Book Plunge: In Defense of the Gospels

What do I think of John Stewart’s book published by Intelligent Faith Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

John Stewart is a lawyer who works with Ratio Christi and has written a book on defending the Gospels. Stewart goes through several questions very thoroughly and point by point. He also introduces you to many methodologies and explains why he accepts the answers that he accepts.

He starts off with asking when the Gospels were written. He establishes reasons for His dates but points out that often even on the worst case scenario of a date, the date could still be within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses. He points out that this is important and compares this to other works of history as well.

Stewart goes on to use similar methodologies on other questions such as if the Gospels are anonymous or if they’ve been changed or if they’re biased. Many of the objections dealt with are the ones that most people will encounter when they engage with internet atheists. If you are often involved or know someone who is involved with those debates and wants an extra resource, this would be a good one.

The work is also short and easy to understand without using technical language. It can be read in a short time and would be ideal for college students on campuses. No doubt, this is because of years that Stewart has spent with Ratio Christi.

There’s also a brief section on Jesus Mythicism in one of the chapters. This will be helpful for those who regularly encounter this crazy idea that seems to keep popping up its head. While the material there is basic, it is enough to help you out with the average mythicist.

I also like the argument dealing with the question of if the Gospels are anonymous. This is a common one that shows up on the internet, but it is one I do not see professional scholars dealing with, mainly because most scholars don’t use “The Gospels are anonymous” as a reason to think that they are automatically untrustworthy. Stewart rightly points out that it does help us if we can have good reasons to name an eyewitness behind a Gospel, but it is not a necessity to know if the Gospel is reliable or not.

If there were some criticisms I would give, the first one is that the book does need an editor. There would occasionally be seen¬†typos that were distracting. One in particular was to hear about how to respond to Bark Ehrman. This is a slip of the keyboard of course, but it can damage one’s reputation.

I also would have liked to have seen a lot more specifics on ideas that have been overturned in the past 100 years about the Gospels due to archaeology. Mythicism was addressed, but that has never been a reigning theory among scholars. There have been very few isolated individuals who have held that position, although the number today could be greater due to the rise of the internet and the fast spread of false information.

Still, there is much to commend in Stewart’s book. It is a good opening defense one can have in the case of the Gospels and the author does make sure to focus there. He does have a short section on the Pauline epistles, but that is not what the book is about so he does rightly stick with the Gospels. I recommend this one for your college student,¬†especially one who wants to better defend the Gospels.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Why Christianity Is Not True Chapter 6

How do we form our narratives? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The sixth chapter of Pye’s book is about what he calls narrative formation. In this, a person goes through their life and they see the hand of God as do others and that leads them to think Christianity is true. I am sure this is the case for some people, but apparently absent is the idea of “A person looks at the metaphysical evidence for God and the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus and concludes that Christianity is true.”

Pye’s look reminds me of what’s wrong with Christianity in the West today. It’s an all about me approach. We know the will of God through our experiences. We know what God requires of us through our experiences. We know the nature of God through our experiences. Experiences are really incredibly difficult to interpret.

The main point Pye wants to make is that a Christian can interpret anything in line with what they believe. Pye asks those of us who are Christians to come up with an experience that could cause us to abandon Christianity. That’s quite easy actually. An experience where I encounter a better explanation for the rise of the early church than the one the apostles gave. My Christianity is not based on what happens to me today, but it’s based on what Jesus did 2,000 years ago.

Pye also says that this disconfirming evidence does exist for atheism. An atheist would be hard pressed if he saw an amputated limb grow back right before his eyes. I think it would really depend on the atheist. An atheist could come up with an explanation such as extra-terrestrials or perhaps even something more like an X-Men superpower before ascribing it to theism.

What Pye has done is just taken something everyone of us does. We all see evidence and experience through the filter of where we are. This is one reason I also encourage people to really read material that disagrees with them. We need to know what it is that we are arguing against. We need to know what the other side thinks.

