Reflections on “The Case for Christ”

I often get letters from Christian apologists and evangelicals of the fundamentalist stripe. They often challenge me to read some apologetic literature and then decide for myself. I’ve always challenged them in response, telling them to send me some, saying that I would read it. The apologists almost never respond to that offer. So I was surprised, one day, when a Christian actually did just that – he sent me a copy of the book he was recommending. Well, I’m a man of my word, so I read it. In the process, I decided to write this essay from my notes.

This book consists largely of “interviews” of prominent Christian apologists – no secular scholars of any note, just apologists. Written in a narrative style, designed for easy, laid-back reading that is familiar to readers of apologetic literature, it is intended to build a case that the historical record of the New Testament is accurate and believable. Its case is most powerfully made to those who already accept unquestioningly the authority of the gospels. In this sense, it is really preaching to the choir. For the rest of us, the author tries to get us hooked by demonstrating that authority early on – right in the first part of the book, in fact.

The book is very cleverly crafted. It is often claimed by the proponents of this book that the author wrote it when he was an atheist, and was undergoing the conversion process. This is not true. From a careful reading (see the last two paragraphs at the bottom of page 14), he makes it quite clear that he wrote it as a fully committed Christian, “retracing” his spiritual path an indeterminate period of time after the fact. As such, it is yet another ordinary piece of apologetic axe-grinding.

It has a logical sequence of interviews, ostensibly by a skeptical journalist, yet never once does he interview even a single skeptic, either first-line such as Michael Shermer or Steven Jay Gould, or any of the many more obscure, such as Thomas Mack, Earl Doherty or Dan Barker, any of who could have easily and quickly demolished the points raised by the apologists he so eagerly interviewed.

This is not the product I would expect from someone trying to faithfully recount the details of his conversion. Rather, this is precisely the structure that I would expect to see from a “market” book, one written for a specific market by or with a skilled propaganda ghost writer. For example, each part is prefaced with a captivating story, ostensibly drawn from the journalist-author’s “experience,” that is designed to underscore the methods the subsequent chapter uses as being valid. It then proceeds to the interview, bringing up each point to reinforce that “experience.”

The market Strobel’s book was written for, is clear: it is written for the Christian evangelical market. It is really preaching to the choir; it is so blatantly one-sided that I can’t imagine any thinking skeptic being taken in by it, and I’m sure that Strobel realized that. But he’s not selling the book to skeptics. He’s selling it to Christians who either want to reinforce their faith, or think they’re going to convince their skeptic friends with it.

The manner in which the book is constructed is clearly intended to first convince, then reinforce that conviction and finally by taking on the more popular objections, squelch any doubt. This persuasion method is typical, not just of propagandistic literature, but also of religious meme complexes in general and Christianity in particular.

The essay you are reading has been widely discussed in Christian apologetic circles. There are several responses to it posted on the web. I’m reasonably certain that Strobel has become aware of it, but I have never had a response from him with regards to the assertions I have made above. Most of the responses from various Christians have been along the lines of, “What’s the matter with Bidstrup? Doesn’t he realise that Strobel was an atheist when he wrote it? Doesn’t he understand that?” Well, Strobel clearly states that the book was written long after the fact of his conversion, and the book certainly has neither the structure nor the style I would expect of a book written by an atheist, especially a skeptical atheist. Rather, it has the structure of a book written after the fact, to color the events in a way specifically intended. Not surprising, given that he makes this is clear from what he says on page 1

The First Interview – Craig Blomberg, Ph.D.

The first interview in the book is with Craig Blomberg, PhD., whose doctorate is in New Testament from Aberdeen University in Scotland. He has been a senior research fellow at Tyndale House at Cambridge University, and is currently at the Denver Seminary.

Page 21-24 – Authorship of the Gospels
Blomberg’s claim that Matthew, Mark and Luke, all apostles of Jesus, were the authors of the gospels attributed to them is entirely unsupported, and the journalist author fails to follow up on that obvious problem. His assertion is contraindicated by many other scholars, both apologetic and secular. The claim that “Papias, writing in 125 AD” verifies the authorship of Mark, and that Mark recorded events accurately, is fundamentally without merit. It’s as meaningful and as useful as my personally telling you, more than a century after the time of Joseph Smith, that “yeah, the guy really did dig up some golden plates, and yeah, the Book of Mormon is an accurate translation of them.” Papias is as distant from the events he’s verifying as I am from the events of Joseph Smith’s time. So why should we believe him? Just because he’s the only author we have? That question actually undermines his validity rather than underscoring it; why weren’t there other witnesses? Joseph Smith, after all, had eleven who signed affidavits.

Page 26 – The Gospel ‘Q’
The mystery of Q isn’t so mysterious as Blomberg would have you believe. The etymology of the Q material has been well worked over by scholars, both apologetic and secular, for two centuries now, and most are in agreement on it, regardless of their viewpoint.

Page 29 – Reliability of the ancient Greek
Blomberg is saying, of Matthew 14:22-23 and Mark 6:45-52, that “Most English translations hide the Greek by quoting Jesus as saying, ‘Fear not, it is I.’ Actually, the Greek literally says, ‘Fear not, I am.'” The difference in meaning is profound – it paints a wholly different picture of our understanding of the nature of who the speaker (i.e., Jesus) is. Therefore, it is vital that this be cleared up.

