Is the Christian Bible credible? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
We’re continuing our look at Asher Norman’s book 26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe In Jesus. Now we look at the Christian Bible. This chapter and the next one I think are going to be my favorites to deal with, and dare I say it but the next one could be even more fun when we look at the historical Jesus.
You know this chapter is going to start out good when it has a quoting of Earl Doherty. Doherty is someone whose theories are not taken seriously by Biblical scholars and are that of Jesus mythicism. That theory is that the epistles were not aware of Jesus’s earthly history.
Of course, this is just false and we can see that looking even at just the ones that are universally accepted as Pauline. What are some of the facts we have?
1 Cor. 15:3-8
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried,that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
Christ died, was buried, and appeared to several people. Note the James must be a unique individual called James since no clarification is needed. Could it be that this ties in with James, the brother of the Lord in Galatians 1?
I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother.
If Jesus had never existed, His brother would probably know about it. I don’t buy ideas about this being a spiritual term. If so, why are the other apostles not brothers as well?
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.
1 Cor. 5:7
Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
This is fully consistent with Christ being crucified on Passover.
1 Cor. 11:23-26
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
Christ has a human and a divine nature.
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,
Jesus lived a life born of a woman and under the Law, which means among His fellow Jews living a Jewish life.
Now I know the objections. Yeah. Not forgetting them. We will get to them as we go along.
All Norman has on the other side is an argument from silence. The maxim with those is that where silence is expected, the argument from silence is weak. We are told that there is no mention of his sayings, his miracles, or Calvary, to which we ask, why should they? These were occasional letters. They were written to deal with specific instruction. The fundamentals of the faith would have been covered. You don’t go to those who already know these and repeat them again and again.
Norman buys into the idea that these messages were received by revelations. If so, these revelations seem awfully constrained. Why not claim a revelation every time for every event? The language is actually that of oral tradition.
“Are you sure?! Look at 1 Cor. 11. What I received from the Lord! Paul is saying he got a message directly from Jesus!”
No. In his book on the historical Jesus, Keener points out that this kind of language was common for rabbis who claimed to receive interpretations from Sinai. They don’t mean the mountain or Moses appeared to them. They mean that is the foundation. So why does 1 Cor. 11 mention the Lord? Because Jesus is the foundation for what was said. He said the works in 1 Cor. 11. He did not say the words in 1 Cor. 15 so Paul did not receive those from the Lord.
Norman also thinks the Gospels are second century. (Of course, we know we can’t trust second century Gospels, but that fourth century Pseudoclementine Recognitions is totally reliable!) Unfortunately, he gives no scholarship for this as he is still just parroting Doherty. The main example he brings up as a problem is the date of the crucifixion of Jesus based on differences between John and the synoptics and says it can’t be reconciled.
I have no interest in debating inerrancy, but let’s suppose it can’t be. Oh well. That doesn’t overturn that there is much that is historical. All-or-nothing thinking is not the way good historians think. It’s the way fundamentalists think. Still, Norman is free to go and look at several commentaries and see what he can find. If he is so sure we have a defeater, I invite him to please go to a site like Skeptics Annotated Bible and see what “contradictions” they see in the Old Testament that cannot be reconciled.
Mark is said by Norman to be the first Gospel written. That is a statement that some scholars would disagree with, but not most, so we won’t make a big deal about that. The humorous idea is his problem with Matthew using Mark if Matthew was an eyewitness. If Matthew had been the one behind it, why use Mark, which I have addressed elsewhere. The most amusing part is when he says that Matthew speaks of himself in third person. Why didn’t he say “Jesus saw me sitting at the table” instead of “He saw Matthew.”
Poor Norman. He doesn’t realize how far behind the times he is. This was addressed by Augustine 1,600 years or so ago. Just go to Contra Faustum 17.
Faustus thinks himself wonderfully clever in proving that Matthew was not the writer of this Gospel, because, when speaking of his own election, he says not, He saw me, and said to me, Follow me; but, He saw him, and said to him, Follow me. This must have been said either in ignorance or from a design to mislead. Faustus can hardly be so ignorant as not to have read or heard that narrators, when speaking of themselves, often use a construction as if speaking of another. It is more probable that Faustus wished to bewilder those more ignorant than himself, in the hope of getting
on not a few unacquainted with these things. It is needless to resort to other writings to quote examples of this construction from profane authors for the information of our friends, and for the refutation of Faustus. We find examples in passages quoted above from Moses by Faustus himself, without any denial, or rather with the assertion, that they were written by Moses, only not written of Christ. When Moses, then, writes of himself, does he say, I said this, or I did that, and not rather, Moses said, and Moses did? Or does he say, The Lord called me, The Lord said to me, and not rather, The Lord called Moses, The Lord said to Moses, and so on? So Matthew, too, speaks of himself in the third person.
