Book Plunge: Gospel Fictions

What do I think of Randel Helms’s book published by Prometheus books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I have heard numerous skeptics recommend reading this book. That alone could have told me enough about it, but I’m always one up for reading a disagreeing book so I ordered it at my local library. It was a rather quick read, thank goodness, but one that had I took a note of every item that I thought was just hideously wrong, the notes would have been the size of an average blog post.

I was also seeing Gary Habermas at the time who happened to tell me in emphatic terms about how bad a book this one is. He was right. The book is very badly researched and like many others, gives the sound of one-hand clapping. Helms doesn’t show interaction with modern scholarship and has a standard of historicity for the Bible that would not be applied to any other ancient text.

So what are these fictions? Well let’s look at some categories here.

If two texts disagree on something seemingly, then the texts are a fiction. If the text has any parallel in the Old Testament, then the text is a fiction. If the text has any parallel in pagan literature at the time, then the text is a fiction. If the text just seems strange and bizarre, then the text is a fiction.

The whole of the book could be summarized that way.

Do you find any indication that the Gospels are actually Greco-Roman biographies? Nope. Not a bit. Do you find any interaction with the fact that the events took place in an honor-shame culture? Don’t count on it. Do you have interaction with great archaeological findings that have confirmed some details in the New Testament? You already know the answer to that.

It seems as if Helms never considers with events that have Old Testament parallels that these could be purposeful. If Jesus is showing that He is the greatest prophet of all and the Messiah and Lord, He will show Himself in ways that are superior to the greatest of the Old Testament. If God is behind the story as well, as we believe, then God Himself could be involved to show Jesus is greater by contrast.

Of course, the best critics of his position will not be argued with. Instead, Helms takes more of a shotgun approach with showing as many supposed problems as he thinks he can with a text and then moving on. Nothing is treated in-depth. Certainly, no better explanation for the resurrection event is given to explain the data agreed to by critical scholars without having to say Jesus actually rose from the dead.

There are works by actual scholars that you can read that will actually engage with the material well and still be non-Christian. Sure, I disagree with their conclusions, but they are much better books. A skeptic wanting to learn about the New Testament would be better served by reading books by people like Ludemann, Crossan, Ehrman, Casey, Vermes, and others.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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