I Invite You to Challenge Me at My Most Vulnerable Point

(This challenge is for atheists, agnostics, and anyone else who believes that Jesus Christ is not who the Bible says He is.)

If you want to attack and defeat an enemy you look for the most efficient way to do so.  If it’s a country, you go after its capital because through victory over that one city you can control the entire nation.

The central focal point of my faith is Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah of Israel, raised from the dead.  I could not have this faith were it not for the historical reliability of the New Testament.  That is, I take the New Testament documents at face value.  If it says “Matthew’s gospel” I believe it was written by Matthew.  If a letter reads as if it was written by Paul, I believe it was written by Paul.  On this basis, I read the New Testament and either accept it or reject it as a whole.

I don’t pick and choose which parts of the New Testament to trust and which to doubt because in order to do that I’d have to trust Bible scholars and they never unanimously agree.  They exist across a spectrum from liberal to conservative, and if you want to be choosy about what you believe, there is always a Bible scholar to be found who will support your view.  Reading the New Testament collection of documents as they present themselves, I find them logical and persuasive.  Having accepted the New Testament, I fully accept the Old Testament because the New Testament bears abundant witness that the Old Testament is the word of God.

To summarize the key point: in the New Testament I find a collection of testimonies from people who claim to be eyewitnesses that I can either accept or reject as a whole.  To reject parts of their testimony, I’d have to trust myself or a Bible scholar to know more about those points than the person who claims to be an eyewitness.

Let me spell out the sequence and development of my faith: 1) the New Testament documents are what they present themselves to be until proven otherwise , 2) I find their message logical and compelling, 3) accepting their message (the centrality of which is Jesus as the Messiah, raised from the dead), I believe that the Old Testament is the word of God 4) due to its similarity to the Old Testament, I conclude that the New Testament is also the word of God.

Notice that regarding the New Testament as the word of God was not the way I began, but rather the way I ended.  I only began with “Here is a set of documents from antiquity which are presented to me as historically reliable; I will read them and see what they say.”  I found nothing in my reading of these 27 documents that was self-contradictory in any material way.  On the contrary, I found their cohesion and consistency – given the variety of authors as well as the variety of circumtances which gave rise to the various documents – to be stunning and awe-inspiring.

Nonetheless, if you were able to demonstrate to me that these documents were falsified in any material way – that is, written falsely or edited falsely – you could completely undermine my faith in Jesus, which is to say undermine my faith in God, the supernatural, life after death, and on and on.  Therefore, I invite you to challenge me at my most vulnerable point.  Herein is “the capital,” by which if you capture it, you will have won the whole country.

Apparently, there are a number of people who think that the New Testament documents were either completely fabricated or else are extensive embellishments of original documents which presented a different Jesus that we read about now.  If you are one of them, here’s your chance.  I’m inviting you to attack me at the most strategic point of my faith.

I will tell you at the outset that all I have heard so far along these lines have been preposterous propositions, so you had better present some reasonable explanation of how such a falsification was pulled off.  If you can do so, you would have solved the crime of the century…no, make that millennium…no, make that millennia since it’s been almost 2,000 years since this caper was supposedly pulled off.

Until then, we’ll call the theory that the New Testament documents aren’t the work of Jesus’ honest and faithful apostles, “The Great Hoax That Never Was.”

POSTSCRIPT:  Someone (Hendy) posted below that he didn’t completely understand the challenge and wanted me to clarify or elaborate.  I’ve done that below.

For an update on the project’s status as of January 11, 2011 see below.

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200 Responses to I Invite You to Challenge Me at My Most Vulnerable Point

  1. Steve Schlicht says:

    Here is my take on it, Mike (I hadn’t realized you started this new thread until recently):

    “1) the New Testament documents are what they present themselves to be until proven otherwise.”

    The New Testament documents are culled from assorted stories and lore edited by men about three centuries after many of the alleged events took place by men you seem to understand may be of dubious motivation and intent.

    Further, who actually were Mathew, Mark, John and Luke?

    Where are their other works and where do other contemporaries identify them as authoritative authors that actually lived, had families, wrote additional narratives (and not mere additional characters crafted for the story to be chronicled)?

    Were these men actual eye witnesses to events depicted in the stories attributed to them?

    Why are their internal inconsistencies regarding certain events?

    Where are the depictions of Jesus’ childhood?

    How many New Testament documents were accepted and canonized from unknown authors?

    What reason was given by the men on the Council of Nicea for not including some of the other contemporary stories of the day involving some of the same characters as books or letters within the New Testament?

    Why isn’t there anything written by Jesus himself, why the short story narrative compilation that reads as an edited work?

    Why do some Bibles include some books, but other versions leave them out?

    “2) I find their message logical and compelling”

    This is pure subjective opinion and not substantive by way of being open to actual critical analysis.

    I don’t find their message logical or compelling.

    “3) accepting their message (the centrality of which is Jesus as the Messiah, raised from the dead), I believe that the Old Testament is the word of God”

    Again, pure subjective assertion and not substantive.

    All respective religious adherents make this special plea for their faith, necromancy and the immorality of vicarious atonement notwithstanding.

    “4) due to its similarity to the Old Testament, I conclude that the New Testament is also the word of God.”

    How come the Christian Old Testament doesn’t count the number of books as the Jews in the Tanakh?

    Further, why don’t the Jews, via the “Men of Great Assembly” originators of the Tanakh, believe in the evolution of claims made of their foundational lore as canonized by the Council of Nicea (yet more men of great assembly)?

    You would think that such an important event in such close proximity would have universally convinced all humankind immediately.

    By the way, Islam channels the Old Testament lore and characters as well, so, given your subjective assertion, shouldn’t you also conclude that the Qur’an is also the word of God.

    In short, only one of your four proclamations can be critically assessed and either accepted or refuted directly.

    I’ve presented some direct inquiries that call into question the veracity of Christian lore (not all inclusive) and look forward to your further insight regarding the matter.

  2. Mike says:

    Steve, you haven’t responded to the challenge I’ve invited. I’m looking for a credible theory or explanation of how the New Testament was falsified. To quote from what I wrote above,

    …if you were able to demonstrate to me that these documents were falsified in any material way…

    Apparently, there are a number of people who think that the New Testament documents were either completely fabricated or else are extensive embellishments of original documents which presented a different Jesus that we read about now. If you are one of them, here’s your chance.

    Your questions have not addressed this challenge. This does not mean I will be dismissive of your questions. On the contrary, I will answer them all in Dialogue with Steve. If you subsequently decide to offer an explanation or theory of how the New Testament we have came to be falsified, I’d be happy to see it.

    As for the four proclamations of mine which you challenge above, I hope you can now see that they were for the purpose of painting a bulls-eye on myself. I wasn’t expecting anyone to “critically assess or refute them” per se. Rather, I am looking for someone who can explain how the New Testament is not what it appears to be, why I shouldn’t take it at face value. Whether someone believes its contents is an entirely separate matter. I can’t stop someone from saying, “Well, I’ve read the New Testament and I don’t believe it.” What I’m trying to stop here is someone saying, “There’s no point in reading the New Testament because the original documents have been changed by so much tampering over time that we can’t know that what we’re reading is what was originally written.”

  3. Steve Schlicht says:

    “Steve, you haven’t responded to the challenge I’ve invited. I’m looking for a credible theory or explanation of how the New Testament was falsified.”

    I certainly have responded to the challenge, Mike, and presented a very credible theory as to how documents were not only falsified, but were selected, edited and crafted into a book of stories some 300 years after the purported events depicted within by the Council of Nicea.

    Further, it is evident that some versions of the Bible contain some books while other versions do not based upon the subjective whims of men who claim authority to do so by default, yet who are also motivated by their own desires (which you’ve as much admitted was the case in the other thread we were discussing regarding this issue).

    Given your proclamation that you are happy to take such documents “at face value” (the originals of which you’ve never seen) indicates that nothing will convince you otherwise…just as my Muslim friend uses the same proclamation to support the Qur’an as completely authentic.

    So, if men editing and crafting the “canonized” product, while leaving other contemporary stories involving the same characters out, the lack of identified authors, the lack of any actual writings by the main protagonist in the stories (Jesus), the noted elements of fable, wizardry and necromancy, the common “part god-part man” hero archetype born of a human female, the errors and the denominational evolution of the book itself over the years doesn’t convince you, then I’m not exactly sure what will, Mike.

    The additional fact that contemporary orthodox Jews of the day weren’t convinced in spite of their proximity to the alleged events should speak volumes.

    It is my view that anyone with a critical eye for such religious claims (and without an emotional investment in believing them on faith) will comfortably find their authenticity in doubt.

    As an aside, is it your view that the Rig Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Qur’an, the Dhammapada, the Apocrypha and the Book of Mormon are great hoaxes?

    What methodology do you use to discount the authenticity of their sacred texts, Mike?

    Given your latest response I find that your initial inquiry presents a false dichotomy by asserting either the New Testament is absolutely correct or an intentional fraud or hoax perpetuated upon humanity.

    It could very well share the same principle elements as other religious memes…a well intentioned expression of what folks with political power thought would be a cultural model to improve behavior, explain the complexities of human existence and natural processes or even work to better control their subjects.

    There is nothing “new” in the New Testament that isn’t found in older fables, after all, and it certainly does provide some folks comfort in the mere believing of it.

    Are the claims true and correct narratives depicting events as if by direct witnesses (or the writings of the main protagonist himself) is the nuance we are examining…and I’ve made a solid case that they are not.

    They are derivatives of many men writing stories, collecting stories and voting on which stories are good enough to promote their message and which are not.

    They are a compilations of various stories that include a bit of history (age and region), some decent allegory, some co-opted myths, a bit of good morality (golden rule & Sermon on the Mount), a touch of beautiful prose (Song of Solomon, some psalms) and a great deal of nonsense and bankrupt ethics attributed to a supreme benevolent deity who (of course) is an unseen spirit that exists beyond known space and time who sits in judgment over every thought and expression as a king on a eternally divine throne (very monarchal and indicative of the anachronism that the Abrahamic traditions are) who certifies a veritable army of men in fine suits, flamboyant costumes and large hats to speak, in stilted intoned cadences, on his behalf quite often.

    • ray says:

      I wish all the religious zealots would take Carl Sagan’s advice and point the old baloney detector at themselves! Would that they put their trust in probabilities and reason and reject the dogmatic garbage forced down their throats by High Priests!

      First, read “High Priests in Lab Coats” on salon.com. Next, has a pope or even Jerry Fallwell looked as foolish as Richard in the youtube clip “Dawkins stumped?”

      Then, go to the site BethlehemStar.net to see the NASA software based discovery of the actual celestial events witnessed by mankind at the birth and crucifixion of the Creator. Curious how a contrived story could match up with the stars on nine distinct points from the book of Matthew! Whoa! Darkness in midday? What’s the chance Thallus’ and Julius Sextus Africanus’ books were 3rd century fiction?

      We indeed DO create our own reality! Some choose to put their faith in the Gospel of Judas(co-author Lady Gaga) or the vapid ramblings of Bart Ehrmann, Acharya S, Ohsure Yeh Y(highly educated sister of Ohsure Yah Jo Sure) or whoever. Just ask yourself, “is putting my faith in something published by Steaming Shovel Press wise?” Are tabloid authors worthy of my allegience?

  4. Mike says:

    I certainly have responded to the challenge, Mike, and presented a very credible theory as to how documents were not only falsified, but were selected, edited and crafted into a book of stories some 300 years after the purported events depicted within by the Council of Nicea.

    Then where is it, Steve? It’s certainly not in your post here. All I see here is an allegation. That’s all I’ve been seeing, and that’s why I’ve invited the challenge. All I’ve been hearing is allegations that the documents do not contain what was originally written and I’m waiting for someone to come forward and explain how the falsification was achieved. I’d tell you to put some meat on the bones, but you haven’t even assembled a skelton. There’s just the bare-bone assertion that 300 hundred years after Christ, the New Testament documents were edited and falsified. I know of no reputable scholars – liberal or conservative – who hold that position.

    I believe the New Testament we have is what was originally written. You are giving me no plausible alternative. You say it was changed but you don’t say how or where. You do say who and when – but only in the most general of terms.

    The only specific you might be providing is that the Council of Nicea did this – but I can’t believe you’re suggesting that because no reputable scholar – liberal or conservative – thinks that the Council of Nicea did anything with the canon or the Scriptures. Where could you have heard such a thing? Who are you reading and trusting?

    On this post I’m willing to discuss the merits of any explanation or theory you – or anyone else – puts forward about how the New Testament documents were falsified after they were written. But it doesn’t make sense to chase everything else you list in your Heinz 57 Varieties of things you went on to say you think are wrong with Christianity. I’m responding to that enough on other comments threads you’re involved in – and I’m happy to do so. But here, my response to you is the same as yours to me in another thread: If you want me to believe you that they were falsified, prove it.

  5. Steve Schlicht says:

    “There’s just the bare-bone assertion that 300 hundred years after Christ, the New Testament documents were edited and falsified. I know of no reputable scholars – liberal or conservative – who hold that position. “

    I think I see what the problem is, Mike.

    We seem to be talking past each other regarding the usage of the word “falsified”.

    My view is that since it is factual that these documents weren’t written by Jesus, were written by assorted authors (some very tenuously identified, others not at all) and that the story consists of many fables, co-opted myths, some worthwhile parables (that other cultural heroes were already espousing), etc., and a definite editing process some 300 years after the purported events by the political authority of the Council of Nicea took place…and that some of these contemporary documents were not considered by this authority of men to be credible or authoritative and were cast out of the desired compilation…means that this new religious meme, evolved from (and not accepted by) the earlier Jewish authority, is as much a fraud as the authoritative claims found in the Qur’an and in the Book of Mormon.

    That the respective religious adherents of each meme do not accept the notion that their own personal texts have about as much evidence supporting the veracity of claims within the narratives as others (namely, none at all) is plainly observed.

    I’ve had similar discussions with my Muslim friend and a Mormon neighbor and, while you probably don’t believe Muhammed received direct divine revelations from the Angel Gabriel or that Joseph Smith encountered the Angel Moroni or any of the contextual history, fable and directives found in the Qur’an and Book of Mormon…they offer up the same elements and appeal to authoritative text to support their faith over others.

    That each adherent can also somehow support their own assertion, in absolute terms, that the “other” religious memes (complete with similar elements of fable, error, contradictions and moral bankruptcy) are simply frauds or hoaxes while their own passes all of the necessary strict tests for authenticity.

    It is always a very interesting debate and discussion, and a topic that I thoroughly enjoy experiencing with new people of assorted religious faiths.

    During such explorations I often wonder, why do humans seem to require that such a deity needs to always speak through the hearsay works and writings of other men on the honor system and expect fealty?

    Seems like an awfully flawed methodology for a deity to use to communicate with folk.

    P.S. You should really read some of the Apocrypha and research the assorted versions of the Bibles that include or exclude a number of books dependent upon their denominational theology.

    • Mike says:

      You edited your comment and posted the revised version in our Dialogue with Steve. I answered it at this point, and in the comments that follow it.

      • Steve Schlicht says:

        Hey Mike,

        Just as a matter of forum decorum, I have to say that I find your practice of splitting threads and internal hyper-linking very non-productive and distracting.

        As a personal request, can you refrain from doing any more of it?

        I would certainly consider it a personal kindness if you’d just go ahead and post your response in each thread to maintain a more beneficial chronological flow of conversation.

        Thanks!

        • Mike says:

          Steve, I’ll be glad to commit to “leave your golf ball where it lies.” That is, I will not move any of your comments from where you post them, nor will I copy them into another post or thread. If you still find yourself frustrated, let me know.

          • Steve Schlicht says:

            Hey, thanks, Mike!

            It isn’t so much that I’m “frustrated” as it is that I find such continuous splits non-productive or, even, simply unnecessarily distracting from the chronological order of our discussions.

  6. rob says:

    Then where is it, Steve? It’s certainly not in your post here. All I see here is an allegation. That’s all I’ve been seeing, and that’s why I’ve invited the challenge. All I’ve been hearing is allegations that the documents do not contain what was originally written and I’m waiting for someone to come forward and explain how the falsification was achieved

    Do you want to know how it *did* happen, or how it *could have* happened?

    We’ve done the latter, which is obviously the only honest thing we can do when talking about events 2000 years ago. As one more example:

    Someone who was a follower of the mystic/healer Jesus told stories of his life, and embellished them with some speculation as to a bunch of supernatural stuff. Others found that they could gain respect among their peers by sharing these stories with others, and playing up their importance. To that end they copied them, and added more embellishments. Soon a religion/cult formed around it, and various people within the religion/cult advanced their own status among their peers by playing a role in formalizing the canon of this new religion.

    That’s it. It’s not the only way, there are many other possibilities, and it’s probably a safe bet that the real story was much more complex and messy. But you wanted a way it could have happened, and that is one that isn’t particularly far fetched.

    • Mike says:

      Okay, this is a start. Let’s see if we can put some flesh on these bones.

      Although you didn’t describe it this way here, you have described this elsewhere (including here) as a Darwinian process (you also described it here though you didn’t explicitly invoke Darwin). Your theme has been that the “best” religious stories survive – that is, those with the most staying power. As I understand it, Darwinian processes take extended periods of time which exceed human lifetimes by orders of magnitude. (For this reason no one says, “Look over there: sometime today, this week, or before you die, you’re going to see a species develop.) Why do you think this works as a Darwinian process when the timeframes are not comparable? And what do you think is the minimum amount of time it would take from the real Christ’s death before the story would gel? (As I’ve come to understand your theory, the story could be set before the New Testament was written and all the writers could be writing based on their naive belief in that falsified story.)

      [P.S. I hope I haven’t hit any trip wires in my rehearsal of your view like I did when I used the word conspiracy.]

      • rob says:

        I said Darwinian (softened with a “probably almost” preceding it the first time I used it) to simply say it works similarly in many respects, I didn’t say it involved strands of nucleic acid that self replicate, etc.

        The point is, things that have staying power tend to be the only ones left around in the end, giving a bias toward things with certain “viral” qualities (in this case, interesting supernatural embellishments and “you will be rewarded if you believe this and pass it on” payloads). Such Darwinian processes happen in all kinds of places, including computer programs I have personally written (genetic algorithms), and those don’t take thousands of years to produce impressive results. Certainly you’ve heard the term “meme”, which was coined by our favorite evolutionary biologist (back before he was scrapping with religious belief) to describe this sort of process applied to information.

        If you prefer, just use the term “selection bias” and leave it at that.

        And what do you think is the minimum amount of time it would take from the real Christ’s death before the story would gel?

        As I used it, I don’t think that’s really the relevant time frame. The time frame might be the whole of human culture, where stories came and went, varying in the frequency of their retelling, being modified along the way (“mutations”, although obviously less random than biological mutations). When an existing story was applied to a current event, with a few changes, it had the staying power that hundreds of thousands of now-forgotten stories didn’t have.

        But so I don’t avoid your question, I think it could have take a very short time following Christ’s death for the story to take its present form. That’s if someone just made it up, in the way someone made up the story of Washington and the cherry tree. On the other hand, the more time between the events and the hard copy, the easier it is for non-truths to work their way in without anyone having been intentionally deceptive. I think 40-50 years would have been plenty of time for that to happen.

        Regardless, it could have happened either way, or some mixture of the two.

        My point with the whole Darwinian thing, though, is this: if you were looking at a story in isolation, you might think “that’s improbable that someone would lie about those supernatural details”. But if you look at it as one story out of millions of stories that were told since the dawn of time, and if you acknowledge that stories that describe supernatural events are more likely to be repeated, it should be unsurprising that the story or stories that we now have record of, have supernatural events and other “viral” qualities such as the aforementioned “if you believe this and pass it on you’ll be rewarded”.

        • Mike says:

          There’s a consensus among biblical scholars that 1 Corinthians was written in the 50’s A.D. Paul had visited the city and established the church several years before that (described in Acts 18). In 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 Paul reminds his readers of what he preached to them on that initial visit. This preaching included the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ – and that the resurrection was attested to by multiple named (14) and unnamed (over 500) witnesses. This was approximately 20 years after the death of Christ.

          As I have understood your theory, including what you write just above, the embellished Jesus legend evolved and solidified within 40-50 years so that the New Testament writers could write their consistent story. How do I square?

          • rob says:

            If you read it, I said it most certainly *could* have been “simply made up”, right after Jesus died. That’s the “Washington and the cherry tree” scenario, and in itself is more plausible than the “these supernatural events are actually true” scenario.

            My understanding, though, is that the four Gospels were written far more than 20 years from Christ’s death. Even 20 years is plenty of time for them to mutate and morph, as they are told and retold and translated.

            • Mike says:

              Indeed Bible scholars say that the gospels come later, but I am speaking about this letter to the Corinthians.

              In it (1 Corinthians 15:1-8) Paul unequivocally testifies that he and others saw the resurrected Christ. You had previously said that the gospel writers could have believed an embellished legend about Jesus and wrote based on that understanding. Are you prepared now to acknowledge that this could not have been the case? For Paul’s claims here are not the repetition of a legend but rather a bold claim that he and 13 other named individuals as well as over 500 unnamed individuals saw the resurrected Christ. Again, let me be clear that I am not here asking you to believe that Paul was telling the truth, but only that he was asserting personal knowledge of something for himself and others.

  7. Steve Schlicht says:

    “To that end they copied them, and added more embellishments. Soon a religion/cult formed around it, and various people within the religion/cult advanced their own status among their peers by playing a role in formalizing the canon of this new religion.”

    Well said, Rob, that is my view as well and supported by the notion that only “church fathers”, over time, seem to have controlled what is “in” and what is “out”.

    Where are the secondary, tertiary, etc. confirmations by anyone else of that specific region at that particular time regarding a literal God walking this simple earth conducting all sorts of amazing interventions?

    • Mike says:

      Well said, Rob, that is my view as well and supported by the notion that only “church fathers”, over time, seem to have controlled what is “in” and what is “out”.

      Check history on this point and you’ll see that the “church fathers” were following public opinion rather than leading it in their canonical decrees. You’ll also see that the standard for New Testament canonization was apostolic authenticity. Given that the apostles all died in the 1st century it’s not as though church fathers had a lot to choose from.

      Where are the secondary, tertiary, etc. confirmations by anyone else of that specific region at that particular time regarding a literal God walking this simple earth conducting all sorts of amazing interventions?

      Jesus did not live His earthly life presenting Himself as God. In fact, He did not even present Himself as Messiah. Even when some people realized that He was the Messiah, He usually asked them to keep it under their hats until after His crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Therefore, there are no accounts either inside or outside of the New Testament of “a literal God walking” the earth.

      As to extrabiblical attestation of the effect that Jesus life had on His contemporaries, they are available, but as long as you maintain that the New Testament is merely the record of a false story, that would not matter to you.

  8. Mike says:

    SUMMARY SO FAR:

    Here’s the challenge I invited in the original post above:

    …if you were able to demonstrate to me that [the New Testament] documents were falsified in any material way, you could completely undermine my faith in Jesus, which is to say undermine my faith in God, the supernatural, life after death, and on and on. Therefore, I invite you to challenge me at my most vulnerable point. Herein is the capital, by which if you capture it, you will have won the whole country.

    So far, two people have stepped up, Rob and Steve. Steve, however, has not so far offered a specific theory about how the New Testament we have today came to be falsified. To be sure, he has attacked its credibility on many fronts but he has not offered a alternative explanation (much less a plausible one) as to how and when these documents came to be falsified. Instead, he has merely asserted (and at this point I may be homogenizing his view with Rob’s) that the documents could have been falsified before they were written (as in a legend or fable that is transmitted orally and embellished frequently), as they were written (by the New Testament writers themseloves embellishing or falsely testifying), or after they were written (by church leaders and church councils). Since stories and documents have been falsified in the past, therefore, Steve and Rob are saying that such falsification of the New Testament is highly probable and doesn’t need to be proven further. This, however, is like saying “It could rain tomorrow, and it could rain the next day, and it could rain the day after that; since we know that it has rained in other locations before, it is therefore highly probable that it will rain here in the next three days…and this doesn’t need to be proven further.” Thus, they have an argument possessing the appearance of logic but not the substance.

    What I am looking for it a solid theory to compare to my theory (that we have in our New Testaments the apostles’ testimony). Rob has stepped up to this challenge and I have worked with him to try to nurture his embryonic theory into an actual one. For until we have an actual alternative explanation to the explanation that the documents are what they appear to be, then all we have from those who challenge the legitimacy of the New Testament documents is a scientist plugging the hole in his equation with the words, “And then a miracle occurred,” the miracle being the falsification of the story of Jesus.

    Here’s the current state of Rob’s nascent theory: While not yet abandoning the assertion that the documents could have been falsified after they were initially written, Rob seems to be focused primarily on how the story could have been falsified before it was written and secondarily as it was written.

    Rob may or may not continue this effort. Others may help him or take his place. Or you can start from scratch and present your own. So far, however, the absence of any credible theory as to how the New Testament came to be falsified leaves us with “The Great Hoax That Never Was” and leaves atheists believing an urban myth.