It’s also why I am extremely skeptical of people who try to read the will of God into everything today. I hope before too long to on YouTube be interacting with people who are Christians and constantly predicting when the “rapture” will take place. Doing such does no good benefit to Christianity and there are not enough people who are holding them accountable.

I am also skeptical of a me-centered Christianity. These are the people who think God is communicating with them on a regular basis and that we need to listen to the voice of God in our daily lives and that the Holy Spirit is trying to guide us into every right decision. I see no basis for thinking that this is a normative practice in Scripture.

Pye thinks that this is an important chapter, but I just don’t see it. An important chapter to me would be one that focused on the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Until then, we’re getting some criticisms of modern Christianity, but nothing to show at all that Christianity is not true.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Dear Mythicist

What do I think when I meet a mythicist? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Okay. I get it. You’re skeptical of the Bible. You know what? That’s understandable. There are a lot of strong claims that the Bible makes. It’s not simple to believe that a man rose from the dead and that man happened to be both fully God and fully man. Those positions should be evidenced. I get that. I agree.

There is such a thing as reasonable doubt. There is also such a thing as unreasonable doubt. Your case is the latter. Let’s suppose you came to this question not knowing anything about history. What if I then told you that there is not a single professor of ancient history or New Testament or classical history teaching at an accredited university that doubts Jesus existed.

“But those are Christians so they’re biased!”

You do know that these topics are taught at secular universities? Right? Do you think that all these secular universities are hiring evangelical Christians only to teach these topics? There are more than enough non-Christian scholars in the field to teach this stuff and they don’t doubt that Jesus existed at all. In fact, if you read the scholarly literature, this kind of idea is lucky to get a footnote.

“But I do read the scholars. I especially read Richard Carrier!”

Yeah. I get it. You trot out the name Richard Carrier like I’m either supposed to be quaking in my boots or holding immediate respect. Neither is the case. Carrier doesn’t teach at an accredited university and has even been banned from Skepticon. There’s a reason I refer to him as the prominent polyamorous internet blogger. For a guy with a Ph.D., that’s pretty much all he’s doing these days.

Oh? He wrote a book on Jesus mythicism. Yeah. I read it. Hardly any scholars even bothered to review it. No doubt, it was hoped to make a big splash, but it would be interesting to know if it barely made a ripple. It just wasn’t noticed. The academy has still gone on its way. Mythicism is still a joke.

In fact, I often tell Christians we should thank God for Richard Carrier. Richard Carrier is doing so much to undermine atheism and build up Christianity. You see, he’s lowering the standards of his fellow atheists because he’s so caught up in his own perceived greatness that he thinks what he writes on any subject must be excellent. His followers have bought into that idea and have helped prolong it so lo and behold, if Carrier upholds mythicism, so will they. I know of Christians who have donated to his patreon because they want to see this keep going.

Besides, it seems rather odd that here you have the overwhelming majority of scholars on both sides of the Christian fence not doubting at all that Jesus existed and here you have a lone wolf saying otherwise. Yes. There are an isolated number of others like Robert Price, but the number of mythicist scholars are minimal and their work is not garnering attention. If you have all of that, as an outsider, what is the best route to take?

Let’s use another example. I am a heliocentrist, but I could not begin to make to you a defense of heliocentrism. That’s not because I’m anti-science. It’s just not an area I’m interested in. We do this in most every field. If you were going to court, you would hire a lawyer, but your need of one is not because you’re anti-law. You just haven’t studied it. You will likely go to your doctor if you’re sick and take whatever he tells you. You don’t know what to do on your own not because you’re anti-medicine, but just because you haven’t studied it and while you can question your doctor, if you don’t have the skill and knowledge, it would be pretty ridiculous to argue with him that he’s wrong.

So let’s suppose I come across the work of Gerry Bouw. Gerry Bouw does have a Ph.D. in astronomy and he is a geocentrist. Should I consider this a sign that heliocentrism is to be overturned? No. If Bouw is right, he will need some really good evidence, but as an outsider, when I see the academy of astronomy not paying attention to the idea, I deem it wise that I shouldn’t either.

