This dialogue centers on Jesus and the Bible – can they be trusted? I trust that the Bible is telling the truth about Jesus, and that He is all He claims to be. KC is questioning me on these points because he does not understand why I take this stance. It does not seem a reasonable stance to him.
This dialogue began when KC (We do not otherwise know each other) made a comment yesterday on the post Dialogue with Rob. Of course, I don’t always break out a comment into a separate post. This is one of those exchanges, however, that I thought worthy of it. KC was, in essence, summarizing the dialogue with Rob and then giving his own take on it – which can sometimes give new perspective to the same issues.
(If you want to see KC’s initial words in their original context, see Dialogue with Rob and scroll down to the December 23rd comment he made. For a quick background on dialogues that appear on this site, see the post Dialogues.)
KC: This is actually a really interesting discussion. I have to say though, Mike (and I say this with all due respect) you are a little on the gullible side. I don’t know if you have had a lack of exposure to dishonest people or exposure to honest people with faulty human memories or what, but you seem to give the biblical account of Jesus’ life the benefit of every doubt and don’t seem to approach the issue with a healthy dose of skepticism. Historical documents should always be read with a skeptical eye, particularly those that claim to document events that defy what we know about science and the natural world.
As a lawyer I’ve had exposure to some of both. People tell boldface lies for little or no reason. Other people’s memory fails them on fairly key details. History is distorted by the passage of time. The fact that the events the bible purports to describe were written down years after the fact is a serious red flag for their accuracy.
But for me the biggest indictment of the big religions are 1) modern day alleged “prophets” who manage to bring everything from a handful to a few hundred to even thousands of followers. The 900 or so people who killed themselves on Jim Jones’ direction in Guyana tells me that some people will believe anything and follow anyone if they are brainwashed enough. 2) the fact that a LOT of humans to this day claim to witness miracles and/or talk to god when they quite clearly do not.
Its one thing to be open minded. It is another thing to believe things humans tell you.
Mike: I would be gullible if I accepted without question an isolated document from the distant past which makes bold and dramatic assertions about its protagonist. However, that is not what we have here. (By the way, it is what we have in the Book of Mormon and the Quran which is why I regard their claims as dubious on their face – and even more so because in both cases the protagonist is the author!)
You are right that historical documents should be viewed with a skeptical eye, but I wouldn’t limit the skepticism to merely those that contained supernatural claims. In any case, once a document has survived appropriate scrutiny, however, we ought not continue questioning it. Otherwise we become excessively suspicious because we can’t trust anything. (Apparently there are people who think the moon landing was faked or that the USA engineered the 9/11 attacks.)
The dozens of documents produced over a thousand years by ancient Israel (that we call the Old Testament) had passed the test. They were completely accepted in 1st Century Israel. People certainly disagreed about what they meant, but no one challenged that they existed or what they said.
It is these documents that originally made the bold and dramatic assertions about a protagonist – over and over again. Therefore the New Testament was not an isolated document – not by a long shot. Neither was it predicted by an isolated document, but rather many documents all regarded as national treasures (just as every country treasures the documents related to its formation and its pivotal moments).
Moreover, the New Testament itself was not a single document, but rather a collection of 27 of them – also by various authors – none of whom is the protagonist. People often overlook this when they make the claim that it was “written many years after the facts described.” This is only true of the historical books of the New Testament (the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles), and I’ll say more about them in a moment. The other 22 books of the New Testament were letters, and thus were ipso facto documented as the act of writing occurred. It wasn’t as if Paul’s letter to the Ephesians began with “Twenty years ago I wrote you a letter in which I said…” and ended with “…and that’s what I wrote you twenty years ago.”
As for the New Testament’s historical books, what is uncommon about history being written years after the fact? In the last few years books have been published on World War II (60 years ago), the American Revolution (over 200 years ago), and, of course, virtually every period of history. Are such books immediately discredited because they are written so long after the fact? On the contrary, they’re accepted prima facie. That’s not to say that no one disagrees with a historian’s conclusions; it’s to say that no one dismisses the historian because he’s not writing contemporaneously with the events. In fact, no one allows that sort of thing to even be called history – it’s called journalism instead.
And journalism brings us to this point: the Gospels and Acts emanated from eyewitnesses. In the cases of Matthew and John, the eyewitnesses wrote the accounts; in the case of Mark, Luke, and Acts, the writer assembled eyewitness accounts. They were not immediately written down after Jesus’ resurrection, as if the good news was going to be spread through a book tour and an appearance on Oprah. It was much more of an oral culture in those days. In fact, it’s likely that most of the material we see written in these historical books existed in oral form for years before they were written down (which accounts for why they’re consistent without being uniform). What then caused them to be written down? Certainly one factor was the age and impending doom of the eyewitnesses.
Peter and Paul each testify to their expectations of death. The imminent destruction of Jerusalem (which occurred in 70 A.D., of course) would cause further disruption. If the associates of the carpenter’s son managed to escape martyrdom (which, apparently, few did) there was still the fact that they weren’t getting any younger. If they were the same age as Jesus, they would have been approaching 70 at the destruction of the temple by the Romans. Thus, oral transmission of the eyewitness accounts of Jesus was soon going to be impossible. Better to have their depositions taken than to rely on second-hand witnesses and hearsay going forward.
As to your last point – on your “biggest indictment of the big religions” – I agree with you. And I want to elaborate in a separate reply below this one when I have more time.