    • Alex says:

      Mike, you are being dishonest here. You claim to open yourself up to be convinced that your beliefs might be false, yet you require a very special scenario for this to happen, one you know cannot be fulfilled.

      The question you need to ask yourself is: which is more likely, that the story evolved to be virally effective, or that there was one man that could violate physics and his story has been told flawlessly and without embellishment ever since?

      I think Rob and Steve have presented a solid case in favor of how and why such a thing might have happened, and the existence of other religions proves that it has happened more than once, because they can’t all be true.

      You are basically saying that all those miracles happening is more likely than humans being fallible and having ulterior motives.

      I think you have invested so much in your believes that you will never accept any argument against it, and this blog is an attempt at justifying yourself for that, because you have actually realized this.

      Of course I may be wrong and go to hell, but I don’t loose sleep over that. I also don’t believe in all the other gods humanity has invented throughout its history. Neither do you, for that matter. It’s just that I go one god further.

      In any case, I applaud your civility in discussing these matters, and it makes for a very interesting read.

      • Mike says:

        Mike, you are being dishonest here. You claim to open yourself up to be convinced that your beliefs might be false, yet you require a very special scenario for this to happen, one you know cannot be fulfilled.

        Actually, God knows my heart and He knows that I am open to a reasonable case. I’m even trying to help Rob and Steve put one together!

        The question you need to ask yourself is: which is more likely, that the story evolved to be virally effective, or that there was one man that could violate physics and his story has been told flawlessly and without embellishment ever since?

        Here, Alex, I think you have put your finger on why Rob and Steve have struggled to put together a rational case for how the New Testament we have came to be. They are so convinced that miracles are impossible that any other explanation is, ipso facto, more probable. That’s why their arguments seem so strong to them. They need so little evidence to convince themselves! If they would just assign miracles a probability of 0 + n, where n could be as small a number as they want (just so long as it’s more than 0), it would open their minds to recognize that they are just assuming that the 27 documents could arise out of the environment they have described. This leads to the other handicap that faces them: they don’t seem to be familiar with the New Testament documents. These documents were written in all kinds of places for all sorts of purposes and deal with all sorts of issues. Their assumptions allow them to gloss over all this. Yet I am sure they don’t think they’re glossing over anything.

        If you say, “Humans are fallible, there have been many myths, religions compete for followers, church leaders can be corrupt, etc.” and therefore it’s more plausible to believe that all this happened than to believe that Jesus was actually raised from the dead, it sounds like an argument…but it’s not. It’s not because the conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow from the premises. It might. But to be a conclusion, it has to follow. What makes them believe it is an argument? It’s the last part – the miracle of being raised from the dead. That’s what leads them to the conclusion. But they were already there to start with.

        By the way, Everyone Is Going to Heaven.

        • Alex says:

          “but to be a conclusion, it has to follow.”

          You can’t require a formal logical argument (modus ponens, for example) when talking about historical events and written testimony. You and all the scholars that read and interpret historical documents can only make reasonable assumptions about what probably happened, but no more than that. So Rob’s and Steve’s arguments are all you’re ever going to get, and to come to any conclusion, you have to evaluate which is most likely: miracles that go against all evidence of how the universe works, or human nature doing its thing.

          You are clearly a very intelligent and learned person, so I’m sure you know this, which is why a said that you where being dishonest by saying “I will be convinced if anyone can come up with a logical argument”.

          Anyhow, I must admit that, within your little game, you are being extremely kind and polite. 🙂

          • Mike says:

            I can’t be all that learned as I had to look up modus ponens.

            My logic is not formal; it’s just that which comes to all of us as human beings – common sense.

            It grieves me to hear you say that you think I’m being “dishonest” or “playing a game” – not because I care about my reputation per se but because such a belief on your part will cause you to take my claims less seriously than you otherwise would.

            • Alex says:

              Ah, but there lies the problem: you tend to co-opt terms and concepts from science but give them the meaning that is most convenient to you. You ask others to make a logical argument, but your “logic” is not real logic; it’s whatever you need to render any argument insufficient to convince you. Common sense is not a well defined concept, so you will always be able to use that to move your goalpost to wherever it suits you.

              I don’t think you are actually looking for a convincing argument. It seems to me you are only posing as open-minded, because you will feel good in the end: you challenged atheists to prove you wrong and they couldn’t, even after hours of helping them come up with a sound, logical argument; a standard that cannot be met given the subject matter and your ill-defined acceptance criteria. There lies your intellectual dishonesty. Maybe you don’t realize that you’re doing it, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, but that’s what you are doing.

              • Mike says:

                Please help me understand why you think the standard cannot be met.

                All I am asking for is a plausible theory for how the 27 documents came to be falsified. I think Rob is advancing in that effort because he is inching toward a clear statement statement of how it was done (that is, either the apostles falsely wrote or others falsely wrote in their names – the idea that canonization could have created or revised documents having been abandoned), but until I see his responses to my latest posts on this subject I won’t know for sure whether he agrees with that assessment.

                Apart from this, however, all I’ve heard is the assertion that the story could have been frabricated or embellished before it was written, that it could have been further embellished as it was written, that it could have been embellished after it was written, or two of these three, or all three of these three. That is not a theory or an explanation. It is the merely the prediction of a 100% chance of rain based on looking at ten days where the chance of rain was 10% each day. Common sense may be hard to define, but it is not hard to recognize.

                If I ask how the Hope Diamond was stolen, and the answer comes back, “Well, it could have been stolen by thieves before it was put in the museum, or it could have been stolen while it was in the museum by the curator or staff, or it could have been stolen after it left the museum in the armored car,” that really doesn’t answer the question, does it?

                I don’t think it’s setting too high a standard or moving the goalposts to ask for an unequivocal theory or explanation of how the New Testament documents came to be false testimony. But I’ll await your response before deciding.

                • rob says:

                  …please help me understand how someone could have innocently believed a fable, then turn around and swear at the risk of his life that he was an eyewitness to what occurred in that fable.

                  1) we don’t know that the person who inflated a fable to an “eyewitness account” did so at any risk to his life whatsoever. Most likely, the ones who risked their lives were the ones preaching these words in public, once the stories already had gained traction, and refusing to recant them when the powers-that-be got annoyed. As opposed to the first people who simply told or retold them to small groups of trusted acquaintances, or those who who first wrote them down — when the stories were still just the mythology of an obscure cult.
                  2) there is no point in the gospels where it is clear to me that a person is “swearing to be an eyewitness”, especially not to the specific events in question (i.e. resurrection, other miracles) When pressed on this point previously, the best you could do was say that John would have been a weasel if he wrote those words and didn’t mean that he saw all those events specifically.

                  Nevertheless, EVEN IF someone did exactly as you describe, there are plenty of explanations that are far more plausible than the explanation that someone actually did rise from the dead. Maybe he was insane or delusional. Maybe he didn’t care that he risked his life because he was already suicidal. Maybe he was as twisted as the kid who shot the congresswoman, or the guy who chopped up a family and hid them in a tree, or any number of other people that do hard to understand things because they have some mental illness.

                  That said, I think don’t think mental illness was involved. More likely, it was simply someone who thought he was doing little harm, while also doing what it took to put food on the table. Still, the “crazy gospel writer” hypothesis seems, to me (and presumably to everyone else here except for Mike), to be more far plausible than the supernatural explanation.

                  There are SO MANY possibilities that are much more likely than the supernatural explanation. But as Alex has pointed out, you consider the supernatural explanation to be fairly likely, while we, based on such things as the non-existance of a single supernatural event captured on camera, consider the other possible explanations far more likely. We can go round and round forever on this, and there is no logical proof that we are correct or you are.

                  • Mike says:

                    1) we don’t know that the person who inflated a fable to an “eyewitness account” did so at any risk to his life whatsoever.

                    Actually, we do. The apostle Paul wrote that he was an eyewitness of the resurrected Jesus and also wrote that he was in constant danger for his preaching of that fact.

                    2) there is no point in the gospels where it is clear to me that a person is “swearing to be an eyewitness”, especially not to the specific events in question (i.e. resurrection, other miracles)

                    Mark was an associate of Peter and has since antiquity been considered as giving Peter’s view. I gave you also the passage in 2 Peter where Peter claims that he and the other apostles were eyewitnesses. I gave you the passage in John’s gospel where he concludes his gospel with an eyewitness attestation. I gave you the passage in Luke where he claims that his gospel is a compilation of eyewitness accounts. I gave you 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul claims to be an eyewitness to the resurrected Jesus and then proceeds to list 14 other named witnesses and over 500 unnamed witnesses of the same event.

                    When pressed on this point previously, the best you could do was say that John would have been a weasel if he wrote those words and didn’t mean that he saw all those events specifically.

                    I stand by what I said about John…and recall your attention to all the other passages I just relisted. Also, as I said at the time, I can show you more. But I need some recognition for what I’ve already shown you before I spend the time bringing forth more.

                    Nevertheless, EVEN IF someone did exactly as you describe, there are plenty of explanations that are far more plausible than the explanation that someone actually did rise from the dead.

                    Maybe there are. But I just wish you’d pick one and stick with it long enough to see if it really holds water.

                    Maybe he was insane or delusional. Maybe he didn’t care that he risked his life because he was already suicidal. Maybe he was as twisted as the kid who shot the congresswoman, or the guy who chopped up a family and hid them in a tree, or any number of other people that do hard to understand things because they have some mental illness.

                    Leaving aside the accounts of the resurrection and other miracles for the moment, do the New Testament writings sound like they came from insane, delusional, suicidal, or twisted people? There are plenty of people who don’t believe in the resurrection but who’d also reject those implausible scenarios. Are you honestly telling me that you think the deluded shooter in Arizona could have written 1 Corinthians 13?

                    More likely, it was simply someone who thought he was doing little harm, while also doing what it took to put food on the table.

                    Such a person who wrote a document claiming to be someone he wasn’t and claiming to have seen a resurrected man that he did not see could hardly justify his deed on the basis that he needed to put food on the table. He would be a despicable liar for he would have been part of leading millions of human beings to believe in a falsehood, many of them dying prematurely for said belief.

                    There are SO MANY possibilities that are much more likely than the supernatural explanation.

                    Well, I’ll give you this: you’re consistent. Just wish you didn’t bind your thinking with that presupposition.

                    But as Alex has pointed out, you consider the supernatural explanation to be fairly likely,

                    I only considered the resurrection as likely once I read the New Testament for myself and saw every other alternative demolished. Prior to that my agnosticism was suiting me just fine. Your inability to reconstruct any of those alternatives is only confirming my decision. I must say, however, that I have been surprised in this process at the inability of anyone to construct anything close to a complete alternative hypothesis. Frankly, I expected to receive a challenge that required serious thought. By saying that, I am not at all belittling your effort. In fact, I think you’ve gone above and beyond your patience level with me. Your commitment to the idea that God can’t do anything that you haven’t experienced or read about, however, has kept your engine racing in neutral.

                    • rob says:

                      A statement in someone’s possibly fictional writing cannot be used as “proof” that the writing is not fictional. This should be obvious. It is easy to make up a story, then make it sound important by saying “I put myself in danger by writing this.” That is “proof” only to the extreme gullible.

                      On another point, there is no way that someone exaggerrating a story was doing more harm than good. In fact, if you are sure that christianity has done more harm than good (here on earth), that’s not a point in its favor for me. Also, he may have actually beleived the main details were true, he just added that he witnessedthem himself so as to be taken more seriously.Again, there are so many different possibilities.

                      I know you want me to stick to a single story and defend it alone. I wrote a single scenario (admittedly with some details vague….I mean, what do you want me to do, make up names and places and pick precise dates? I won’t, because that is irresponsible).

                • rob says:

                  (sorry for the typo above, I meant “I doubt mental illness was involved”)

                  Re: the hope diamond, it depends on what you are trying to “prove”. If you are in a trial where someone is accused of an elaborate theft, all the defense has to do is demonstrate that there is at least one plausible explanation for its disappearance that does not involve the accused. The more plausible explanations that don’t involve the accused, the stronger the case of the defense.

                  We are simply defending the “laws of physics were never violated” position. We have no responsibility to prove which of our plausible explanations is the most likely, simply that it is more likely that ANY ONE of them happened, than that your scenario happened.

                  We’re the first to admit that we can’t know exactly what happened 2 milleniums ago in a superstitious land.

                  • Mike says:

                    Re: the hope diamond, it depends on what you are trying to “prove”. If you are in a trial where someone is accused of an elaborate theft, all the defense has to do is demonstrate that there is at least one plausible explanation for its disappearance that does not involve the accused. The more plausible explanations that don’t involve the accused, the stronger the case of the defense.

                    In my analogy the Hope Diamond theft was analogous to the assertion that the New Testament documents weren’t what they appeared to be (that is, that they were false to a material degree; the truth, if you will, had been stolen). I was asking you justify (that is, fully explain) the assertion. You have changed the analogy to make the Hope Diamond theft analogous to the resurrection. Ironically, this has been what has happened over and over through this thread: I invite a challenge to the historicity of the New Testament documents and you guys keep wanting to talk about the improbability of the resurrection. Meanwhile, the actual probability of an alternative scenario never gets established – only the litany of the many possibilities.

                    We have no responsibility to prove which of our plausible explanations is the most likely, simply that it is more likely that ANY ONE of them happened, than that your scenario happened.

                    I completely agree that you have no responsibility to me to justify any of what you consider to be plausible explanations. That’s why I’m all the more grateful that you tried.

                    We’re the first to admit that we can’t know exactly what happened 2 milleniums ago in a superstitious land.

                    If you’d spend more time reading the Bible I think you’d come to appreciate that the folks that lived back then were not as different from us as you think.

                • Alex says:

                  Well, you want one theory for how the testament came to be falsified. Ok. I’ll choose one. Everybody involved lied. There. You like it? No? It doesn’t matter, it’s still more likely than miracles.

                  You don’t think miracles are somewhat likely. You actually are convinced that miracles happened with a certainty of 100%. According to you, they happened. So the rational argument simply doesn’t work on you, as has come clear to all of us, and there’s no point in arguing further.

                  • Mike says:

                    I’m willing to work with you on building out the thesis that everybody lied if you want. There are issues will have to address, but if you’re serious we can follow that road wherever it leads.

                    I did not start my search with a conviction that miracles occurred, so you don’t have to either. But if you start your search with a conviction that they could not occur, then I don’t see how you have much of a search to undertake…and, yes, there’d be no point in arguing further.

                    A search only makes sense if you’re willing to discover something. While that willingness is no guarantee you’ll find something, unwillingness is a guarantee you won’t.

                    • Alex says:

                      Any search is pointless if we can’t agree on the basic premises. We can’t agree, so there’s no point in searching. Any proposal you will dismiss because of being unlikely, as you have done all the time with all what you have been presented so far. Anybody but you can see that however unlikey those proposals are (and some are not unlikely at all), they are still more likely than miracles. Since you take for granted that miracles happened. The debate is pointless.

                    • Mike says:

                      Any proposal you will dismiss because of being unlikely, as you have done all the time with all what you have been presented so far.

                      Here’s how the discussion can advance, Steve: When you make a proposal and I offer an objection to it, then you should come back and deal with my objection. For example, if you say “They all lied,” and I come back and say, “How could a conspiracy like that – involving hundreds, if not thousands, of people – been pulled off?” At that point, you should come back and explain how such a large conspiracy could be pulled off, or how it could have been pulled off with only a handful of people. I respond to that, then you respond to my response. We go back and forth until that proposed thesis is defeated or it stands as a plausible scenario. This would be a productive way to advance the discussion to a conclusion.

                      Instead, what has been happening is that one of you puts forward a statement like “They all lied” or “The writers could have made up the part about being persecuted to make themselves look good.” Then I offer a question or reason why this statement is implausible. But then, instead of answering my question or showing why the reason I offered is flawed or off-point or transcended by some greater reason, all I hear is, “Even if it is unlikely, it’s more likely than a miracle,” or “There are still so many other ways that it could have happened.” Do you see what’s been happening? You propose a scenario that you say is plausible but as soon as it receives the slightest challenge you immediately drop the proposal and revert to your over-generalized argument.

                      If you really believe that my objection to a specific proposal can be overcome, then overcome it. I will listen, we can go back and forth logically, and we can ultimately reach a conclusion about that proposed scenario.

        • Alex says:

          I find all this squabbling over one book uninteresting. I’m sure people will argue over tiny details forever, and they will never reach any kind of conclusion. It’s a book. One of many written millennia ago by people whose mindsets we can only speculate about, edited, translated, interpreted, nit-picked and exploited for very human reasons ever since.

          When arguing for or against the existence of a deity, an issue that by far exceeds the “who wrote what when and why” dispute, much more interesting arguments must surely exist.

          I’ve heard many, including the puerile “where did it all come from” and “there must be a purpose”, that only show lack of imagination (or willful ignorance) or simple fear of the unknown. One I didn’t hear is the only one that has ever appealed to me and made me wonder:

          The concept of “self”, the awareness that I exist and the thought of what if I didn’t exist and how come I actually did come to exist. And how come it is me and not you I get to be? If it wasn’t me, who would be driving this body? Why am I localized in this body? Why me? Why is there a me?

          I find the thought of there being an I that is separate from my brain, that has been put here and could have been put in any other one, pretty powerful. That is why I understand that one could believe in the existence of a soul, that exists independently of our body and it somehow got chosen to ride this particular body when it was conceived and will get liberated when it dies. It somehow solves or provides an answer to the above questions and it would feel relaxing to believe that. And from there to a deity there’s but one small step.

          Of course there are answers for those questions that don’t require believing in spirits and are way more convincing. I prefer reality, which is awesome in its own right, to fairy tales, no matter how tempting or relaxing believing in those fairy tales might be.

          I also don’t buy the “morality guide” argument. I don’t need a fairy tale to dictate my morality. As an adult, I choose to be a good person. I decide that certain things are bad (hurting someone else), others are good or at least not harmful (masturbation, nudism, having sex for pleasure, homosexuality, etc), and some are moral dilemmas that don’t have a definitive answer (like abortion under certain circumstances, or killing in self defense). I don’t need a father figure to decide what’s good and what’s bad for me. I needed it as a child, but I’m an adult now and I can decide for myself.

          I am ok with the idea that I will cease to exist once I die, I know I have to make the most of my one chance at life, and that being kind and helping others is a great way to live, even when I don’t always manage to keep up with that ideal. But I strive to do it in my little way: by fighting dangerous beliefs: alternatives to medicine, pseudo-science, superstition, religion, fanaticism, dogmatism. The reality-aware will always have a better chance at making the right choices than the self-deluded. The better the map, the better your chance at arriving safely to where you want to go. Science is the way to enhance the map, to find the errors and correct them; dogma blindly swears by one map and followers of that map are more likely to fall off cliffs or, worse yet, push others to their fall.

          Wow, this turned into a manifesto! 🙂

          • Mike says:

            Yes, that was a manifesto. And there was much in it with which I could readily and heartily agree.. especially this:

            I find the thought of there being an I that is separate from my brain, that has been put here and could have been put in any other one, pretty powerful. That is why I understand that one could believe in the existence of a soul, that exists independently of our body and it somehow got chosen to ride this particular body when it was conceived and will get liberated when it dies.

            • Alex says:

              If that makes you feel good, if believing that death is not the end takes your fear away, good for you. I have no problem with that.

              You bought the dogma map, though, and you are blind to its errors. Your choices about what is good and bad are not your own. Most of them are alright, but some are not because they don’t adapt to changing reality or new evidence.

              What have you been taught to think about homosexual marriage, about masturbation, about nudity? If you follow dogma, you’re missing out on many good things, and possibly even making others miserable for no good reason. With that part, I do have a problem.

              Of course I don’t know you, so I want to make clear that I don’t presume the above applies to you. As far as I know, you might be the nicest person in the world. A bit deluded, I fear, but that is all.

              • Mike says:

                If that makes you feel good, if believing that death is not the end takes your fear away, good for you. I have no problem with that.

                I was hoping it would make you feel good, too.

                You bought the dogma map, though, and you are blind to its errors.

                I’m not finding as much success looking up “dogma map” as I did “modus ponens.” I can, however, say this: I believe God gives every person a conscience just as He gives every person sense (by the way, I suppose that is why they call it common). Labels such as atheist, Christian, whatever, are completely irrelevant to this issue. (My observation is that atheists use their consciences as much, and as little, as Christians…or anyone else for that matter.) Just as common sense has to do with what’s logical or reasonable, conscience has to do with what’s moral or what’s right.

                You might think that this arrangement would cause all of us to have the exact same ideas about what is right and what is wrong. We often do…but we often don’t. The reason for this discrepancy is that we each have different inputs in life, we each process our inputs differently, and we each make different decisions at the end of each iteration of the process. Moreover, we can override our consciences and re-wire their circuitry by those choices. As a result, a conscience can fall into a great state of disrepair. God, however, can heal our wounded consciences. Each conscience is like a delicate scale that must be reguarly calibrated to a standard. Otherwise, they report wild and varying weights.

                Regardless of the respective health of our consciences, I am not judged by your conscience nor are you judged by mine. God judges each of us according to the knowledge we have. Inputs, such as the Bible or wise fellow humans, can alter our consciences but we can never abdicate the responsibility of conscience to a book. Personally, I will have to credit the Bible with a great deal of restoration to my conscience while I would give no such credit to church, church leaders, or church dogma. But still, the Bible informs my conscience – it does not replace it.

                There are people who think I’ve set the bar for morality too low when I say that Everyone Is Going to Heaven. But I am also criticized for setting the bar too high when I say We Must Repent! – which leads to what is the most important point you have raised.

                Even more than the supernatural issue, it is this freedom to do whatever we want that most blocks access to a true understanding of God. To acknowledge God means that I acknowledge someone who can see everything I think, say, and do – and who has higher moral standards than I have. This means I might have to give up some things that I don’t want to give up. (Continually keep in mind I am talking about a person having to deal with God – not a person having to deal with church or religion or other group code of conduct.) The fear of possibly losing the right to choose pleasurable activities can launch the mind into setting up all sorts of obstructions to believing – all of which will seem perfectly reasonable. This is because the mind will be perfectly willing to construct a rationale for what the heart (or soul, as you called it) wants to do.

                Therefore, in addition to being willing to admit to at least the possibility of the supernatural, one also has to be willing to give up clinging to any particular pleasures. That’s not at all to say that God requires the divestiture of pleasure. Nor it is to say that you will know ahead of time exactly which pleasures He will allow you and which He will call upon you to forsake. It is merely to say that if safeguarding your pleasures is of primary importance to you, that it is only after this life that you will really get to know God.

                • Alex says:

                  “As a result, a conscience can fall into a great state of disrepair. God, however, can heal our wounded consciences. Each conscience is like a delicate scale that must be reguarly calibrated to a standard. Otherwise, they report wild and varying weights.”

                  Wow, what? You are talking out your behind, my friend. You were doing so well up to that point! But let’s continue.

                  I don’t fail to accept god because I don’t want to loose my pleasures. I fail to accept god because my intellect clearly lets me see that it doesn’t exist, period. I curtail my pleasures only in the degree that they may be harmful for others or to myself. That is the morally right thing to do, and I couldn’t care less what any religion has to say about that.

                  Ha, you seem to think atheists are somehow obstructed by something to see god. What an absurd idea. I have never ever had the slightest religious inclination whatsoever. I also never entertained the idea of, I don’t know, joining the circus, or becoming a banker. There nothing “blocking” me from wanting those things, other than the fact that I am who I am and I never had any desire or impulse or need to believe in a supernatural being, of being a juggler or an animal trainer, or a banker. Your assumption that all of us are closet theists is as preposterous as saying that everybody is a closet homosexual.

                  I find your distorted view of atheists rather amusing.

                • Alex says:

                  Instructions for finding what a dogma map is. Hit Ctrl-F, write “map”. You will find it.

                  • Mike says:

                    My comment was tongue in cheek, but the serious point of it was that not knowing how you might personally define it, I wanted to make clear I couldn’t speak to it.

  9. steve schlicht says:

    “Steve, however, has not so far offered a specific theory about how the New Testament we have today came to be falsified.”

    This is simply incorrect, Mike.

    What’s great though, is that anyone really interested in these matters can assess and evaluate the assorted offerings here by simply reading the posts for themselves without the filter of such obvious mischaracterization and biased/flawed summations (a practice I find tangentially interesting, if only for the psychological compulsion it represents).

    As for me, I’m more than happy to let folks come to their own determinations one way or the other…and I hope you are as well!

    • Mike says:

      Steve, when I read your comment here I decided to read back through all your contributions to this thread to double-check if I’d missed something, if I’d been unfair in my characterizations of what you’ve offered. I found, as I have previously found, that you have posted an abundance of challenges to the veracity of the Bible. I understand your position on this, and respect it. I do not object to your making these comments and challenges. However, what I am asking for on this post is a credible theory of how it came to be corrupt. Three times, that I can identify, you have come close to doing this. Here is the first:

      The New Testament documents are culled from assorted stories and lore edited by men about three centuries after many of the alleged events took place by men you seem to understand may be of dubious motivation and intent.