Amusingly, this is like evolution. I get that the majority of you are atheists and have no problem with evolution. In all honesty, I don’t either. I just choose to not argue for or against it because like I said, I’m not a scientist. I could not mount a scientific defense of and I could not present an accurate scientific critique. Therefore, I will just grant it for the sake of argument.

If I jump on the internet, it looks like there’s a lot of debate on evolution. You can even go to a site like TalkOrigins and see this being debated regularly. What am I to conclude from this? Does this mean that the academy is debating evolution? Well, they are in one sense. They’re debating theories about it, but they are not debating if evolution is true or not.

You see, this is the danger of the internet. Anyone can put up an idea and have it seem smart. After all, if you make a presentation that draws people with a fascinating web site or an interesting YouTube video and you can cite names of people who agree with you, then it sure looks like you’re an informed person. You can also write a book on the topic and well, that surely means it’s a serious idea. Right?

But again, let’s go to the evolution example. You can find plenty of people doing just this with evolution. In fact, I can find some Ph.D.s in science that dissent from Darwin. Again, I am not agreeing or disagreeing with them here. I’m just acknowledging their existence. If you say “Yeah, but those are the outliers” then I say “As is the case with mythicism.” In fact, if you think we need to take mythicism seriously, then I, in turn, would say based on that standard you need to take young-earth creationism seriously, and no, I am not a young-earth creationist. By the standards you have set, young-earth creationism should be considered a serious worldview. I know many of you consider that a horrendous thought, but that’s just the way it is.

Of course, let’s not leave out the best part of the presentation. The memes! Once again, you have people like myself who read books written by scholars and yet we see a meme and we’re supposed to topple over immediately. Not at all. The memes often convince me further you don’t know what you’re talking about. The arguments are just hideous.

Now you could say a lot of scholars don’t answer the arguments. You could be right there. It’s also the same reason a lot of scientists don’t answer arguments for young-earth creationism. They’re not serious ideas to the scientists and the scientists want to engage with serious ideas. In fact, many specialists in the field would have a hard time with YEC arguments not because they think they’re so powerful, but because they’re so unusual. These deal with isolated claims and such that most scholars don’t bother to study.

Nevertheless, let’s look at some of the claims. We’re often told for instance that Jesus was supposed to be God in the flesh who did the most important event in human history and no one wrote about it. Does that not sound strange?

Not at all.

I could tell you right now that there are claims of people being healed at places like Lourdes. There are people who are absolutely certain the Virgin Mary is appearing to them. There are people who are convinced that they have been healed at a Benny Hinn Crusade. Question. Are you going to go and start investigating all these claims immediately?

Odds are no. You’re just going to discount them. Note that I’m not saying all these claims are valid. Still, you are a skeptic and the possibility doesn’t seem like a real option to your worldview, so you discount it. This is something we all tend to have. We all think skepticism really means being skeptical of that which disagrees with our worldview. Anything that agrees normally gets a free pass. If you are a true skeptic, you are skeptical of arguments against your worldview AND for your worldview.

You see, I am a political conservative. I’m sure many of you disagree with that, but it doesn’t matter here. The point I want to make is that during the Obama presidency, when someone shared something that was false about Obama, I made sure to correct it if I found out. Why? Because I wanted to take him down, but not with lies. You can see the same thing here in my response to Reclaim America with them misrepresenting a Muslim scholar. My point is I try to be skeptical of arguments for or against.

So let’s get back to Jesus. If you’re a Roman writer in the first century, you’re among the educated elite. You hear a story about a man claiming to be God who died and rose again and it’s all the way in this area called Judea. You think the people already have strange beliefs. I mean, they don’t even honor the gods! Now you hear also that this man was crucified. Well that settles it. The gods would not be with someone who was crucified. No person worthy of being considered a deity or a king or anything like that would be crucified. Do you investigate the claims? Not at all. This group is a marginal sect and they will disappear. In the long run, for them, Jesus is not worth talking about.