The most reliable translation I have found from Classical Greek into modern English is the Richmond Lattimore translation. Lattimore is widely regarded as one of the greatest scholars and translators into English of Classical Greek who ever lived, and probably the greatest of the contemporary scholars and translators into English. He is a non-practicing religionist who does not hold religious views with any particular fervor, and therefore can be trusted as an objective translator. He has done us a great favor with his translation of the New Testament in to English – it was undertaken with great care, as in all his work, to present in English to the fullest extent possible the original meaning and flavor of the Greek. Here is how he renders the quotation in both gospels: “Take heart, it is I; do not fear.” So the English translations we traditionally used are fairly close to the Greek original. Blomberg’s understanding of Classical Greek apparently leaves a little to be desired.

Page 33 – Chronology of the gospel writings

Blomberg’s apologetics for the timing of the writing of the gospels in this section of the interview conveniently overlooks the fact that the gospels are directly contradictory on many facts. While pointing out that the biographies of Alexander the Great, written four hundred years after the warrior’s death, are considered quite accurate, there is no reason to believe that they were written with propagandistic purposes in mind – hence there would have been no motive for the authors to write propaganda. In the case of the gospels, however, we know without question that they were, because all the elements of propaganda are there. Indeed, one of the gospel writers (“John” in John 20:31) even admits that he’s writing propaganda – for the purpose of “building faith” as he puts it.

Well, that explains why the gospels are so contradictory. They were written as propaganda and are as reliable as propaganda usually is. Else, if they were written as objective histories, why are they so contradictory when the biographies of Alexander the Great, written four hundred years after the events they record, are so consistent? It’s simply because each gospel author is writing from a specific motivation, for a specific audience and is mythmaking to get his point across – just as I have pointed out in my essay on Biblical origins. (explore this website to see essays on bible errors)

Page 45 – the Consistency Test.
Blomberg is quoted as saying, “If the gospels were too consistent, that in itself would invalidate them as independent witnesses. People would say that we really have only one testimony that everyone else is parroting.”

This acknowledgement of the inconsistencies reveals a problem for the inerrantists; i.e., that there are in fact inconsistencies. For the non-inerrantist apologetics, there’s a different problem – it’s the porridge problem – they can’t be too inconsistent, they can’t be consistent, they have to be like the porridge – just right. If they’re too inconsistent, they call into question each other’s testimony. If they’re not inconsistent, then Blomberg’s comment would apply to them. So they have to be just right. Of course, how inconsistent is just right? Well, Blomberg says that the inconsistencies they exhibit are just right.

Clearly the problem is how inconsistent is just right to enhance their veracity? As I pointed out in the example above in the biographies of Alexander the Great, the two principal biographies written four hundred years after Alexander’s death that are widely accepted as accurate are considerably more consistent with each other than are the gospels.

So it would appear that the gospels flunk Blomberg’s own “consistency test.” Blomberg foresees this problem by trying to explain away a few of the easier problems. The problem is that his explanations aren’t always very accurate. In explaining the contradictory genealogies, for example, he says that “the problem is made greater by the fact that some names are omitted, which is perfectly acceptable by ancient standards.”   Yet, at the same time there is the claim that this is the inspired work of One God.  If divine inspiration was at work, then God allowed the “lies” to take place?

Page 50 – The Corroboration Test

Here Blomberg concedes that the Gospels, if accurate, would be corroborated by archaeological and historical evidence. He says that there is some, but doesn’t say what it is. I am left to wonder why.

age 51 – The Adverse Witness Test
Blomberg says here that if the gospels were wrong, why don’t we see contemporary witnesses coming forward to contradict the gospel accounts?

That’s really quite easy to explain. The gospels were written quite later than the dates Blomberg assigns to them, and by then there are plenty of other, contradictory gospels around which didn’t happen to make it into the Canon. In fact, the Nag Hammadi Library is a complete book full of contradictory gospels, many of which appeared at about the same time as has generally been accepted that the canonic gospels appear. Many of the works in the Nag Hammadi Library take strong exception to even some of the basic claims of the canonic gospels. So Blomberg’s thesis rides entirely on his own dating, which he does not support. This from a scholarly perspective is not just a matter of difference of opinion—that there were competing Gospels, hundreds of them—at this point it seems like a cover up.

The Second Interview – Bruce M. Metzger, Ph.D.

The second interview in this book is with Bruce M. Metzger, PhD., a professor emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary and chairman of the New Revised Standard Version Bible Committee.

Page 58 – Copies of Copies of Copies and page 60 – A Mountain of Manuscripts
The underlying assumption here that Metzger seems to be making is that because we have thousands of early copies of the gospels, that we know they’re accurately recorded.

And that’s easy to concede. I’ll freely admit that the gospels we have that are attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are quite likely very accurate copies of the originals.

But so what? If the gospel writers were inaccurate in the history they wrote, or wrote with a deliberate bias, all the copies in the world aren’t going to make up for those biases and inaccuracies.

Oh, he also forgot mention, that all these copies of copies become a problem when there are more differences in them then there are words.  Meaning for almost every word, every sentence, there is some inconsistency.  A lot of times its a mistake, sometimes on purpose, sometimes it a small issue, and sometimes a vital issue.

Page 67 – The “Secret Sayings” of Jesus
Here Meztger takes up the case of the Gospel of Thomas, and makes the case that it is a later gospel (written AD140), and contains some evident interpolations.