      Here is the second:

      I certainly have responded to the challenge, Mike, and presented a very credible theory as to how documents were not only falsified, but were selected, edited and crafted into a book of stories some 300 years after the purported events depicted within by the Council of Nicea.

      Here is the third:

      My view is that since it is factual that these documents weren’t written by Jesus, were written by assorted authors (some very tenuously identified, others not at all) and that the story consists of many fables, co-opted myths, some worthwhile parables (that other cultural heroes were already espousing), etc., and a definite editing process some 300 years after the purported events by the political authority of the Council of Nicea took place…and that some of these contemporary documents were not considered by this authority of men to be credible or authoritative and were cast out of the desired compilation…means that this new religious meme, evolved from (and not accepted by) the earlier Jewish authority, is as much a fraud as the authoritative claims found in the Qur’an and in the Book of Mormon.

      Each time you add a little detail but don’t say a lot more. Maybe the issue here is semantics. That is, you feel that these submissions meet the criteria for a theory. Let’s say for discussion’s sake that they do. Let’s then move on to the credibility or plausibility of the theory which was the other essential aspect I said I was looking for at the outset. Here, I will say that I just don’t see enough here to sink my teeth into to even make a decision about plausibility. You seem to be saying that the story was falsified at every stage: before it was written, as it was written, and after it was written. But you give me no way to understand how to reconcile this with the fact that I can go to Wikipedia and find scholarly consensus on when every book of the New Testament was written. Textual critics are near unanimous that while we don’t have the originals, the large number of copies we have insures that we have a pretty clear idea of what the originals say. You’ve seem to say that the Council of Nicea had a lot to do with what’s in the New Testament yet when I go to Wikipedia, it tells me that this council took no actions on the canon. I’m looking for a theory that can be squared with history.

      I feel that I’ve gone above and beyond in trying to find the alternative theory I’ve asked for in what you’ve written. Furthermore, I’m willing to work with you as I am with Rob on trying to flesh out what you have here. But I’m surprised that you aren’t more interested in giving me a theory I could actually believe. As it is, all I can find, giving every benefit of the doubt, is the assertion without evidence that it was a story embellished to start with, it was further embellished in the writing, and then doctored by the church afterward. If I were just to accept what you were asserting I would be putting faith in something with dramatically less care and far less research than when I made the decision to read, study, and then trust the New Testament. I suppose I could say to myself, “Well, a lot of people believe what Steve believes,” but I’ve lived long enough to know that that’s no way to find truth.

      Please give me the benefit of the doubt. Put some meat on the bones of what you’ve said.

      • Alex says:

        You can read and study historical documents all you want, but that will never lead you to “the truth”. In the end it comes down to believing what those documents say at face value, without any critical thinking, or applying said critical thinking and placing it within the larger context of human fallibility and what we know about how the universe works.

        • Mike says:

          Actually, it was my critical thinking that led me to the view I have.

          I began reading the Bible in my late 20’s when I was an agnostic. My purpose was twofold: 1) to become familiar with it as a literary classic of Western civilization, and 2) to be able to correct believers who tried to quote it to me. I was sure that there was nothing spiritual for me within its pages.

          My critical thinking, applied while reading, led me to a choice: Either these documents called the Bible which testified about one person above all others was either the most elaborate lie ever written or else it was the truth. Having actually read what these writings said, my critical thinking would not allow me to go on assuming that they were misguided but produced with good intentions. My reasoning had led me to the realization that given the consistency of the Bible’s central message about a Messiah who would save the world, it had to be true or else an intentional falsehood. Any one can mispeak on an issue once or twice. A single sentence or document can always be understood. But when a message gets repeated over and over and over, and it turns out to be false, then the falsehood was intentional. Once I came to this fork in the road, I looked a while in each direction…and then took the road that looked more probable to me.

          • Alex says:

            Ok, I understand better now, thanks for clarifying. I now feel I have clumped you together with fundamentalist Christians in my other posts. Sorry for that!

            There are a few problems, though. First, being agnostic means being on the fence about the existence of invisible entities. Their existence is not a 50/50 chance proposition. So you started with a clear tendency towards belief.

            Second, I think you present a false dichotomy. It not necessarily true that either the bible is 100% accurate or a maliciously fabricated lie. I don’t know how you came to that conclusion, but I think you have been presented with several arguments here against that idea. Maybe if you started this blog post with what you just said, Rob and Steve would have been able to more precisely address those issues.

            Third, when choosing the most probable path, you failed to take into account the improbability of the events described in the bible. Again, you seem to assign a rather high probability to miracles, as you did with the existence of invisible entities.

            Which leads me back to the fundamental issue here: you find it likely that a man violated physics and that invisible entities exist that leave no trace of their existence or actions, but you can’t fathom that a text that collects second hand testimonies, has been edited, interpreted and translated over millennia, could be inaccurate.

            To me it seems that you started out with a tendency towards belief and a lack of critical thinking skills. I don’t blame you, though. That knowledge is not imparted in the classrooms. No child is taught critical thinking skills, you have to seek it on your own and most people don’t even know that such a thing exists. Science is also very badly taught in school. You learn about atoms, molecules, etc, but nobody is taught why and how we know what we know, the scientific method is barely mentioned, and people end up lending similar credibility to astronomy and astrology. I don’t know that all this can be taught to children before they leave the classroom and start making decisions about what is real and what is not, but if it could, a lot of suffering would be avoided. At least that is what I believe.

            • Mike says:

              There are a few problems, though. First, being agnostic means being on the fence about the existence of invisible entities. Their existence is not a 50/50 chance proposition. So you started with a clear tendency towards belief.

              I don’t follow your point here.

              Second, I think you present a false dichotomy.

              I would phrase the dichotomy this way: either the New Testament is what it says it is or it is an elaborate lie. This is exactly where I want to focus. I know that you, Steve, and Rob think this is a false dichotomy but until you read the New Testament documents (and stop relying on others’ characterization of them) you can’t appreciate how weak the evidence is for any other conclusion besides these two. I continue to see no evidence or logic that would support the idea that some person or persons could have innocently believed an embellished legend (much less did) and wrote the kinds of words we have in the New Testament. All I’ve heard – over and over – is “They could have!” How is that evidence or logic even according to my admittedly low, informal, common sense standards?

              Remember, at this point I’m not asking you to prove to me that the apostles were lying. Nor am I asking you to believe that the apostles were telling the truth. All I’m asking you to acknowledge is that these are the only two possibilities. If you can’t, then please help me understand how someone could have innocently believed a fable, then turn around and swear at the risk of his life that he was an eyewitness to what occurred in that fable.

              Third, when choosing the most probable path, you failed to take into account the improbability of the events described in the bible. Again, you seem to assign a rather high probability to miracles, as you did with the existence of invisible entities.

              When I began reading the Bible, it wasn’t the miracles that caught my attention. It was its savvy take on human nature and the human experience that most impressed me. Maybe that’s because one of the first books I read was Ecclesiastes.

              • Alex says:

                “I don’t follow your point here.”

                Ok, I’ll explain. Given what we know, invisible entities that leave no trace of their existence have an almost zero probability of existing. As Carl Sagan wrote, I may assert that an invisible dragon hides in my garage, and of course if you open it you will find no dragon, but that is because it is invisible, see? But saying this doesn’t make the dragon real, it doesn’t even change the probability of a dragon hiding in my garage. That probability remians zero, even if I write a sworn statement about it. Now you come along, study the situation, and end up saying “hmm, I don’t know… Since I can’t prove that there isn’t a dragon in there and he can’t prove that there is, I’ll stay neutral and give either side equal chances of being right.

                Any reasonable person would call BS because they know that dragons are mythical creatures produced by the imagination of men. The existence of drangons is not a 50/50 chance proposition: they dont exist, period. You, on the other hand, by ignoring that evident fact, show that you are more than willing to accept that mythical creatures exist.

                Hence, being an agnostic means being almost there, almost ready to believe. You only needed a small nudge to become a full blown believer.

                Regarding the rest, you say dichotomy, we say false dichotomy. No way out of that. You won’t accept that there are innumerable ways of self delusion, resons for deception, craziness and irrationality. Funny that you expect ancient pastors and desert dwellers to behave more rationally than you yourself seem capable of.

                • Mike says:

                  You, on the other hand, by ignoring that evident fact, show that you are more than willing to accept that mythical creatures exist.

                  Quite to the contrary, you and I are in complete agreement with Carl Sagan that there are no dragons in our garages.

                  The factor your analysis here leaves out is this: What if someone were to come to us from the invisible realm, someone we could prove trustworthy? If that person told us that certain things existed in the invisible realm, we would have good reason to believe it. Jesus came from heaven. His willingness to suffer and die on the cross demonstrated dramatically that we can trust in Him. Therefore, while we might know everything about the invisible realm, we can trust whatever He tells us about it.

                  Hence, being an agnostic means being almost there, almost ready to believe. You only needed a small nudge to become a full blown believer.

                  I looked up “agnostic” in the same place I looked up “modus ponens,” but I could not find a definition there that looked like yours.

                  Regarding the rest, you say dichotomy, we say false dichotomy. No way out of that. You won’t accept that there are innumerable ways of self delusion, resons for deception, craziness and irrationality.

                  It doesn’t matter how many alternative ways you can enumerate that the New Testament was falsified, if you can’t demonstrate a single one of them (that is, construct a plausible thesis that will not contradict the unquestioned facts of the case). Again, I’m even willing to help you establish a demonstration, but if you say no such demonstration is required it just leads me to believe you don’t think you can demonstrate one. For if you could, wouldn’t it be a lot easier to just go ahead and do that?

                  • Alex says:

                    Of course, you start with the assumption that Jesus came from “the invisible realm” and that he was real. You can’t use the assumption that the bible is 100% correct as part of the demostration that it is. You know what? I’ll use your circles in my kid’s geometry class, if you don’t mind.

                    • Mike says:

                      I didn’t start with that assumption, but I did end with it. That is, I began reading the Bible with an agnostic attitude toward God. I was not even expecting to deal with the issue of “Did Jesus really come from heaven?” That would have been a spiritual issue which I would have considered off the table – if I’d even been thinking about it at all. Rather, I thought I was undertaking a simple exercise in reading a classic of Western literature and finding quotes that I could throw back in the faces of Jesus freaks who would try to “witness” to me.

          • Alex says:

            One more thing: I see you tell Rob that presenting plausible alternatives of ways that the scriptures “could” be inaccurate is not enough. But it is, for the following reason: the likelihood of any of those hypothesis being true is far greater than the likelihood of miracles. They could all have been crazy and lied for no reason at all; they could have plotted the whole thing just for kicks; somebody else or a large group could have invented the whole thing later; maybe Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross, maybe his pulse was very shallow and at the time nobody could reliably determine if someone is dead (today we still can’t), maybe the rock that covered the cave was pivoting on a sharp corner and hence was easy to move… You don’t actually know that any of this could not have happened.

            Even the most preposterous proposition is hugely more likely than miracles. The fact that there are many ways in which it could have happened that are much more plausible than the ones I presented here is more than enough, when contrasted with the alternative, to put the whole thing into question. Keep in mind deceptions like these have happened, even in present times of enlightenment (David Koresh, Jim Jones), so it is safe to assume that it not only has happened before, but that it happened many times before, especially in times of ignorance and superstition.

            You are right to say that the likelihood of miracles is not zero (we’d have to be omniscient to make such a bold statement), but it is certainly not on par with all the alternative ways in which this text could have come to be. So even one tiny hint of a possibility is enough to put the matter to rest.

            You have been presented with many quite reasonable alternatives, and if that doesn’t convince you, it can only mean that you assign miracles a larger chance than human nature going its course. In other words, you already decided that what the truth is before you started your quest.

            Yet you have no evidence to back you up, other than a book that says it happened. To put that on the same level as the combined knowledge amassed though the most reliable method of gathering knowledge there is by generations of hard working and brilliant people, most of whose conclusions you can test yourself on your basement, and which you trust with your life each time you hop on a car, an airplane, or visit your doctor, is an insult to humanity. At least, that is my take on it.

            • Mike says:

              Even the most preposterous proposition is hugely more likely than miracles.

              Yes, this is what you believe, and this is why the exercise is frustrating you. If you abandon this presupposition, and allow yourself to follow the evidence wherever it leads, you won’t be frustrated. I’m not saying that doing so will or won’t change your conclusion about Jesus Christ – no outcome in that regard is guaranteed. But at least you won’t be frustrated, and at least you will come to a conclusion instead of merely circling back to one.

              The other possible scenarios you mention are helpful. They give us something to work with. I hope you’ll agree that it’s not enough just to assert them. You need to how they’re rationale and plausible. I’ll repeat your list here and, in the interest of time just list an initial question about each that would have to be answered in order to begin to take the possibility seriously.

              -They could all have been crazy and lied for no reason at all (Do psychologists – even ones who deny the resurrection – believe that the New Testament documents were written by lunatics?)
              -They could have plotted the whole thing just for kicks (Why would they be willing to die if they were only doing it for kicks?)
              -Somebody else or a large group could have invented the whole thing later (How much later?)
              -Maybe Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross (Then what would be the point of a resurrection story?)
              -Maybe his pulse was very shallow and at the time nobody could reliably determine if someone is dead (Why would they bury someone they weren’t sure was dead?)
              -Maybe the rock that covered the cave was pivoting on a sharp corner and hence was easy to move… (How then were the Roman guards overcome?)

              Again, I’m just giving a sample question on each. All I’m trying to demonstrate here is that you have to do more than assert a possibility if you want a reason-based conclusion. And once you have a conclusion, you have to road test it against the data we have. As I’ve said, I think the probability that the apostles were telling the truth has the highest probability and gives the best explanation for how we have the 27 documents of the New Testament we have. So far, the biggest thing I learned from this post (and that’s been a good bit) is that the second highest probability goes to fraud by the apostles. That is, they wrote the New Testament knowing it was a lie. Not that they would have been responsible for all the embellishments to the original story if there ever was one, but that they claimed to be eyewitnesses when if fact when they were not.

              So, hey, maybe this is a good way to pivot the discussion. You guys just forget about the resurrection and tell me which scenario has a greater probability than the one that the apostles lied when they wrote. Yeah, that’s perfect! That should advance the discussion beyond our repeating ourselves.

              • Alex says:

                Ha! I am not frustrated, and I find it endearing that you believe that I will abandon the notion that science trumps superstition. I’m willing to bet that you take the car to move around, not a a magic rug. Am I right? So you also don’t believe in superstition.

                My list of possible explanations was meant to be extreme, ridiculous and improbable (except the last one), just to make the point that even those are more likely than miracles. We already established the futility of tha line of reasoning, given that you consider miracles a fact. But your objections are laugable.. Let’s see some of them:

                “Maybe Jesus didn’t die. (then what was the point of the resurrection story)”
                Really? You say the story caused the death? Ever heard of causality?

                “why did they bury someone they weren’t sure was dead?” I didn’t say they weren’t sure, I suggested they didn’t know.

                “how then were the roman guards overcome?” you seriously can’t imagine? They weren’t there, or they were sleeping drunk, or the stone fell over them, or they ran away scared. You seem to think soldiers in custody of a tomb were hawkishly watching every movement, every noise, likely aided by radar and security cameras and movement detectors. Come on! You really think that everybody in biblical times was infallible and rational and perfect.

                Yeah, now that the resurrection is no longer defensible, let’s forget about it and move the goalpost again. Sure, why not? I’ll Tell you why not: I’m tired of this game.

                As I said before, you won’t accept any argument because the one argument you are seeking is, and you know it, impossible. Conversely, all truly reasonable arguments will be dismissed because you already decided what is true and will ignore them or respond with a diatribe filled with god references that will, in the best case, make us chuckle.

                • Mike says:

                  Ha! I am not frustrated, and I find it endearing that you believe that I will abandon the notion that science trumps superstition.

                  Whenever I’m faced with a choice between science and superstition, I always choose science. The New Testament, however, does not present a choice that falls into either of these two categories. Rather, it presents a choice between accepting multiple eyewitness testimonies of something that had been multiply prophesied for over a thousand years before – or rejecting them. My reason led me to accept them and not reject them.

                  As I said before, you won’t accept any argument because the one argument you are seeking is, and you know it, impossible. Conversely, all truly reasonable arguments will be dismissed because you already decided what is true and will ignore them or respond with a diatribe filled with god references that will, in the best case, make us chuckle.

                  I will entertain any argument. I will even help nurture any assertion into an argument. But I can’t accept an argument that is never formulated and exists only in assertion form.

                  • Alex says:

                    The argument is that humans failing is more likely than miracles. As you don’t accept that, I repeat once more, there is no point to this blog post other than make you look good to yourself and anybody who takes miracles for granted.

                    • Mike says:

                      The argument is that humans failing is more likely than miracles.

                      I emphatically agree with you that humans failing is more likely than miracles. Our disagreement is not about that, for that can rightly be considered a rule of life. Our disagreement is about a specific and exceedingly rare instance in which humans (i.e. the apostles) did not fail and where a miracle (i.e. Christ’s resurrection) did occur. In other words, we’re talking about an exception to the rule.

                      there is no point to this blog post other than make you look good to yourself and anybody who takes miracles for granted.

                      I don’t understand why you so obsess over miracles. For me, it’s always been a simple matter and I held the same view as an agnostic that I hold now: if there is no God, a miracle cannot happen; if there is a God, a miracle can happen. The issue, therefore, is not miracles, the issue is God.

                      A miracle, by itself, wouldn’t prove God. It would just be an unexplained phenomenon. Therefore, focusing on miracles, or the absence thereof, is beside the point. The issue to focus on is God.

                      It wasn’t a miracle that made me believe in God, it was logic.

  10. noen says:

    The belief that the synoptic gospels were falsified is a conspiracy theory no different than those about the Illuminati or the Da Vinci Code.

    “only “church fathers”, over time, seem to have controlled what is “in” and what is “out”.”

    Conspiracy theories like this are “politics for the little man”. They are a way for those who feel small and helpless to puff themselves up. “I’m not a little man, I’m a BIG man. I know the secret ways of those smarter and more powerful that I.” Conspiracy theories are based primarily in fear.

    Mike is correct that Steve does not present an actual argument. All that Steve has done is to make bald assertions unsupported by any facts. He claims that these facts exist, but he does not produce them. You need to actually do that. Here is how real arguments look:

    Premise 1
    Premise 1
    […]
    Premise n
    Conclusion.

    That is what we call an argument and it is not what you have done Steve. Here is what you’ve presented so far:

    Conclusion
    Conclusion
    Conclusion

    This is not argument, this is browbeating. You may feel that your conclusions are justified but you have failed to present any evidence for why anyone other than you should think so. Once you manage to produce an actual argument there are further hurdles. The argument needs to have a valid structure in order to justify it’s conclusion. Even if the premises are all factually true if the argument does not have the correct structure then the conclusion is invalid. Secondly each premise must contain real facts that can be demonstrated as true. If the argument is structurally valid but the premises are false then the conclusion is again not justified. Arguments are either valid or invalid. Premises are either true or false.

    Steve said:
    “I certainly have responded to the challenge, Mike, and presented a very credible theory”

    You did no such thing. You presented your opinions. An opinion is not a theory.

    ” it is evident that some versions of the Bible contain some books while other versions do not based upon the subjective whims of men who claim authority to do so by default”

    Your conclusion here is invalid. While it is true that there are different versions of the Bible it does not follow that the reason for this is due to the subjective whims of those in authority. You cannot know the secret intentions of other people. Your belief that you can read minds is not supported by any facts.

    “So, if men editing and crafting the “canonized” product, while leaving other contemporary stories involving the same characters out, the lack of identified authors, the lack of any actual writings by the main protagonist in the stories (Jesus), the noted elements of fable, wizardry and necromancy, the common “part god-part man” hero archetype born of a human female, the errors and the denominational evolution of the book itself over the years doesn’t convince you, then I’m not exactly sure what will, Mike.”

    This is a series of assertions unsupported by any argument or facts. That you expect people to simply accept what you say without any argument to back up your claims just on your say so the argument from authority fallacy. You expect other to believe what you say because you say it and therefore it must be true. This is not reasoning, this is arrogance and an expression of will to power. You seemingly think that you have the right to bully people into compliance. I am sure that you believe you are right but bullying others is not how rational people go about convincing others of the rightness of their beliefs. That’s what thugs do.

    “It is my view that anyone with a critical eye for such religious claims (and without an emotional investment in believing them on faith) will comfortably find their authenticity in doubt.”

    We that is an opinion, not an argument, isn’t it? Regardless… other people, you know, scholars and not just some Joe Blow with an internet connection, with critical eyes and with an investment in getting it right have come to different conclusions. They can also do something that you apparently cannot do, they can offer reasons for their beliefs.

    “We seem to be talking past each other regarding the usage of the word “falsified”.”

    No, the problem is that you have consistently failed to present any argument at all. You simply present your personal opinions as if they were facts and then try to bully people into accepting them. You’re the farthest thing there is from a scholar or intellectual. You’re just a typical atheist thug who thinks he can browbeat the stupid believers into accepting your dogmatic atheism.

    • rob says:

      I think Mike will agree that Steve has been respectful and has not been a bully or a thug in the least.

      I think the namecalling is inappropriate and I hope Mike will remove your post and give you a chance to rewrite it, with a little less hostility.

      • noen says:

        The debate has been superficially respectful but the insistence that “I am right and I don’t have to provide any arguments, you should just accept that what I say is true” really is the very definition of arrogance. Perhaps I am jaded but I see this same behavior on YouTube and on other blogs. Many atheists just make bald assertions of what they think is fact and then yell louder when their opponents don’t agree.

        My aim is to get people to argue and not just shout past each other.

  11. Hendy says:

    I’m afraid I don’t really understand the challenge… prove that they have been “falsified” — as in at time t=0 they contained material x and at time t=n they contained x’? Your “statement of faith” was as follows:

    1) the New Testament documents are what they present themselves to be until proven otherwise , 2) I find their message logical and compelling, 3) accepting their message (the centrality of which is Jesus as the Messiah, raised from the dead), I believe that the Old Testament is the word of God 4) due to its similarity to the Old Testament, I conclude that the New Testament is also the word of God.

    It would seem that this is the point to challenge, not issues of whether documents have been tampered with or not. Essentially, the issue seems to come down to #1, #2, and #4 (#3 just seems like a logical conclusion to #2). So, your challenge should allow for:
    – showing that the NT is not a set of credible testimonies
    – that their message is not logical and/or compelling
    – that the OT is not like the NT

    Would you agree?

    To start at the beginning, I have doubts from the start in Matthew’s nativity depiction. Joseph is warned by an omniscient god to flee to Egypt while Herod is reigning. Then he is told that it’s safe to return to Israel. He then is warned once more in a dream while in route to Israel that it’s not actually safe because Herod’s son, Archelaus, was reigning and, thus, they should settle in Nazareth of Galilee. So, we have two options (or perhaps more?):

    1) An omniscient god was watching out for the safety of his infant son/self and providing mission critical instructions to the legal guardians. He directed them to safekeeping in Egypt, then let them know it was safe to resettle… and then had to course-correct with a set of ad hoc mission plans? Also, no mention by Luke (another eyewitness who knows better than you or any biblical scholar) of this refugee emancipation?

    2) Matthew fabricated the story in order to fulfill two prophecies he reports, that “I shall call him out of Egypt” and “He shall be called a Nazarene.” The first is from Hosea and is discussing Israel as being called out of Egypt (Exodus) and continues that the more Israel was called, the more they turned away to worship false gods. Don’t know how that’s being connected to a prophecy about Jesus. Regarding the second, see THIS. Despite being no prophecy mentioning Nazareth in the first place, the whole thing is likely to be based on a mistranslation/misunderstanding anyway. Given that, the fact that Matthew jumps through hoops to make the prophecy fulfilled suggests anything but the “compelling” historical accuracy you ascribe to these documents.

    Feel free to respond to this one point, but I’m more interested in hearing exactly what you’re looking for in your “challenge.” Would you clearly state the criteria or even present some examples of what you would consider meeting your challenge or even addressing it along the lines you were requesting? For example, perhaps you could update the post, adding a footnote which stated, “If someone could show that x, which is reported in such-and-such passages, had no historical basis, this would meet the challenge.” Does this make sense?

    I find that the type of dialog going on between you and Steve is typical when specificity is missing. You both seem to think the other is an idiot or missing the point. It’s probably that you sincerely believe he has missed the point (perhaps due to a faulty mental process) and that he sincerely believes he has answered your challenge (and that you are just being stubborn or blind), when in fact you probably haven’t been specific enough regarding what you want from your readership.

    • Mike says:

      @Hendy

      Regarding your questions about Matthew, I don’t think Jesus’ infancy is the place to focus in the beginning. Recall that Jesus chose His apostles to be with Him during His earthly ministry (roughly that three-year period from when He was 30 to when He was crucified). That’s why the vast majority of the gospel testimony is about those three years. As you probably know, Mark and John do not even address Jesus’ birth.

