiritual sense of the power and reality of the things believed whereby their faith is greatly established…And on the account of this spiritual experience is our perception of spiritual things so often expressed by acts of sense as tasting, seeing, feeling and the like means of assurance in things natural. And when believers have attained hereunto they do find the divine wisdom, goodness, and authority of God so present unto them as that they need neither argument nor motive nor any thing else to persuade them unto or confirm them in believing. And whereas this spiritual experience which believers obtain through the Holy Ghost is such as cannot rationally be contended, about seeing those who have received it cannot fully express it and those who have not cannot understand it, nor the efficacy which it hath to secure and establish the mind, it is left to be determined on by them alone who have their senses exercised to discern good and evil. And this belongs unto the internal subjective testimony of the Holy Ghost.”

So the believer in the Bible typically does not first start with external reasons, then develop a conviction of its divine authority. Rather, conviction comes from God and then external reasons can be given to support this belief held on other grounds and defend it from attacks.

Regarding Matt’s rebuttal to the cohesion of the Bible as written by numerous authors spanning over 1000 years, he first attempts to compare it to the Qur’an. But that totally misses one of the points I was making. The Qur’an was written by one guy over a short time period. The fact that it has theological cohesion is no surprise. The point I as making was that one book with such diversity in its authors, geography, time period, etc., this book could have such unity of story and doctrine. This is not a single piece by one man giving some theological speculation, but a historical storyline interwoven with doctrine, theology, anthropology, etc – a story with remarkable cohesion and agreement. Is it possible that this came about by natural causes? Sure. Is it probable? Not at all.

His criticism to Christological typology has several issues with it. First, he assumes an anti-supernatural bias that Jesus was not who he said he was and that the NT authors painted him up to be something he was not. But much of the Biblical criticism that he wants to point to carries with it the same anti-supernatural bias. So to a priori assume Jesus was not God (which the text indicates otherwise) and to base your conclusions on that assumption, is to reach the conclusion that you wanted from the very beginning, regardless of the textual evidence. Your initial presuppositions about the Bible, God, and Jesus will determine the outcome of your biblical criticism.

Also, the idea that a lack of Jewish understanding of messiah negates the typology of the Passover is ridiculous. Biblical revelation is progressive, meaning that God is unveiling his story one chapter at a time. All of these OT symbols and foreshadowings are hints of who Christ would be. When you combine all the OT typology and then you combine it with the person of Jesus – a man who claimed to be God, Christian and secular sources say he worked wonders, he died by crucifixion, his followers were radically changed because of his supposed resurrection, and this man was a Jew living during the expectation of a messiah. All these things could not be pinned on any other man. Additionally, Matt will later want to charge the Jesus story is ripped off of pagan myths, but clearly it was birthed out of the Old Testament. So he cannot have it both ways. To study this topic more, I would refer you to Walter Keiser’s Messiah in the Old Testament.

Regarding fulfilled prophecy, let me just give a few links for your own review. This topic alone fills up volumes.

http://www.reasons.org/articles/articles/fulfilled-prophecy-evidence-for-the-reliability-of-the-bible

This one is really cool!!

https://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=13&article=1790

This one is cool as well…and very specific:

http://carm.org/does-daniel-9-24-27-predict-jesus

http://www.messiahrevealed.org/isaiah52-53.html

Regarding the last link, one must keep in mind that the New Testament has an impeccable historical and archaeological record. So to deny these prophecies is to deny historical details in the book that archaeology has proved to be very reliable.

One final note, Matt spoke often about the errors in the Bible, and to be fair, we did have some more discussion on the topic that did not make the recording. I want to offer a warning. When people encounter a skeptic’s claims against the Bible – perhaps about some alleged error – they often run to their pastor, Christian friend, or some other popular source for an answer. When a sufficient answer is not found, many have allowed this to throw them into deep doubt and has been a catalyst for some to even walk away from the faith. Perhaps this was the case with Matt. However, there are many many responses to ALL the skeptical claims from top-notch Biblical textual scholars. Always do solid research before making a life-changing decision. Remember also to pray that God would reveal himself to you and that he would make his truth known to you.

I hope this debate and post has been helpful.

Jordan

 

Comments
  1. mattwht4 says:

    I found your reaction to be interesting. I know we’re both busy people, but hopefully you (and your readers) get a chance to peruse my response as well and give it a fair shake. It’s long, but I hope it addresses some of the points you raised:

    Some atheists who deconvert do it for emotional reasons, and I understand; emotions do drive us. But I went the route of 1 Peter 3:15; I learned for the express reason that you’re doing now: apologetics. One of the reasons a lot of atheists, especially those who willingly left a religion (as opposed to those who just never adopted one) know the Bible is because they attempted to do the same thing: learn more about their faith to defend it. When they researched it, things fell apart.

    I don’t think Biblical errors are a good enough reason to leave one’s faith, but it’s a really good start, because if you accept that the Bible does contain errors, then you have to accept that some things in it are wrong, then you accept that parts of it are not reliable, then you have to accept that it’s open to the same criticism that all other religions are…and so on. I get why Biblical Inerrancy is important to Fundamentalists, but I think the position is ultimately unrealistic. Recently, we did an Easter podcast and I challenged any Christians listening to reconcile the Easter story. It can’t be done. If it can, dinner is on me. Try lining up the birth of Jesus or his death and resurrection and without throwing out any details, make the stories match up. They can’t. Or the four Gospels in general. If you read them horizontally (compare events) as opposed to lineally (one book after another), far too many events don’t match up. Someone is wrong in their details and apologists really stretch to make details fit, but some just cannot be reconciled. No matter how you slice it, someone is still wrong because they either left out details or included ones the others don’t agree one.

    You’re right in that some contradictions can be quelled. But some can’t. Numerical ones are the most difficult in my opinion (only 400,000 or 40,000 showed up the battlefield; they can’t both be right), followed by lineages, then followed by circumstantial ones, then followed by theological ones. I can’t recall if it made it in this podcast or if it was in the stuff excised, but you made the claim that peripheral details don’t matter as long as they got the central event right. The thing is, if you hold to position of inerrancy, and one book says two people showed up to this, one says three people, another says only one, etc…then no matter how you spin it, one (or more) of those books were wrong therefore the Bible does contain errors. To make the claim that you’ve made before that the original books didn’t make these errors is unsubstantiated simply because you don’t have those original books. To say that manuscripts are generally accurate over-simplifies the issue, because even if you crack open Mark and look at the end of it…the manuscripts that didn’t have that addition were not accurate, and that’s a huge piece not to have. So I’m curious as to how you can reasonably hold to Biblical Inerrancy…

    Any investigation of these issues should be as fair-and-balanced as possible. When I deconverted, I ran to both apologists and secular resources and compared responses (I didn’t run to my preacher, though). I literally worked my way down a list of what I thought were the 50 most difficult contradictions and some of them just literally could not be solved, so it destroyed Biblical inerrancy for me. I perused Carm.org, I looked at places like EvilBible.com, I read through some of the books on apologetics I owned, I checked rebuttals to their arguments, etc. Anyone looking at Biblical difficulties need to look at what secular and apologetic scholars are saying, defenders and detractors. For every Lee Strobel writing his Case for Christ, there’s a Robert Price writing his Case Against the Case for Christ. I found that much of the time, apologists do dishonestly represent information, and critics raised issues that couldn’t be reconciled. But your criticism of reading only one-sided views is one that I share with you. I’m critical of atheists as well who only read freethought literature (and Christians who only read apologetics). It’s been an on-going dialogue rooted in issues long before we were born and it will continue long after we die; both sides need to be read.

    As for your discussion concerning anti-supernaturalism, I agree — I accept that presupposition. I admit that I do now start from an anti-supernatural presupposition, because it’s the presupposition that’s shown to be consistently reflective of the natural world, and that presupposition is willing to change in favor of evidence to the contrary.

    The question is always asked: what does it take to change your mind? My response: “show me that supernaturalism exists.” What’s yours?

    Assuming that the supernatural doesn’t exists is part of the historian in me and I apply it to the Bible in the same way I apply it to any other holy book. I don’t just automatically assume that the Buddha’s miracles happened, etc.

    There’s one statement in particular I want to take a look at that you said: “So the believer in the Bible typically does not first start with external reasons, then develop a conviction of its divine authority. Rather, conviction comes from God and then external reasons can be given to support this belief held on other grounds and defend it from attacks.”

    I guess I’m confused, but I’m glad you’ve admitted your presupposition. My questions to you, though: does it matter what external reasons point or do not point to the Judeo-Christian God? Does it matter if evidence contradicts the Bible? If you’re walking in with the presupposition that God exists, why even discuss evidence about Christianity because you’re going to believe it anyway, because you’re starting from that belief? As an individual, if you find evidence to the contrary, are you willing to change your mind, or is your mind already made up because you chose to believe first and then looked around, as opposed to looking around and then choosing to believe? That seems backwards – it’s like buying the house you want based on the fact that you want it, and then looking at reasons to justify your decision as opposed to looking at ten houses equally and then making a choice as to the best house. Is that the best way to go about it?

    Another question: how is your claim any different from this one? —

    “So the believer in the Koran typically does not first start with external reasons, then develop a conviction of its divine authority. Rather, conviction comes from Allah and then external reasons can be given to support this belief held on other grounds and defend it from attacks.”

    How do you dialogue with that person? What’s the point? Would they change their mind? I accept my presupposition (and the fact that it’s willing to change), but your presupposition sounds no more different than any other religious individual’s, and I think that’s a point I wish I had made better. For many of your assertions, one could plop the name “Allah” in there…and it would still sound the same. I think where you and I fundamentally differ is on that presupposition, and yours’ appears circular in the same way that many other religions do. (By the way: the Koran was compiled by one individual, but there were several “copies” floating around beforehand…quite a bit like the Bible – canon was compiled by one group of people but there were many copies floating around beforehand of different degrees. Scholarly contention exists on who wrote the Koran [considering Muhammad is traditionally illiterate] so the comparison is valid)

    Another thing you pointed out:

    “Additionally, Matt will later want to charge the Jesus story is ripped off of pagan myths, but clearly it was birthed out of the Old Testament. So he cannot have it both ways. To study this topic more, I would refer you to Walter Keiser’s Messiah in the Old Testament.”

    I actually can have it both ways. When you form belief systems, it’s not an either/or dichotomy. When you consider Hellenic Judea and Israel, it was a hotbed for infusion of different ideas. Some people adopted them; some people hated them (1st and 2nd Maccabees are a great case study for who some Jews handled the cultural infusion). Some would worship YHWH but do it in Greek dress; some people would combine the Greek pantheon and Judaism, etc. When your Messianic belief co-exists with Greco/Persian/Babylonian ideas, infusion is inevitable. This is documented. To deny that religious elements didn’t filter into Judaism and had no influence on the formation of Christianity is to think that these things formed in a vacuum, and it denies one of the very common basic principles of Christian history. People currently form ideas borrowing from different traditions all the time: they take elements from different traditions they like and bond them together. The Hindu, Roman, and Greek pantheons all took from different places and created unique things. It’s not a stretch to look for other influences of different religions in a religion that was formed amidst different traditions because that’s what naturally happens, and looking at both pagan and Jewish traditions in the Jesus story provides a basic natural explanation as to why things turned out the way they did. The Jesus mythos isn’t specially exempt from the same formative processes that other myths are subject to (whether they have basis in truth or not).

    This is true for the concept of the Messiah as well. You offered some resources so I hope you don’t mind that I do as well:

    Bible Myths and their Parallels in other Religions by T. W. Doane (A free book, good for starters who don’t want to pay money to examine the issue)
    (http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/31885)

    The Paganism in Our Christianity by Arthur Weigall
    (http://www.amazon.com/Paganism-Our-Christianity-Arthur-Weigall/dp/1585093289)

    Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices by George Barna and Frank Viola
    (http://www.amazon.com/Pagan-Christianity-Exploring-Church-Practices/dp/141431485X/ref=pd_sim_sbs_b_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=1FCKA88SGCBFM58JPAEF)

    The Pagan Christ: Is Blind Faith Killing Christianity? by Tom Harpur (Very excellent bibliography in the back)
    (http://www.amazon.com/The-Pagan-Christ-Killing-Christianity/dp/0802777414/ref=pd_sim_sbs_b_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=0X7EFCEXTDMP862BY835)

    Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth by John G. Jackson (Very Short Book)
    (http://www.amazon.com/Pagan-Origins-Christ-Myth-Jackson/dp/0910309531/ref=pd_sim_sbs_b_3?ie=UTF8&refRID=0X7EFCEXTDMP862BY835)

    As for the prophecies, I share a version of the same criticism concerning your particular methodology. When you read the “prophecies” of Jesus thinking he already fits them, it leads folks to do like the author of Matthew does and take them out of context. I would recommend branching out and read about comparative religion, not from apologists, but from people who actually believe in the religion and represent it. Read Muslim apologists. Read Christian apologists. Read Jewish apologists. On the prophecy issue, I would recommend reading Jewish reasons on why they don’t think Jesus was the Messiah. For a quick and dirty resource, check the “Ancient Israel” subheading of the Jewish Messianism and if you just check off that list, Jesus, when he was alive, could reasonably apply to 1/2 of them. (And some are shifty — like Jesus was from the line of David; it’s quite difficult to establish Jesus’ lineage with two contradictory family lines in which neither are Mary’s and the theological oversight that Jesus didn’t come from Joseph’s sperm).