What he doesn’t bring up is that the dating of the Gospel of Thomas is as much subject to dispute as is the dating of the Canonic gospels, and that there is no particular reason, other than religious bias, to say that the canonic gospels are any more accurate or reliable than are the Nag Hammadi gospels of which the Gospel of Thomas is one.

Eliane Pagels, in her commentary on the Gnostic Gospels from the Nag Hammadi library, said it best: “History is written by the victors – their way!” Clearly she understood that the canonic gospels were selected with a doctrinal axe to grind, and the Gospel of Thomas was written from a similarly biased perspective. Any objective scholar would have to be a fool to not accept that. So what? It only means that the canon we have came to us through the victors. It certainly doesn’t mean it’s any more reliable than the writings of the vanquished.

The Third Interview – Edwin M. Yamouchi, Ph.D.

Here we come to the testimony of Edwin M. Yamouchi, Ph.D., who holds a doctorate in Mediterranean Studies from Brandeis University, and teaches at Miami University in Oxford, OH. His “evidence” is historical, and outside the Bible itself.

Page 77 – Testimony by a Traitor
Yamouchi here refers to Flavius Josephus as a traitor to the Jews, because he surrendered to and became an ally of the Romans during the Jewish Rebellion. He quotes the second of the two passages in Josephus that refer to Jesus. The first passage and the most famous, is called the Testimonium Flavium. It is widely acknowledged by scholars, both secular and apologetic, as a later Christian interpolation, and Yamouchi is wise enough not to defend it without acknowledging its problems. The most glaring problem with the Testimonium Flavium, as it is called, is that the paragraph is entirely absent from the passage in a quotation from the work which comes to us from Bishop Origen, which is the earliest copy of that passage we have. There are also some clear stylistic and grammatical problems with that passage as well.

The second passage in Josephus is a very brief mention: “He convened a meeting of the Sanhedrin, and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who is called the Christ and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law and delivered them up to be stoned.” Yamouchi claims that no scholar has successfully disputed this passage.

Yet Yamouchi fails to acknowledge the obvious problems with this passage. First, it would have been blasphemous for Josephus to even acknowledge that Jesus was called Christ, because Josephus was a devout messianic Jew who never converted to Christianity. Because he was writing at the end of the first century, at a time when the schism between Judaism and Christianity was becoming very deep and very emotional on both sides, it’s unlikely that he would have committed this blasphemy by even acknowledging that some Jews referred to Jesus as the Christ. Even more damning is that Hegesipus, a Christian Jew who wrote a history of the church in AD 170, wrote that James, the brother of Jesus, was killed in a riot, not by sentence of the Sanhedrin, and Clement, as quoted by Eusebius, confirms this.

Page 81 – “A Most Mischevious Superstition”

Yamouchi then goes on to claim that the Testimonium Tacitum, written by the Roman historian Tacitus in AD 115, is “the most important reference to Jesus outside the New Testament.” Well, the problem with the Testimonium Tacitum is that it was written when it was – nearly a century after the fact and well after the gospels had been written and the myths surrounding Jesus had been in circulation. So the Testimonium Tacitum really is worth nothing more than the testimony of a modern Christian.

Page 83 – Chanting “As If To A God”

Again, Yamouchi makes the mistake of assuming that a testimony by Pliny the Younger written in AD 111 is important. Christianity is well known from the secular historical record by this time, so what is said at this point again means nothing. Pliny’s reference could easily have incorporated the many Christian myths that are clearly widely circulated by now.

Page 84 – The Day the Earth Went Dark

Here Yamouchi is really scraping the bottom of the barrel. He quotes (without saying who he is quoting) a ninth-century Byzantine writer named George Syncellus, who quotes Julius Africanus, writing in AD 221, who is allegedly quoting Thallus, who wrote in AD 52 about the day the sun went dark on the day of the crucifixion. Well, I’m sorry, but a ninth-century, third person quote doesn’t carry much weight with me, considering that every person in the chain of quotation had a doctrinal axe to grind.

Page 85 – Other Jewish Accounts
Yamouchi then goes on to talk about the Talmudic references to Jesus from AD 200 and beyond. Again, since these are nearly two centuries after the events they talk about, they can hardly be considered independent, objective evidence. There’s every reason to believe that they could have been very easily influenced by the widespread myths of Christianity that were in circulation by then.

Page 86 – Evidence Apart From the Bible
This section is unbelievably unscholarly! Here, Yamouchi simply is quoted, without any references or corroboration whatsoever, as claiming that we have independent evidence apart from the Bible that corroborates five major historical points of Jesus’ life: that he was a Jewish teacher; he engaged in healings and exorcisms; that people believed he was the Messiah; that he was rejected by Jewish leaders; and that he was crucified under the authority of Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. I would challenge Mr. Yamouchi (or Lee Strobel, for that matter) to document any of those claims outside the Bible or outside any reference that could easily have been influenced by the Bible or works within it, or outside of any secular references that are not known or strongly suspected of being later Christian interpolations.

The Fourth Interview – John McRay, Ph.D.

John McRay, Ph.D. teaches at Wheaton College in suburban Chicago. He studied at Hebrew University and the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem (an institution funded by the Vatican that for many years kept the Dead Sea Scrolls locked away from serious secular scholarship – see The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception, by Michael Baighent and Richard Leigh for the story of the sequestration and how it was finally broken). McRay purports to bring us to an understanding of Biblical archaeology and how it supports the New Testament story.