And John does the same; for towards the end of his book he says: “Peter, turning, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved, who also lay on His breast at supper, and who said to the Lord, Who is it that shall betray You?” Does he say, Peter, turning, saw me? Or will you argue from this that John did not write this Gospel? But he adds a little after: “This is the disciple that testifies of Jesus, and has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true.” [John 21:20-24] Does he say, I am the disciple who testify of Jesus, and who have written these things, and we know that my testimony is true? Evidently this style is common in writers of narratives. There are innumerable instances in which the Lord Himself uses it. “When the Son of man,” He says, “comes, shall He find faith on the earth?” [Luke 18:8] Not, When I come, shall I find? Again, “The Son of man came eating and drinking;” [Matthew 11:19] not, I came. Again, “The hour shall come, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live;” [John 5:25] not, My voice. And so in many other places. This may suffice to satisfy inquirers and to refute scoffers.
Consider the Anabasis by Xenophon. Here’s the 1st part of book three with a note at the end by the editor.
After the generals had been seized, and the captains and soldiers who 1 formed their escort had been killed, the Hellenes lay in deep perplexity--a prey to painful reflections. Here were they at the king's gates, and on every side environing them were many hostile cities and tribes of men. Who was there now to furnish them with a market? Separated from Hellas by more than a thousand miles, they had not even a guide to point the way. Impassable rivers lay athwart their homeward route, and hemmed them in. Betrayed even by the Asiatics, at whose side they had marched with Cyrus to the attack, they were left in isolation. Without a single mounted trooper to aid them in pursuit: was it not perfectly plain that if they won a battle, their enemies would escape to a man, but if they were beaten themselves, not one soul of them would survive? Haunted by such thoughts, and with hearts full of despair, but few of them tasted food that evening; but few of them kindled even a fire, and many never came into camp at all that night, but took their rest where each chanced to be. They could not close their eyes for very pain and yearning after their fatherlands or their parents, the wife or child whom they never expected to look upon again. Such was the plight in which each and all tried to seek repose. Now there was in that host a certain man, an Athenian (1), Xenophon, who had accompanied Cyrus, neither as a general, nor as an officer, nor yet as a private soldier, but simply on the invitation of an old friend, Proxenus. This old friend had sent to fetch him from home, promising, if he would come, to introduce him to Cyrus, "whom," said Proxenus, "I consider to be worth my fatherland and more to me." (1) The reader should turn to Grote's comments on the first appearance of Xenophon. He has been mentioned before, of course, more than once before; but he now steps, as the protagonist, upon the scene, and as Grote says: "It is in true Homeric vein, and in something like Homeric language, that Xenophon (to whom we owe the whole narrative of the expedition) describes his dream, or the intervention of Oneiros, sent by Zeus, from which this renovating impulse took its rise."
The Wars of The Jews by Josephus. 2.20.4
4. They also chose other generals for Idumea; Jesus, the son of Sapphias, one of the high priests; and Eleazar, the son of Ananias, the high priest; they also enjoined Niger, the then governor of Idumea, 32 who was of a family that belonged to Perea, beyond Jordan, and was thence called the Peraite, that he should be obedient to those fore-named commanders. Nor did they neglect the care of other parts of the country; but Joseph the son of Simon was sent as general to Jericho, as was Manasseh to Perea, and John, the Esscue, to the toparchy of Thamna; Lydda was also added to his portion, and Joppa, and Emmaus. But John, the son of Matthias, was made governor of the toparchies of Gophnitica and Acrabattene; as was Josephus, the son of Matthias, of both the Galilees. Gamala also, which was the strongest city in those parts, was put under his command.
