How do we deal with common objections? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
So do you remember Jim Hall? You don’t? Yeah. His work is pretty unforgettable, but he’s the guy who wrote a book which is not worth your time to read at all and I reviewed. I shared my review with him publicly on Facebook and he has yet to respond to it at all. Instead, he has told me I am intellectually dishonest. On what grounds? Well, none have been given. Recently on someone’s wall he made a list of claims that are common I figured I’d respond to here just because I can and I know again, he won’t respond.
Objection #1:There are over 60 gospels, only four were arbitrarily added to the Bible.
Yes. Arbitrarily added. Of course, Hall will never ever dare read a book like Charles Hill’s Who Chose The Gospels? Nope. That requires research. He won’t look and say “Hmmm. Who were the ones the earliest church fathers were pointing to?” We find extremely early on Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John being put out on display. Why is this? Because these were seen to be the most reliable by the church and connected to apostles.
As for arbitrarily chosen, by who? Perhaps Hall buys into the myth that these books were voted on at the Council of Nicea. Good luck finding evidence for that. It’s a common myth, but there is nothing that has been produced from the Council itself saying it. As Ehrman says:
Ehrman on the NT Canon and the Council of
Widespread Misconceptions about the Council of Nicea
One of the reasons I’m excited about doing my new course for the Teaching Company (a.k.a. The Great Courses) is that I’ll be able to devote three lectures to the Arian Controversy, the Conversion of the emperor Constantine, and the Council of Nicea (in 325 CE). It seems to me that a lot more people know about the Council of Nicea today than 20 years ago – i.e., they know that there *was* such a thing – and at the same time they know so little about it. Or rather, what they think they know about it is WRONG.
I suppose we have no one more to blame for this than Dan Brown and the Da Vinci Code, where, among other things, we are told that Constantine called the Council in order to “decide” on whether Jesus was divine or not, and that they took a vote on whether he was human or “the Son of God.” And, according to Dan Brown’s lead character (his expert on all things Christian), Lee Teabing, “it was a close vote at that.”
That is so wrong.
There are also a lot of people who think (I base this on the number of times I hear this or am asked about it) that it was at the Council of Nicea that the canon of the New Testament was decided. That is, this is when Christian leaders allegedly decided which books would be accepted into the New Testament and which ones would be left out.
That too is wrong.
So here’s the deal. First, the canon of the New Tesatment was not a topic of discussion at the Council of Nicea. It was not talked about. It was not debated. It was not decided. Period. The formation of the canon was a long drawn-out process, with different church leaders having different views about which books should be in and which should be out. I can devote some posts to the question if anyone is interested (I would need to look back to see if I’ve done that already!).
Short story: different church communities and Christian leaders preferred different books because they (the communities and leaders) had different understandings of what the faith was and should be – even within the orthodox community there were disagreements.
The *first* author ever to list *our* 27 books and claim that *these* (and no others) were “the” books of the New Testament was the bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius, in the year 367 (45 years *after* the council of Nicea!) in a letter that he wrote to the churches under his control to whom he was giving his annual episcopal advice. And even that did not decide the issue: different orthodox churches continued to think that some books should be in, for example, that didn’t make it in (e.g. 1 and 2 Clement; the Shepherd of Hermas; the Letter of Barnabas).
There never was a church council that decided the issue – until the (anti-Reformation, Roman Catholic) Council of Trent in the 16th century!
We can also point out that when we look at the earliest opponents of Christianity, such as Celsus, what do they respond to? Yep. The four Gospels.
Finally, let’s see what Bart Ehrman says about this:
If historians want to know what Jesus said and did they are more or less constrained to use the New Testament Gospels as their principal sources. Let me emphasize that this is not for religious or theological reasons–for instance, that these and these alone can be trusted. It is for historical reasons pure and simple. (Ehrman, The New Testament, page 215)
Objection #2: None of the Bible authors ever actually met Jesus face-to-face.
Again, no evidence is given of this. It’s an assertion. Could it be true? Perhaps. Does he respond to someone like, say, Richard Bauckham with his work Jesus and the Eyewitnesses? Nope. Not a bit. No historians are cited.
Atheists like Hall often make these statements of faith. How would they establish that? Again, Hall gives us no reason to believe that.
Objection #3: The gospels were written anonymously, at least 30 years after the crucifixion.
Let’s suppose they were anonymous, although Martin Hengel disagrees. So what? Many works from the ancient world were anonymous. That doesn’t mean we have no idea about who the author is. E.P. Sanders has a reason also why they were anonymous.
The authors probably wanted to eliminate interest in who wrote the story and to focus the reader on the subject. More important, the claim of an anonymous history was higher than that of a named work. In the ancient world an anonymous book, rather like an encyclopedia article today, implicitly claimed complete knowledge and reliability. It would have reduced the impact of the Gospel of Matthew had the author written ‘this is my version’ instead of ‘this is what Jesus said and did.’ – The Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders page 66.
Furthermore, the Pastoral epistles are not anonymous and say they are by Paul. Does that mean that skeptics immediately jump on that and say “Hey! Paul wrote those!”? No. Why should I think a name on the Gospels would be any different?
Objection #4: Luke/Acts is widely agreed upon to have been written around 80CE.
Again, no evidence for this whatsoever. Hall gives no information to believe this claim. I also find it hard to believe that the author of Luke/Acts would say absolutely nothing about the death of Paul, Peter, or the destruction of Jerusalem. Now again, I could be mistaken in my belief, sure, but Hall doesn’t give me any evidence to go by.
Objection #5: If Harry Potter was the most-studied book in history, that still wouldn’t make it true.
I don’t know anyone who is saying the Bible is true because it is the most studied book in all of history. I have no idea what Hall is trying to establish with this claim. Let’s move on to the next.
Objection #6: There is no moral teaching in the Bible that cannot also be found in much older religions’ texts.
Reply: So what? The Bible is true because it contains some unique moral teaching? Morality is common knowledge that is meant for all men. You don’t need the Bible to know it.
Objection #7: “Positive impact on the world”? It has been cited for centuries to justify slavery and the subjugation of women.
Reply: Yes. The Bible has been misused. So what? Evil people misuse good things constantly. The Bible has also been used to end slavery repeatedly and to raise up women. That is never mentioned. Hall is free to find a nation untouched by the Bible at all where he would rather live if he thinks things are so awful in places the Bible has reached.
Again, I know Hall will not respond. He can claim I’m intellectually dishonest all he wants, but that will not work as well as just responding to the claims. Show I am wrong on something and I will accept it. We’ll see if that happens, but don’t hold your breath on it.