Page 97 – Luke’s Accuracy as a Historian
McRay claims that the veracity of a historian is increased by finding that he is right in archaeological evidence. That may well be true, but the problem here is that the evidence that McRay offers to bolster Luke as a historian is simply trivial. It is detail that may easily be well known to people of Luke’s time, but not necessarily known to us today – such as the Roman titles of minor political officials. No one disputes that Luke and the other gospel writers may have gotten some things right – Luke, after all, was a highly educated scholar – but there are no significant details of the life of Jesus that get verified by archaeological evidence here.

In one case he misuses archaeology to resolve a contradiction between Mark’s and Luke’s accounts of the healing of Bartimaeus in Jericho. Mark says Jesus was coming out of Jericho when he met Bartimaeus, and Luke says he was entering Jericho. McRay tries to resolve this by saying that because Jericho is an extremely ancient city and was built on several different sites that were all within a mile of each other, it would have been quite possible for Jesus to be leaving a presently constructed Jericho while at the same time entering an ancient site for Jericho! Such tortured logic, while technically correct, certainly flies in the face of logic. Why would one author refer to a contemporary construction while another author refers to an ancient one, and ignores the contemporary one? The incredulousness of such apologetics certainly doesn’t lend any credibility to McRay’s claim to be an archaeologist. A true scientist proceeds from the evidence (the obvious contradiction in the accounts) to the most logical conclusion (that one of the authors simply has it wrong).

While McRay makes the point that Luke was wholly accurate on his place names, this is not surprising given that Luke was a highly educated scholar and doubtless had been schooled in geography.

Page 99 – the Reliability of John and Mark
In this section, McRay points out that the description that John gives of the Pool of Bethesda as having five porticos has been recently corroborated by the archaeological discovery of the pool and its excavation. It does indeed have five porticos, just as John said. But all that means is that the author of John had been there. That’s all. It doesn’t lend any particular credence to anything else that author says about Jesus turning water into wine or raising someone from the dead.

McRay claims that a papyrus fragment of John 18 has been found in Egypt and been dated to AD 125, but doesn’t say how the dating was done except it was done by “leading papyrologists.” This evidence is simply no stronger than the methods used by the “papyrologists,” whatever those methods were. And it says that even if one accepts that date, the gospel of John was written no later than AD 125. No real problem there. It could have been written as late as AD 120 and still had plenty of time to be copied and a copy circulated to Egypt, where Christian communities are known to have existed at the time. This is hardly a revelation of any magnitude. I am not unwilling to accept that John could have been written as late as AD 120.  How is this supporting evidence?  It’s not.

Historical sites always remain longer then the events that made that a historical place, its people long pass away, but the pyramids still stand.  Meaning details that john would be able to see a century later is no surprise.  If i say a miracle happened by the Sears Tower in Chicago, and describe the Sears tower, how does that prove the miracle?

Page 101 – Puzzle 1: the Census
McRay says in this section that the practice of sending entire families back to their town of paternal nativity is one that is well established by archeological evidence. In support of this contention, he produces an official Roman document from AD 104 that includes the reference: “…who for any cause are residing outside of their provinces to return to their homes that they may carry out the regular order of the census and may also attend diligently to the cultivation of their allotments…” This reference does not speak to paternal nativity, but rather to current ownership and cultivation of land. It clearly means that you’re supposed to go back home and tend to your farm as well as be counted in the census. Nowhere does it say anything about returning to the village of paternal nativity as does the reference in the birth narratives of Jesus.

The problem of Herod dying in 4 BC and Quirinius not ascending to the governorship of Syria until AD 6, has always been a problem. McRay tries to solve it by saying that a recent archaeological find of a coin, names, in “micrographic letters” a Quirinius as proconsul of Syria and Cilicia from 11 BCE. He says they could be two different men having the same name. While this is possible, it seems a bit unlikely – these “micrographic letters” sound a bit suspicious, given the crude minting practices of Roman coinage. I’ve never heard elsewhere of “micrographic letters” on Roman coinage, and I’ve read a great deal about archaeology from this period. Besides, the history of the proconsulship of this region is quite well known from other historical sources, and it simply doesn’t fit his theory.

Page 105 – Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls
Here McRay says that the Dead Sea Scrolls offer support for the Messianic claim of Jesus in Matthew 11:4-5 where Jesus quotes Isaiah 61, and includes the phrase “the dead are raised” which does not appear in modern texts. A copy of Isaiah 61 including that phrase has been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. All this really means when you stop to think about it, however, is that the copier of the Isaiah text at Qumran and the author of Matthew had similar copies of Isaiah – not difficult to imagine, since they were roughly contemporary and situated not far from each other.

Page 107 – “A Remarkably Accurate Source Book”
While McRay cites The Book of Mormon as an example of a scriptural book for which not one shred of archaeological evidence has ever been found, he cites the New Testament as having been shown by archaeological evidence as clearly having had a historical basis. This is really a “straw man” argument, since no serious scholar doubts that its major authors were writing in times and in places not very distant from the events and locations they purport to record. Because of this, it’s not surprising at all that a lot of the geographical and even historical detail would be accurate. It would be far more surprising for the Book of Mormon to be shown to be accurate, since it was produced by a New York farm lad in the early 1800’s, a time hundreds to thousands of years distant and hundreds to thousands of miles separated from the times and places it purports to document.

The Fifth Interview: Gregory A. Boyd, Ph.D.