      Once you have a grip on Jesus’ adult life (including His death, burial, and resurrection), you can better focus on the far more limited information about His birth.

      Having said this, I am willing to answer your questions about Matthew now if you insist. So, just let me know if that’s what you want.

  12. Mike says:

    @Hendy

    Actually, the challenge I’m inviting is simpler than what you’re currently inferring. That is, all you have to do is provide a credible alternative theory to 1) below:

    1) the New Testament documents are what they present themselves to be until proven otherwise , 2) I find their message logical and compelling, 3) accepting their message (the centrality of which is Jesus as the Messiah, raised from the dead), I believe that the Old Testament is the word of God 4) due to its similarity to the Old Testament, I conclude that the New Testament is also the word of God.

    You don’t have to worry about 2) through 4) because they all rest on the foundation of 1). Destroy 1) and the rest collapse.

    It would seem that this is the point to challenge, not issues of whether documents have been tampered with or not.

    The reason that the tampering is an issue is that if the documents have been materially altered from their original state then they cannot be what they claim to be: testimony from the apostles that Jesus chose to be His apostles (that is, witnesses). Now, someone could say, “I believe that the New Testament accurately reflects what Jesus’ apostles said…and I just don’t believe them.” I have yet to encounter anyone who makes that argument. I’ll deal with it if and when I encounter it. In this post, I’m just focused on the issue of whether or not the New Testament accurately reflects the apostles’ testimony about Jesus.

    Again, I’m trying to get someone to give me a credible reason (theory, explanation) why the New Testament documents are not what they claim to be. I have been amazed at the number of otherwise knowledgeable people who, while they would never say this, are agnostic on the contents of the New Testament. That is, they say things like “I’m not even sure there was a Jesus of Nazareth, but even if there was he bears no resemblance to what we read in the New Testament.” Their justification for such a statement is that fables and myths about Jesus arose (either out of nowhere or around the life of someone who actually lived), or that the New Testament documents were fabrications or embellishments of that Jesus story, or that church leaders and councils edited the documents to suit their purposes – or that two or all three of these forms of corruption occurred. The net effect of this belief is that it leaves no one the ability to make an intelligent decision about Jesus because they believe the source material has been rendered completely unreliable. The irony here is that no one seems to be able to produce any convincing proofs that this material corruption has occurred – they’re taking it all on faith!

    Therefore I reiterate: My theory is that the New Testament documents are what they present themselves to be (the testimony, sworn in blood, of Jesus’ apostles). The details of my theory are essentially the documents themselves – that is, by their constant cross-references they interlock and bear witness to each other. My invitation is for someone to articulate an alternative theory as to what they are if they are not what I have just described? That is, were they corrupt from the beginning? If so, who created them, why, and how? Or if the corruption came later, same questions. In other words, who had the means, motive, and opportunity to falsify these documents?

    If I need to explain any or all of this further, please tell me. I am happy to keep doing it as long as necessary.

    • rob says:

      The details of my theory are essentially the documents themselves – that is, by their constant cross-references they interlock and bear witness to each other.

      That is quite circular, Mike. It’s not a lot better than “the bible must be true because it is the word of God, which we know because it says so in the bible.”

      I have posted a hypothesis above, which you’ve barely touched on. In particular, I’m talking about the 4 gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I’ve also been clear that I don’t suggest that this is the only way it could have happened, there are many possibilities, most of which are basically variations on the same theme. Here it is again (with a few edits), so it can’t be missed:

      Someone who was a follower of the mystic/healer Jesus told stories of Jesus’ life. Like any good storyteller, he altered the way he told the story based on feedback, and finding that supernatural embellishments got more interest. Others found that they could gain respect among their peers by retelling those stories to others. Again, the storytellers found that certain things worked when competing for people’s attention and respect: for instance, playing up the importance of the events, adding supernatural details and presenting speculation as certainties. Soon a religion/cult formed around the stories, and various people within the religion/cult advanced their own status among their peers by playing up the importance of the material, while formalizing the canon of this new religion.

      Keep in mind, Steve and I aren’t trying to disprove your hypothesis, only to demonstrate that it is unlikely. I know that you present yours as being simple and plausible by saying “I take the New Testament documents at face value.” But taking them at face value is not simple, it requires we accept stories that involve numerous supernatural events that are far outside of anything that we have ever observed to happen. My hypothesis is perfectly plausible in that it doesn’t require anything supernatureal, doesn’t involve grand conspiracies or people acting in ways that we’ve never observe people to act, takes into account human nature (i.e. desire to please and impress those around them), and fits in perfectly with what we have observed in other cases, such as the formation of religions that we both agree are probably false.

      • Mike says:

        That is quite circular, Mike. It’s not a lot better than “the bible must be true because it is the word of God, which we know because it says so in the bible.”

        If you have two separate documents written in separate locations by separate people at separate times, and they both testify to the same essential set of facts, each to the truth of the other, how does putting them between the same binding and gluing them together remove their separateness and make the reasoning circular? On this basis, all a defense attorney would have to do to reduce to one the witnesses who were testifying against his client is staple their depositions together.

        Until and unless you recognize that the New Testament was not written as a book, but rather that these 27 documents were written for different purposes at different times and places by different people, you are going to keep stumbling over this issue.

      • Mike says:

        Rob, I know you are making a good faith effort here and I appreciate it.

        I’ll respond thoroughly to your edited version here tomorrow. I know that what you have here seems plausible to you, but you will see that it quickly breaks down when you try to correlate it to the facts.

      • Mike says:

        Rob, my reply to your latest version is below.

    • Hendy says:

      Hmmm. That sounds odd, though. Why do I need to argue that the apostles believed x while the gospels are a distortion of x? Why can’t I also argue that the gospels are exactly what the apostles thought… but the apostles were wrong.

      Even still, your original article presents the hypothesis that they gospels were written by the actual apostles themselves. You’re aware that this is nearly impossible, right?

      • Mike says:

        You can “argue that the gospels are exactly what the apostles thought…but the apostles were wrong” if you want to, but why would you do that if, as you say in your second paragraph, you believe they were not responsible for the New Testament?

        • rob says:

          If I may jump in….

          Mike, your logic is a long chain of assertions, and there are many places where we see weaknesses in this chain. Hendy pointed out a few.

          You have claimed that:
          1) the apostles wrote the gospels
          2) it is implausible that they were lying
          3) it is implausible for the texts to have been altered after the fact
          therefore:
          what we see in the gospels today is a true account of events

          I think it is quite reasonable for Hendy to point out multiple flaws in your argument:
          1) the apostles almost certainly didn’t write the gospels
          2) had they written them, they indeed could have lied
          3) it is not even necessary for them to lie. They could have been sincerely mistaken.

          True, Hendy’s points 2 and 3 are unnecessary if point 1 is accepted, but since you are unlikely to cede point 1 any time soon, I don’t see a problem with going ahead and mentioning points 2 and 3. All three point out flaws in your argument.

          Remember, we don’t claim to know exactly how it all went down. We just know there are many explanations that are more plausible than “said supernatural events actually happened”.

          • Mike says:

            Rob, if you characterize what I have offered as assertions, why do you offer in their place what could only be characterized by your definition as counter-assertions?

            As for my evidence for saying 1) the apostles wrote the gospels, I submit Exhibit A: the gospels themselves. These records from antiquity claim explicitly and implicitly to be the work of Jesus’ apostles (as I have shown you). I submit also Exhibit B: the testimony of antiquity, which is that these four books were the work of the apostles; they have never been called by anything other than the four names we know them by now. I submit also Exhibit C: the balance of the New Testment. The other 23 documents testify of a) the existence of the apostles, 2) the identity of the apostles, and 3) the essential facts of which the apostles testified in detail in the gospels. Not only do each of three exhibits individually testify of the claim I am making, their individual timelines can be correlated with each other. Thus, each buttresses the other giving us even more reason to accept the claim.

            Now, what is the evidence for your counter-assertion 1)?

            • rob says:

              I didn’t really offer assertions, I noted that Hendy was suggesting those things.
              Nonetheless, I am not criticizing you for making assertions, that’s fine if they are supported.

              My post simply countered your attempt to undermine Hendy’s message by saying “if you say it wasn’t written by the apostles, why are you bothering saying the apostles could have lied?”. There is nothing wrong with pointing out multiple flaws in someone’s argument, even if pointing out the first, in theory, negates the reason to point out the second.

              As for whether the apostles wrote the gospels, there is a huge amount of debate on that, and I find the arguments that say that the gospels were not directly written by people who knew Jesus personally — much less by people who personally would have witnessed the ressurrection (had it occurred) — as being the most convincing. I accept that you disagree.

              Nonetheless, point 2 stands….even if they did, there is no reason they couldn’t have lied.

              The rest of your post doesn’t deserve a response: you keep going around in your circular reasoning that just because a book is internally consistant means it must be true. Especially when that book was formed by filtering out all the documents which weren’t consistant. You’ve written over a megabyte of words here, I’m not going to continue forever, sorry.

              • Mike says:

                My post simply countered your attempt to undermine Hendy’s message

                You misread me. I wasn’t trying to undermine Hendy at all. I was showing him a more economical way to use his time in this effort. Nevertheless, if he wants to play multiple bingo cards at one time, I’m fine with that – as long as it doesn’t get too confusing for us or the readers.

                Nonetheless, point 2 stands….even if they did, there is no reason they couldn’t have lied.

                I’m not objecting to your saying that the apostles lied. I just want you to take a stand. Saying they “could have” lied is equivocating. Remember: coming to agreement that the apostles told the truth is too big a hill for us to climb at this time. Our goal is more modest: since you believe the New Testament is falsified I want you to be less agnostic about how that came to be. I could reject my faith in the New Testament if an alternative theory for its composition was more plausible than the one I hold, but I can’t reject it if the alternative is “I don’t know how it was falsified; there are just so many ways it could have easily happened.” This has the sound of an answer but there’s no substance to it. It’s what you would call a “faith position.” For me, I have to have faith based on reasons.

                The rest of your post doesn’t deserve a response: you keep going around in your circular reasoning that just because a book is internally consistant means it must be true.

                You mispresent me. I would not say that “just because a book is internally consistent means it must be true.” That would be circular reasoning. I am saying we have more than one book.

                If we have a letter from Alice to Matilda in which Alice compliments Matilda’s new blue dress and we also have a letter from Matilda to Sally in which Matilda complains to Sally about having to pay so much for her blue dress, do we not have more evidence that Matilda has a blue dress than if we only have a single letter from Matilda in which she says she has a blue dress?

                • rob says:

                  I don’t suggest that the New Testament is “falsified”, I believe that significant information in it is false. There is a difference.

                  • Mike says:

                    Please help me understand what you see as the difference.

                    From my perspective, if significant information in it is false then it is false. And all the more so since the most signficant information in it is that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. What matter would it be if was right about, say, Jesus’ occupation as a carpenter if it was wrong and misleading about the thing it said was most important of all: His resurrection? And if it is false, then by definition its information has to have been falsified. Please tell me how these things could be seen differently.

                    • rob says:

                      Falsified implies that it was written correctly, then intentionally changed to make it false.

                      More likely (in my opinion), the first time it was written down it had false information in it.

                    • Mike says:

                      Thanks for the explanation. I’ll try to remember your view on that. However, be aware that every time I have used the word falsified it has simply been in contrast to being truthful. That is, when I say falsified I’m not implying “that it was written correctly, then intentionally changed to make it false.” Rather, I’m saying it’s false as opposed to true, making no distinction at that point as to whether it was originally written as false or originally written as true. In other words, for me, when I say the New Testament records were falsified it could have been before they were written (e.g. by embellishment of legend), as they were written, or after they were written. That is, my definition includes all the possible ways that the documents could not be true without taking a position on which way or ways that was. I hope you see in this that I am sensitive to the range of your possibilities (and I’m not doing that as a favor to you; I see it that way, too).

                      The utlimate issue, of course, is whether the New Testament documents are true or false, whether they can be trusted or not. The focus of this post and discussion, though, is “If they are false, how did they become so?”

    • Hendy says:

      Whoops — just noticed that your last paragraph did deal with some of this. Every question you ask needs to be answered by you for every honest intending believer of the Book of Mormon, the Koran, Scientology, and the like. Why would they want to fabricate all that up? Why would your answers to those questions differ from potential answers to your question about the bible?

      • Mike says:

        The case of the apostles and the New Testament is different from the cases of the other books your mentioned in several important ways.

        1. The three books were works of a single author, each representing his own interests. The apostles wrote on behalf of someone else.

        2. The three books created created earthly empires for their respective leaders. The apostles died proclaiming an invisible empire and never received earthly power or glory.

        3. The three books were creations of their authors with no prior authorization or previous testimony from God on their behalf. The apostles spoke on behalf of Jesus who had been prophesied for hundreds of years by dozens of different books written by dozens of different authors.

        In other words, the apostles were testifying about someone besides themselves, and the script they followed was written before any of them had ever been born.

        • rob says:

          All of these differences are rather superficial to me. I have no clue as to why you use the first one as support. Regarding this one:

          The three books created created earthly empires for their respective leaders. The apostles died proclaiming an invisible empire and never received earthly power or glory.

          Well, Joseph Smith was murdered as a result of his message. Anyway, using the martyrdom (or lack of “glory”) of the writers of the gospels as support for the truth of those gospels is problematic for quite a few reasons:
          1) there is no reason to think that the writers, at the time they wrote the gospels, anticipated that they would suffer for their writings. Good chance their main concern was whether anyone would listen or care, as opposed to being concerned about the consequences if too many people listened and cared.
          2) they may well have received rewards. I have to imagine that getting a bunch of people who want to hear you speak, and will feed you a hot meal for it, was worth a lot.
          3) we don’t even know that said martyrdom happened: it could well be part of the mythology (as martyrdom tends to be….)
          4) many people have died in the name of beliefs that both you and I assume to be false

          Also your third one is particularly weak. The people in Jesus’ day were familiar with those prophecies. If they were to fabricate a story, and it happened to match a prophecy….that’s not some kind of coincidence. It should be obvious that someone wishing to gain a following would be likely to use the “he’s the one the prophesies spoke of” line, and adjust their story to match the prophesy.

          • Mike says:

            All of these differences are rather superficial to me. I have no clue as to why you use the first one as support.

            If you say you’re a swell guy, I don’t know what to think. If your co-workers say you’re a swell guy, I’m going to think that you are probably a swell guy.

            Well, Joseph Smith was murdered as a result of his message.

            Joseph Smith was murdered as he pursued the building of a worldly empire – the same sort of worldly power that Muhammed and Ron Hubbard sought. I’m contrasting that conflict of interest with the selflessness that motivated the apostles.

            1) there is no reason to think that the writers, at the time they wrote the gospels, anticipated that they would suffer for their writings

            Jesus told the apostles that they would suffer for bringing the message. This is amply testified in the New Testament. You can say you don’t believe that but how can you say there’s no reason to believe it?

            2) they may well have received rewards.

            Again, there’s no evidence that they did and there is evidence that they didn’t. The evidence is found in the New Testament documents.

            Let me insert here that I’m talking about the apostles, and have been all along – not the church leaders in generations following who did receive earthly rewards (and big hats and incense to wave). I’m only defending the former, not the latter.

            3) we don’t even know that said martyrdom happened

            It is true that the historical attestation is not as strong if you’re trying to confirm the martyrdom of all the apostles. This is mainly because they were the producers of the New Testament and, once martyred, wouldn’t be able to produce any more of it. (By the way, the weaker evidence in this area also argues against the idea that the apostles achieved worldly power, for that would have insured them better press releases on their deaths.) There is, however, evidence in the New Testament of the martrydom of the apostle James and the deacon Stephen. Peter and Paul also each intimate their impending deaths in their last letters (Peter’s martyrdom was also prophesied in the last chapter of the gospel of John). Lastly, let’s recall that while the extrabiblical history to the martyrdom of most if not all of the apostles is weaker, it is also there.

            4) many people have died in the name of beliefs that both you and I assume to be false

            I have conceded from the beginning that martyrdom is no guarantee of truth. It is a reason, however, for us to search for motive: Why were they willing to die when all they had to do was “improve” the message?

            The people in Jesus’ day were familiar with those prophecies.

            This not indicated by the New Testament. On the contrary, it reports that while it seems almost every Jew was looking for the Messiah they were completely amazed when they heard he’d been killed and raised from the dead. No one was expecting this. This amazement was a universal reaction, for whether people believed or disbelieved the story, they were still surprised and amazed by it. That’s my textual evidence. What’s your textual evidence that people in those days were familiar with the prophecies of the Messiah’s death and resurrection?

            • rob says:

              1) there is no reason to think that the writers, at the time they wrote the gospels, anticipated that they would suffer for their writings

              Jesus told the apostles that they would suffer for bringing the message. This is amply testified in the New Testament.

              Ok, so you are saying that the writers are unlikely to have just made stuff up, because within their possibly-just-made-up works, it says that they will suffer if they make stuff up?

              I don’t know what to say.

              Again, there’s no evidence that they did [receive rewards for writing the gospels]

              The evidence is in the fact that the writings exist. There had to be *some* motivation to produce them. It’s not proof, but it is indeed evidence.

              Still, the point is that it is possible, not that it is proven. As I have said many times, all we are trying to do is show that there are plausible explanations for the existence of the gospels as they are, that don’t require supernatural events to have taken place.

              The people in Jesus’ day were familiar with those prophecies.

              …No one was expecting this….

              So what, it was a trick prophecy? Or what?

              He satisfied the prophecy, but in a way that no one could have made up because it was so clever?

              Look, there are a couple possibilities here, and none of them look good for you. One is that the writers of later texts weren’t aware of the earlier prophecies, because those prophecies were so obscure. But satisfying an obscure prophecy isn’t really all that impressive. There’s lots of obscure prophecies that no one remembers, because they weren’t satisfied.

              Another possibility is that the prophecies were satisfied by Jesus, but only in a convoluted way that is a huge stretch.

              As for having evidence: again, I don’t have to provide evidence that they were familiar with the previous works, all I have to do is say that it is quite plausible that they were written with that knowledge.

              You said yourself that Jesus was very knowledgeable of the old testament writings, or Torah, or whatever. So maybe he told people that he was the one in the prophecies, and would fulfill them such and such way? There are many, many possibilites.

              Jumping to the conclusion that no one could have assembled a book that has such internal consistencies is ridiculous.

              • Mike says:

                Ok, so you are saying that the writers are unlikely to have just made stuff up, because within their possibly-just-made-up works, it says that they will suffer if they make stuff up? I don’t know what to say.

                Ok, let’s go with that for a while. If we believe that they made up Jesus’ warnings that they’d be persecuted for preaching Him, we have to have a way to explain things like the first letter Paul wrote to believers in Thessalonica where he said, “For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our Godd to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition.” (1 Thessalonians 2:1-2). What are we going to say at least about that specific passage in light of this thesis we’re nurturing? (This is not a trick question; this is how you build a alternative thesis to the thesis that the apostles’ writings are telling the truth.)

                To be more specific, if our thesis is that the apostles conspired to write that Jesus warned them ahead of time about the persecution they’d experience, the conspiracy could theoretically have involved a small number of people. I say conspiracy because this warning shows up not just in one gospel but in all four. But let’s say for the time being it was four people. With Paul’s letter the conspiracy has to be widened considerably because there were no telling how many believers in Thessalonica who would have heard his letter read in the synagogue there when it arrived. They would have thought it very strange to hear this from Paul if it wasn’t consistent with their experience with him. How are we going to explain such an expanded conspiracy, or is there another angle to this I haven’t thought of?

                You said yourself that Jesus was very knowledgeable of the old testament writings, or Torah, or whatever. So maybe he told people that he was the one in the prophecies, and would fulfill them such and such way?

                Actually, He did tell His apostles that He would be crucified and raised from the dead before it happened. They report that they didn’t even understand what He was talking about. Only after He was raised from the dead and presented Himself to them alive by many convincing proofs did they understand and accept the idea.

  13. jonjermey says:

    I’ve just finished working on a book which includes descriptions of Australian Aboriginal myths. Some of these myths relate to events that happened less than 100 years ago, but the details have been passed down through oral tradition and as a result the story told by Aboriginals today bears little or no relation to what actually happened. Anyone who thinks that a story is going to stay true to the facts as it passes through several generations of narrators is being incredibly naive about what actually happens to oral ‘histories’.

    • Mike says:

      I have no reason to doubt your research of Australian Aboriginal myths. I think the first thing to examine would be to see how similar or how different such practices are from 1st Century Jewish practices where oral tradition was an important part of the culture.

      However, this exercise is not necessary for three reasons. First, the apostles were contemporaries of Jesus. Therefore, there was no multi-generational transmission of an oral message. Second, the apostles wrote down their testimonies in the gospels and epistles before they died. Therefore, there was a written record which could be faithfully preserved for all subsequent generations. Third, the apostles always began their preaching in any location by starting at the Jewish synagogue because it was the only place in town people were waiting for news about Israel’s Messiah. These synagogues had copies of the Old Testament Scriptures and if the story changed then it wouldn’t fit the Scriptures which would discredit the story.

  14. Mike says:

    ROB’S LATEST VERSION:

    Someone who was a follower of the mystic/healer Jesus told stories of Jesus’ life. Like any good storyteller, he altered the way he told the story based on feedback, and finding that supernatural embellishments got more interest. Others found that they could gain respect among their peers by retelling those stories to others. Again, the storytellers found that certain things worked when competing for people’s attention and respect: for instance, playing up the importance of the events, adding supernatural details and presenting speculation as certainties. Soon a religion/cult formed around the stories, and various people within the religion/cult advanced their own status among their peers by playing up the importance of the material, while formalizing the canon of this new religion.

    Rob, rather than critique your theory I’m going to take what I hope will be a more productive approach: I’ll simply ask you to strengthen it at its weak points.

    1. Please be more explicit about “formalizing the canon of this new religion.” If this is where you are addressing how the New Testament documents we have came to be, please elaborate. If not, please address this issue since it is, as you’ll recall, a central requirement of the theory (that is, I’m looking for a replacement explanation to the explanation that they are what they claim to be). As you do this, please account for the great variety of purposes for which these 27 documents were written.

    2. Please address why the process of Jesus storytelling you describe is so different from the process of Jesus storytelling described in the New Testament? That is, your process of Jesus storytelling is one that increases its success with repetition because of the feedback and continuous refinement of the story to better achieve acceptance. This contrasts sharply with the process described in the New Testament which is one where Jesus storytelling is a polarizing force (which, by the way, is the same sort of process we see today). For example, Jesus storytellers tended not to “gain respect among their peers.” On the contrary, they tended to lose it.

    3. Since Jesus died approximately 33 A.D. and since the first New Testament documents are dated no later than the 50’s, please describe how the variations in the story produced by the process you describe would have been resolved and standardized to the consistent story we see presented in the New Testament documents in that short period of time. Be mindful of that there are multiple storytellers in multiple regions of the Mediterranean for which this theory must account.

    I think addressing these three issues should require no more than three or four additional sentences (though I’m certainly not limiting you to that). They just need to be meaty sentences!

  15. rob says:

    It sounds like you are just trying to tire me out. I don’t see the need to go into detail about every stage.
    1) Why do you need more detail here? We know that people formalized the canon. So what that there were 27 documents, and they were different. Some people put them together and said “these are the real deal”. If it helped, they might have worn fancy robes and funny hats and swung incense around as they said it. They gained status within their subculture by doing so.
    2) The fact that you believe that the gospels were shunned by all in their day, doesn’t make it true. If no one bought into them and found them compelling, they would have quickly been forgotten. Obviously they irritated some, but if they didn’t get any following, I no reason anyone would get upset about the message…they would just ignore it, as we ignore the crazy homeless people today that rant about this and that. You don’t have to impress everyone to be motivated to continue, all you have to do is impress a few people (think of the punk subculture in the 70’s /80’s….there was certainly peer support for it, even though it was far from being universally appreciated). Obviously Christianity grew during this period, so that is proof that they actually did “gain respect from peers.” The preponderance of other stories, agreed to be false, from this period is further support for the idea that people had a motivation to spread stories, independent from whether those stories were true.
    3) Your opinion on the dates is not agreed upon by the majority of scholars (for instance here), so I see no reason to believe that is such a concern. Nevertheless I also see no reason why 20 years is too short a time for tellings and retellings to morph the story. It didn’t have to change a lot. And the ones that deviated from the story enough to be highly contradictory were filtered out by the canonization process.

    • Mike says:

      As I said to Alex, I can now understand why you might think I’m trying to “tire you out,” but I hope you will accept my personal assurance that is not the case.

      1) Okay, I’ve got your answer for canonization (that is, the selection of the 27 books), but what about how they were written? (This is where the variety of their purposes is relevant.) For example, why would Paul write a long letter (1 Corinthians) in the 50’s A.D. to Corinth from Ephesus about a laundry list of issues that had arisen in Corinth since he was in the city with them a few years before? (In this letter he lists the eyewitnesses of the resurrection including himself, so I’m simply asking if he was lying about that list or if someone else pretending to be him concocted the whole letter to make it look like Paul was so testifying? – I can’t think of a third possibility, but if there is please indicate it.). You don’t have to list all possibilities, I’m looking your most probable or most likely event.

