A Response To Twelve Painful Facts

Should Christians be in pain because of these “facts”? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So there has been a post I’ve seen recently about twelve painful facts for Christians. As near as I can tell, the author is an atheist named Michael Sherlock. He is apparently pursuing a Master’s in Arts at the University of England majoring in studies of religion. Let’s see how good his studies are doing. Fortunately, he does give sources for his claims.

Fact 1: The earliest official gospel (Mark) was written over a generation (40 years) after the alleged death of Jesus and subsequently, it fails the historical test of contemporaneity.

Source: Paul. J. Achtemeier. Harper-Collins Bible Dictionary Revised Edition. Harper Collins (1989), p. 653; John Barton and John Muddiman. The Oxford Bible Commentary. Oxford University Press (2001), p. 886.

Reply: I would actually place Mark earlier and interestingly, so would skeptics like James Crossley who even places it in the 40’s. I did a research project on Mark once and most scholars do date it to before 70 A.D. This is secondary stuff. There’s two things I want to say about this.

First, there is no alleged death of Jesus. Jesus died.

“The fact of the death of Jesus as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable, despite hypotheses of a pseudo-death or a deception which are sometimes put forward. It need not be discussed further here.” (Gerd Ludemann. .”What Really Happened To Jesus?” Page 17.)

Christians who wanted to proclaim Jesus as messiah would not have invented the notion that he was crucified because his crucifixion created such a scandal. Indeed, the apostle Paul calls it the chief “stumbling block” for Jews (1 Cor. 1:23). Where did the tradition come from? It must have actually happened. (Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. Third Edition. pages 221-222)

Jesus was executed by crucifixion, which was a common method of torture and execution used by the Romans. (Dale Martin, New Testament History and Literature. Page 181)

That Jesus was executed because he or someone else was claiming that he was the king of the Jews seems to be historically accurate. (ibid. 186)

Jesus’ execution is as historically certain as any ancient event can ever be but what about all those very specific details that fill out the story? (John Dominic Crossan http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-d…_b_847504.html)

Second, there is no historical case I know of for contemporaneity in the sense that a document must be contemporary in order to be trustworthy. Most of what we have isn’t. This rule about being contemporary is a made-up rule by Jesus mythicists to argue their case. Also, if early dating of the New Testament is accurate, we do have contemporary witness. We definitely do in Paul.

Fact 2: 612 of the 662 verses in the Gospel of Mark can all be found in Matthew, and in largely the same order, thereby demonstrating that the anonymous author of “Matthew” copied heavily from the Gospel of Mark.

Source: Graham N. Stanton. The Gospels and Jesus. Oxford University Press (1989), pp. 63-64.

Reply: Let’s assume this is accurate.

So what? Why would Matthew need to reinvent the wheel if Mark had already spoken? Furthermore, if Mark is the testimony of Peter as an eyewitness, as a member of the three of Jesus’s inner circle, he saw things that Matthew would not have.

Let’s not forget the whole thing about the Gospels being 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.

Fact 4: The gospels contain numerous forgeries, contradictions and errors.

Source: Re: Story of woman taken in adultery in “John’s” Gospel; Paul. J. Achtemeier. Harper-Collins Bible Dictionary Revised Edition. Harper Collins (1989), p. 535; Re: Final 12 verses of “Mark”; Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Stuttgart (1971), pp. 122-126. There are other examples.

Reply: I am not sure how these count in the category, but looking at this, this isn’t news. We’ve known about these verses not being original since the time of the early church. It’s because we have a strong textual tradition that we can recognize where the text has been altered. It’s amusing also that he claims numerous but only gives two.

Fact 5: The four gospels were not selected as orthodox Scripture until 180 CE

Bart D. Ehrman. Jesus Interrupted. Harper Collins Publishers (2005), p. 111.

Reply: I got this book at the library so I don’t have it now, but I wish he would have consulted a work like Who Chose The Gospels? by Charles Hill. There also weren’t really debates about canonicity. From the beginning, the four Gospels we have were recognized as Scripture by the church fathers. Irenaeus made the first formal statement about them, but that was nothing new.

Fact 6: There are no first century witnesses outside of the corrupt and biased gospels that attest to the earthly existence of Jesus Christ, but for a forged passage in the work of the Jewish Historian, Josephus (Testimonium Flavianum), and a second reference in that same compromised work, which is also suspect and in no way represents a specific reference to the Jesus of the gospels. (6)

Source: Re: No first century witnesses to earthly Jesus; Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus Interrupted. HarperCollins (2009), p. 158; Re: Josephus forgeries; John E. Remsburg. The Christ: A Critical Review and Analysis of the Evidences of His Existence. The Truth Seeker Company (1909), pp. 32-35.

Reply: Bart Ehrman would not agree with this entirely as he does not hold that the statements in Josephus are entire forgeries. Most everyone admits there is some editing, but the majority of scholars believe there is a historical core there to the historical Jesus. This best explains the second reference to James, the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ. Readers would remember Josephus’s early reference.

There is also no contemporary record of a number of other great figures in history like Hannibal, Queen Boudica, and the German general Arminius. I recommend Sherlock check History for Atheists for more.

Fact 7: Almost all of the myths and moral philosophies attributed to Jesus can be found in earlier mythologies and philosophies, held by people that were proximate to the lands in which the gospels first arose.

Source: Joseph McCabe. Sources of Morality in the Gospels. Watts & Co. (1914). McCabe compiled many of the primary source pre-Christian references to the sources of Jesus’ alleged revelations, so you can go to those works and read them for yourself.

Reply: I’m going to assume this is true for the sake of argument.

So what?