    Concerning the typology, the correct way to approach any historical document is to assume it’s not true unless it’s otherwise shown to be (although it’s a misnomer to think a document is 100% true or false – all documents contain mistakes, which is something adherents to inerrancy deny). That’s how I approach the Bible to measure its truth claims. Preferring and actively seeking natural explanations over supernatural ones in history is the neutral approach. If you look at a source that mentions aliens, we don’t assume it is actually talking about an alien until we find other evidence that aliens exists. Same logic with miracles in the Bible. To specially consider those miracles as true to the exclusion of others is special pleading in a way.

    One last one: “All of these OT symbols and foreshadowings are hints of who Christ would be. When you combine all the OT typology and then you combine it was the person of Jesus, a man who claimed to be God, Christian and secular sources say he worked wonders, he died by crucifixion, his followers were radically changed because of his supposed resurrection, and this man was a Jew living during the expectation of a messiah. All these things could not be pinned on any other man.”

    Incorrect. If you look at *select* prophecies, they can be made to fit Jesus. But, again, I refer you to that list above, or find a list of ALL Messianic Prophecies and see how many fit. A lot do (because they’re vague). A lot don’t. There were Jews making arguments that the Persian King Xerxes was the Messiah because they saw him fitting most of the prophecies. The Jews make a better argument than I could why Jesus didn’t fulfill the prophecies, and I would recommend folks take a look at such articles in conjunction with yours:

    http://www.aish.com/jw/s/48892792.html

    http://www.26reasons.com/reason8.html

    I’m sure you’ll respond to this in time (I’m busy as well), but I do want you to know that above it all, it was a pleasure having you on the podcast. I hope we’ve set an example to show that Christians and Humanists/Atheists can dialogue about these issues in a civil and cordial manner when they choose to.

  2. Jordan Tong says:

    Matt,

    I won’t say anything about your opening paragraphs. I appreciate you sharing your story and I understand where you are coming from. My comment was not directed toward you, but rather to Christian readers.

    Let me first tackle this issue of presuppositions. We both come to the table with presuppositions and then work from there – you do it and I do it. Now neither of our presuppositions are immune to criticism or defeaters, but my point was that the justification for my presupposition was the witness of God himself. You can come along and challenge the truthfulness of the Bible, and that could ultimately make me change my mind about certain things. So just having a presupposition does not mean I will always believe blindly despite the evidence. Now certainly the Muslim can make the same claims as me, and I believe they are within their epistemic rights to do so. Debating the truthfulness between the two would involve several factors such as the truth claims of each, theological claims, contradictions, errors, the person of Jesus, etc. As a Christian, I would suggest that there are other theological factors at play here as well. But just because we may perhaps use the same justification (which Muslims do not make this claim) for why we believe, does not mean that we are both wrong. We just have to adjudicate which is correct, if either.

    As a side note, being an historian does not require you to perform historical inquiry with an anti-supernatural bias.

    You say: “(By the way: the Koran was compiled by one individual, but there were several “copies” floating around beforehand…quite a bit like the Bible – canon was compiled by one group of people but there were many copies floating around beforehand of different degrees. Scholarly contention exists on who wrote the Koran [considering Muhammad is traditionally illiterate] so the comparison is valid).” You are correct that the Koran was compiled by one individual and that there were several copies floating around. But all these copies were sayings that Muhammad supposedly received from the angel and were then written down by his followers. All of this was within a very short time period. This is very different from the compilation of the Bible – especially regarding the point I was making about unity despite differing authors, geography, etc. Also, it doesn’t matter whether or not Muhammad actually penned the words on paper because Muslim tradition speaks to his reciting the visions to others who wrote them down and memorized them. So I think my point stands that the Bible and the Koran or worlds apart when it comes to compilation.

    As for Christianity being influenced by pagan mythology, this is an overblown hypothesis that has been refuted for many decades in the scholarly circles of biblical studies. To quote the not-so-friendly to conservative Christianity, German scholar Adolf van Harnack: “We must reject comparative mythology which finds a causal connection between everything and everything else, which tears down solid barriers, bridges chasms as though it were child’s play, and spins combinations from superficial similarities…By such methods once can turn Christ into a sun god in the twinkling of an eye, or one can bring up the legends attending the birth of every conceivable god, or one can catch all sorts of mythological doves to keep company with the baptismal dove; and find any number of celebrated asses to follow the ass on which Jesus rode into Jerusalem; and thus, with the magic wand of “comparative religion,” triumphantly eliminate every spontaneous trait in any religion.”

    Now let me make three points here. First, there needs to be a distinction drawn between genetic vs. adaptation dependence. To quote Mark Foreman: “Similarity does not imply dependence. A ‘genetic’ dependence is one where we can trace an idea or belief back to an original earlier source. A dependence of ‘adaptation’ occurs when one borrows words, symbols, or concepts to convey an idea or belief, the substance of which does not originate in another religion.” Much of the so-called dependence is adaptation, and the evidence for true genetic dependence is non-existent.

    Second, 1st century Palestine was not a hotbed for polytheism and the worship of other gods. In fact, I just read where there has been little (perhaps it was “no”) archaeological evidence to confirm that 1st century Jews worshiped other idols. The Hellenization of Palestine certainly did affect practices of many Jews, but it did not create fundamentally new religions or core religious beliefs. Additionally, not all Jews assimilated into Hellenistic culture. Many of the Jews, including the Pharisees, scribes, and the zealots, were not Hellenized. They were known for their anti-Roman stance and separation from Hellenism. Even those who were more accommodating toward Hellenism, such as the Sadducees and Herodians, did not give up or change their core Jewish beliefs. Rather, they just attached the political power to their religious duties. Additionally, Alexander the Great did not force Hellenistic religion on the Jews and neither did Herod the Great. It was the Seleucids who oppressed the Jews and this led to the Maccabean revolt. So to say that infusion of beliefs is inevitable is a much-overstated claim. And just because you can find that a few Jews partook in pagan religious practice is a far cry from showing that the New Testament is based upon pagan mythology.

    Third and finally, if you are going to show a causal connection between the formation of Christian doctrine as expressed in the New Testament and pagan mythology, you need to do more than throw out the accusation. To be historically respectable, you must provide several things before you can justify your claim. (1) I need to see primary sources of the pagan claims – specifically the doctrine that you claim Christianity ripped off. (2) These sources need to pre-date the NT. (3) A causal connection needs to be shown, not just vague similarities that accompany most religions (i.e. guilt, life after death, god, etc.). (4) Do not use Christian terms to describe pagan myths in order to make those myths sound more similar to Christian doctrine than they really are. For instance, when Christianity speaks of resurrection, it is a loaded term that carries with it many implications. But when one speaks of Osiris, there is nothing of a resurrection about the claim, but many will import that Christian term to make is sound similar. (5) Rather than just plucking out the one or two things that are similar and ignoring the rest, you must be honest about all the differences in the two religions. Consider the following similarities between Abraham Lincoln and JFK. Does this mean that JFK was a myth? Absurd. Vague similarities do not show causal historical influence.

    1. Lincoln was elected to congress in 1846. Kennedy was elected to congress 1946 (Whereas Kennedy had instant success in legislative
    and executive politics, Lincoln suffered many defeats).
    2. Lincoln was elected president in 1860. Kennedy was elected president in 1960. (Considering presidential elections were held every four
    years, this only brings the odds to 1 in 20).
    3. The names Lincoln and Kennedy both contain seven letters (Until we consider their first names which destroys this parallel).
    4. Both were presidents during times of major changes in civil rights (So were their successors and several other presidents).
    5. Both presidents were killed by an assassin’s bullet on a Friday (This holds only a one is seven chance).
    6. Both assassins were known by three names consisting of 15 letters (Each man was not always referred to by three names. This mainly
    surfaced after they gained notoriety following the assassinations).
    7. Both assassins were killed before their trials (Booth was killed when captured. Oswald was killed days after his arrest).
    8. Both men were succeeded by men with the surname of Johnson (Considering the popularity of the surname Johnson among white
    males, it would be no more of a coincidence by comparing two Muslim men who share the name Mohammed.)

    In closing, you have quite a case to build before you can just throw out the accusation. As I mentioned earlier, this whole hypothesis has been largely debunked by scholars in the field, Christian and non-Christian alike, and it his recently been resurrected on a popular level.

    I won’t comment on the prophecies, as I am not an expert in this area. I posted the articles as some examples of specific fulfilled prophecies. I have neither the time nor energy to devote to debate about prophecies. My faith in the Bible does not rest on this point necessarily, so I is not on my front burner. Perhaps I will have a chance to dig into it at a later date.

    I too enjoyed the discussion and perhaps we can have another one again in the future.

    Jordan

  3. Jordan Tong says:

    Last night, I thought a little more about our discussion here and I feel compelled to make another comment – mostly for the sake of Christian readers who may be contemplating the accuracy of the New Testament accounts. Matt has stated that we should presume a document guilty until it is proven true, I’m assuming though corroboration through other sources. Now first of all, this is not a hard and fast rule of historical inquiry. Matt may chose to make it one of his rules, but reason certainly does not compel one to presume all text guilty until proven innocent. Thank God our court systems don’t work that way. If we place the bar as high as Matt and many critical scholars want to place it, then we would have to wipe away nearly all we know of history, especially ancient history. So if you come to the Gospels trusting their contents, you are perfectly rational in such an approach. Evidence may challenge their veracity, but that is a separate issue to be dealt with.

    That being said, there are three lines of argument that I want to put forth that serve as strong evidence for the historical reliability of the NT accounts. Taken together, these evidences compel us to trust these account. Are we open to objections? Sure! But a general trust is warranted based upon this three evidences.

    1.) Undesigned coincidences in the Gospel accounts provide evidence of their historical accuracy. These coincidences are basically random bits of information scattered about the different Gospel account that when taken as a whole fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. A random detail in John helps shed light on a passage of a different topic in Luke. If different witnesses are giving different accounts of events, this is exactly what you would expect. This gives the Gospel accounts a “ring of truth.” In the following video, Dr. Tim McGrew, an expert on this topic, walks through many of these undesigned coincidences in the Gospels. It is really cool stuff!

    2.) Historical accuracy regarding names, places, events, geography, agriculture, weather, etc. give evidence of the accuracy of the writings. The following video is the best I have seen in showing how accurate the Gospels are in relation to these things. The name usage is by far the most interesting – something most have never even considered.

    3.) Finally, archaeology provides strong corroborating evidence for the historical reliability of the NT accounts. Archaeology is most certainly a strong ally of the Bible. The Bible continually is being confirmed by archaeological findings. Taken as a whole, one should stop looking at the text with such skepticism as start giving it the benefit of the doubt. An antisupernatural bias is not reason enough to be so skeptical. The following are two articles discussing archaeology and the NT.

    http://pleaseconvinceme.com/2012/the-new-testament-is-archaeologically-verifiable/

    http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=13&article=1420

    Jordan

  4. mattwht4 says:

    I’m also giving my view on how I think Christian readers should examine the issues as well. Obviously we differ, but take it for what you will.

    I’m glad you’re willing to admit that your presuppositions are open to change…but I think that belies a deeper problem. I pretty much agree with your sentiment on presuppositions to a degree, but I think you could’ve narrowed it down just to “truthfulness” claims. Maybe contradictions. That’s fine; I acknowledge your presupposition, but ultimately one of us is wrong and one of us is using the wrong presupposition. It’s built into your very theology that this is so. If we compare you to the Muslim: you’re both making truth claims about the nature of God; contradictory ones that are not compatible. So, even if you both start from the same presupposition, someone is still wrong, and being religion neutral (as an atheist), when both of your claims are weighed against each other…they are pretty much the same to me. Sure, the details differ, but the basics are the same: both claims stem from a Holy Book, both claimants use the same tactics intended to bolster the claim; but ultimately both claims ask that you accept them on faith (blind faith or to have “trust”; either/or).

    To the deeper point, though: what gets me, is that you say at one point that Christians should start with Godly conviction first and then look at the evidence (and encouraging others to do so) and I think this is putting the cart before the horse. You’re choosing first what to believe and then seeking reasons. A person should seek the reasons first and then make an informed decision. A good skeptical individual looks to destroy their beliefs aggressively. A skeptical Christian should be actively looking for good reasons to become an atheist. A skeptical atheist should look actively for good reason to become a Christian. I look to put holes in my beliefs every day (part of the reason I hosted our debate) That’s the proper presupposition in my view: not going out looking to reaffirm one’s belief.