De Bello Gallico by Caesar
VII.—When it was reported to Caesar that they were attempting to make their route through our Province, he hastens to set out from the city, and, by as great marches as he can, proceeds to Further Gaul, and arrives at Geneva. He orders the whole Province [to furnish] as great a number of soldiers as possible, as there was in all only one legion in Further Gaul: he orders the bridge at Geneva to be broken down. When the Helvetii are apprised of his arrival, they send to him, as ambassadors, the most illustrious men of their state (in which embassy Numeius and Verudoctius held the chief place), to say “that it was their intention to march through the Province without doing any harm, because they had” [according to their own representations] “no other route:—that they requested they might be allowed to do so with his consent.” Caesar, inasmuch as he kept in remembrance that Lucius Cassius, the consul, had been slain, and his army routed and made to pass under the yoke by the Helvetii, did not think that [their request] ought to be granted; nor was he of opinion that men of hostile disposition, if an opportunity of marching through the Province were given them, would abstain from outrage and mischief. Yet, in order that a period might intervene, until the soldiers whom he had ordered [to be furnished] should assemble, he replied to the ambassadors, that he would take time to deliberate; if they wanted anything, they might return on the day before the ides of April [on April 12th].
We are quite amused to learn that Norman thinks it amusing that Josephus wrote The Wars of the Jews. Of course, he’d think that’s a ridiculous idea, but if we follow his standards, then Josephus did not write the book.
Norman also acknowledges that most scholars think the Gospels are late first century works, but considers this unlikely because the epistles don’t refer to them (Why should they?) and they aren’t mentioned until the second century. Of course, we could ask when the first reference to books like Isaiah, Daniel, or the writings of Moses take place and see how well they hold up by Norman’s standards.
Norman misses the point that many ways are used to judge when a work is written beyond “When is it first referenced?” We look for internal evidences and matters such as that. You will not see any interaction with the other side such as Blomberg or Bauckham or anyone else. More information would be damaging to Norman’s case. It’s better to go with the sensational mythicists.
Norman also claims that the Gospels were not by eyewitnesses. He has a quotation from Eusebius about pious frauds which proves nothing of that sort. All it says is several frauds showed up. By this standard, we could say all money is fake because there is plenty of counterfeit money. He then goes on to quote Robert Taylor in the 19th century who was not taken seriously in his own day and just has an assertion. Again, no interaction with Bauckham.
He then quotes Josh McDowell who talks about the differences in manuscripts and says that only 50 variant readings of the Bible at his time were of great significance. Norman in true fundamentalist form jumps to modern times and asks if someone would trust a medical textbook where there were only fifty passages of doubt. Today, textbooks are printed by machine and copied that way so there is no chance of error, but Norman doesn’t know how textual criticism works. We do have differences. They are unavoidable.
Norman tells us that by contrast, after 1948 thousands of Torah scrolls were brought to the public and aside from some in Yemen, there were no differences among the manuscripts. He gives no evidence of this claim. There is no mention of comparing the Masoretic text to the Dead Sea Scrolls. There is no mention of when our earliest manuscript of the Old Testament is or how far the distance is from that manuscript to the time of writing. Without any citation for this claim, I have no reason to take it seriously.
The next chapter is on the birth narratives not agreeing. Norman is hanging his hat on inerrancy. I have no wish to enter into that debate at this point, but I recommend the reader go to his library and look up the commentaries on this issue.
He also then goes to say the Gospels don’t agree on the names of the disciples. (Don’t you love this argument? The names disagree, therefore Jesus didn’t rise from the dead! Or even further, the names disagree, therefore Jesus never existed!) Norman is not aware that the same person could have two different names in antiquity. We also have no need to comment on the accounts of the death of Jesus supposedly being contradictory.
It’s important to state that I say this not because inerrancy doesn’t matter, but because this becomes a game of “Stump-The-Christian.” By conceding to that debate, one agrees that Christianity hinges on inerrancy. I make no statement like that. I only want to go for the main question. Did Jesus rise from the dead?
We’ll also then skip the resurrection accounts being contradictory as the case does not rely on the accounts of the Gospels. It is worthwhile to point out that Norman says the trial of Jesus lacks credibility because it violates so many Jewish customs. Norman is only repeating what Christian scholars have said for years. This was an entirely wrongly done trial just to deal with Jesus.
Norman’s case here largely hangs on inerrancy and pays no attention to leading scholarship. He is fine with 19th century works and works not accepted by the scholarly community today. We hope that one day he will get past this, but it seems unlikely.
But the worst is yet to come….