      2) I didn’t say everyone shunned the gospel message, I said it was polarizing (people would be split, some embracing and others rejecting – usually both in emotional terms and the number of those rejecting always exceeded the number of those accepting). And I didn’t say the gospels were polarizing, I said the gospel message was polarizing. Perhaps you have never read the book of Acts. It reports that wherever the gospel message was preached, the apostles were usually persecuted by authorities (whether religious or secular) and often faced death. There were indeed other false gospels (that is, gospel messages) that were spreading at the time but the apostles fought such messages by insisting that their followers stick to the original story and not buy in to variants. Therefore, your characterization of a continuously improving gospel message flies in the face of Acts as well as the following 22 documents on two counts: a) you present a gospel that was constantly refined to improve acceptance while the New Testament presents a gospel that never stopped polarlizing, and b) you present a gospel that was changing while the New Testament presents a gospel message whose virtue was its unchangeableness. Your theory is not explaining how the New Testament documents came to be, unless you’re suggesting that they were written to willfully misrepresent what actually happened. In which case I’d ask, why would they write documents that would require them to lock in a gospel message that they would need to continue to hone lest they lose followers?

      3) You misread me and the dates I gave are consistent with Wikipedia (see here). Your article refers to gospel dating only, whereas as mine gives dates for all the New Testament documents including the gospels. Nevertheless, you seemed willing to live with the 20-year evolutionary period for the story to have solidified. So then, do you now abandon one of the prior versions of your theory which was that the New Testament documents were not necessarily falsified intentionally (that people could have written them in good faith believing the embellished myth as it had been delivered to them)? My next question then is who do you think was the more likely group of liars – the apostles or those who falsely put the apostles names to the documents (including the “eyewitness stuff”)?

      Here’s the progress we have made so far (and I think it’s something you can be proud of, because what you have gotten to has more meat on it and is more plausible than what you started with): The best focus of your theory seems to be that either the apostles were lying about being eyewitnesses when they wrote the New Testament documents or else others lied by pretending to be the apostles by forging the New Testament documents. The notion that either the apostles wrote in good faith believing that what they were saying was true now seems entirely untenable. The notion that others acting in good faith forged the documents to look like the apostles were testifying this never did seem tenable as it’s contradictory on its face (that is, “acting in good faith” is entirely inconsistent with “forging”). But I don’t want to put words in your mouth, or assume we’re farther along than you think we are. Your responses to 1), 2), and 3) above will reveal how you feel about this.

      • rob says:

        As I said to Alex, I can now understand why you might think I’m trying to “tire you out,” but I hope you will accept my personal assurance that is not the case.

        Whether trying or not, I’m tiring of this discussion and I’m not going to continue forever. I trust that most people who read this in its entirety will, even without me continuing to indulge you on every single question you ask, agree that I have made a pretty strong case. As have Steve and Alex.

        We don’t expect to convince you: your mind appears made up. It is clear that when logic and evidence have run their course, the final interpretation does indeed rely on common sense. But your common sense and our common sense differs markedly.

        Although I disagree with you, I do commend you on your diplomacy throughout this discussion.

        • Mike says:

          Whether trying or not, I’m tiring of this discussion and I’m not going to continue forever.

          I don’t blame you. You’ve been very patient with me. From my perspective, you’ve not offered the challenge I’ve requested. From your perspective, however, you’ve offered it over and over in many different ways.

          We don’t expect to convince you: your mind appears made up.

          It appears to me that my mind is less made up than yours. But then that’s just my perspective.

          • rob says:

            Well, you seem to want to force me to choose a precise scenario that I then stick by, as being the way I am sure things happened. I won’t do that. I think there are a large number of plausible scenarios that could explain what we see today.

            So….I haven’t made up my mind. I don’t know which version is the correct one. I just don’t think we can accurately know what happened back then. And I do complain when people such as you claim to know for sure — based on incredibly weak evidence, and even though the events are highly implausible in any scientific sense.

            • Mike says:

              Well, you seem to want to force me to choose a precise scenario that I then stick by, as being the way I am sure things happened. I won’t do that. I think there are a large number of plausible scenarios that could explain what we see today.

              Oh, no, I am not trying to lock you in to a specific scenario at all. I just want you to take the one you think is best, flesh it out, and let’s test its validity. If it turns out to be more plausible than my theory, you will have produced the challenge that shook my faith. If it doesn’t pass muster, you can then pick your next best scenario and we’ll go through the same process. I am willing to do this with every single scenario you think is plausible. In other words, this is not one strike and you’re out. It’s not even three strikes and you’re out. It’s you swing either until you get a hit or get tired of swinging.

              By the way, you, or someone else, could read my words here and say, “Oh, you’re just so confident in your faith that you don’t believe anyone can shake it, but that just means you’re closed-mind and won’t be gving any genuine consideration to what’s put before you.” God knows that this is not the stance of my heart. On the contrary, I approach this exercise as a seeker of truth. I do believe that I found the truth in the Bible. But I found it by being a seeker of truth, being willing to follow wherever that search led. I have never abandoned that attitude and will never abandon it. And if it turns out that I was wrong about the New Testament being true, then I want to know that. This is a dangerous path I’ve taken, but I want the truth more than I want anything else.

              If the Bible’s not true, it doesn’t mean there’s no God. But even if there’s no God, I’d want to know that, too. This is not a rigged game we’re playing.

  16. Mike says:

    UPDATE:

    Here’s an idea for narrowing the discussion that I hit on when responding to Alex above. It’s this:

    Forget about the resurrection. I’ve stated that, to me, the second most probable explanation for the New Testatment being true is that the apostles falsified it when they wrote it. Therefore, just show me which other explanation you think has a greater probability than that. This is a subset of the original challenge and therefore should be easier. Does that make it easier, and move us away from repeating ourselves? Is anyone game?

    • rob says:

      What do you mean “forget about the resurrection”? As far as I know, this discussion boils down to the question of which is more likely, 1) the resurrection actually happened, or 2) that somehow false words made it into writing and then were accepted as canon.

      • Mike says:

        What do you mean “forget about the resurrection”?

        I thought the suggestion would be helpful to the discussion. If it’s not, just disregard it.

        As far as I know, this discussion boils down to the question of which is more likely, 1) the resurrection actually happened, or 2) that somehow false words made it into writing and then were accepted as canon.

        No, this was never the focus of this post. Rather, the focus was my inviting a challenge to the foundation of my faith which is the historical reliability of the New Testament documents. Therefore, it’s the “somehow” in the 2) that’s the focus. That’s what I’ve been asking for (that is, tell me how the “somehow” happened), and have not been receiving to any significant degree. You have continually reverted to the broader 1) or 2) issue because of your dedication to the idea that the resurrection of Christ is highly improbable and therefore any other explanation is more probable. That’s where we were in our Dialogue with Rob and my purpose in launching this post was to try to leave behind the broader dispute and try to get at the “somehow” which I felt was the missing piece of your argument.

        Again, I get that you think that any other explanation is more plausible than that the 27 documents of the New Testament were reporting the truth. My invitation in this post was to see if you or anyone else could put forward a plausible alternative scenario that would explain how the 27 documents came to be written as they are. Such an alternative scenario had to be more than “Well, it could have been this, that, or the other thing.” That’s the sort of high level list of possibilities I had been getting. My hope here had been to get the best of those possibilities fleshed out and understood.

        • rob says:

          Ok, well you are continuously trying to force us to pick an exact hypothesis of how the writings came into being, and we are, like responsible scientists would, admitting that we don’t know how it happened. What we are saying is that we can give many different scenarios that are more plausible than your scenario (i.e. the resurrection actually happened). I actually outlined one for you. And your complaints about it are completely non-sensical, such as this:

          In which case I’d ask, why would they write documents that would require them to lock in a gospel message that they would need to continue to hone lest they lose followers?

          I never suggested such a thing. Any “honing” took place before “locking it in”.

        • Alex says:

          By insisting in everyone abiding by your petty rules, you fail to see the broader problem with this whole debate. The details of how and who and where and when are irrelevant if you understand that however tiny and unlikely any explanation is, it is still many orders or magnitude more likely than miracles, and the mere existence of any such explanation, much less many of them, puts the matter to rest.

          As you don’t accept that miracles are improbable, the debate is futile. If you chose to live in a magical world, then no rational explanation will ever convice you. You have every right to live that way, and I whish you a happy life. The debate was interesting for a while, and i thank you for that.

          And with that, ladies and gentelmen, I consider this issue closed. Farewell.

          • Mike says:

            By insisting in everyone abiding by your petty rules, you fail to see the broader problem with this whole debate. The details of how and who and where and when are irrelevant if you understand that however tiny and unlikely any explanation is, it is still many orders or magnitude more likely than miracles, and the mere existence of any such explanation, much less many of them, puts the matter to rest.

            It is because you have determined a priori that the resurrection of Jesus Christ could not have occurred that you see a problem with the debate and consider the rules petty. If His resurrection is impossible, then the debate is problematic and the rules are petty. But if His resurrection is merely improbable, then we need a structured and focused debate about whether we can believe it actually occurred.

            As you don’t accept that miracles are improbable, the debate is futile.

            Of course, miracles are improbable – especially resurrection from the dead. That’s why it’s such a big issue and that’s why it’s such news if it’s true. In fact, the whole reason that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is such a big deal is because it is so improbable. Even the most improbable event, however, is not impossible – by definition.

            And with that, ladies and gentlemen, I consider this issue closed. Farewell.

            I prefer to say, “See you later.”

            • Alex says:

              Mike, I was almost tempted to take your final acceptance that miracles are highly improbable and continue from there.

              But I realized that you are talking about the probability of a miracle happening any given day, as in your weather forecasting example. The rest of us are talking about the probability of any miracle EVER having occurred. To that last preposition you assign a probability of 1 (that is, 100%), because you “know” that the bible is true.

              So excuse me if I’m not impressed.

              What I find sad is your fixation in the irrelevant details of the story. You spend your time researching and debating every tiny detail and completely miss the point of the bible, which is to tell a story of a man that had a good message to give.

              “Love each other.” This is what is important about that book. Not whether it accurately depicts the events of the life of one man 2000 years ago, or weather he actually rose from the dead. All that is as important as the binding or the color of the ink.

              Are you actually going to base your faith on such fragile foundations? Do you believe in god just because X number of persons could not have lied? Really?

              I feel sad for you. And I’m an atheist!

              • Mike says:

                You spend your time researching and debating every tiny detail and completely miss the point of the bible, which is to tell a story of a man that had a good message to give. “Love each other.”

                The man of whom you speak also said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” and “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” If He actually lived out the words that He taught (that is, fully practiced the love that He preached), wouldn’t His life be worthy of our attention? And if it’s possible that He really did live, isn’t it worth momentarily setting aside one’s pre-conceived, long-held, and unprovable convictions about the impossibility of miracles in order to find out?

          • rob says:

            I’m with you Alex, I think all that can be said on this has been said.

            I will say farewell as well, in full agreement with Alex’s comment that, if you don’t acknowledge that miracles and supernatural events are highly improbable, there is little point in debating much further. We’ve presented strong cases that what we see today (the Gospels in the current form and whatever historical evidence there is outside of the Bible), has numerous plausible explanations that stay well within the laws of physics and well within the sphere of commonly observed human behavior. I’ll leave it at that.

            Thanks Mike for hosting the debate and spending the time.

            • Mike says:

              I’m with you Alex, I think all that can be said on this has been said.

              I agree that this conversation has been going in a circle and it doesn’t make sense to prolong.

              if you don’t acknowledge that miracles and supernatural events are highly improbable, there is little point in debating much further.

              As I’ve said, I agree that miracles are highly improbable – and Jesus’ resurrection was the most improbable of them all! That’s what makes it a big, big deal for the human race.

              Thanks Mike for hosting the debate and spending the time.

              Thank you, Rob. Best wishes. See you later.

  17. Mike says:

    This comment is a reply to a post from Rob above.

    A statement in someone’s possibly fictional writing cannot be used as “proof” that the writing is not fictional. This should be obvious. It is easy to make up a story, then make it sound important by saying “I put myself in danger by writing this.” That is “proof” only to the extreme gullible.

    I agree with what you describe. However, what you describe does not apply to what we have in the New Testament. Your scenario has one author writing something that no one else can fact check. In the New Testament we have (as I also explained here) multiple authors writing separate accounts with different initial readers – yet all of the accounts include the same message about persecution coming to those who preach Jesus. We also have the letters of the New Testament where the writer describes perecution he endured for preaching Jesus which the readers of his letter would have witnessed – and they obviously were able to fact check his story just by remembering what happened.

    On another point, there is no way that someone exaggerating a story was doing more harm than good.

    “Exaggerating” makes what you’re suggesting sound relatively innocent. Writing about somone you say is the Savior of the world and putting words in His mouth that you didn’t hear and saying you saw Him raised from the dead when you didn’t is lying. No one wants to be lied to, and lying in the name of God is the worst kind of lying. If the New Testament is a lie it has done enormous harm, and there is no way to whitewash that.

    In fact, if you are sure that Christianity has done more harm than good (here on earth), that’s not a point in its favor for me.

    I’m not sure of what you’re trying to say here, but Paul himself said that if Christ was not truly raised from the dead then people who believed in Him were of all people most to be pitied.

    Also, he may have actually believed the main details were true, he just added that he witnessed them himself so as to be taken more seriously.

    It would still be a lie. There’s no way to justify that, especially if you’re claiming to be writing for someone who says, “I am the truth.”

    Again, there are so many different possibilities.

    Ah, yes, the many possibilities. But remember, that’s why I launched this post in the first place – to find out which of those many possibilities was actually plausible or probable. Alas, as we’ve seen, no one seems to be able to step forward and describe one.

    As Alex said above, “Even the most preposterous proposition is hugely more likely than miracles.” A mind that thinks this way has no interest in finding out whether any alternative proposition is plausible; it’s content with preposterous propositions because they’re more probable than the resurrection he’s already decided couldn’t have happened under any circumstances. Unless you open your mind to the possibility that you are wrong about something, you will deny all contrary evidence that comes your way.

    I know you want me to stick to a single story and defend it alone. I wrote a single scenario (admittedly with some details vague….I mean, what do you want me to do, make up names and places and pick precise dates? I won’t, because that is irresponsible).

    Of course, I don’t want you to make up names and pick precise dates. Yes, I grant that you did put forward a scenario with vague details. It was a better than anything put forward by anyone else so far, but it’s too vague to qualify as a plausible thesis. So…the invitation to challenge is still open.

  18. rob says:

    I just want to correct one thing I said, since it is so misleading of my view in its current form. I meant to say: “On another point, there is no way that someone exaggerating a story could know whether or not he was doing more harm than good.” The rest of my stuff stands, and while I kind of want to counter some of the things you’ve said, I need to go ahead and make good on my promise to discontinue the back and forth.

  19. Mike says:

    CURRENT STATE OF THIS PROJECT:

    As of today, all challengers have dropped out after varying degrees of effort. Rob made the most progress of anyone. Here is the alternative hypothesis he put forward (in bold print) followed by my questions (in italics).

    Someone who was a follower of the mystic/healer Jesus told stories of Jesus’ life. Like any good storyteller, he altered the way he told the story based on feedback, and finding that supernatural embellishments got more interest. Others found that they could gain respect among their peers by retelling those stories to others. Again, the storytellers found that certain things worked when competing for people’s attention and respect: for instance, playing up the importance of the events, adding supernatural details and presenting speculation as certainties. Soon a religion/cult formed around the stories, and various people within the religion/cult advanced their own status among their peers by playing up the importance of the material, while formalizing the canon of this new religion.

    1. Please be more explicit about “formalizing the canon of this new religion.” If this is where you are addressing how the New Testament documents we have came to be, please elaborate. If not, please address this issue since it is, as you’ll recall, a central requirement of the theory (that is, I’m looking for a replacement explanation to the explanation that they are what they claim to be). As you do this, please account for the great variety of purposes for which these 27 documents were written.

    2. Please address why the process of Jesus storytelling you describe is so different from the process of Jesus storytelling described in the New Testament? That is, your process of Jesus storytelling is one that increases its success with repetition because of the feedback and continuous refinement of the story to better achieve acceptance. This contrasts sharply with the process described in the New Testament which is one where Jesus storytelling is a polarizing force (which, by the way, is the same sort of process we see today). For example, Jesus storytellers tended not to “gain respect among their peers.” On the contrary, they tended to lose it.

    3. Since Jesus died approximately 33 A.D. and since the first New Testament documents are dated no later than the 50′s, please describe how the variations in the story produced by the process you describe would have been resolved and standardized to the consistent story we see presented in the New Testament documents in that short period of time. Be mindful of that there are multiple storytellers in multiple regions of the Mediterranean for which this theory must account.

    I think addressing these three issues should require no more than three or four additional sentences (though I’m certainly not limiting you to that). They just need to be meaty sentences!

    There was some interaction between Rob and I after this (which you can follow above) but not much progress was made in finishing out the scenario. Rob felt that I was asking for unnecessary detail; I felt that I was missing key pieces which were were necessary to a thesis and its plausibility.

    If anyone out there wants to finish out Rob’s model I’d welcome it. On the other hand, if you want to present your own scenario from scratch, I’d welcome that, too. Until someone steps forward with a plausible alternative scenario to the idea that the New Testament documents are what they present themselves to be, we still have “The Great Hoax That Never Was.”

    • rob says:

      I think your summary is unfair and one-sided. Saying that we “dropped out after varying degrees of effort” implies that we admitted that we failed to complete your challenge. On the contrary, we think we accomplished what you asked, and that you just kept “moving the goalpost.” We described scenarios that explain the existence of the gospels, without requiring the supernatural events documented within to actually be true. We feel that our scenarios are quite plausible, and that we described them in sufficient detail, without inappropriately straying into pure speculation on insignificant specifics.

      You may find our scenarios implausible or lacking in detail for one reason or another, but I think it is important to point out clearly that we do not, and that we invite other readers to read them and decide for themselves if they seem plausible enough and sufficiently fleshed out to meet your challenge.

      I hope that, in fairness, you will leave this statement at bottom without feeling the need to add one more lengthy response to pick it apart and get the last word. Readers can then make their own determination as to whether or not we completed your challenge.

      I acknowledge that you disagree with my conclusion that we have completed your challenge.

      • Mike says:

        Per your request, Rob, I won’t reply to what you’ve written here. I trust, however, that you won’t mind my keeping the post open to further comments as I hope that others will respond to my invitation.

  20. Mike says:

    I spent some time today on the post Why the Resurrection is Unbelievable (part 1) at the Common Sense Atheism site. Since the subject was the believability of the resurrection of Christ, the issue of the New Testament’s reliability naturally came up.

    I noticed that several of the commenters expressed a negative opinion about the New Testament so I began to ask questions. I was hoping to achieve the same purpose I’ve been seeking here, which is to see if I can find anyone who believes that the New Testament is unreliable and nonapostolic yet who can also give me a rational basis for why he believes so.

    Although I found three or four individuals who had the general outline of a theory (developed to about the same or slightly better degree than what we’ve see on this post so far), I found a common outcome whenever I engaged with them. And it’s the same outcome I’ve found here. It’s that when asked to explain their position, people get either exhausted or testy pretty quickly.

    In the end, I could find no one who had a developed theory, much less a plausible one, for how the documents came to be falsified and accepted. They just seem to accept it as an article of faith and when pressed for a reason, say something like, “It’s so obvious that it’s not true and that it’s not apostolic.” I’m amazed not just that people haven’t through through the issue, and not just that they’re not aware that they haven’t thought through the issue, but most of all that seem unwilling to even acknowledge that they haven’t thought it through – even when faced with the fact that they have no thought-through position to present.

    You can check out the exchanges by clicking on the link to the post in the paragraph above and, when you get there, paging down through the comments. (As you do, bear in mind that my exchanges are but a subset of broader the discussion on the post; also, you’ll notice a Rob there, but I think it’s a different Rob than the one you’ve seen here.) Maybe there will eventually be some progress in that discussion, but as of today these folks are still accepting a conclusion without evidence that could lead you to it.

    • rob says:

      It’s indeed a different Rob. I like a lot of what he says, though. This one is good (much more concise than my long-winded way of expressing the same thing): “Hearsay that a witness saw something is not an eyewitness; it is hearsay”

      … when asked to explain their position, people get either exhausted or testy pretty quickly.

      Yes, well….you have a way of bringing that out in people. This (testy) quote from that discussion pretty much sums up how I felt while discussing all of this with you:

      When you, or any other apologist claim we have “eyewitness” testimony to the bodily resurrection of Jesus, you are either lying or hopelessly ignorant

      It may not be particularly diplomatic the way he said it, but it certainly appears to be true. I also looked the chapters and versus you cited, and saw the same thing: they do not claim to be eyewitnesses, in particular not to the resurrection. It is bizarre to me that you keep making such unsubstantiated claims.

      I’ll keep watching that discussion, but I won’t be drawn back in here.

      • Mike says:

        It’s indeed a different Rob. I like a lot of what he says, though. This one is good (much more concise than my long-winded way of expressing the same thing): “Hearsay that a witness saw something is not an eyewitness; it is hearsay”

        As I point out to the other Rob in the Common Sense Atheism discussion, I accept your right to say that the New Testament’s claims of eyewitness testimony are only hearsay. I don’t agree with you, but I respect your right to take that view. However, the point to which this post and that discussion have gotten, and which I am trying to move beyond, is that the New Testament claims to include eyewitness testimony. When the other Rob rejects Luke’s testimony (Luke 1:1-4) on the basis that it is actually hearsay, he is rejecting Luke’s claim to be presenting eyewitness testimony. When he says Paul only had a vision, he is rejecting Paul’s claim (1 Corinthians 15:1-11) to have had an eyewitness experience with Christ equivalent to that of the other apostles. When he rejects the letters of 1 John and 2 Peter as forgeries, he is rejecting their claims of having been eyewitnesses of Jesus. Thus, when the other Rob rejects all these New Testament claims, he tacitly acknowledges that the claims have been made. And, at this point in the discussion, that is all I’m trying to establish. Thus, it should no longer be in dispute that the New Testament claims to include eyewitness testimony of the resurrection of Christ.

        Let me digress for a moment to address the eyewitness versus hearsay issue. Let’s say there’s an automobile accident. Let’s also say there were multiple witnesses of the accident and that all their statements were taken at the scene by a police officer. Let’s further say that the accident involved a fatality, that there was ultimately a court case, but through a series of unfortunate circumstances none of the witnesses remained alive by the time of the trial. All we have are their statements in the police report. As I understand Rob’s and Rob’s point of view, they would not allow the police statements of the witnesses to be entered into the record because they were only hearsay from the police officer. The police officer himself did not witness the accidents, nor was he claiming to have witnesses the accidents. As for me, I, too, would prefer that the actual witnesses were still alive and able to testify and be cross-examined. However, since they are not available, I am all the more interested in the police reports. And to try to make a decision about the auto accident and the fatality without reading those police reports would seem to me to be absurd. Lawyers could argue all day over the technicality of whether or not those written statements were “true eyewitness testimony” or “only hearsay,” but any common sense person charged with the responsibility of making a decision about the event would say, “Gimme their statements.”

        Now let’s return to the subject at hand: the claims of the New Testament (and not the validity of those claims).

        It may not be particularly diplomatic the way he said it, but it certainly appears to be true.

        While no one would relish being called a “liar,” this is precisely the term that you and the other Rob ought to be using – not that I am a liar, but that the situation is binary: I’m either telling the truth or lying. The New Testament is either telling the truth or lying. This is the appropriate way to look at the situation.

        I also looked the chapters and versus you cited, and saw the same thing: they do not claim to be eyewitnesses, in particular not to the resurrection. It is bizarre to me that you keep making such unsubstantiated claims.

        Then I guess each of us just appears bizarre to the other, for I am dumbfounded that you read those passages and saw no eyewitness claims for the resurrection of Christ. What is the New Testament if it’s not a claim of direct knowledge that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead? Again, reject that claim and I won’t think you bizarre. Say that the claim contains insufficient evidence to satisfy you and I won’t think you’re bizzare. Say that you think the New Testament uses the term eyewitness too loosely at times and I wont’ think you’re bizarre. Even say the claim is too preposterous for you to believe no matter how much evidence is presented and I won’t think you’re bizarre. But if you say that the New Testament doesn’t even claim to be reporting the eyewitness testimony of those who saw Jesus after He was raised from the dead, then I don’t know how to describe it except as bizarre.

        When you and I have disagreed about issues in the past, I have always felt you were rational even when I felt you were mistaken. And I always felt you were fair-minded even when you disagreed with me. But when you say that the passages I gave you “do not claim to be eyewitnesses, in particular not to the resurrection” then I feel like I’m dealing with a Rob I do not know.

  21. rob says:

    The passages you cite do NOT say that the writer is an eyewitness. Period. You can disagree with that it you wish, but everyone else who reads them and see you claim what they clearly do not claim, just says “this guy can’t be for real”. In fact, now they are saying this:

    we’re not interacting with a human but a computer programmed with a certain number of statements it eventually starts to repeat over time

    and

    I have found myself drawn back in for similar reasons. I find this discourse oddly compelling, in a way that communicating with a rational agent never is.

    It is truly bizarre.

    • Mike says:

      Indeed, I hope the readers there will look up all the passages for themselves and judge. And, as I’ve said, those passage are not all that could be said. Looking for evidence that the New Testament is declaring Jesus was raised from the dead is like looking for a needle in a needlestack. Without the resurrection, none of the 27 documents would exist.

      However, let’s leave aside for the moment the case where writers present to us eyewitness testimony (as I analogized in my traffic accident witness report scenario), and other cases where eyewitness testimony is claimed in other ways, so we can focus on your statement immediately above. That is, please tell me how you read the following sentences and come away with the sense that a person would be bizarre to interpret the writer as claiming to be an eyewitness of Jesus.

      And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. – The writer of the Gospel of John in 1:14

      Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. – The writer of 1 Corinthians in 15:1-8

      What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life–and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us–what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. – The writer of 1 John in 1:1-4

      For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. – The writer of 2 Peter in 1:16

      (All verses NASB)

      • rob says:

        Mike, is there anyone — anyone? — who has been convinced by your logic? I’m really curious, because after spending ridiculous amounts of time discussing this with you, and then seeing how you seem to convince all those people on the interminable thread on the other site that you are some combination of deluded, retarded, or maybe just a computer program, I am really curious what inspires you to keep going with this stuff.

        I think you’d have a hard time finding any Christians who think you do anything positive for their cause: instead, you simply highlight just how delusional Christians can be.

        It’s really, really bizarre to me that someone who seems educated (you can form proper English sentences, and come off intelligent initially) can use such horrible logic.

        I strongly suggest you stop debating people for a while, take some time to cool off, and reassess what you are trying to do. It has the appearance of someone descending into madness, and it is kind of sad. Do you have people who you are close to, that you might show these threads, and get their honest opinion of whether you might be losing your grip on reality?

        It is not my intention to insult you, I think you seem like a genuinely nice guy, but I really think all you will accomplish with your efforts is to convince a lot of people that you are crazy.

        • Mike says:

          Rob, I am not insulted by your comment. On the contrary, I appreciate your sensitivity and compassion. However, I assure you that I am of sound mind and write only conclusions I have reached after careful and sober reflection.

          Debates can be productive or unproductive. And even productive debates become unproductive if they go on too long. I try to engage in them only while I think they are being productive. As for the thread you’re referencing (Common Sense Atheism post on “The Resurrection Is Unbelievable part 1), yes, some of the commenters there have been harsh in their denunciations of me and my position. However, that doesn’t mean that none of them are considering any of the things I’m saying. It also doesn’t mean that there aren’t less opposed individuals reading the discussion and taking even more seriously the points I am raising. People usually don’t let go of their radicalized assumptions (e.g., it is impossible that Jesus ever lived or that He could have been raised from the dead) easily or all at once. I respond when challenged hoping that each response will move at least one person on at least one point of their position. Even so, I have been lately looking for a way to gracefully exit that conversation. I’ve dropped the individual conversations there where the person just offered ad hominems, but even in the most vitriolic comment a person makes I can sometimes see the glimmer of a reasonable mind…and I try to respond to it. Of course, human nature is such that it’s highly unlikely that you or I will see a comment pop up there that reads, “Hey, guys, I gotta tell you: some of the things this guy is saying are starting to make sense” – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that no one’s thinking it.

          Yes, I am outnumbered in that forum, but that doesn’t make me wrong or insane. Conversely, the fact that there are more professed Christians in the world than atheists doesn’t mean that Jesus was raised from the dead. Truth is truth, no matter how many people believe it. When the apostles and other disciples began proclaiming that Jesus was alive, there were less than a thousand people in the whole world who had that knowledge. As some of their families, friends, and neighbors began to believe their stories, it did not make the stories more true. As some disbelieved their stories it did not make them less true. Jesus Christ was either raised from the dead or He was not. Whether His resurrection is a truth or a lie is entirely independent of how many people believe it.

          As I say in the comment policy on my About section, “If you like what I write, just practice it – You don’t need say anything to me about it or make yourself known to me. Walk before God and walk with God.” Therefore, while I want people to believe me – or, more precisely, to believe Him – I’m not keeping a scorecard of who does and who doesn’t. I’m not looking for a following. My goal is merely to be faithful to the truth that I have come to realize.

          In a nutshell, I love Jesus. He is the continuing inspiration for what I do. He has redeemed my life from selfishness, my mind from worry, and my soul from pain. I do what I do in gratitude for what He has done for me. I wish that every person in the world today could experience the joy and peace that knowing the truth brings. For He is the truth.

  22. Mike says:

    For those interested in a biblical historian’s perspective on the issue of whether the New Testament, and specifically the gospels, constitute eyewitness testimony, see the post I have written about Richard Bauckham, author of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony.

  23. Andrew EC says:

    Here’s the problem. You start with the assumption that:

    “1) the New Testament documents are what they present themselves to be until proven otherwise.”

    I don’t really have words to express how naive this is. Reasonably bright eight-graders are introduced — admittedly, in small doses — to the concept that the winners write the history books and perhaps you ought not to take even documents that label themselves as history at face value. From there, those bright middle-schoolers are invited to consider stories like George Washington and the cherry tree (which you will find in some history books!). They manage to get it right.

    So this is my answer to your challenge: what on earth would give you the basis to think that the Bible, alone among every other collection of stories, should be given the presumption of absolute validity with the burden shifting to the atheist to “disprove” what (you say) it claims to be?

    • Mike says:

      I have always given every book I’ve read the presumption that it is what it presents itself to be until I have reason to believe otherwise. That is, I don’t go to the bookstore or the library suspicious that all those books on the shelves are lying to me about who wrote them and when, not to mention lying about all the stuff that follows the title page.

      While an agnostic in my late 20’s, I began reading the Bible for the first time. (I had been raised a Catholic but, as such, never had much exposure to the Bible except through the clouded and cracked lens of church dogma and ritual.) I began reading it for two reasons 1) to expose myself to a classic of literature in the same way I might want to read Shakespeare or Dickens, and 2) to arm myself with chapter and verse so that I could refute Bible believers who were telling me that I should believe (much as you did here). I did not expect my reading to lead to a spiritual experience. And while I expected that I might find occasional uplifting thoughts (just as I would expect to find in Shakespeare and Dickens), I did not expect to be challenged by what I read. Neither did I expect that the Bible would make serious truth, moral, and historical claims that were relevant to modern life. Least of all did I expect that reading it would lead to my trusting Jesus Christ as the God of all humanity. Yet all these outcomes did follow.

      Thus when I say “the New Testament documents are what they present themselves to be until proven otherwise,” you should be aware that “what they present themselves to be” was one thing when I started reading and another thing later. In other words, I didn’t start reading the Bible with faith. The faith came after the reading. That is, in the beginning I wouldn’t have been surprised at all to read in it some “cherry tree” stories which would deserve to be tossed aside.

  24. Andrew EC says:

    So the Koran is also what it purports to be?

    • Mike says:

      “I have always given every book I’ve read the presumption that it is what it presents itself to be until I have reason to believe otherwise.”

      I stand by that statement regarding the Koran and every other book. In the case of the Koran, I do “have reason to believe otherwise.” The reason? I’m told the Koran is a message from God saying, among other things, that Muhammed is more important than Jesus. In this, it contradicts the Bible at its most fundamental point. Therefore, I can’t regard the Koran as coming from God.

  25. Mike says:

    If I had said to you that its conflict with the Bible was the only reason I would ever reject the Koran, then your logic would follow. Since I didn’t, you have made an illogical leap.

    • rob says:

      You don’t think your use of “The reason?” implies that there is a single main reason you reject the Koran? You made it pretty clear it was because it contradicts the Bible. You have used this circular reasoning throughout these discussions. If you’ve got another reason, let us know.

      Mike, once again I ask: have you convinced anyone with these arguments? They are so bad, and so naive, that any Christian reading them must surely run away, not wanting to be associated with you or your arguments.

      I’d really like to know if there is anyone else willing to stand by your position on these things. I mean, at the end of the day “reasonableness” is rather subjective, and someone stubborn enough to argue that the world is flat, can do so ad infinitum…there is no real “proof” that they are wrong as long as they are willing to take absurd enough positions and just keep arguing them. Debating you starts to feel like whack-a-mole.

      • Mike says:

        You don’t think your use of “The reason?” implies that there is a single main reason you reject the Koran? You made it pretty clear it was because it contradicts the Bible. You have used this circular reasoning throughout these discussions. If you’ve got another reason, let us know.

        I just don’t follow your logic here, Rob. Nor do I understand why you view my logic as circular. I’ll lay it out and you tell me where it’s circular.

        I read the Bible before I read the Koran. The Koran contradicts the Bible on its essential point. Therefore, the reason I don’t believe the Koran is because of the Bible. Now, let’s go back and replay what might have happened if I had not read the Bible. First, I might not have ever read the Koran either. Second, if I did read it I might not have found it interesting enough to finish. Third, even if I did finish reading it that’s no guarantee I would have embraced its teachings. Where’s the circularity?

        Mike, once again I ask: have you convinced anyone with these arguments? They are so bad, and so naive, that any Christian reading them must surely run away, not wanting to be associated with you or your arguments.

        What do you mean Christians would run away? I gave you two examples of biblical scholars right here on this blog whose research has confirmed that the New Testament presents reliable historical records (Larry Hurtado and Richard Bauckham). There are many, many other such scholars as well. Moreover, there are Christians all over the world who would side with me in an instant in what I’ve said about Christ’s resurrection. There nothing in the least unusual I have presented in that regard.

        I’d really like to know if there is anyone else willing to stand by your position on these things.

        To reiterate: there are literal millions upon millions of people who believe the New Testament testimony about Jesus rising from the dead. Is that, however, how truth is to be determined – to take a vote?

        I mean, at the end of the day “reasonableness” is rather subjective, and someone stubborn enough to argue that the world is flat, can do so ad infinitum…there is no real “proof” that they are wrong as long as they are willing to take absurd enough positions and just keep arguing them.

        To compare the Christ-was-raised-from-the-dead argument to the-world-is-flat argument shows once again that you are not taking seriously the possibility that Christ was raised. The shape of the world is a current reality which can be determined with current means. The resurrection of Christ is a past reality upon which we must rely on fellow human beings who lived at the time to tell us the truth of what happened. Is it possible that they lied? Yes. Is it possible they told the truth? Yes. Okay, then. We must determine which of those two is more plausible. I believe the more plausible answer is that they were telling the truth. I have explained how. They saw what they saw. They did what was described in the Gospels and Acts. They wrote the letters which comprise the rest of the 27 books. You say it’s more plausible that they lied. When I ask you to explain that, you can’t – at least not in any way that withstands reasonable questions.

        I will admit to you that my job of explaining how they were telling the truth is easier than yours. The reason? It’s the simpler explanation. But you’re the one who is choosing to believe a complicated thesis. If it’s that hard for you to flesh it out, maybe that ought to be telling you something.

        • rob says:

          Re: the Koran. You argued that you reject the Koran because it contradicts the Bible, and that you do not reject the Bible, because (in the absence of any reason not to), you accept things you read on face value.

          It is shockingly obvious that that is circular. You could as easily said it the other way around, and come to the conclusion that the Koran is correct and the Bible is not.

          What do you mean Christians would run away?

          I’m not talking about other people that you think have similar arguments. I’m saying people who come here, to this blog, and to the other blog you argued at length on, and who read your words, and who say “yeah, Mike’s argument is sound”.

          I think anyone who reads your words, even Christians who also come to the conclusion that the Bible is true, will say “Mike makes a mind-bogglingly, transparently, bad argument”. I cannot see any intelligent person reading your words and thinking otherwise.

          • Mike says:

            Re: the Koran. You argued that you reject the Koran because it contradicts the Bible, and that you do not reject the Bible, because (in the absence of any reason not to), you accept things you read on face value.

            Rob, you left out the part where, once I began reading the Bible, I found it to be logical and compelling. You also left out how I learned that it was making, on behalf of Jesus, claims on my life which I found persuasive. You can’t leave these out and understand what I’m saying. Again, when I first “saw it on the shelf” I accepted it at face value – a religious book, one among many. No big deal. As I began to read it I found out that it was presenting itself as something much more – the word of the one true God. You’re leaving out a critical part if you think I’m saying that I initially thought it was the word of God for I didn’t even know it could persuasively present itself as such.

            I’ll further say that, as I read it, I learned that God was making exclusive claims on my spiritual interests just as getting married made exclusive claims on my romantic interests. It is this exclusive claim that causes me to regard the Koran as a lie about Jesus Christ. Had I read the Koran first, I would have read its teaching about Jesus as merely an opinion, not as a lie. But that does not mean that I would have embraced the Koran. In fact, I cannot conceive of even reading the Koran in advance of the Bible because I had no interest in religious things. In fact, since becoming a teenager I’ve always avoided religious books pre-Bible and post-Bible. They are very unappealing to me. To put it bluntly: Religious books are creepy. As I’ve said, I began reading the Bible because of its status as a literary classic and was going to hold my nose about the religious aspects. I found it to be truthful rather than religious.

            I think anyone who reads your words, even Christians who also come to the conclusion that the Bible is true, will say “Mike makes a mind-bogglingly, transparently, bad argument”. I cannot see any intelligent person reading your words and thinking otherwise.

            Can you be more specific? I’m just having trouble picturing a Christian coming to this site, seeing the dialogue between you and me, and saying “Mike makes a mind-boggingly, transparent, bad argument” for the resurrection. In fact, I think they would read all your words and say, “Wow! I didn’t realize how weak atheistic arguments against Christ’s resurrection really are – I didn’t agree with them but I thought they had a better case than that!”

            • rob says:

              Of course you can’t picture it. Because you believe your arguments are reasonable. Christians may like the final conclusions, but I will bet you can’t find many (if any) who will support how you arrived there. That’s probably why the only people who have posted much on these threads are coming from the atheist perspective.

              Most Christians I know will say “you’ve just gotta have faith”. Those that think that the Christianity is supported by evidence (which is your premise, and the reason I bothered debating you) generally don’t want to get into depth about it.

              I’m just asking, is there anyone who actually has read your arguments in detail, and will support you? Anyone?

              • Mike Gantt says:

                Most Christians I know will say “you’ve just gotta have faith”. Those that think that the Christianity is supported by evidence (which is your premise, and the reason I bothered debating you) generally don’t want to get into depth about it.

                Rob, your experience with Christians has been quite limited. There are large numbers of them who believe as I do. That is, they examined the evidence for Christ, and their reason led them to believe. I can provide you many web sites and blogs of people who think this way if you’ve not encountered that kind of Christian. I don’t want you thinking I have some unique take on the resurrection or the Bible.

                Where many of these same Christians, and others of the variety you mentioned, would part company with me is when I say everyone is going to heaven, or churchgoing is a waste of time, or God looks at the human race the same and doesn’t see Christian or Muslim or atheist labels. On those points, they would disagree with me as strongly as atheists would disagree with me on the resurrection of Christ.

                I’m just asking, is there anyone who actually has read your arguments in detail, and will support you? Anyone?

                Yes. And the number of people who view the blogs is growing. However, I want to say again what I’ve said before: I am not looking for a following and I am not counting the people who support me. I don’t want to be speaking into the air, so, in that sense, yes, I want my life to have impact. On the other hand, what matters is not what a reader does in response to me but what they do in response to God. If I had my way, we’d all trust and love God…and we’d love each other. If only one person embraced that message, it would worth it all to me. But I hope that many more than that will embrace it. And some already have.

                When you read the Bible, one of the things you see is that God values people who will love Him without regard to social pressure. That is, He values people who love Him independently and free from all other constraints. So often, people join a social group for the peer approval it brings. God wants us to seek His approval rather than the approval of other people. If His approval matters most to us, we will always have the freedom and courage to love others. But if we need the approval of people, our hearts become bound to selfish fear and we can never truly love them as they deserve.

                This is the great example Jesus gave us. He stood alone. He continued to love when no one was loving Him. If He did that for us, each one of us should be willing to do that for Him.

                • rob says:

                  Just saying, I’d love to see others who not only agree with your views and your ways of arriving at them, but are willing to post here and say so.

  26. Mike Gantt says:

    Bart D. Ehrman, a distinguished professor of New Testament at the University of North Carolina, came up with an alternative scenario to explain the resurrection and the New Testament. I wonder if he’ll answer the questions I’ve posed to him about it in An Open Letter to Bart Ehrman.

  27. Mike Gantt says:

    What gave rise to this post originally – and what keeps it going – is the inability or unwillingness of anyone to put forward an alternative plausible theory to the theory that the apostles were telling the truth when they wrote the New Testament documents.

    I had been hearing over and over again how there were “so many” possible naturalistic explanations for how the New Testament documents came to be. Yet, whenever I asked for even one of them to be flesh out, there was always resistance.

    Recently I came across a quote from Luke Muehlhauser at this post on Common Sense Atheism that I thought applied well to this situation:

    [A] huge number of arguments does not mean any of them are good arguments.

    Of course, Luke is an atheist and employs this truth in different pursuits than mine. Nonetheless, it is a truth…and thanks for saying it better than I could, Luke.

  28. Mike Gantt says:

    Those who believe Jesus was a myth or a heavily embellished reality seem to feel that they only need to make this assertion to be believed. They feel no need to offer proof or evidence or explanation of how the myth came to be documented as fact in the New Testament.

    In this post James McGrath offers but an example of why the assertion of Jesus as myth, without a corresponding explanation of how this squares with the New Testament documents, falls short to a reasonable mind.

  29. Pingback: More on Believing the Bible Is the Word of God Without Engaging in Circular Logic | Current Events in Light of the Kingdom of God

  30. HJ says:

    I know this post is old and there are tons of comments I haven’t read, so I apologize if others have said it before or said it better, but in light of our discussion on the other blog page, I had to comment.

    You claim to accept testimony as true until proven otherwise, which is to me, simply a ploy to hide your circular logic. I have a suspicion that if I told you I saw a guy raise people from the dead, you might not believe me. If you did, I would write you off as gullible. Why not read a book on Norse mythology, or even evolution, and accept that? Because they would conflict with the Bible, which is the word of God, which you know because the Bible says it is, which is true because the Bible is infallible.

    The easy way to falsify the NT is to see that it describes supernatural happenings that never occur in our experience and defy known laws of science. No rational person would accept these based on the ancient book alone. Does it conclusively prove them impossible? No, but that’s not the standard you claim. You’re saying the NT convinced you on its own, without preconceptions that it, and not other holy books, was the word of God.

    Try this: test the truth of the NT by praying, in accordance with Jesus’ promise in Matt 18:19, for the regrowth of my friend Mike’s amputated leg. Since we don’t even have to bother checking to know the prayer will not be answered, we can reject the NT as false. You can use any of the rationalizations commonly used to explain that away, but you will not honestly be able to tell me that the NT would, on its own merits, be convincing to anyone who was not already convinced. A neutral reader would reject the promise as false.

    Seriously, quit playing with logic and reason and stick with the faith angle. Logic is not your friend.

  31. Mike Gantt says:

    HJ,

    You claim to accept testimony as true until proven otherwise, which is to me, simply a ploy to hide your circular logic.

    Ah, so you are one of those people who think that the Bible is not the word of God and that anyone who believes it is can only be doing so by virtue of circular logic.

    I’ve laid my logic out for you.  Deal with it…if you can.

    I have a suspicion that if I told you I saw a guy raise people from the dead, you might not believe me. If you did, I would write you off as gullible. Why not read a book on Norse mythology, or even evolution, and accept that? Because they would conflict with the Bible, which is the word of God, which you know because the Bible says it is, which is true because the Bible is infallible.

    You are ignoring the logical steps I followed in coming to my conclusion that the Bible is the word of God.  My open invitation remains for someone to disabuse me of my views.  Instead of attacking my logic, you insist on attacking a straw man.  This is not scoring points for you with logical readers.

    The easy way to falsify the NT is to see that it describes supernatural happenings that never occur in our experience and defy known laws of science. No rational person would accept these based on the ancient book alone. Does it conclusively prove them impossible? No, but that’s not the standard you claim. You’re saying the NT convinced you on its own, without preconceptions that it, and not other holy books, was the word of God.

    Yes, I am saying that the New Testament documents come across to me as reliable historical documents.  And this is before I reached a conviction that they were the word of God.  You are demonstrating once again your circular reasoning when you assume that I can only believe the Bible is the word of God by means of circular reasoning.  My path is linear; yours is not.

    Try this: test the truth of the NT by praying, in accordance with Jesus’ promise in Matt 18:19, for the regrowth of my friend Mike’s amputated leg. Since we don’t even have to bother checking to know the prayer will not be answered, we can reject the NT as false. You can use any of the rationalizations commonly used to explain that away, but you will not honestly be able to tell me that the NT would, on its own merits, be convincing to anyone who was not already convinced. A neutral reader would reject the promise as false.

    A neutral reader would recognize that the regrowth or not of your friend’s amputated leg is an invalid indicator of the truth or not of the New Testament documents.  This is a non sequitur.  If your friend grew a new leg it would not necessarily mean the New Testament documents are true, just as an absence of such growth does not prove they are false.  See also this post: An Amputee That God Healed.

    Seriously, quit playing with logic and reason and stick with the faith angle. Logic is not your friend.

    If it weren’t for logic, I wouldn’t have any faith.  Logic has been the friend that led me step by step to faith…and which brings me back when I stray.  As for you, try becoming more logical before you tell others who logic will and won’t befriend.

  32. HJ says:

    If Jesus promises in NT that a prayer will be answered, we pray for my friend’s leg to regrow, and it doesn’t regrow, the promise has been proven false. It sounds like you didn’t read the verse. You are half right there; if the leg did regrow, it would not prove the NT true. When it doesn’t it absolute does prove the NT false. That’s how empirical proof works: falsification takes only one case.

    You don’t seem to understand what “circular reasoning” means. You can try to prove my premises are false but you need to show circular reasoning if you want to make that claim.

    Maybe you could respond in one of the threads & link to the other? The back & forth will be confusing.

  33. Mike Gantt says:

    HJ,

    If Jesus promises in NT that a prayer will be answered, we pray for my friend’s leg to regrow, and it doesn’t regrow, the promise has been proven false.  It sounds like you didn’t read the verse. You are half right there; if the leg did regrow, it would not prove the NT true. When it doesn’t it absolute does prove the NT false. That’s how empirical proof works: falsification takes only one case.

    If you have in fact read the verse, you have ignored its context.  The promise is to disciples.  As it seems clear that you are not a disciple of Jesus, I don’t know why you would think that such a promise applies to you.

    Jesus elsewhere said that all things are possible through faith (Mark 11:22-24).  Even true disciples can be weak in faith (Matthew 14:31), and thus unable to receive all God has promised.

    Jesus also said elsewhere that it is better to enter the kingdom of God without all of one’s appendages than it is to stay outside of it with all one’s appendages intact.  If your friend serves Jesus, he is better off than any able-bodied person who doesn’t (Matthew 18; Mark 9).  Be of good cheer, though, because everyone is going to heaven.  Nevertheless, you should fear God because judgment is upon us.

    The existence of amputated limbs is by no means a disproof of the veracity of the New Testament.  Rather, it is a demonstration of the ravages of sin (against which the New Testament warns), and the general absence of miracles of healing is proof of our general state of unbelief.  It seems clear that you do not believe in God, so you also bear witness to this truth of the New Testament documents.

    You don’t seem to understand what “circular reasoning” means. You can try to prove my premises are false but you need to show circular reasoning if you want to make that claim.

    I did not make the claim of circular reasoning against the premises you laid out.  I said they were false for other reasons.

    Maybe you could respond in one of the threads & link to the other? The back & forth will be confusing.

    This thread is about the rationale (or logical support) for my faith.  The other thread is about circular reasoning as it applies to people believing that the Bible is the word of God.  If you keep your comments on this thread to the argument I make in this thread, and your comments in the other thread to the argument I make in the other thread, there should be no confusion.

  34. HJ says:

    I’m going to try to stay on my point that the Bible is not convincing to reasonable people who do not already assume it to be of divine origin, so I am not addressing every point you make. If you feel that I am avoiding something necessary to the argument, please say so and I will address it.

    If you have in fact read the verse, you have ignored its context. The promise is to disciples. As it seems clear that you are not a disciple of Jesus, I don’t know why you would think that such a promise applies to you.

    Although I would dispute your claim that “two of you on earth” would somehow be restricted to disciples, if you were to read my post of December 31, 2011 at 10:10 pm, you would see that I asked YOU to pray for my friend. I have not done this myself because I already know that amputated limbs don’t regrow. I am assuming that you are a disciple of Jesus, and I assume you know others, so you should be able to get God to regrow my friend’s leg as per Jesus’ promise. If you can’t, you will need to do better than quoting non sequitur verses about how people who are missing limbs are better off, which do not address the fact that a clearly worded promise, supposedly directly quoted from Jesus, is not kept.