My belief in Jesus does not depend on Him giving some unique mind-blowing teaching. It depends on His resurrection from the dead.

Fact 8: Most of the earliest Christians believed that Jesus was either a phantom (non-human apparition), or a completely human Jewish rabbi.

Source: Bart Ehrman. Lost Christianities. Oxford University Press (2003); Earl Doherty. The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? Challenging the Existence of an Historical Jesus. Age of Reason Publications (2005).

Reply: We have to laugh at Earl Doherty being a serious source here. There is no interaction with the Early High Christology Club such as Bauckham, Bird, Hurtado, Tilling, etc. We don’t have any of the church fathers espousing the position listed here. That would have to mean that the apostles died off and then immediately, everyone got everything wrong about Christianity right from the start. Color me skeptical.

Fact 9: Christianity only rose to power due to its blatant disregard for its own Scripture – meaning, it aligned itself with a psychotic “pagan” emperor, Constantine, who boiled his wife in a hot tub, murdered his own son and executed his co-emperor, and he merely used Christianity to solidify his political ambitions (sole emperorship), evidenced by the fact that he continued to practice his pagan faith and mint his coins with Mithras (pagan sun-god), long after his alleged conversion. 

Source: Helen Ellebre, The Dark Side of Christian History. Morningstar Books (1995); Phillip Schaff. History of the Christian Church, Volume 5: The Middle Ages. A.D. 1049-1294. Christian Classics Ethereal Library (1882), p. 322; J.N. Hillgarth, The Conversion of Western Europe. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall (1969), p. 46; Frank Viola & George Barna. Pagan Christianity. Tyndale House Publishers (2008).

Ellebre is not a scholar in the field and Viola and Barna are really not sources I take seriously on this. Having interviewed Peter Leithart on Constantine, I am skeptical of these claims. Something I still want to know though is how Christianity even got to Constantine. It went through numerous persecutions and should have died out in the first century and definitely the second. Never happened.

Fact 10: The sect of Christians that aligned themselves with Constantine became known as the Catholic (Universal) Church and their chief historian, Eusebius, re-wrote Christian history to present a false picture that favored his sect and made it look as if his group’s theology, found in the four official gospels, was always the dominant and original form, when such was not the case.

Source: Bart Ehrman. Lost Christianities. Oxford University Press (2003); Joseph Wheless. Forgery in Christianity. Psychiana (1930); Bart D. Ehrman. Jesus, Interrupted. New York: HarperCollins (2009), p. 214.

Reply: These people must believe Eusebius was a remarkable man. He had the power to traverse the whole Roman Empire and eliminate documents that disagreed with him and change histories everywhere. Simply incredible.

Since I am skeptical of fact 9, this one follows from that.

Fact 11: For the majority of its history (4th Century – 19th Century), Christianity has been a violent religion, which, like a deadly virus, has taken over its hosts and killed in order to spread.

Source: Helen Ellebre, The Dark Side of Christian History. Morningstar Books (1995); Rev. J.E. Riddle. The History of the Papacy, to the Reformation (Multiple volume series); Edward Gibbon. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (multiple volume series).

Reply: There is no in-depth analysis here. You will not find him interacting with a scholar like Thomas Madden on the Crusades or Henry Kamen on the Inquisition. Without specific claims, I really can’t say much here. Sherlock just seems to want to go for emotional points.

Fact 12: When Christianity had temporal authority, it was just as brutal as Islam.  The only reason we see more psychotic behavior from religious nuts in Islamic countries today, versus Western countries, is because the West has become increasingly secularized.

Source: Joseph McCabe. A History of the Popes. Watts and Co. (1939); Rev. Horace K. Mann. The Lives of the Popes in the Early Middle Ages. Vol. 4. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, & Co. Ltd. (1910); Rev. J.E. Riddle. The History of the Papacy, to the Reformation. Vol. 2. Richard Bentley (1854); Helen Ellebre, The Dark Side of Christian History. Morningstar Books (1995); John N.D. Kelly. The Oxford Dictionary of Popes. Oxford University Press (2005); Archibald Bower. The History of the Popes. Griffith and Simon (1845); Johannes Janssen. The History of the German People at the Close of the Middle Ages. Vol. 10. Trans. A.M Christie; Kegan Paul. Trench. Trubner & Co. Ltd. (1906); Preserved Smith, PHD. History of Christian Theophagy. The Open Court Publishing Co. (1922); Jeremy Collier, M.A. An Ecclesiastical History of Great Britain. Vol. 6. William Straker (1811); Carl Theophilus Odhner. Michael Servetus: His Life and Teachings. J.B. Lippincott Company (1910); R. Willis, M.D. Servetus and Calvin: A Study of an Important Epoch in the History of the Reformation. Henry S. King and Co. (1877); Sam Harris. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason. W.W. Norton, New York (2005).

Reply: Again, no specific examples are given, but let’s look at the last part. It’s a shame we can’t be like more secular countries, like Russia and, oh….what’s that? Stalin murdered how many of his people? Oh. Or we could look at Mao….what? He did too? Or Pol-Pot….what? Again? Let’s not forget the Khmer Rouge or the church being persecuted in China today.

I challenge Sherlock to find one nation untouched by the Bible where he’d prefer to live instead.

So we supposedly have twelve painful facts, and yet I felt no pain whatsoever. If anything, I felt some laughter in it.

If this is what is counting for atheistic argumentation today, Christianity is in good hands.

I’d also like to note that there’s hardly any interaction with modern evangelical scholarship on the topic. I have no problem with citing skeptics as I do the same, but by all means study the other side seriously. Otherwise, you just stay in an echochamber.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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