Gregory A. Boyd, Ph.D. holds a doctorate from the Princeton Theological Seminary. He is a professor of theology at Bethel College and is also a pastor at Woodland Hills Church.

Page 113 – Writings from the Radical Fringe
Boyd dismisses the Jesus Seminar by saying that one must accept their “seven pillars of scholarly wisdom” in order to accept their work. He simply discredits them by implying that since they don’t think like himself or in traditional ways, they must be wrong. This presumes, of course, that he’s right, and the inability to work from the presumption that he may not be, is, of course, the mark of a closed mind.

Page 117 – Critiquing the Criteria
Boyd’s critique begins in a quote making an astonishing statement: “Historians usually operate with the burden of proof on the historian to prove falsity or unreliability, since people are generally not compulsive liars. Without that assumption, we would know very little about ancient history.” This statement flies directly in the face of the scientific method. In true science, the scientist proceeds from the evidence to the conclusion – and the evidence may include, but certainly is not limited to, the testimony of the ancients. Also, when a contention is clearly controversial, you can’t simply accept it because someone said it. If we did, we’d all be expected to believe in UFO’s, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. So to prove a contention as controversial as, say, the resurrection, you can’t simply rely on the testimony of those who say they were there and then try to disprove it. You must start by collecting all the available evidence, and then see what conclusion that evidence points to. This is not limited to the testimony of the commentators. It must include all available evidence, whether we agree with the conclusion it points to or not. In doing so, the Jesus Seminar is simply applying the scientific method to the evidence for Jesus. And the conclusions they come to are derived honestly, not by grinding endless doctrinal axes. That’s why they’re controversial.

Where Boyd does score some valid points is in the critique of the “seven pillars.” While some of the critique is valid, though, the critique is limited in fairness. He presumes, for example, that since much of ancient history is based on single sources, and that he considers the gospels reliable, that we can therefore rely on their accounts. Well, we have lots of reasons for questioning the reliability of the gospels, but that doesn’t enter into his equation. Hence, he discounts the “second pillar,” that of requiring more than one source to corroborate the sayings of Jesus.

Page 122 – Secret Gospels and Talking Crosses
Much of this section is fair, if polemical, until he gets to the Gospel of Thomas. Then he proceeds with a hatchet job. “Most scholars date the Gospel of Thomas to the mid-second century, in which it fits well into the cultural milieu. Let me give you an example: Jesus is quoted as saying, ‘Every woman who will make herself male will enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ That contradicts the attitude that we [who are “we”? McRay? His doctrinal allies? -sb] knew [how does he know? -sb] Jesus had toward women, but it fits well with the Gnostic mindset.

“However, the Jesus Seminar has arbitrarily latched onto certain passages of the Gospel of Thomas and has argued that these passages represent an early strand of tradition about Jesus, even earlier than the canonical gospels.

“Because none of these passages include Jesus making exalted claims for himself or doing supernatural feats, they argue that the earliest view of Jesus was that he was only a great teacher. But the whole line of reasoning is circular. The only reason for thinking these passages in Thomas are early in the first place is because they contain a view of Jesus that these scholars have already believed was the original Jesus. In truth, there is no good reason for preferring the second century Gospel of Thomas over the first century gospels of the New Testament.”

The problem with this is that there actually is reason to believe that the earliest Jesus was not considered a  divine. As I have pointed out in my essay on the origins of Christianity, there is the whole problem of the writings of the Jesus Movements, which Boyd is conveniently forgetting about. In those writings, nowhere is Jesus depicted as anything other than a mortal, ordinary social reformer. So there is in fact a good reason to consider as likely more authentic a body of literature that depicts him so.

Page 124 – History Versus Faith
Here Boyd is making a case for faith based on a mere presumption of history. He takes up the case of the Nicean Creed, saying without any support whatever that “theological faith is based on historical truth.” Couldn’t a Buddhist make a similar claim? Or a Confuscianist? What makes Christianity unique in that regard? As for the Nicean Creed, he conveniently forgets the history that brought it about – a Roman emperor, Constantine, getting tired of listening to his bishops squabbling about history and doctrine, and ordering them to Nicea to hash out a consistent doctrine and history. History and doctrine by committee. Sounds like a great way to arrive at the divine revealed truth!

Page 125 – Combining History and Faith
This section has Boyd “on the very edge of his chair” making a case for believing in what you love to believe in because you love to believe in it! If that isn’t a surefire recipe for bias and prejudicial error, I don’t know what it is! Love of belief has absolutely nothing to do with what’s real out there, and anyone who thinks otherwise is living in a fool’s paradise.

The Sixth Interview – Ben Witherington III, Ph.D.

Ben Witherington holds a doctorate from the University of Durham in England and teaches at the Ashbury Theological Seminary in Willmore, Kentucky.

The whole tone of the Witherington interview seems to proceed from the assumption that the reader is by now convinced. The material seems to proceed from the assumption that the gospels are accepted as genuine and truthful, and therefore useful to disprove alternative theories.

Page 134 – Exploring the Earliest Traditions
In the “interview” Witherington is asked about a 1977 book, unnamed, written by “a British theologian John Hick and a half-dozen like-minded colleagues” in which it is alleged that Jesus never thought of himself as a god incarnate, and that the concept was written into the gospels, so as to make it appear that Jesus was making these claims himself.