    I think there’s a contradictory message being sent here – that Christians should look for evidence to back up their claims but first accepting that God’s word is true and final anyway…but then you’re willing to change your presupposition even though your presupposition is one that entails a belief that you should not change it, or that “believing without seeing” is a virtue. It’s setting yourself up for failure and stacking the odds, I think, because your presupposition, while you like to say that you would change it for evidence, is one that doesn’t allow you to unless you disagree with the Biblical idea that believing without seeing is a virtue, which you’ve accepted anyway before you’ve begun your investigation…

    I agree that being a historian doesn’t require to have an anti-supernatural bias. I think being a good historian does, though. I can go into a long, detailed explanation on why I think historians, as social scientists, should reject miracles, but to the point: to be a historian and accept supernaturalism, Jesus, to me, is then one in a long line of miracle workers. It also requires me to accept that people accurately report miracles, which observation shows this is not true. It also requires me to accept that people truthfully report miracles, which is not true. It also requires me to accept that people are calling real things they see “miracles”, which is not true. It also requires that the laws of nature suspend themselves…which, as far as we see, does not happen. So it’s a firm bias that’s open to change…but would be very hard to change.

    The point I’m trying to make with the Koranic comparison with the Bible (mostly the New Testament; I should have clarified this) is this: both books were compiled using the same methods. Both books were compiled from other earlier works; some things were left out. Some added in. Both had oral traditions preceding it. I think you read into the statement way too much. If you want to use “unity” as an argument for why the Bible is unique (but being unique isn’t a qualifier for it being “true”), you do have to explain things like failed prophecy, bad history (you made the point that the Bible is impeccable on its history and archeology: I would recommend reading works Finkelstein and Mazar’s The Quest for Historical Israel and The Bible Unearthed and work with historical discrepancies in the Bible); contradictory statements, theology, and history, etc.

    The Bible does have some unity in it, but I think you overstate the importance of unity. Most holy books, regardless of how they’re put together, have unity. Unity is easy to achieve if you’re actively looking for it or trying to create it. Hindu traditions make up a vast array of books that were put together between 1500-400 B.C.E. (which is roughly comparable to the 600 B.C.E. to the 100 A.D. of the Bible coming together) and these texts are wonderfully unified…and contain some contradictions. I don’t think your unity point stands when comparing to other holy books. It also ignores the fact of the dozens of other Gospels that were floating around at that time. Your book has unity because someone wanted it to. The inclusion of the Catholic Apocrypha or the books that the Eastern Orthodox and Ethiopian Church use, you would consider heretical, but they’re added on the same basis that someone thinks they were unified. Plus, the Bible being “unified” is a misnomer; each book is written individually, and if you compare the theology of Jesus to the theology of Paul to the theology of “James”, etc. it’s not as unified as most Conservative Christians think.

    Now, let’s look at the field for Christianity and pagan mythology. I’m not going to bring in quotes on this, because as nice as they are, I won’t appeal to authority. I will, however, point out that your assertion that the story of Jesus taking pagan influences “has largely been debunked…” is completely untrue. No, no it hasn’t. Unfortunately, neither one of us have a source where we could poll historians, but for whatever list of historians who don’t acknowledge it, I can create a list that do. It’s still on-going. It hasn’t been settled by a long shot.

    A couple of mistakes in your interpretation have to be pointed out. Yes, 1st Century Palestine was a hotbed for Hellenistic infusion into Jewish culture. I’m very aware that the Seleucids were the ones seeking to aggressively Hellenize the Jews (Seleucus I Nikator was one of Alexander’s generals; his successors carried the Hellenistic torch) so I don’t know what the point was in attempting to distant Alexander from Antiochus IV since they’re both essentially Greco/Macedonia – Seleucus was a Diadochoi; one of Alexander’s Successors. Your statement that Herod didn’t seek to Hellenize the Jews is flat out wrong. Herod is known for building theatres (not Jewish), hosting wrestling tournaments (not Jewish), and encouraged Gentile immigration to Jerusalem. He actively sought immigration – outsiders – in order to appease the Romans, but also sought to try and please the Jews as well. He wasn’t particularly liked by both, but he was one of a few rulers who happily opened the doors to influence and he encouraged a cosmopolitan mix of people. If you mix populations together, ideas get infused, no matter how much a lot of the population resists. And to say that even as stubborn as the majority traditionalists are…how can you claim that 200 years of people living together does not breed an exchange of ideas? That’s unprecedented! To say that the “infusions of belief is inevitable is a much-overstated claim” is to ignore the very basic principle of human nature – if you put two peoples together for that long, they will exchange ideas, even if a lot of them keep their basic traditions. I’m not saying that Paganism uprooted Judaism – I’m saying Christianity is a mix of both. People like to point to the Jews as an example, in the past 2,000 years, of people who have retained their core beliefs – but do you know how many Jewish heresies there are? Really, to Jews, Christianity was probably the biggest one.

    I think you missed the overall point. The recognition that Judea was a center for ideas to converge doesn’t mean that the overall population accepted those ideas. All you have to do is establish that those ideas were known and in the air. The United States isn’t Communist by any stretch; most Americans reject the political ideology. However, if I write a book with Communist overtones, and it’s known that I would have been aware of Communism but I lived in the U.S., and my book survives, you can trace those influences by inference, even if the vast majority of the people I lived with were Blue-blooded Americans. Of course, if I specifically start mentioning things in my book that are more directly tied to Communism, the link gets stronger…

    It’s irrelevant if the vast majority of Jews accepted it or not because that doesn’t have any bearing on who wrote the New Testament because “the majority of Jews” didn’t write the documents we have. Someone who knew Greek wrote the first four Gospels (more than likely not Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John) and Paul, writing in Greek, wrote his latters. You’re making a very rough assumption that the Jews who wrote the New Testament could not have allowed any Hellenistic/Gentile ideas into their writings. This is contradicted by Paul’s advocacy of non-circumcision (not Jewish), Paul’s blatant knowledge of Greek philosophy, Paul’s travels to Greek areas, etc. I can provide loads of citations, but it’s easily researchable stuff. Look up Greek influences in Paul’s Letters in JSTOR or an another academic database. They’re there, and quite fascinating. All of the New Testament is written in Greek. Why is this a problem? Well, this is difficult to reconcile with the literal authorship of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (they were illiterate; their stories differ; they never place themselves in the action; and more than likely they did not speak Greek…someone wrote it down after them). Greek words are used to explain Jewish ideas, and some things just do not translate well over into other languages. The Greek influences are there and it very fervently makes itself known in the New Testament. If Greek ideas, words, and culture seeps its way into the New Testament…what special exemption allows you to say that they didn’t borrow religious ideas as well?

    You have to take location into account as well. If you read the New Testament, Jesus’ story, and parts of Acts, are about the only major parts of the story to take place in Judea. Why is this a problem? When Paul writes, he’s writing as an observer in different lands and, most importantly, he’s forming his theology during his travels. Antioch, Tarsus, Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, Philipi…Greek, Greek, and Greek (well, technically Roman, Roman, Roman, but suffice to say: Greco-Roman). People are influenced in their ideas by their travels, especially if they’re laying down new theology. See Alexis de Tocqueville and how America influenced him. He still fervently believed in French nationalism, but he thought they were doing it wrong. Ideas are easily fusible with locale and scholars find a huge disparity between the Paul of Acts and the Paul who is writing the letters. Paul either changed (which is possible) or he was influenced (which is possible).

    We spoke of the mythological issues with the Jesus story. Let me save you a lot of trouble on this. If you want the primary sources, they’re there…but some of them are a pain in the neck to get to. They’re scattered, some are not translated to English, and many are tucked away in the Loeb Classical Library, or are archeological in nature. Greek, Persian, and Roman religion don’t have the same benefit that Christianity does in having one, central text. The sources are there, they’re scattered, but the books I’ve read and the sources I have checked have represented them accurately on the specific ones I’ve studied.

    I agree with the basics of your requirements for evidence except the fourth and fifth ones. For the fourth one, don’t try to co-opt terms thinking they’re Christian exclusive. I will use the terms; if you don’t like the connotations, you’ll need to sort them yourself. If I say “communion”, it means literally “imbibing of a food/drink thinking one is communing with a deity”. If I say “resurrection”, I’m speaking of a literal raising of the dead. Rising from the dead is rising from the dead, regardless of the baggage. If you want to add loaded claims on there, go for it, but I will use terms that Christians also use, but I mean them literally.

    For the fifth one, I’m straight up and honest about these religions. ALL religions are unique; ALL religions share similarities. Uniqueness and novelty don’t make a religion true, though. Buddhism is born out of Hinduism; adopts some of its ideas, some of its practices, but it’s mostly different from Hinduism. But I would NEVER use an argument saying “well, Buddhism is unique and there are no Hindi influences in it” because that’s just not true. Christianity borrows some Jewish practices and some pagan ones…but it’s mostly different…and I don’t see the rational in making that same claim when you understand the relationships between major religions and their predecessors. Most religions are different enough to make them stand out, but you miss the point: if any similarities are found – let’s say that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and that Attis (who predates Jesus) dies and resurrects – then it’s on you to somehow prove that the Christian miracle claim is different, unique, doesn’t follow the same pattern that other religions do, that Christianity is not influenced by earlier religious traditions, and (most of all) factual for it to be taken seriously…because people don’t resurrect themselves, but there have been stories of gods that have died and risen before Christ. The naturalistic explanation is preferable over the supernatural one (unless you can go back and show why this presupposition, when applied to Social Science, is a false one). It’s very well established that even if Jews rejected a lot of pagan ideas, they had knowledge of them, and they had a habit of borrowing some of their traditions, even if it angered a lot of the traditionalists. (It’s not like early Christians were the “traditionalists”, by the way – Jesus rejected the Law of the Sabbath…he had no problem with picking and choosing Jewish beliefs to follow and the “traditionalists” weren’t the ones becoming Christians…)

    Those writing the New Testament would have been aware that the Greeks around them taught that Pythagoras miraculously caught fish by the boatload (sound familiar?) or that some variants of the Mithras myth claimed he was born of a virgin, that its followers were given ritual submersion in water, or that they sought a connection with the god by drinking symbolic wine and bread (sound familiar? Tertullian and Justin Martyr were trying to distance themselves from these rites, which were established concurrent [and some before] the life of Jesus). Knowledge of pre-existing mythologies is a strong enough indicator and a better naturalistic explanation over thinking these beliefs formed in a vacuum and/or were supernaturally formed. If you can overturn this, go for it.

    But, not to harp on the point too much, maybe I need to give you a more tangible example of how easy it is to have preexisting myths influence story tellers and compilers who are aware of them. If I told you the story of a man who had a group of followers, that this man became king, did a great many miracles, good works, but was eventually betrayed by one of his followers, is killed, but is promised to come back again, who would I be talking about? Jesus? Sure. King Arthur as well. Does the King Arthur story borrow from Christian tradition? Absolutely. Now hopscotch that one back. What precludes Christianity from borrowing from earlier traditions? To answer some of your objections: does the Arthur story match the Christian one 100%? No. But the themes are there. Does the Christian story match the pagan ones 100%? No. But the themes are there and it’s because the authors had knowledge of them.

    If you can establish that the Jews knew about these ideas, that provides a doorway for a naturalistic explanation, and that’s the one I choose until good evidence is shown otherwise that (a) supernaturalism exists and (b) it is responsible for Christianity (i.e. your brand of supernaturalism)

    You are correct that similarity does not imply dependence, but similarity does imply influence. I’m not saying the Gospel writers took EVERYTHING from pagan traditions. I take the view that Jesus existed, he died, and his legend was embellished. There are very unique things in the Gospel story; there are some that aren’t.

    As for your comparison of the JFK and Lincoln assassinations, history has a funny way of sometimes trying to sing the same verse, but here’s the problem with your analogy: we know enough details of these cases to discern the reality of them. We can corroborate every single piece of that puzzle you built with outside resources. I can’t make the claim that one is mythological or borrowed elements from another because it blatantly shown not to be the case, a test which Christianity fails. Not only that – absolutely NOTHING in that historical account asked me to believe any supernatural claims. It asked me to believe in coincidence, sure, I’ll buy that. It asked me to believe that sometimes things happen naturally that are weird. Sure, I’ll buy that. I get the point you’re making, but the point you’re missing is: nothing about your analogy, as odd as it is, is unreasonable to believe because it can be corroborated, and strange things happen within the natural order and in history. But there’s nothing miraculous here. That’s the cut-off.