    • Mike Gantt says:

      HJ,

      I’m going to try to stay on my point that the Bible is not convincing to reasonable people who do not already assume it to be of divine origin…

      The biggest problem with your line of reasoning is that you are addressing it to someone who is a prime example of someone you say does not exist.

      …so I am not addressing every point you make. If you feel that I am avoiding something necessary to the argument, please say so and I will address it.

      I don’t feel that you’ve made an effective point yet.  If I do, I’ll let you know.

      Although I would dispute your claim that “two of you on earth” would somehow be restricted to disciples…

      I don’t know how you’d dispute it as the words were spoken by Jesus to His disciples.

      …if you were to read my post of December 31, 2011 at 10:10 pm, you would see that I asked YOU to pray for my friend. I have not done this myself because I already know that amputated limbs don’t regrow. I am assuming that you are a disciple of Jesus, and I assume you know others, so you should be able to get God to regrow my friend’s leg as per Jesus’ promise.

      Jesus would say “Your faith has made you well” (Mark 5:34).  Conversely, His miracle-working power was hindered by unbelief (Matthew 13:58).  You are outspoken in your unbelief.  Therefore, confirm the truth that Jesus taught.

      If you can’t, you will need to do better than quoting non sequitur verses about how people who are missing limbs are better off, which do not address the fact that a clearly worded promise, supposedly directly quoted from Jesus, is not kept.

      The soul is more important than the body.  This is apparent to everyone, for it’s obvious that crippled people can be happy and able-bodied people can be miserable.

      You pervert Jesus’ words, taking them out of context to make it sound as if He promised that a defiant unbelieving human being like you could order Him around.  God does not exist so that He can obey us; we exist so that we can obey Him.

       

  35. HJ says:

    Back to the main point, your challenge. You are asking me to identify a problem with your reasoning: that would clearly be your method of taking claims as true until shown otherwise. This is not a reasonable position to take, and it’s hard to believe that you really do so. My method is to disbelieve everything until evidence is offered. I don’t try to “disprove” the existence of leprechauns or Big Foot, I simply reject them until I see good evidence. This doesn’t mean I think everyone is a liar. The amount of evidence I require to believe something is based on my assessment of its probability, and the cost to me if I am wrong. If you tell me your name is Mike, I require no more evidence. It doesn’t sound improbable and it doesn’t matter to me if I’m wrong. If you tell me you have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell me, I see low probability of truth and high cost if I’m wrong. I will need a lot of evidence. If you tell me you were dead last week and have been resurrected supernaturally, I see a near-zero probability. You will have to provide evidence so convincing, that the miracle is more likely than the falsehood of the evidence. I don’t know how you would do that.

    If a person claims to be an eyewitness to a supernatural event, it is much more likely that they are mistaken, mentally ill, or lying than that they truly saw a miracle; therefore it is not reasonable to assume a miracle. This is a statement of fact, since lies, mental illness and hallucinations are well-known and common; miracles are not. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The claims in the Bible no more qualify as extraordinary evidence than claims in any holy book you reject. If you read that Joseph Smith said an angel lead him to golden plates with scripture, or that Mohammed flew to Heaven on a winged steed, I doubt you would spend a lot of time devising a scenario to explain the claims; you probably just dismissed them. You don’t need to know whether the claimer is a liar, or truly believed but was insane, or didn’t really say it and others claimed they did. It doesn’t matter, all you need to know is that it isn’t likely to be true.

    This is not to say the supernatural is proved impossible; that proof would be logically impossible. It just means that accepting testimony of miracles is not the reasonable choice.

    I believe you picked the Bible as your truth because you were not a neutral reader. You were raised to believe it was God’s word, were you not? You may not have been devout at the time, but you weren’t an atheist, were you? You claimed to use a scientific approach (granted, not a good one) to determine the Bible was true, and you now use it to reject science that conflicts with it, do you not? I don’t know all of your beliefs, but you reject evolution, correct. That is not reasonable.

    I see that you have already been told all this before, and still claim that no one has answered the challenge, so I doubt I will make any progress either.

  36. Mike Gantt says:

    HJ,

    Your lack of progress owes solely to your failure to address the point of the post.  I just went back and re-read the original post as well as this this summary of the main point to be sure of this.

    The theme of your most recent comment seems to be that the presence of supernatural events in the New Testament render it unbelievable.  This is illogical.  If there is a God, and if the Bible is a faithful record of His activities in ancient Israel, then the presence of some supernatural accounts would not be surprising.  If you say a priori  that miracles cannot occur then you are engaging in circular reasoning if you say the New Testament cannot thus be true.

    When I began reading the New Testament documents in earnest, the supernatural was a secondary issue for me.  I was more struck by the morality and wisdom I found than by any miracle accounts.

    Go back and read the gospels as four corroborating accounts of the life of an itinerant Jewish rabbi who lived in 1st-century Palestine.  See what you think about that life.  Yes, there were supernatural aspects, but it is His humanity that shines forth even more.

    As as for the point of this thread, go back over what I’ve indicated is my most vulnerable point.  That’s where you should focus your attack if you truly want to disabuse me of my faith.

    To say that miracles are rare is merely to state a truism.

     

  37. HJ says:

    Jesus would say “Your faith has made you well” (Mark 5:34). Conversely, His miracle-working power was hindered by unbelief (Matthew 13:58). You are outspoken in your unbelief. Therefore, confirm the truth that Jesus taught.

    Is unbelief like Kryptonite for God? You have a unique theology, I’ll give you that. I haven’t heard that before. I have heard that psychic powers also fail around unbelievers.

    You pervert Jesus’ words, taking them out of context to make it sound as if He promised that a defiant unbelieving human being like you could order Him around. God does not exist so that He can obey us; we exist so that we can obey Him.

    I have already addressed your straw man above and again in the other thread, but I am amused by your idea that asking Jesus to help my friend and convince an unbeliever by keeping a very clear promise attributed to him is “perverting” his words. Perhaps Jesus should have said “anything that you ask for that would have happened anyway will be done.”

    Your lack of progress owes solely to your failure to address the point of the post. I just went back and re-read the original post as well as this this summary of the main point to be sure of this.

    The challenge was to find the flaw in your logic:

    1) the New Testament documents are what they present themselves to be until proven otherwise , 2) I find their message logical and compelling, 3) accepting their message (the centrality of which is Jesus as the Messiah, raised from the dead), I believe that the Old Testament is the word of God 4) due to its similarity to the Old Testament, I conclude that the New Testament is also the word of God.

    I like how your logic has been shredded apart throughout this entire thread, and you continue to suggest that people are not addressing your point. I am attacking 2) by showing that the Bible is obviously filled with false claims . My last post attacked 1) by showing that your claimed method of accepting the Bible as true until proven false is faulty. In what way am I not addressing the point of the post? By failing to present the argument you have an answer for?

    The theme of your most recent comment seems to be that the presence of supernatural events in the New Testament render it unbelievable. This is illogical. If there is a God, and if the Bible is a faithful record of His activities in ancient Israel, then the presence of some supernatural accounts would not be surprising. If you say a priori that miracles cannot occur then you are engaging in circular reasoning if you say the New Testament cannot thus be true.

    It’s one theme; you ignored the whole part on the default of disbelief. You post simply addresses a straw man yet again. I specifically said that I can’t prove miracles impossible. I think you should reread my post and address what it says. And unless you believe all eyewitness testimony of supernatural events, you are showing that you did not approach the Bible as you say.

    When I began reading the New Testament documents in earnest, the supernatural was a secondary issue for me. I was more struck by the morality and wisdom I found than by any miracle accounts.

    This is completely devoid of logic. If I told you that you should be nice to people and that monkeys fly out of my butt, you would believe both?

    Go back and read the gospels as four corroborating accounts of the life of an itinerant Jewish rabbi who lived in 1st-century Palestine. See what you think about that life. Yes, there were supernatural aspects, but it is His humanity that shines forth even more.

    I don’t have to. I am capable of accepting that Jesus is quoted as saying some wise and useful things. I sometimes say wise and useful things. It doesn’t make me god, even if I claim I am. Jesus is also quoted as saying some garbage.

    Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

    Belief without evidence, that’s a great idea. The only people who say that are trying to con you. This is the central idea that keeps religion going. I know why hucksters want me to believe without evidence; but why would gods? If you were God, would you hide, then reward people who found you and torture people who didn’t? Let me guess, I don’t get to choose how God entertains himself.

    As for the point of this thread, go back over what I’ve indicated is my most vulnerable point. That’s where you should focus your attack if you truly want to disabuse me of my faith.

    I don’t expect, or want to disabuse you of your faith. I want to disabuse you of the idea that you came to it by good logic. It’s a claim most Christians have learned not to make. I have already shown that your claimed method of assuming the truth without evidence makes no sense, in the part of my previous post that you didn’t respond to. Others in the thread have clearly shown it by giving more plausible explanations for the Bible stories than the supernatural. You responded by telling them that their explanation wasn’t valid unless they told you what color shirt the guy was wearing when he embellished the story.

  38. Mike Gantt says:

    HJ has requested that his comments on this post be linked with his comments on this other post.

  39. Mike Gantt says:

    HJ,

    Is unbelief like Kryptonite for God?

    No, but it is for us.

    I like how your logic has been shredded apart throughout this entire thread, and you continue to suggest that people are not addressing your point. I am attacking 2) by showing that the Bible is obviously filled with false claims . My last post attacked 1) by showing that your claimed method of accepting the Bible as true until proven false is faulty. In what way am I not addressing the point of the post?

    You are still missing the point.  Go back to the original post.  Read to the end where you will find two links added after significant dialogue with others.  These links take to you points in the comment thread.  At the first link, I re-state the original argument, give tips,  and elaborate on how to go after the “jugular” of my argument.  In the second, I highlight Rob’s work which, though not successful, was a better effort than anyone else has put forth to date.

    I specifically said that I can’t prove miracles impossible.

    At least you are being honest about this point, and I commend you for it.  I approached reading the New Testament documents with the same attitude.  I’m glad I did.

    I think you should reread my post and address what it says. And unless you believe all eyewitness testimony of supernatural events, you are showing that you did not approach the Bible as you say.

    I don’t believe all eyewitness testimony of supernatural events.  I only believe those that are credible.

     If I told you that you should be nice to people and that monkeys fly out of my butt, you would believe both?

    I’m glad you asked.  This question indicates that you didn’t understand my point about being more taken with the morality of the New Testament than its supernatural elements. To specifically answer your question above, no.  How is what you propose different from the New Testament?  As different as night and day.  In your case, the first proposition has nothing to do with the second.  In the case of the New Testament, the miracle is always an outworking of a moral truth.  When the loaves were multiplied, Jesus was feeding the hungry.  When He walked on water in the storm, He was helping those in need.  When He was raised from the dead, He was being vindicated as the only sinless man ever to have lived.  Your “miracle” was gross silliness.

    I am capable of accepting that Jesus is quoted as saying some wise and useful things. I sometimes say wise and useful things. It doesn’t make me god, even if I claim I am. Jesus is also quoted as saying some garbage.

    I agree with you that you are not God.  I don’t agree with your assessment of Jesus.  I can’t imagine anything He said that would qualify as “garbage.”

    Belief without evidence, that’s a great idea. The only people who say that are trying to con you. This is the central idea that keeps religion going. I know why hucksters want me to believe without evidence; but why would gods?

    I encourage you to stay away from religion and from hucksters.  I also encourage you to shy away from believing without evidence.  I am pointing you to Jesus Christ, and Him alone.  God does not ask that we believe without evidence.  He has given us more than enough evidence.  The New Testament documents were written by multiple witnesses who swore with their lives that they were telling the truth.  Consider:

    The Depth of Corroboration to the Testimony of Jesus Christ

    The Nine Men Behind the New Testament

    The Apostles’ Testimony

    If you were God, would you hide, then reward people who found you and torture people who didn’t?

    Everyone Is Going to Heaven

    I don’t expect, or want to disabuse you of your faith. I want to disabuse you of the idea that you came to it by good logic.

    Then address the challenge.  My logic is what it is all about.  I continue to be amazed that no one is willing or able to address it.  I have laid it out as simply as I know how.  Tell me what you don’t understand and I will work on it more.  I came to my faith by a logical process and I keep my faith by a logical process.  You keep telling me why you don’t believe and that I shouldn’t either, but you are not addressing my logic.

    All you have to do is show how the New Testament documents are a false testimony of Jesus of Nazareth.  You try to say that the inclusion of supernatural events invalidate them, but you contradict yourself when you admit that you can’t prove miracles impossible.  You misrepresented a promise of Jesus to be a promise that amputated limbs could be grown on demand, but that doesn’t falsify the New Testament documents.  Go back to what Rob did.  He struck me as someone who came closest to making a sincere effort to address the challenge.  You are just frustrated to learn that your list of excuses for rejecting Jesus Christ really don’t hold water.

  40. HJ says:

    God does not ask that we believe without evidence. He has given us more than enough evidence. The New Testament documents were written by multiple witnesses who swore with their lives that they were telling the truth. Consider:

    Then why is it that scientists and philosophers are atheist at much higher rates that the general population?

    93% NAS Scientists atheist: http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/news/file002.html
    73+% philosophers surveyed atheist: http://philpapers.org/surveys/results.pl

    There is as much evidence for gods as there is for psychic powers and ghosts: the testimony of people who lack the skills to assess evidence. Like, for instance, people who think that it is reasonable to start from an assumption of truth when assessing a book full of supernatural claims.

    My logic is what it is all about. I continue to be amazed that no one is willing or able to address it.

    As long as you continue to pretend that addressing the flaws and bias in your method of determining the truth of the Bible and addressing the obvious falsehoods in the Bible that only a brainwashed believer can overlook is not addressing your logic, you will continue to be amazed. Your logic was addressed, drawn, and quartered long before I got here.

    I think I am about done here. As a parting gift, I will give one last summary of your “logic” so that you can then claim that I did not address your logic, as you like to do.

    1) the New Testament documents are what they present themselves to be until proven otherwise

    Assuming an ancient myth to be true until proven otherwise is ridiculous, is the opposite of the scientific method, and is not what you did with the Koran, which has as much evidence as the Bible.

    2) I find their message logical and compelling,

    Here are some examples of other things that you think are logical:

    – the idea that an all powerful god would inspire a book to spread his word and then forget to inspire the scribes and translators who would filter it for the vast majority of its readers

    – the idea that saying that “anything they ask for” means “anything they ask for” is perverting the meaning of the quote

    – the idea that believing in the historicity or morality of a book before coming to believe its unevidenced supernatural claims somehow makes the belief rational.

    Logic is not your strong point.

    3) accepting their message (the centrality of which is Jesus as the Messiah, raised from the dead), I believe that the Old Testament is the word of God

    Since this is building on the prior nonsense, it doesn’t need to be addressed, but why not? The angry, vengeful, blood thirsty god of the OT fits in so well with your unique interpretation of the NT where no one goes to hell, despite Jesus assurance in Matthew 25:41-46 that they do. I suppose Jesus meant that in the same way he meant Matthew 18:19. I know context, context.

    4) due to its similarity to the Old Testament, I conclude that the New Testament is also the word of God.

    Sure, if it’s similar, it must be true, too; can’t argue that logic. You’ve convinced me the Bible is the word of God, so I’m off to buy a Canadian slave as per Levitcus 25:44-46. On Saturday I’ll look to see if anyone if gathering sticks so I can stone them per Numbers 15:32-36; words so similar to Jesus’ words!

    I think I’m done here; have a good night. Sorry for the testiness; this just dragged on way too long. I do appreciate that you have been polite for most of it.

  41. Mike Gantt says:

    HJ,

    Then why is it that scientists and philosophers are atheist at much higher rates that the general population?

    Human vanity.  Knowledge puffs up.  We get too big for our britches.  God makes Himself available to every human being, not just those who go to school long enough.  Therefore, the key to learning about God is to be humble.  Humility begins in recognizing that we are nearly as moral as we think, and He is much more moral than we think.

    There is as much evidence for gods as there is for psychic powers and ghosts: the testimony of people who lack the skills to assess evidence. Like, for instance, people who think that it is reasonable to start from an assumption of truth when assessing a book full of supernatural claims.

    I don’t put much stock in reports of psychic powers or ghosts.  The folks who report on such things seem to be guessing most of the time.  But I do think Jews in the first century could tell the difference between whether a crucified man was dead or alive and whether or not He ascended into heaven.  And I do think we can all recognize – in hindsight, of course – that the Old Testament had long been predicting just such an event.

    As long as you continue to pretend that addressing the flaws and bias in your method of determining the truth of the Bible and addressing the obvious falsehoods in the Bible that only a brainwashed believer can overlook is not addressing your logic, you will continue to be amazed. Your logic was addressed, drawn, and quartered long before I got here.

    You are joining in the chorus that says:

    P1: The supernatural cannot be true.

    P2: The Bible references supernatural events.

    C:  Therefore, the Bible cannot be true.

    Therefore, you have locked yourself into purely naturalistic explanations.

    I think I am about done here. As a parting gift, I will give one last summary of your “logic” so that you can then claim that I did not address your logic, as you like to do.

    Assuming an ancient myth to be true until proven otherwise is ridiculous, is the opposite of the scientific method, and is not what you did with the Koran, which has as much evidence as the Bible.

    Your use of “myth” in this sentence prejudices the question.  It is an ancient account.  It presents us with a set of facts.  The account may be accepted or rejected.  I found nothing in it that compelled me to reject if, but the purpose of this post was to invite anyone to give me just cause why I should nonetheless reject it (e.g. prove the documents were forged, or that their authors lied, or some other reasonable thesis).  You have said that its claims about the resurrection are self-contradictory, but this is true in only the most superficial and limited of senses.  There is no material contradiction.  You have also said that the presence of the supernatural in these documents discredits them, but that can only be true if the supernatural is impossible.  I cannot say that it is, and you have said that you cannot say that it is either.  Therefore, you’ve so far given me no good reason to reject what the documents claim.

    The New Testament is mutually exclusive with the claims made by Muhammad.  This is why I don’t spend time studying the Koran.

    Here are some examples of other things that you think are logical:

    – the idea that an all powerful god would inspire a book to spread his word and then forget to inspire the scribes and translators who would filter it for the vast majority of its readers.

    He didn’t forget.  Scribal errors do not change the gist of His message.  Besides, we have so many ancient copies that the errors generally cancel each other out.  That is, with thousands of ancient copies we can determine with a great deal of confidence what the originals said.

    – the idea that saying that “anything they ask for” means “anything they ask for” is perverting the meaning of the quote.

    As explained, you took it out of context.  For example, you never even addressed what “binding and loosing” meant in the previous sentence.  What sort of sentences do you write that have no relation to the previous sentence?

    – the idea that believing in the historicity or morality of a book before coming to believe its unevidenced supernatural claims somehow makes the belief rational.

    You speak as one who believes that supernatural events are impossible.  That strikes me as intellectually limiting, not to mention inconsistent with your own statements.

    Logic is not your strong point.

    You keep saying that.  If only you could demonstrate it.  And if only you could demonstrate more logic in your own arguments.

    Since this is building on the prior nonsense, it doesn’t need to be addressed, but why not? The angry, vengeful, blood thirsty god of the OT fits in so well with your unique interpretation of the NT where no one goes to hell, despite Jesus assurance in Matthew 25:41-46 that they do. I suppose Jesus meant that in the same way he meant Matthew 18:19. I know context, context.

    Actually, in Matthew 25:41-46 Jesus was speaking of the kingdom of God which is a reality in our midst.  There is a hell; it’s on this earth and in this life (Judgment Is Upon Us).  When we live for Jesus we find an oasis from its flames.

    Sure, if it’s similar, it must be true, too; can’t argue that logic. You’ve convinced me the Bible is the word of God, so I’m off to buy a Canadian slave as per Levitcus 25:44-46. On Saturday I’ll look to see if anyone if gathering sticks so I can stone them per Numbers 15:32-36; words so similar to Jesus’ words!

    You are either unfamiliar with Jesus’ teaching or you are knowingly misrepresenting it.  I’ll assume the former, as it allows me to give you the benefit of the doubt.  Jesus gave His own interpretation of the Mosaic Code which rendered its original meaning obsolete.  The ancient laws are to be entirely understand in spiritual terms.  Further study of Jesus, His life and teaching, will explain this in greater detail.

    I think I’m done here; have a good night. Sorry for the testiness; this just dragged on way too long. I do appreciate that you have been polite for most of it.

    I appreciate the exchange and wish we could have found more points in common.  If you don’t remember anything else I’ve said, please remember this:  There is much more to Jesus Christ any of us have ever realized.

  42. HJ says:

    I won’t respond again as I said I was done, but I would like to insert the text of the Bible verse I mentioned, so that future readers can see how well it supports your logic of a temporary Hell here on Earth, as opposed to the traditional Hell meaning eternal torture:

    Matthew 25:41-46 NIV

    41 “Then he [Jesus; see link below for full context] will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

    46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+25&version=NIV

    • Mike Gantt says:

      Hell is permanent on the earth, but not its occupants. Jesus described the kingdom of God rightly but you’re misreading Him. The fire is eternal; what it consumes is not.

  43. HJ says:

    Like I said, the comment wasn’t for your benefit, Mike; I understand that you think you can change the meanings of words to match the meaning that you want to hear. It was intended for others who will understand that the words “eternal punishment” are not open to the interpretation that you have chosen. I will leave it to them to determine which of us is misreading.

  44. Mike Gantt says:

    HJ,

    I’m quite happy for readers to have a choice.

    The irony here, of course, is that the choice you are offering is identical to that offered by evangelicals who hold to heaven-or-hell theory of afterlife. Strange bedfellows, you and they.

    As for Jesus’ words, I am not interested in understanding them according to any particular school of thought. Rather, I am interested in understanding them as He intended them. He gives His Holy Spirit to every yielded human heart for the very purpose of conveying His understanding (2 Peter 1:20-21). You, I, and every reader should yield to Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit – for if we do so faithfully and continually, we will eventually find ourselves in the same place.

  45. HJ says:

    I think we’ve cleared up our misunderstanding here; I was limited by my insistence that the words in the Bible mean what they say. To see the Bible as the perfect word of God, one must only change the words in one’s mind until they are true and to one’s liking; then the Bible’s perfection can be seen.

  46. Mike Gantt says:

    HJ,

    Your sarcasm misses the point. The words are God’s; therefore, whenever there’s any uncertainty or disagreement, He’s the one who gets to say what He means.

    Moreover, you’re one minute saying the Bible cannot be trusted and the next minute you’re quoting it like a fire-and-brimstone preacher. Thus when your reasoning is not circular, it is self-contradictory. Why you consider yourself a logical person is beyond me.

    I do think, however, that you are a sincere person, and I respect you for that. Let us both keep seeking the truth and surely He will help us find the pieces that we, respectively, are missing – for each of us, because we are human, is always missing something.

  47. HJ says:

    The words are God’s; therefore, whenever there’s any uncertainty or disagreement, He’s the one who gets to say what He means.

    If god spoke and told us what he meant, we wouldn’t have these conversations, now would we? I wasn’t there when the Holy Spirit told you that “eternal punishment” actually meant “not eternal punishment” so I would have to take you at your word.

    I recommend you add a line to your process for accepting the Bible:

    “2.5) when I don’t like the message in the Bible, I ask the Holy Spirit, and He tells me what that the words mean something different than what they say.”

    If this is not part of your process, you need to explain the “context” in which “eternal punishment” doesn’t mean eternal punishment, but “eternal life” (in the same sentence) still means eternal life. Or maybe it doesn’t; I’m not sure. The Holy Spirit doesn’t tell me how to change the words in the Bible around. You also might want to explain why Jesus chose to say the exact opposite of what he meant.

    You might have thought it clever to compare me to a fire-and-brimstone preacher, but the words weren’t mine. If the Bible quoted him accurately, it is Jesus who preached fire-and-brimstone. It’s a shame I wasted time trying to get you to understand a promise that Jesus doesn’t keep; this promise that you don’t want Jesus to keep might be your most vulnerable point. You seem to correctly recognize that it would be unjust and evil to mete out infinite punishment for finite (often trivial) crime, as most Christians believe God does. Unfortunately, you have to flat out deny Jesus’ words in the Bible to shoehorn in your own kinder version of judgement.

  48. Mike Gantt says:

    HJ,

    You are amazing. You can go from Bible basher to Bible thumper faster than a race car can go from 0 to 60. You’re absolutely certain that the Bible is inaccurate when it testifies that Jesus was raised from the dead, but you’re also absolutely certain that it has every word in Matthew 25 captured exactly as He spoke them.  Hmm.  You’re saying the Bible is untrustworthy when it comes to its most repeated and variously attested claim, but completely trustworthy when it comes to a passage written only once.  It’s hard for any of us to avoid the conclusion that you are more tightly wedded to your rejection of Jesus than you are to logic or intellectual integrity.

    As for the specific passage in question, you misrepresent my position.  I do not insert the word “not,” and I do not take Jesus to mean the opposite of what He was saying.  On the contrary, I consider His words more precious than my own life on this earth.

    The problem with your interpretation is that you claim that “eternal life” and “eternal punishment” mean something that doesn’t occur until after we leave the earth, but you do not explain where you got this idea.  You got it from the same place that hell-fire preachers get it:  tradition, not the Scriptures.  If you want to understand what the terms mean, study where they are used in Scripture and you’ll come to see that they apply to this earth and our lives while on it.

    You also ignore the context.  He is using these terms in a  parable.  Because he discusses separating “sheep” and “goats” in the parable does that mean we should take Him literally that He is focused on managing farm animals?

    This parable is the fifth of five He tells as part of His extended answer (often called “the Olivet Discourse, because He delivered it on the Mount of Olives) to His disciples’ questions about when Jerusalem’s temple would be destroyed and when He would be coming (which is addressed in Jesus Christ Has Already Come Again, and biblically explained in Whatever Became of Jesus Christ?).

    “Eternal life” is life in obedience to Christ (and has nothing to do with churchgoing, which I explain in Seeking the Kingdom of God Instead of Church and Church Is Not the Answer; Christ Is.  “Eternal punishment” is the wrath of God – life outside the kingdom of God.  Or, you could actually say, mere existence instead of life.  Earlier in the Olivet Discourse Jesus made clear that His coming would occur in that generation (Matthew 24:34).  Therefore, this parable, along with the others, describes what happened when He returned.  Of course, the parable still holds true because these things are eternal.  Thus you are currently experiencing life as a goat, separated from Jesus’ presence which is true life itself.

    You can, however, be restored to Him by calling on His name, forsaking your sins, and seeking His approval.  You don’t need to consult me or anyone else about this.  It can happen right where you are.  Be aware, however, that God is not seeking just a transaction with you.  He wants a life with you.  Therefore, you need to go forward acknowledging His presence and living for His morality, which He will teach you day by day.  It starts with living sacrificially for those around you.  If you do this, you will come out of eternal punishment and dwell in eternal life.  Eternal life is knowing God (John 17:3).

  49. HJ says:

    The problem with your interpretation is that you claim that “eternal life” and “eternal punishment” mean something that doesn’t occur until after we leave the earth, but you do not explain where you got this idea.

    So now you simply alter my words (like you do the Bible’s) to mean what you want them to mean so that you can refute? I actually said that “eternal punishment” means eternal punishment, which is hard to refute, but you since can’t admit you’re wrong about anything, ever, you have had to resort to dishonesty. Like when you say that I am a “Bible thumper” if I quote the Bible to show that it is full of nonsense.

    You also ignore the context. He is using these terms in a parable. Because he discusses separating “sheep” and “goats” in the parable does that mean we should take Him literally that He is focused on managing farm animals?

    If I don’t come back here and insert the actual text of the Bible verse, a casual reader might think you were telling the truth.

    When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (Matthew 25:31-32)

    “The people”. Not livestock. People. He will separate the people AS a shepherd separates livestock.

    There’s no point in trying to have a debate with a person who is going to flat out lie about what the Bible says while having the gall to accuse me of “perverting” Jesus’ words by quoting them verbatim.

  50. HJ says:

    Are you now deleting comments where you’re shown to be a liar? A new level of integrity. Jesus must be so proud of you!

    • Mike Gantt says:

      A person does not have to read far in my blogs before it becomes obvious that I don’t delete comments that say something negative about me.

      As for your repeatedly calling me a liar, I, of course, don’t enjoy false accusations but I can excuse them because I know you are frustrated with the discussion and probably aren’t intentionally wanting to harm me. Even if you were, Jesus would want me to forgive you. Who am I to deny Him who loves us all so much?

  51. Mike Gantt says:

    So now you simply alter my words (like you do the Bible’s) to mean what you want them to mean so that you can refute? I actually said that “eternal punishment” means eternal punishment, which is hard to refute, but you since can’t admit you’re wrong about anything, ever, you have had to resort to dishonesty. Like when you say that I am a “Bible thumper” if I quote the Bible to show that it is full of nonsense.

    I’m merely pointing out that if you one minute say the Bible cannot be trusted when it says Jesus was walking around three days after He died and the next minute that it can be trusted when it quotes Him, then you sound like you are two different people.

    As for altering words, I’ve altered neither yours nor the Bible’s.  I said that you were assuming that “eternal punishment” means something that begins after you die and I was wondering where you got that idea because the two words themselves don’t say anything about that.

    If I don’t come back here and insert the actual text of the Bible verse, a casual reader might think you were telling the truth.

    When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (Matthew 25:31-32)

    “The people”. Not livestock. People. He will separate the people AS a shepherd separates livestock.

    You should have continued quoting, for in the next verse He says,

    “and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.”  (Matthew 25:33)

    So is this the King’s literal right and literal left?  How will He get all those people around Him?  What about the ones in the back who can’t see – who will tell them what’s going on?  How many people will be there in all?  And how does this description fit with the parables He just told about the faithful servant, the ten virgins, and the minas?  Note that He’s saying they all occur at the same time.  (It’s like the series of parables He told in Matthew 13 – the kingdom is like a seed, it’s like a pearl, it’s like a field, and so on.  Multiple metaphors to make known a single but multi-faceted truth.)  How can there be ten virgins divided into five and five and yet simultaneously all the nations are gathered, too – not to mention the three servants and the varying minas?

    Do you not understand the nature of parables?

    Moreover, you are forgetting what I showed you about Jesus saying all these things would be happening in that generation.  Yet you act like it’s something that happens after each person dies.

    These are parables and you are trying to take one part of one of them and make it into an explicit description of afterlife – and yet afterlife is the one thing never mentioned anywhere in the discourse!

    There’s no point in trying to have a debate with a person who is going to flat out lie about what the Bible says while having the gall to accuse me of “perverting” Jesus’ words by quoting them verbatim.

    You do take Jesus’ words out of context and try to make them say something you can’t prove that He meant.  You can call that a lie if you want to, but that doesn’t make what I’ve said any less the truth.

  52. HJ says:

    Thank you for restoring my comment that you deleted.

    • Mike Gantt says:

      HJ,

      I did not restore your comment because I had never deleted it.

      I do moderate all comments, so there is a time lag between when a person writes a comment and when it actually becomes visible to others on the site. The length of the time lag is simply a function of how soon I can get to it, given other things I have going on that day.

      The reason I moderate comments is to 1) keep out spam, 2) remove excessive profanity, and 3) be sure I respond to every comment that calls for a response.  (There is more 1) and 2) than you would expect.)  I seek to publish every genuine comment irrespective of whether it is positive or negative.  My comment policy can be found in the About section.

      Therefore, your comment was posted once I had a chance to review it. And I subsequently posted a response to it as I had time to write one.  That’s all standard for me.

  53. HJ says:

    I understand moderation and why it’s necessary. Normally, when I look at the page while logged in, I see my comment with a tag that says something like “Your comment is awaiting moderation”. That last time, my comment was simply gone, so I thought you had deleted it.

    I apologize for my comment relating to that.

  54. extian says:

    Hello, Mike. I saw you respond to my comment on John Loftus’ site, so I wanted to post my reply here.

    You seem to believe that the authors of the NT are independent corroborators of the Jesus-story, but biblical scholarship indicates this isn’t the case. The Gospel of Mark is widely believed to be the oldest gospel, and Mark drew his material from an earlier collection of Jesus’ sayings and stories known as the “Q” source. Matthew and Luke heavily plagiarized from Mark, as evidenced by the large sections that match up almost word-for-word (and Matthew couldn’t have been an eyewitness – why would he have to draw so heavily from Mark and Luke if he witnessed the events himself?). The Gospel of John came much later, using material from the synoptic gospels while adding a more mystical and eschatological bent. Basically, the writers of the gospels did not write completely independently of each other – they all drew from essentially the same source material. There is no evidence they were eyewitnesses or even apostles, as the names of the gospel writers weren’t added until centuries after they were written.

    As for Paul, he was not an eyewitness either. He doesn’t reference the life of Jesus because the gospels hadn’t been written yet. He mentions the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but these elements could easily have been told to him by other Christians after he converted. When he talks about Jesus “appearing” to him and others, this may not have been literal. Many scholars – including Christian scholars – think Paul may have been referring to a spiritual/transcendent appearing, not a bodily resurrection. This would overcome the need for eyewitnesses in the Christian community because Jesus could appear within people’s hearts. Paul, convinced of his beliefs, would go on to start churches and write letters that would be included in the Christian canon (though scholars today believe that about half of the epistles were forgeries that were never actually written by Paul – the writing style and dating do not match).

    In summary, the writers of the 27 NT documents were not independent corroborators, but were highly dependent on each other. We do not have the originals and we don’t know who most of the authors actually were. To your OJ analogy, this would be like four different people saying “OJ did it,” but when you ask them how they know, they all reference an unknown document recording a hearsay testimony from Joe Schmoe, who no one knows or has heard of. It’s only in Christian apologetics that one can argue that one omnipotent Author guided the minds of the NT writers, when all the evidence indicates that the writers were unified only by the fact that they were all part of Christian communities that believed similar (but not exactly the same) things. And it says absolutely nothing about whether those beliefs were accurate.

    • Mike Gantt says:

      Extian,

      You seem to believe that the authors of the NT are independent corroborators of the Jesus-story, but biblical scholarship indicates this isn’t the case.

      Of course I believe the New Testament documents, and I am by no means alone in doing so.  There may be some biblical scholars to support your view, but many would contest it.

      The Gospel of Mark is widely believed to be the oldest gospel, and Mark drew his material from an earlier collection of Jesus’ sayings and stories known as the “Q” source.

      This is one theory that is currently in vogue.  There are others.  But they’re all just theories and don’t change what the gospels say.

      Matthew and Luke heavily plagiarized from Mark, as evidenced by the large sections that match up almost word-for-word…

      Speculation.  Granted, there are a great many similarities between Matthew, Mark, and Luke but that doesn’t mean they were copying from each other.  The apostles had the same experiences with Jesus.  It’s understandable that their accounts would be similar.

      …(and Matthew couldn’t have been an eyewitness – why would he have to draw so heavily from Mark and Luke if he witnessed the events himself?).

      Again, you are speculating that Matthew borrowed from Mark and Luke.  You have grasped a theory and run away with it.  Plus, you have no basis for saying Matthew wasn’t an eyewitness.  He was one of the twelve so he saw what the twelve saw.

      The Gospel of John came much later, using material from the synoptic gospels while adding a more mystical and eschatological bent.

      Again, you are speculating that John copied from the other three gospels.  You don’t know that.

      Basically, the writers of the gospels did not write completely independently of each other – they all drew from essentially the same source material.

      Of course they had the same source material: it was Jesus of Nazareth.

      There is no evidence they were eyewitnesses or even apostles, as the names of the gospel writers weren’t added until centuries after they were written.

      That’s not true.  Each of the four gospels was associated with its respective name no later than the 2nd Century AD.   Moreover, there has never been any other name associated with each of these gospels.  That is, there has never been a controversy about any of the four names.  It’s not as if some people from antiquity wanted to call the gospel of Mark the gospel of Harry.

      As for Paul, he was not an eyewitness either.

      Sure he was.  See 1 Corinthians 9:1 where he asks rhetorically, “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?”

      He doesn’t reference the life of Jesus because the gospels hadn’t been written yet.

      He quotes Jesus in his letters more than Peter or John do.  It is likely that the material in the gospels existed as oral tradition before they were committed to writing.

      He mentions the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but these elements could easily have been told to him by other Christians after he converted.

      Other than the roughly 500 people we know, practically all the believers described in the New Testament learned about Jesus in this way.  It’s not a bad way to learn about Him.

      When he talks about Jesus “appearing” to him and others, this may not have been literal.  Many scholars – including Christian scholars – think Paul may have been referring to a spiritual/transcendent appearing, not a bodily resurrection.

      You’re splitting hairs.  Jesus was either raised from the dead or He wasn’t.  The New Testament documents declare unequivocally that He was.

      This would overcome the need for eyewitnesses in the Christian community because Jesus could appear within people’s hearts.

      Certainly we do not need eyewitnesses today, but that the New Testament claims that there were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection is beyond dispute by any honest reading of the texts.  And we do well to rely on those witnesses.

      Paul, convinced of his beliefs, would go on to start churches and write letters that would be included in the Christian canon (though scholars today believe that about half of the epistles were forgeries that were never actually written by Paul – the writing style and dating do not match).

      You are very selective in your reference to biblical scholarship.  Some scholars today believe that some of Paul’s epistles were not written by them, but certain not all.  And the ones who do, as you say, do so on the basis of writing style and dating.  As for dating, there is no way to precisely date each New Testament document.  It’s not as if they were time-stamped when they were written.  And as for writing style, any writer can use different styles, especially at different times, and employing different terms.  Speculation that Paul didn’t write all the letters that bear his name is just that: speculation.  Bear in mind also, that the way a document came to be included in the New Testament originally was that it was deemed to have been written by an apostle.  Therefore, the people who lived closest to that time believed that Paul was the author or they never would have included it in the first place.

      In summary, the writers of the 27 NT documents were not independent corroborators, but were highly dependent on each other.

      You are summarizing what you believe, not what is true.  What is true is that the documents were written in different times in different places to different people around the Mediterranean world.

      We do not have the originals and we don’t know who most of the authors actually were.

      It’s true that we don’t have the originals but that doesn’t mean that we don’t know the identities of the authors.

      To your OJ analogy, this would be like four different people saying “OJ did it,” but when you ask them how they know, they all reference an unknown document recording a hearsay testimony from Joe Schmoe, who no one knows or has heard of.

      You are relying on your theory about how the documents were produced, and not the facts.  If the documents were relying on one source they’d be a lot more similar than they are.

      It’s only in Christian apologetics that one can argue that one omnipotent Author guided the minds of the NT writers, when all the evidence indicates that the writers were unified only by the fact that they were all part of Christian communities that believed similar (but not exactly the same) things. And it says absolutely nothing about whether those beliefs were accurate.

      There’s nothing contradictory about a single God inspiring multiple authors with different personalities to write different documents for different purposes.

      One minute skeptics are harping about “discrepancies between the gospel accounts” as if this is proof that the documents don’t deliver a single message; the next minute those same skeptics are harping on the “uniformity of the gospel accounts” as proof that one plagiarized from the others.  Indeed the New Testament is a collection of diverse documents written by diverse personalities in a diversity of ways.  This makes their consistent testimony about Jesus Christ, His life, death, resurrection from the dead, and ascension into heaven all the more remarkable.

      You seem to overlook that the New Testament is a collection of the leftover documents from the 1st Century apostolic movement.  With the possible exception of the Gospel of John, they were not written in a to-whom-it-may-concern fashion  as we would see with modern-day books.  When a letter from Paul says it was addressed to Ephesus, there were plenty of people in Ephesus to stand up and say, “Hey, we never got a letter from this guy Paul.”

      You have done what many people do: you have collected views of certain biblical scholars who have a distrustful view of the New Testament documents.  You’d be better off reading the New Testament documents themselves and try to practice what they preach.  Scholars can theorize about exactly who they think the documents came to exist in their current form, but only the person who looks for the principles of behavior promoted in the documents and tries to practice them can come to appreciate the values that animated those who wrote them.

      • extian says:

        Mike, I could reply to each one of the many statements that I disagree with, but I will just make one point: I have met your challenge.

        You said “I’m looking for a credible theory or explanation of how the New Testament was falsified.” I’ve presented a plausible explanation for how false information could have entered the New Testament, based on biblical lextual criticism. Your biggest rebuttal is that you don’t like the views of those scholars who view the NT as unreliable and choose to disregard their research. At the same time, you would happily accept the input of scholars whose predisposition to Christianity allows them to accept the NT at face value.
        We could go round and round quoting scholars which support our views, but in the end it doesn’t matter. You’ve made up your mind to reject the evidence against your view.

        I can’t prove that my explanation is correct, but that isn’t what you asked for. You asked for a credible explanation and I’ve given you one. You reject it because it disagrees with your premise. That is certainly your prerogative, but can you at least acknowledge that I’ve fulfilled your challenge, even if you don’t agree with my conclusions?

        • Mike Gantt says:

          extian,

          You may have some of the raw ingredients for an explanation, but you have not actually given an explanation. Of course, I have rebutted what you wrote point by point, but even if I go back and ignore the individual failings of your argument and just look at your overall viewpoint, it doesn’t coalesce into an explanation. For example, you say that John plagiarized Matthew and Luke, Matthew and Luke plagiarized Mark, Mark plagiarized Q, and Q plagiarized others sources. However, you gave no rationale as to why they would do this, or how they got others to believe their fabrications. Neither did you explain why there would not be more uniformity in their accounts if they were just copying one another. Nor did you address how Paul fit into all this: why he would have lied about having seen Jesus and about his interaction with the other apostles? And why did no one ever call him on it?

          You are right that all you have to do to meet the challenge is present a plausible explanation as to how the New Testament documents were fabricated. But that means more than simply saying, as you have, that one person could have plagiarized another. You have to identify a motive they would have for doing so, and 2) a means for achieving their aim, and 3) the opportunity to do so. Remember: since the New Testament documents were written by different people at different times and places you have to explain a conspiracy – not just the acts of one man.

          I will not move the goal posts. And I will await your answer.

  55. ToonForever says:

    Wow, 173 comments. Sorry, Mike, I won’t play along this time. We spent dozens of comments going round and round about very simple analysis demonstrating clearly that the gospel writers weren’t in sync about a very important event. What really cracks me up is that you say you take the texts at “face value” but when I show you clear contradictions in very clear text, suddenly face value isn’t good enough, and you impose your preconception of perfection over the obvious errors in order to prop up your faith. That’s hypocrisy, my friend. I’ll let the rest of these folks bang their heads on your wall.

    • Mike Gantt says:

      ToonForever,

      Indeed, I do remember our exchange on your site.  Your “very important event” about which “the gospel writers weren’t in sync” was whether one donkey or two were involved in Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem the week of His crucifixion.  If that’s what you consider a major issue, I struggle to imagine what you consider minor.

      As for your “preconception of perfection” charge, it doesn’t sound like you’ve read the original post here.  I make the point that it is reading the New Testament documents as reliable sources of history – not as the perfect word of God – that gets me to faith in Jesus Christ.  You should read more carefully before you fling a charge as serious as hypocrisy.

      There’s no need for head-banging if you will rationally address the challenge. I am increasingly amazed that so many people, you included, avoid it, given that you are so sure you are right that faith in Christ is inappropriate.

      • ToonForever says:

        1 – The Triumphal Entry is a pretty important event, Mike. Always you obfuscate. It’s not cute.

        2 – The point is that if you don’t take the bible for the Word of God, then what’s the point? Either it is or it isn’t. The fact is that you hid behind the word interpretation despite a face-value reading of the text…

        Nevermind –

        I am glad you linked the conversation, though, for a couple reasons.

        One, it should demonstrate to others that there is no upside to carrying on a conversation with you, as you are prone to obfuscate when backed into a corner.

        Two, it will hopefully show that the topic at hand was actually the illogical nature of the evangelical concept of hell and eternal punishment, which you deny on the pretense that somehow you have broken the code and figured out what billions of Christians have not – a spectacularly illogical and myopic – perhaps even arrogant – viewpoint.

        It’s not worth the trouble.

        During the conversation, you could not bring yourself to admit the obvious, face value conclusion that either the author of Matthew made a mistake, or the other three did so. You could not say he got it wrong. If your theology doesn’t hinge on the perfect revelation of scripture, why could you not just say the writer of Matthew was in error on the details, but got the overall event right? You couldn’t. You dodged and dashed and circumvented ad infinitum. It got pretty old.

        However, that frustrating conversation did inspire me to analyze the passages even more closely in the following article:

        All Systems Go

        I notice you didn’t even show up for that one.

        And I can’t say I was surprised.

        • Mike Gantt says:

          ToonForever,

          Even by your own account, all four gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – claim that Jesus of Nazareth entered Jerusalem in fulfillment of the Old Testament’s prophecies – including Zechariah’s – of a coming Messiah. That issue is of utmost importance. Whether the colt on which Jesus rode was or wasn’t accompanied by its mother is a peripheral point, at most. What would you say of someone who, some two thousand years from now, dismisses the inauguration of Barack Obama to be President of the United States in 2009 as unimportant because of a discrepancy between historical accounts of his inaugural motorcade – some saying he rode in a vehicle attended by secret service agents while others said there was also a second vehicle of secret agents that followed? If you accused such a person of obfuscation, you’d have a point.

          Let us major on the majors and minor on the minors: Jesus Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, and the ass I most want Him to ride on today is me!

          • ToonForever says:

            Did the author of Matthew make a material error in recording the events – esp. regarding the animals? Did he or not? Yes or no? Answer that, then we’ll have something to converse on. It’s not even whether that’s the crux of the event. What matters is your unwillingness/inability to evaluate the question at face value – putting the lie to your claim otherwise in this post.

            • Mike Gantt says:

              I’ve answered you several times and in several ways. I will say again: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John present plausible accounts of Jesus of Nazareth, including His crucifixion and resurrection. Even if you don’t accept their accounts as the word of God, you can still come to faith in Christ by simply recognizing that their testimony about Him is reliable.

              You hammer away at what you deem to be a discrepancy in the gospel accounts regarding the number of donkeys when it is easily resolved. But even if such a superficial and minor issue could not be reconciled, it would not be sufficient reason to reject Christ and His love for all of us.

              • ToonForever says:

                It is not easily resolved. I gave you a link to my in-depth analysis of the passages. Your idea of “resolved” is to introduce ridiculous outside speculations when the answers are clear, at FACE VALUE, within the text.

                If, as you say above, you “make the point that it is reading the New Testament documents as reliable sources of history – not as the perfect word of God – that gets me to faith in Jesus Christ.” then you should have no problem admitting that the author of Matthew made an error, borne out of misunderstanding. After all, it’s the overall historical account, not perfection, that you’re going with.

                Yet you can’t do it. You won’t do it. Until you can deal with the text at “FACE VALUE,” to quote you again, there’s no point in taking anything you write seriously. Sorry, Mike.

          • ToonForever says:

            “…and the ass I most want Him to ride on today is me!”

            I think that sounded worse than you meant it to… :/

  56. Andross says:

    “Besides being complicated, reality, in my experience, is usually odd.
    It is not neat, not obvious, not what you expect. For instance, when you
    have grasped that the earth and the other planets all go round the sun, you
    would naturally expect that all the planets were made to match-all at equal
    distances from each other, say, or distances that regularly increased, or
    all the same size, or else getting bigger or smaller as you go farther from
    the sun. In fact, you find no rhyme or reason (that we can see) about either
    the sizes or the distances; and some of them have one moon, one has four,
    one has two, some have none, and one has a ring.
    Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That
    is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not
    have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always
    expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the
    sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about
    it that real things have. So let us leave behind all these boys’
    philosophies-these over-simple answers. The problem is not simple and the
    answer is not going to be simpler either.
    What is the problem? A universe that contains much that is obviously
    bad and apparently meaningless, but containing creatures like ourselves who
    know that it is bad and meaningless.”

    “atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe
    has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just
    as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with
    eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”

    C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

  57. Mike Gantt says:

    ToonForever,

    This is a response to your comment above.

    As best I can tell, and giving you every benefit of the doubt, you seem to be responding to my challenge in the original post with the assertion that you have found a discrepancy in the gospel accounts as to whether there were one or two donkeys involved in Jesus entry into Jerusalem the week before His crucifixion.

    I have interacted with you about this issue on this blog and on yours (at this post and, only in the briefest of ways, this one).  I have said repeatedly and in a variety of ways that I don’t see the discrepancy that you do.  Further, I have said that even if there were a such a discrepancy, it would not affect the “pathway to faith in Christ” that I laid out in the original post here, because that pathway does not assume that the New Testament documents are inerrant in every conceivable respect but that they are reliable historical documents – meaning trustworthy on all material points.  Taking a document at face value does not require quibbling about its immaterial points.  Your donkey issue is obviously not a material point.  If you were to say that Jesus never went to Jerusalem or was never crucified, those would be examples of material issues.

    Therefore, your point about the donkeys is off topic for this post.  And, thus, it is well past time that we should cease talking about it.  Your unwillingness to converse on this post without talking more about the donkeys fits well with my unwillingness to continue talking about the donkeys on it.  Maybe we’ll yet meet up on some other topic of mutual interest.

    God bless you.

  58. Pingback: Does the Unbeliever Have to Approach the Bible as Divinely Inspired? (William Lane Craig) – YouTube | Current Events in Light of the Kingdom of God

  59. Mike Gantt says:

    Lee takes a stab at this challenge here. (I had invited him to do so in the comment you’ll see just above his.)

  60. Pingback: SL020 – The Concluding Episode of the Scriptural Literacy Podcast | A Bible Reader's Guide to Jesus and His Kingdom

  61. Lila says:

    Incredible points. Outstanding arguments. Keep up the good
    effort.

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