The crux of the Hick hypothesis is that if one goes to the earliest Christian sources, those that predate the gospels, one can find evidence supporting this theory. Indeed, this is what I found in my own researches.

Witherington, however, does not go to these early sources. He simply uses the gospels to defend the theory that the gospels themselves are presenting! Well, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the gospel writers are going to make their product as convincing as they can – after all, they’re writing, in an effort to convince as the author of John admitted!

If Witherington were the scholar he is portrayed as being, he’d understand that simple fact and realize that to understand the historical context of the gospels, he’ll eventually have to go outside the gospels themselves to whatever other historical evidence is available. He has not done that in this “interview.” If he did, it would quickly become apparent, as it did to me when I examined this evidence, that the Hick hypothesis has a great deal of merit.

Page 135 – By the Finger of God through page 142 – In the Very Place of God
The author here is wielding doctrinal axes, convincing the reader of his point of view to the exclusion of others. What’s interesting here is that the supposedly atheistic journalist is again using the subtleties of ancient Hebrew etymology to generate leading questions – more evidence that this book was ghostwritten.

The one item of note in these sections, is the comment on page 141, where the “journalist author” asks, “We have to ask, Why is there no other first century Jew who has millions of followers today? Why isn’t there a John the Baptist movement? Why, of all the first century figures, including the Roman emperors, is Jesus still worshiped today, while all the others have crumbled into the dust of history?”

The book has Witherington answering with: “It’s because Jesus – the historical Jesus – is also the living Lord. That’s why. It’s because he’s still around, while all the others are long gone.” Just the answer you’d expect from a Christian apologist not a true truth seeker.

This chapter (chapter 8)  seeks to demonstrate that Jesus was not crazy. It is based on the presumption that modern psychology has a precise definition of that term, which it clearly does not. And using apologetic psychologists to answer the question doesn’t help matters either. Again, the reader is presumed by this time to already be convinced of the accuracy and reliability of the gospels, so they’re taken as a given by the interviewees. The material is intended to be reinforcement, since it clearly presumes a conversion has taken place by now.

chapter 9—Here we are introduced to the attributes of God that the author would have us believe are met by Jesus. Here we are instructed as just what to believe about the nature of Jesus, his position within the trinity, and the nature of his godhood. This chapter consists of a single interview.

Dr. Carson has a PhD in New Testament studies from Cambridge University. He is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School at Deerfield, Illinois.

Page 158 – Mystery of the Incarnation
While the author asked questions above that displayed a knowledge of Classical Hebrew etymology, here he’s asking questions that appear to be hopelessly naive. In one case, he asks, “Lets admit it, the Bible itself seems to argue against Jesus being God.” Actually, this question is a leading one, designed to draw out evidence for the concept of Jesus as God.

Again, this whole section is based on Biblical evidence supporting contentions that are subject to dispute if the Bible itself is not accepted as evidence. It is clearly intended, therefore, to reinforce a tentative conversion. Or more importantly, he ignores all the different interpretations, and the issue of which interpretation brings harmony to the text.

Page 161 – Creator or Created?
Carson, like Blomberg, apparently doesn’t know his Classical Greek all that well, or has trouble accepting the meaning for what it is. He says of Colossians 1:15 that “…the very expression ‘firstborn’ is slightly misleading”

“What would be a better translation be?”

“I think ‘supreme heir’ would be more appropriate.”

The problem here is that not only does he an interpretation that is not normative, but he then not solving the problem, if we move from firstborn to supreme heir, this does not solve the issue of  clarity of interpretation.

Chapter 10  attempts to establish that Jesus is the Messiah that is prophesied in Jewish scripture.

Mr. Lapides, born Jewish, has two master’s degrees, both from Talbot Theological Seminary and now is apparently the pastor of a ministry teaching Christianity to Jewish college students.

This chapter is all about the prophecies in the old testament about Jesus.  All i need to say here is anything do with prophecies from the old testament to the new testament has to with only one thing.  That is a person’s belief system.  There is no way around it when it comes to prophecies.  For example, so Jesus would be born of a virgin called Emmanuel.  Well Jesus was not called that, but its one of the prophecies, why? Its the interpretation given to it.

Interview Ten – Alexander Metherell, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Metherell holds a medical doctorate from the University of Miami in Florida, and a doctorate in engineering (no discipline specified) from the University of Bristol, in England.

Page 194 – The Torture Before the Cross through page 203 – A Question for the Heart
In all these sections, Dr. Metherell discusses in great detail his speculations about the methods of torture and crucifixion used by the Romans, without any scriptural or documentary support. The whippings of the Romans he describes are so horrific it is unlikely that anyone would have remained conscious from them, though he does not say this. He discusses the effects of the loss of blood, but does not discuss the shock or loss of consciousness that would likely result. Again, he talks about specific locations of injuries on Jesus’ body without any scriptural reference or other supporting evidence.

Of course, when one makes up the details to one’s own liking, it is possible to make the case for the crucifixion in any manner one pleases. And being a physician, one can easily add detail that will add graphically to the story. But as for hard evidence, the story here as related by Metherell comes up a bit short. There is nothing offered that would tend to support traditional interpretations over any other interpretation. Metherell has simply told a story that is consistent with the desired outcome – in which Jesus died on the cross as the result of pre-crucifixion injury and the trauma of crucifixion itself.

Again, all the arguments in this chapter presume that one has already accepted the authority of the gospels in the first place.

Interview Eleven – William Lane Craig, Ph.D., D.Th.

The credentials of William Craig include a doctorate from the University of Birmingham and a doctorate in theology from the University of Munich.

This section again presumes an existing conversion, and seeks to indoctrinate with regards to the resurrection myth. It is essentially explanation until page 214.

Page 213 – The Contradictions through page 223
Here, Craig is given the challenge of reconciling these contradictions.

He does so by the device of saying that the contradictions don’t matter! His defense begins by saying that the “core” of the story is the same in all four gospels. Well, if you read the Gospel in parallel to each other you’ll discover that it is up to a point. Beyond that, they diverge so wildly one cannot correlate them any further.

In fact to get an understanding of the so called core is essentially the same…we will point out only some of the differences to give you an idea

Of all the contradictions and inconsistencies in the Bible, few make more of a mess of things than the four accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection as given in the four gospels.

Here we have a single narrative, told by four different authors, that is so contradictory that I’ve never seen an explanation of it. It will be interesting to see the fundamentalists untangle this mess. For the sake of brevity, we’ll just pick up the story on that first Easter Sunday:

When the sun was coming up (Matt. 28:1) while it was still dark (John 20:1), Mary Magdalene (John 20:1) or Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (Matt 28:1) or “the women” [note the plural] (Luke 24:1) went to the tomb. There was an earthquake, and an angel came down and rolled the stone away (Matt. 28:2) from the entrance of the tomb and sat on it, even though it had apparently already been rolled away when Mary Magdalene had got there (John 20:1, Mark 16:4, Luke 24:2). The reason for the visit was to anoint the body with spices (Mark 16:1, Luke 24:1) or just to look at the tomb (Matt. 28:1), take your pick.

When she or they, take your pick, arrived, she/they witnessed the earthquake and angel coming down from heaven (Matt. 28:1), or they walked into the tomb to discover a young man dressed in white sitting on the right (Mark 16:5) or two men in bright shining clothes (Luke 24:4), take your pick.

At this point, John says that Mary had run back to fetch Peter and another disciple. The other gospel writers make no mention of Mary taking leave of the tomb to go back and get any of the men at this point.

If/when she/they returned, the angel (Mark 15:6) or the angels (Luke 24:5) is/are quoted by the gospel writers as having said one of three things. Either “He is not here, he is raised, just as he said.” (Matt. 28:6) or “He is not here, he has been raised.” (Mark 15:6, Luke 24:6) or “Woman, why are you crying?” (John 20:13).

So the woman or women ran from the tomb to tell the disciples (Matt. 28:8) or they left, too terrified to say anything to anyone (Mark 16:8), take your pick.

Mary Magdalene saw Jesus appear to her and decided he’d been resurrected (John 20:14-18). Or the women, having left the tomb and thinking things over, were sure that Jesus’ body had been stolen, so they tried to bribe the soldiers guarding the tomb to tell them where the body had been taken (Matt. 28:11-15).

I’m sorry, but at this point, the stories diverge so completely, it is not possible to correlate them any further. But that’s OK, because by now, you get the point. There are just too many glaring inconsistencies here, most of which are mutually exclusive without some really implausible apologetics. So much so that it’s ludicrous to claim that the four accounts are all true. As you’ve seen, they can’t possibly be.

If you want to get a real sense of the inconsistencies in the narrative of the four gospels, start with the trial of Jesus, and compare the accounts in the gospels side by side, reading the account of each incident in the narrative in each gospel before going on to the next incident in the narrative. It will quickly become obvious just how inconsistent the Bible really is.

As you do this, you’ll come to realize just how imperfect this supposedly perfect document has to be. And as such, the reasonableness of one of the basic claims of the fundamentalist Christians, that of the inerrancy of the Bible, will evaporate like the dew on a summer morning.

Well, it’s not really surprising that the core story is the same, since it is widely acknowledged by both secular and religious scholars that both Matthew and Luke wrote their gospels with Mark in hand, and John wrote his with all three of the others in hand. So it’s hardly a surprise that the core of the story would be the same.

Craig then goes on to make the astonishing assertion that the rest of the details differ, but it doesn’t matter! He justifies this by saying that if they were all the same, it would be evidence of plagiarism, and since they differ, one wouldn’t expect that they were plagiarized from each other!

The problem with this thesis is that the detail diverges so greatly, far more than the examples he uses, that it is clear that there were some differences in the motivations of the writers. It’s also been accepted by even the most conservative scholars that Mark wrote the first gospel and each of the others had his writings in hand when they wrote. So the issue of plagiarism is hardly at issue. It’s agreed that Luke, Matthew and John took as inspiration the writings of Mark. So the use of the plagiarism argument is specious.

The arguments he raises against plagiarism all revolve around the assumption that the motives of the authors were pure – a contention he nowhere supports. Hence, if one cannot accept without question the sincerity of the authors of the gospels following Mark, his arguments become worthless. Nowhere does he support the assumption that the gospel writers were sincere. The assumption is simply taken as a given.

The biggest problem of all in his interview and the issue of plagiarism — that its factual historical facts, the question of plagiarism does not even come in.  People are not supposed to say the same historical facts because, why? it would be plagiarism?????

Interview Twelve – Gary Habermas, Ph.D., D.D.

Habermas holds a doctorate in divinity from Emmanuel College in Oxford, England. His Ph.D. is from Michigan State University, where he wrote his dissertation on the Resurrection. He is currently the chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University, Jerry Falwell’s school for evangelical fundamentalists.