  5. mattwht4 says:

    I wrote this one when you posted your most recent comment, so I separated it out instead of having an uber-long post. You listed three reasons why you think the Gospel accounts are accurate, and I’ll address each one:

    1. Coincidences

    a. It appears to me that you are trying to have your cake and eat it too. If you are admitting that different witnesses are giving different accounts, my question to you is: how do you hold to Biblical Inerrancy? Only one event happened. Different accounts of said event(s) cannot, under any circumstances, be used in conjunction with an argument/doctrine of inerrancy, because you are then going to have to admit that some details either by omission or submission are wrong and/or not entirely representative of the truth. Christians like to use the “car wreck” analogy and let’s use it here. If you, myself, and one other person are giving a description of a car wreck, and we differ on our details, you cannot reasonably hold that any testimony we write down is inerrant. We will make mistakes. Are we accurate? Sure, based on other tests, but if our testimonies ALONE are all that we have 2,000 years from now (no police reports, video tapes, nothing), we’re still in a better position than the Gospel writers because we at least signed our names to the document. But, I doubt anyone will try to claim inerrancy on our reports. In some regards, we will be wrong unless our accounts 100% match up…and it probably won’t. The Gospel accounts do not. So your Gospel accounts building a “ring of truth” ignore the very foundation of your doctrine of inerrancy, where a “ring of truth” isn’t good enough: THE 100% truth is the only thing you can accept when stating your source material is inerrant. It’s a contradiction in your methodology and theology.

    2. Accuracy regarding names, places, events, geography, agriculture, weather, etc.

    a. This is partially true. This does lend credence to the source work coming from that area, or at least the author having knowledge of that area. Herodotus visited Egypt and could tell you quite a bit about names, places, event, geography, agriculture, weather, etc. However, we factually know that some of his details were wrong. There’s a popular saying amongst the atheistic community and I’ll adapt it here: the Spiderman comics get names, places, some events, geography, agriculture, weather, etc. correct…does Spiderman still exist? Your attempt to causally link location to add credibility to the source is a good start, but it is not good enough, especially when you claim your source is (a) perfect and (b) the supernatural elements within it are true. The sources of the Ramayana contain a lot of good info about that time and place…is the story true?

    3. Archeology

    a. This appears to be an extension of the above statement. Archeology can tell you a lot about where a work came from, but the analogy still stands: will individuals 2,000 years from now excavating New York find that Spiderman was real? Well, so much of the details match in the book…they got the building locations right, they got the general attitudes of the people right, they got the weather right, etc. Anyone looking at the source work and saying “this is great evidence that Spiderman exists!” would be using your same line of reasoning. Now, if you have a piece of evidence that says “blah, blah, blah…sincerely, Spiderman” and you can prove that this isn’t a forgery or a product of fiction or mythology 2,000 years after the event…then you have a strong case. It’s really a shame that Jesus didn’t write anything down or have a lot of material wealth for us to find because that’s what we really, really need.

    Here’s the main issue with your proposition: you are attempting to use a field of certainty to prove, in what your theology is, an absolute truth. There is no single historical text out there that’s 100% accurate, and if you make the claim that your source work is 100% accurate, you have to be able to 100% support it. You are the one making the claim that the work is infallible, so it is on you to somehow show that your text not only meets all the criteria with flying color, but supersedes them. That will never happen because there are only certainties in History; not absolutes. No historian should honestly make the claim that a source is 100% accurate and if you claim inerrancy, that’s what you’re trying to do.

    There are a lot of rubrics out there used to judge whether a source is accurate, and here’s one I generally agree with (though I can offer others if you like):

    1. Human sources may be relics such as a fingerprint; or narratives such as a statement or a letter. Relics are more credible sources than narratives.

    2. Any given source may be forged or corrupted. Strong indications of the originality of the source increase its reliability.

    3. The closer a source is to the event which it purports to describe, the more one can trust it to give an accurate historical description of what actually happened.

    4. An eyewitness is more reliable than testimony at second hand, which is more reliable than hearsay at further remove, and so on.

    5. If a number of independent sources contain the same message, the credibility of the message is strongly increased.

    6. The tendency of a source is its motivation for providing some kind of bias. Tendencies should be minimized or supplemented with opposite motivations.

    7. If it can be demonstrated that the witness or source has no direct interest in creating bias then the credibility of the message is increased. (Olden-Jørgensen and Thurén)

    Any one of your Gospels meets roughly half of these criteria. Criteria one is a given. The second criteria, it has been shown that these sources are susceptible to corruption and forgery. It’s been shown that forgery was a common tactic used at that time to lend credibility to the letter (pseudocanonical Gospels are direct evidence of this). So that raises issues. The third criteria, I think the Gospels are somewhat strong on, even though 20 years for the earliest Gospel is still long enough for legend to develop (people think they see Tupac alive – he’s been dead less than 20).

    The fourth is the one I have a real problem with: there is nothing to establish the authorship of the Gospels as eyewitnesses. This is evidenced by details that, if these people were there, they would not have missed. If there were a few, small details that didn’t match up, I would say the Gospels pass this test with flying colors. But it doesn’t. There are loads. This is evidence, to me, that these Gospels were not written first-hand, that they were products of hear-say. Plus, and this is something historians at the time did if they were there…they told you so! So, I think these sources fail miserable on that regards.

    As for the fifth one, in terms of overall theme, I think the Gospels are pretty strong here if used in conjunction with each other but, if you start trying to find other corroborative/contemporary evidence outside of them, it’s severely lacking. You don’t have the testimonies of the 500 who saw Jesus. You don’t have an abundance of written testimonies of people who independently saw Jesus. You have maybe ten if you slice it right. If you compare the Gospels with just each other, they try to get the same message across at times; at other times, they address different things to different people with different intentions. Number six, there are biases and motivations galore. These accounts aren’t written by people who are disinterested or are trying to disprove Christianity; these are written with the motivation to convince and to report what happened “so that you may know the certainty of what you are being told” (Luke 1:4 – the only Gospel to say much of anything about why the author was writing). Number seven…bias is obviously here. I don’t think we need to say much about that.

    So, the Gospels don’t measure up very well to this test. If you don’t like this test, that’s fine – but it’s a pretty standard variation. I understand you think I’m being hypercritical, but if I throw the Iliad or the Odyssey up against this test, they fare even worse. Do Historians accept them as literally true? Absolutely not – we accept their fallibility. And there are no Greeks running around (to my knowledge) saying that these works are inerrant. Everyone recognizes the mistakes and pitfalls of these works using the same rubric, and if you want to claim a special exemption on why the Gospels aren’t just accurate, but 100% INFALLIBLE…you have to pass the above test with flying colors and show how a historical document, as product of its time, subject to the same changes that many documents are, and in light of its contradictions at points, can claim this status.

    Of course if you don’t buy into the doctrine of inerrancy, then ignore everything I say.

