Book Plunge: Trial of the Witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus

Can the gospels stand up to scrutiny? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

One of the great benefits of having a Kindle is that one can read old books for free. Included in that would be a book such as “Trial of the Witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus” (TWRJ) by Thomas Sherlock. The book was written in 1729 in response to the deist Thomas Woolston. Sherlock presents the case in a court room setting with the gospels being tried. Woolston takes one position and Sherlock another before a judge. Sherlock disposes of Woolston’s arguments as well as giving the positive evidence.

The reader could be surprised to see that some modern controversies are still showing up and even answered beforehand. For instance, this book was published nineteen years before Hume’s “Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding” and yet already, Hume’s argument is dealt with. If we are to judge everything by our own experience, what of someone who lives in a tropical culture and is told about such a thing as water freezing and becoming solid? It will be outside of their experience and they have no basis to accept it other than the personal testimony of someone who says otherwise. (Note also these cultures would not have access to television or internet)

Also, it is my opinion that back then, Christians faced off against better arguments. Their opponents were far more informed. This is different from today where one can just be stunned at the ignorance of people like the new atheists in the areas of philosophy, theology, and biblical studies.

Sherlock’s presentation in this work is quite strong fortunately which leads to the next conclusion. The opponents had better arguments, but fortunately, so did the Christians. Sherlock shows that for Woolston, explaining the Christian account of reality is quite difficult, and this even without much of our modern understanding of how the biblical world was an honor-shame culture. It is a wonder to think about what Sherlock would have said if he had been around today and imbibed himself of some of what we’ve learned since his time.

Some arguments back then were seen as bizarre ipso facto. Would that they still were. Consider this on page 33. “…if the argument be good at all, it will be good to prove, that there never was such a man as Jesus in the world. Perhaps the gentleman may think that this is a little too much to prove: and if he does, I hope he will quit the argument in one case as well as in the other; for difference there is none.”

Yes. The idea that Jesus never existed was seen as ludicrous. If only such thinking was around today, but unfortunately internet atheists regularly buy into this idea. Some will say that they think that He did exist, but it’s possible to build a convincing case that He didn’t. Oh wait. It’s not just internet atheists any more. Dawkins on page 122 of “The God Delusion” says it’s possible to build a serious though not widely supported case that Jesus never even existed. On page 127 of “The New Atheism”, Victor Stenger says that we know Joseph Smith existed, but we cannot be so sure in the case of Muhammad or Jesus. In “The Portable Atheist”, starting on page 430, Ibn Warraq, an ex-Muslim, starts an argument for the case that Jesus never even existed.

Tell any of these guys that ID is serious science (A case I’m not arguing for here.) and you’ll be laughed to no end. Yet here these non-specialists come out and make the case that the Jesus myth is serious history. Perhaps the advice on page 4 of TWRJ would help. “He is but a poor council who studies on one side of the question only.”

Ultimately, the case will come down to Sherlock’s greatest proclamation in my opinion in the book. On page 15 he gives the challenge to Woolston. “There is therefore here no medium: you must either admit the miracle or prove the fraud.”

And today, the challenge still stands. Someone must admit the miracle or prove the fraud, and it looks like the fraud side is lacking even more today.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Sherlock’s book can be downloaded for free on your Kindle here

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