Page 229 – Convince Me It’s a Creed
This rather remarkable little section is an attempt by Habermas to prove that the portion of the Nicean Creed quoted from I Corinthians is in fact a creed of the early church. He relies on primarily linguistic evidence to claim that I Corinthians 15:3-8, drawing on the use of an Aramaic word, and the use of technical rabbinic terms indicating a holy tradition being passed on, etc.

Yet nowhere does he bring up the possibility that this section of Corinthians is a later interpolation, nor attempt to disprove such a possibility.

The fact that the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to the crowd of 500 is not mentioned anywhere in secular historical records, nor even in the gospels themselves, does not bother Habermas. He simply dismisses the problem, and the doubt it casts on Paul as “plain silliness,” claiming that it’s the “earliest and most authenticated passage of all” without saying how it is authenticated or what evidence there is for it being early. His only justification is that Paul wrote while many of the 500 were still alive, claiming that he wouldn’t have the courage to do so if the account were not accurate. Well that presumes two things: first, that Paul wrote the account and it’s not a later interpolation, and second that it would be easy to verify. Habermas underestimates the difficulty of travel and research in the ancient world. And as I’ve said, he offers no support for his assertion that it’s not an interpolation.

Did he also forget that Paul had his opponents?  The majority was against Paul’s teachings at the time. I guess he forget, that there are  many Gospels each with there own version about Jesus.

Page 237 – Are There Any Alternatives?
Here Habermas takes on the problems of the apparent development of the appearances of the resurrected Jesus, beginning with the disputed appearance at the end of Mark (16:9-20 which does not appear in the earliest manuscripts of Mark that we have), and continuing with more appearances in Matthew, even more in Luke, and the most of all in the last gospel to be written, John. Habermas dismisses this by saying simply that there is no proof that the gospels were written in that order! Well, there may not be proof, but there is certainly plenty of evidence. The gospels seems to develop this way. There are others, the virgin birth, the baptism of Jesus, etc., all progressively develop in detail in this order. It’s hard to discount what this says about the writing of the gospels.

In the section on hallucinations, Habermas quotes Gary Collins as saying that hallucinations are, by their nature, never a mass phenomena. Yet confusing or misunderstood phenomena often are misunderstood by masses of people. Take, for example, the “UFO” seen by hundreds of people in Phoenix on an August night in 1997. Many who saw them swore that the five lights were attached to a huge wing-shaped object. Yet it was later proven by photographic analysis of the videos and still photographs shot that night that they were simply illumination flares lit off over the Goldwater Gunnery Range in southwestern Arizona by the Maryland Air National Guard on maneuvers. There’s no question of what they were. But that doesn’t stop the hundreds of people in Phoenix from believing that they saw a huge UFO that night. Similarly, it’s quite possible for many people to misinterpret a phenomenon with a simple, rational explanation as something supernatural.

Again, there is nothing in Habermas’ comments to prove that this is not a fabrication by gospel writers. He simply assumes the authority of the gospels and proceeds from there.

Interview Thirteen – J.P. Moreland, Ph.D.

J.P. Moreland holds a doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Southern California and is a professor at the Talbot School of Theology.

Page 246 – Exhibit One – The Disciples Died For Their Beliefs.
Mr. Moreland makes the rather remarkable assertion here that the martyrdom of the disciples of Jesus is fundamentally different from the martyrdom of the early Mormons and Islamic terrorists. He asserts that martyrs wouldn’t have submitted to such torture as they did had they not been first-hand witnesses. Their martyrdom doesn’t serve as proof that what they believed was true, any more than Islamic (or for that matter, political) suicide bombers prove that what they believe is true, only that they believed it. Others have died for their beliefs, and been wrong. Witness the early Mormons, whose ideology is obviously a bunch of hooey, but who managed to rack up sizeable numbers of martyrs anyway. I’m sorry, but I just can’t buy Moreland’s assertion. Faith can be a very powerful motivator, right up to and including torture and death, regardless of whether one was a first hand witness or not – how else would he explain the pre-Constantine Roman Christians who willingly submitted to torture and death in the Colesseum rather than deny their faith, but had never even been to Palestine, much less have seen Jesus?

Page 248 – Exhibit Two – Conversion of the Skeptics
Moreland here presents the “hardened skeptics” that were allegedly converted after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The problem here is that he assumes that the accounts in the gospels are accurate and reliable. The only other evidence that Moreland cites is from the gospels themselves, which as we have seen, cannot be considered as unquestionably authoritative.

Page 250 – Exhibit Three – Changes to Key Social Structures through Page 253 – Exhibit Four – Communion and Baptism
Here, Moreland is again assuming the accuracy of the gospel histories. If one accepts the account I give in my essay on the origins of Christianity, some of the changes he talks about are not remarkable at all; in fact, they are well accounted for. The others can be questioned on the basis of the accuracy of the gospel histories.

Page 254 – The Emergence of the Church
Moreland is arguing in this section that the early church was extremely successful because it was true. I think there’s a more rational explanation, and that is given in my essay on Christian origins and my essay on Christianity – simply that it was successful because it was a well-evolved meme complex – similar to countless other examples of successful memes, both religious and secular. I doubt that Moreland would argue that Islam must be true because historically it has converted as many or more people than Christianity. It certainly rose to prominence much more quickly.

The rest of the book is a summery and repeat.

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