    I think I gave enough for our readers to think about. If you respond and I don’t get right back to you, I hope you’ll begrudge me the opportunity to get through my finals as opposed to religious debate. I’ll keep an eye out for your response and get back to you when I can. As always, it’s a pleasure.

  6. Jordan Tong says:

    You said: “To the deeper point, though: what gets me, is that you say at one point that Christians should start with Godly conviction first and then look at the evidence (and encouraging others to do so) and I think this is putting the cart before the horse. You’re choosing first what to believe and then seeking reasons. A person should seek the reasons first and then make an informed decision. A good skeptical individual looks to destroy their beliefs aggressively.” I am not saying that one makes a completely arbitrary belief decision and then looks for reasons to maintain it. I am saying that conviction comes from God himself first (the primary reason for holding a belief), and then reasons and evidence should be used to confirm this belief. Evidence to the contrary should challenge one’s beliefs, and if overwhelming, perhaps even make one reconsider their presuppositions. Now you may not be satisfied with this answer, but that is only because you don’t believe in God – not because my answer is somehow deficient or unreasonable. Additionally, this whole idea of looking to constantly destroy your beliefs is nonsense. If that is truly the case, can you honestly say that you even know anything at all. If truth is real, which I believe it is, then one should seek it and then hold fast to it. This does not mean you don’t consider alternate views, but you don’t waffle about treating truth as if it were a game. Being constantly open minded about all things is a means of not knowing anything at all. As G.K. Chesterton said, “On open mind is like an open mouth. It is meant to close on something solid.”

    As for your comments about the Bible and it’s unity, the only point I was making was that this is just one piece of evidence among many that confirms my belief that it is the Word of God. It does have unity and arguable a unity that makes it stand above other religious texts, especially given the nature of its compilation and the diversity of its topics, histories, genres, authors, geography, etc. As for the issues of doctrine, theology, contradictions, etc., it is on you to show me that my belief is unreasonable.

    Regarding you comments about the comparison to mythology, you did not establish ANY genetic dependence. Sorting through all your content, your main argument is this: “They were around pagan thought. It must have influenced them. Therefore, it did influence them. Therefore, Christianity is influenced by pagan thought.” This seems be a pretty shallow argument with little to no foundation. I will once again reference you to the criteria for establishing genetic dependence, a task I’m sure you will find difficult at best. I am open to discuss the issue further once this has been done.

    Regarding your last comments about undesigned coincidences, historical accuracy, and archaeology, perhaps you read to much into what I meant. My point is this: given these three lines of argument, the Bible (and more specifically, the NT) proves itself to be reliable in what can be verified by external means. For instance, here is an article listing 84 facts in the book of Acts alone that have been verified by history and archaeology. http://truthbomb.blogspot.com/2012/01/84-confirmed-facts-in-last-16-chapters.html

    So to look at the NT was utter skepticism seems to be a case of letting your presuppositions cloud your judgment. Just because you despise the message of the NT does not mean that you must be skeptical of its content. Also, simply because humans write something does not mean it is of necessity errant. Nor does different accounts of one event necessitate errors – it’s a non sequitur. Your spiderman quote has no relevance here and you should know better as a historian. Modern fiction takes a very “non-fiction” approach regarding details, events, places, etc. Additionally, the Gospels are the literary category of greco-roman biography – at least that was the intent of the authors and the understanding of the early church. C.S. Lewis makes this point well: “All I am in private life is a literary critic and historian, that’s my job. And I am prepared to say on that basis if anyone thinks the Gospels are either legend or novels, then that person is simply showing his incompetence as a literary critic. I’ve read a great many novels and I know a fair amount about the legends that grew up among early people, and I know perfectly well the Gospels are not that kind of stuff.” By the way, quotes are not always bad, and neither is authority.

    Finally, I’ll make a couple of comments about the criteria you suggested. Textual criticism has shown that the NT text has not been corrupted. In fact, it has shown just the opposite. I’m sure your are familiar with the manuscript evidence and how it compares to that of other ancient texts. Even Bart Erhman, in a book co-written with Bruce Metzger, acknowledges that we can be reasonable certain as to the original content of the NT text. As for forgery, I’m aware that liberal and critical scholarship usually attributes Matt, Mark, & John to authors different from the titles. I’ve seen no compelling argument for forgery and I think there are some good reasons why names would have been left out of the accounts during the lifetimes of the writers. On this point, I say that early church opinion is more accurate than 21st century textual scholarship, but I guess this depends on our starting point. If the text is guilty until proven innocent, then perhaps agnosticism on the issue is best. However, I think this is an unreasonable starting point, but perhaps we will have to agree to disagree.

    The conclusions on the fourth test would obviously be contested by conservative scholars. So without a substantive argument (which I don’t necessarily expect in this blog), it seems to be a stretch to imply the gospels “fail miserably” on this criteria. More supporting details that I could not successfully counter would need to be proffered before your judgment could be justified. Regarding #5, the gospels are strong here, as there are 4 (or maybe five depending upon your views of Q), plus the rest of the NT and some secular sources that mention Jesus and some of the major events surrounding his life. But if you have 4 gospel sources, why does it matter if you have no external sources. That seems to me to be a bias against the gospels, which is unwarranted.

    Now number 6 and 7 may not give positive evidence, but they certainly don’t count as evidence against the Gospels. The fact that they believed the message was true and were eyewitnesses to it puts them in a good position to write accurately. Consider Jewish accounts of the Holocaust. They are in the best position to write about it. Do they have bias? Sure. Does that falsify or weaken their accounts? Although there are holocaust deniers, I see to reason to doubt unless I find a motivation that would compel them to lie and evidence this in fact is the case. I see no motive for the gospel writers that would compel them to fabricate a story. It was not money, political power, sex, or something of the like. They all suffered for the rest of their lives and died for the sake of the message. So to say they fabricated a story knowingly, then suffered and died claiming that story was true – this is certainly not a bias for fabricating a legend. Additionally, the disciples are not glorified in the gospel accounts. In fact, they are often portrayed as arrogant, anti-gospel, anti-children, denying Jesus, jealous, etc. They are certainly not portrayed as heroes. So to recap, it does seem to me – on the face of it – that there is no evidence of bias that counts against the gospel accounts. Therefore, the gospels seem to either remain neutral or pass on every test – and I am being generous here. I personally think they fair very well on most. So combining your tests with the other lines of evidence I gave, seems to place the NT in a good position – a reliable ancient text that should not be viewed with hyper-skepticism.

    Jordan

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