You should also know this, the argument from silence is really the weakest of the arguments. It’s sadly the biggest one that mythicists have. It’s expected that everyone should have been talking about Jesus and when they weren’t, well that just proves it.

Let’s also talk about this whole thing about contemporary eyewitnesses. Let’s consider it with another man. This guy is Hannibal. No. I don’t mean the guy from The Silence of the Lambs. I mean the ancient general of Carthage. This is a man who was their greatest general. He was the hero of heroes. Kids would have pictures of him on their lunchboxes. If movies had existed back then, you would see movies about Hannibal in Carthage. This guy defeated Roman army after Roman army. Keep in mind the Roman army was the most powerful empire the world had seen. In fact, he nearly conquered Rome itself. He was defeated, but he got the closest for his time. This was someone all the world would have known about.

What contemporary eyewitness do we have of him?

None. Not a one. Nothing.

Now I could play the mythicist game. You see, it’s obvious that what happened is that Rome had got into a sense of complacency and people thought that Rome wasn’t all that great. I mean, they’re only where they were because of luck. It’s not like they had to strive to get there. So what happened? Roman officials decided to create a figure that in the past beyond the time of eyewitnesses decided to go after Rome and nearly won, but Rome defeated him. Therefore, Rome overcame great odds to be where it was and we should not grow lax in our military in case another Hannibal shows up.

Do I think that’s likely? Not at all. It’s preposterous. The simple thing to do is realize that Hannibal existed despite lack of eyewitness testimony.

In fact, in my debate with Ken Humphreys, I caught him in such a contradiction. I asked him if he was certain that Josephus existed. I was told he was absolutely certain Josephus existed. I then asked if we have any first century testimony to Josephus. This caught him flatfooted. We don’t.

Now some of my fellow Christians are saying “We do have contemporary evidence of Jesus. It’s the Gospels and Paul!” To this, the mythicist likes to respond that this source is biased and can’t be trusted! I really hate to have to tell you this, but every source is biased. The only exceptions would be people writing about something they care nothing about, but then if they don’t care about it, why write about it?

The reality is you’re treating the Bible like the fundamentalist you condemn. The Christian fundamentalist will say the Bible stands on its own. God said it and you believe it! There’s no need for all this apologetics stuff. You just trust the Bible! The Bible is in a special category immune to historical research.

How is your response different? Only in the conclusion. The Bible says it and therefore we should be hyper skeptical of it. All of this apologetics stuff is bunk. You just question the Bible! The Bible is not open to historical research because all the authors were biased!

For Christians like myself, our request is simple. Treat the Bible like any other book in the ancient world. We’re not asking you to treat it like the inerrant Word of God. If you conclude that that is what it is, act accordingly. Until then, treat it like any other book from the ancient world claiming to give a historical account.

Let’s also say a word about Paul. Paul apparently doesn’t say much about the life of Jesus. Indeed. Why should he? His letters were occasional letters. They were written to deal with specific circumstances in the life of the church. Issues that told stories about the life of Jesus were apparently not necessary.

In fact, if you were to visit Facebook and see me and my friends, you would find we often make a big deal about affirming the virgin birth, which I do affirm. Why do I do this? Because of this argument about the silence of Paul. If you want to see how that works, just consider this post on why I affirm the virgin birth, which I do affirm.

In the long run, if anyone wants to convince me that they’re absolutely clueless on ancient history, there’s an easy way to do it. Just affirm mythicism. I will sometimes answer you for a little while, but I honestly consider it like pushing a slinky down the stairs. It seems kind of fun at first, but after awhile it’s the same old stuff. It’s nothing new.

What do I recommend you do? Pick up some more scholarship than what you’re doing. Use sources other than Wikipedia. If you think mythicism is a serious option, just pick up books on the historical Jesus, even books by non-Christians, and see how seriously they treat mythicism if they do at all.

Then wake up and join reality. Jesus existed. You can believe He existed without believing He’s the Son of God or rose from the dead or did miracles. In fact, as I often say, many atheists admit a historical Jesus existed and go on to lead happy and meaningful lives.

Be one of them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters