Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 27

Did Jesus exist? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return to the work of Glenton Jelbert with his book¬†Evidence Considered. We are done with the science section, but he still has some more things to say about science. I choose to forego commenting on those. I have said enough and again, science is not my main area. We’re getting into the stuff I do enjoy, the history.

Let’s start with the really good news. This chapter is on if Jesus existed and looks at the work of Paul Maier. Good news here is also that Jelbert is not a mythicist. He does agree that Jesus existed.

So that’s the end of the review of this chapter. Right? We can all go home. Jelbert and I agree. Let’s move on to 28.

Not quite. There are a few arguments on the way I find problematic. There are also ways of doing the research I question.

Maier argues that the real debate is not did Jesus exist, but who was He? Jelbert says to say He was God is an extraordinary claim and requires unassailable evidence. If that is not given, it is rational to assume it is not true until otherwise shown. The problems are many with this.

For one thing, extraordinary claims are subjective. I consider atheism an extraordinary claim. Could I go to Jelbert and then say, “Unless you present unassailable evidence of atheism, then theism is true?” I could, but that would not be a valid argument at all.

Keep in mind I am not saying that Jesus is the Son of God in the Christian sense is a mundane claim. It is not. It is a serious claim that needs evidence, but it needs sufficient evidence to be believed. Without a standard as to what counts as extraordinary, then too often it becomes “That which is extraordinary to an atheist.” Many a creationist would say life from non-life is an extraordinary claim and until it can be shown how that happened we are all justified in believing in creationism.

Jelbert also says the atheist position says that other religions present equally unconvincing evidence would be agreed by Christians, but it isn’t. We think Christianity does have the unique evidence of history. We would give a religion like Judaism much more credibility since it’s essential to us. This also doesn’t answer the evidence for Christianity, which I am sure we will get into in these chapters.

Jelbert does say that Paul is silent on many biographical events in the life of Jesus. Of course, he is. He’s not writing a biography. He’s writing to deal with situational events that knowledge of the life of Jesus, which would be background knowledge for his audience, would not help. The Corinthian church has to deal with meat offered to idols. How does saying Jesus performed miracles help answer the questions?

Jelbert is also willing to concede the Gospels may be attempts to historically write the life of Jesus. He presents us with a version of the telephone game. There is no looking at how stories are told in ancient societies. Such could be found in a work like The Lost World of Scripture. The stories would be told in groups. A few would be gatekeepers of knowledge as it were to make sure the story was told accurately. There could be variation on minor details, but the whole thrust of the message had to get through.

Two events in Matthew are worth mentioning. The first is the slaughter of the infants. There is no outside mention of this in Josephus or anywhere else. Josephus would likely be the only one to record this, but we have no reason to think Josephus is exhaustive in everything that Herod did. Second, this would be a minor event. At most, about a dozen children would die. This would be par for the course for Herod. It’s also strange that the Bible seems to be the only work I know of that if something doesn’t show up outside of it, it must be seen as suspect.

The second is the prophecy that Jesus would be called a Nazarene. Jelbert says no such prophecy exist. My answer is that this is the only time Matthew speaks about a fulfillment of the prophets, plural. I think he’s saying the general message of prophecy is that the Messiah would grow up in a humble and shameful state.

There’s also nothing he says about a census as in Luke. Jelbert presents nothing on the other side that acts as positive evidence. I point the reader to the interview I did with Ben Witherington especially.

Jelbert also asks if both birth narratives could be cobbled together to form a unit. He doesn’t see how with any integrity. Let’s stop there. The problem is this is the same kind of thinking he accuses IDists of. “Could this organism come about through purely naturalistic processes? I don’t see how.”

Second, he says the only reason you would do this is because you think the Bible is the Word of God which presupposes God exists. Not necessarily. Now suppose I do think Jesus rose from the dead on other grounds and I think the Bible is the Word of God and I have good arguments for God’s existence. Is it reasonable to think there’s an explanation even if I don’t know one? Yes. Just like it’s reasonable for the atheist to think there’s a way life came from non-life even if it is not known now.

But besides that, couldn’t some people want to resolve these accounts because they want to try to figure out what happened and if a way exists, go with it? That is the nature of historical investigation. We can look at differing accounts and try to reconcile them.

I could just as easily turn this on Jelbert too. Why doesn’t he want to investigate to see if the accounts can be reconciled? Because he is an atheist and he doesn’t want the Bible to be the Word of God and for Jesus to have risen from the dead. Is that true? I can’t say. Could it be plausible to some? Yep. This is why pointing to motives is really kind of pointless.

In the end, Jelbert and I agree on the conclusion, which is refreshing. He does say this doesn’t give evidence for God, which is true, but this is also a cumulative case. It’s hard to have Christianity if Jesus never existed after all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters