An Open Letter to James Dobson

Dr. Dobson,

I think the phrase “focus on the family” is a word from God.  I think it has been ever since the beginning when you gave your ministry this name.

This is what the prophet Malachi said would be the watchword of the day of the Lord.  We live in the day of the Lord and it is obvious that the world is not focused on the family.  Rather, it is focused on self.

I pray that all of us who speak in the name of Jesus Christ may focus on the family – just as John the Baptist did, just as Jesus did, and just as His apostles did.  It is not by change of national government that the kingdom of God comes but rather by the changing of individual human hearts.  Since life is lived in the family, that is where we must focus.

As you know, Jesus said “a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household,” and He also said, “Love your enemies.”  This is the way life must be lived if it is eternal life we seek to experience.

Your call to “focus on the family” has been polluted with many other interests.  You seem to have been distracted by business and political concerns.  I pray that your message might be purified so that God’s will might be more clearly understood by people at large.  People need the good news of Jesus Christ if they are ever to break the cycle of sin and destruction.

Please consider these truths, especially with regard to practicing them in the context of family:

Seeking the Kingdom of God Instead of Church

Practicing the Presence of Christ

Whose Approval Do You Want?

Respectfully,

Michael Gantt

The Apostles Were Looking for Something More Permanent Than What They Were Building

The apostles of Jesus Christ built up the church in New Testament days.  However, they were doing so anticipating the arrival of something more permanent very soon.

The letter to the Hebrews only counseled assembling together (that is, church) in view of preparing for the impending day of eternity (Hebrews 10:25).

The apostle Peter wrote about how to prepare for the impending eternal kingdom which would replace the temporal kingdom that was the church (2 Peter 1:11).

That eternal kingdom came, just as the Lord had promised.

Jesus Christ Has Already Come Again

The Kingdom of God Is Here and Now

Seeking the Kingdom of God Instead of Church

Why I Love the NASB

I love the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and believe it is the most useful of all English translations of the Bible.  Here are my reasons:

1. It is the most literal of all English translations.  For a native-English-speaker who is not fluent in Greek or Hebrew, the NASB is as close as I will ever get to what the prophets and apostles originally wrote.

2. Because of its faithfulness to the what the prophets and apostles originally wrote, the NASB makes an exhaustive concordance (e.g. Strong’s) most effective.  That is, it is much easier to do study specific words with the NASB, allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture.

3. Most editions of the NASB include a cross-reference apparatus which correlates a given verse with other similar verses, many of which a concordance word study wouldn’t necessarily catch.

4. Those who created the NASB translation were convinced that the Scriptures are the word of God.  While many Bible translators have this conviction, the breadth and depth of this belief among the NASB translation committee is noteworthy.  I believe it drove them to literalness and discouraged undocumented emendations to an unparalleled degree.

The only improvement I could see to make to the NASB would be to have its Old Testament based on the Septuagint text (i.e. Greek) rather than on the Masoretic text (i.e. Hebrew).  This is because, of course, the New Testament when quoting the Old Testament seems to be referring much more often to Greek than to Hebrew renderings of the Old Testament text.

There are other literal English translations of the Bible (e.g. the King James Version, the English Standard Version, the New King James Version), and they are all useful.  There are also good translations of the Bible which are less literal (e.g. the New International Version, the Good News Bible, the Living Bible), and they, too, have their appropriate uses.  And there are certainly other worthwhile English translations which I have not mentioned specifically here.  My favorite of all English Bible translations, however, remains the NASB – for the reasons I have given.

Why Do Atheists Believe Myths?

Since atheists decry myths you’d think they’d eschew them…but they don’t.  On the contrary, I’ve witnessed atheists accepting myths eagerly.

A google search for a definition of “myth” returned this to the top of the list:

a traditional story accepted as history; serves to explain the world view of a people

Atheists have plenty of these.  Here’s a list of myths commonly accepted by atheists:

The apostles could not have written the New Testament.

The gospels are embellished accounts of whatever Jesus did, if He existed at all.  

Biblical times were superstitious and that’s why people so eagerly accepted the miracles of the Jesus story.

Church councils materially altered the texts of New Testament documents.

Historians disregard the Bible.

Atheists accept such statements as these as obvious on their face and long since proven as fact.  They seem unaware how little factual basis sits beneath any of these claims.  What’s worse, many of them have no idea they’ve accepted these assertions without evidence, and when anyone challenges them, such a challenger is considered uneducated.  And, of course, the irony of this judgment is completely lost on them. 

How can people whose claim to legitimacy rests in large part on their unwillingness to accept myths, accept so many myths themselves?

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.

Dialogue with KC (re: Jesus and the Bible)

This dialogue centers on Jesus and the Bible – can they be trusted?  I trust that the Bible is telling the truth about Jesus, and that He is all He claims to be.  KC is questioning me on these points because he does not understand why I take this stance.  It does not seem a reasonable stance to him.

This dialogue began when KC (We do not otherwise know each other) made a comment yesterday on the post Dialogue with Rob.  Of course, I don’t always break out a comment into a separate post.  This is one of those exchanges, however, that I thought worthy of it.  KC was, in essence, summarizing the dialogue with Rob and then giving his own take on it – which can sometimes give new perspective to the same issues.

(If you want to see KC’s initial words in their original context, see Dialogue with Rob and scroll down to the December 23rd comment he made.  For a quick background on dialogues that appear on this site, see the post Dialogues.)

KC:  This is actually a really interesting discussion. I have to say though, Mike (and I say this with all due respect) you are a little on the gullible side. I don’t know if you have had a lack of exposure to dishonest people or exposure to honest people with faulty human memories or what, but you seem to give the biblical account of Jesus’ life the benefit of every doubt and don’t seem to approach the issue with a healthy dose of skepticism. Historical documents should always be read with a skeptical eye, particularly those that claim to document events that defy what we know about science and the natural world.

As a lawyer I’ve had exposure to some of both. People tell boldface lies for little or no reason. Other people’s memory fails them on fairly key details. History is distorted by the passage of time. The fact that the events the bible purports to describe were written down years after the fact is a serious red flag for their accuracy.

But for me the biggest indictment of the big religions are 1) modern day alleged “prophets” who manage to bring everything from a handful to a few hundred to even thousands of followers. The 900 or so people who killed themselves on Jim Jones’ direction in Guyana tells me that some people will believe anything and follow anyone if they are brainwashed enough. 2) the fact that a LOT of humans to this day claim to witness miracles and/or talk to god when they quite clearly do not.

Its one thing to be open minded. It is another thing to believe things humans tell you.

Mike:  I would be gullible if I accepted without question an isolated document from the distant past which makes bold and dramatic assertions about its protagonist.  However, that is not what we have here.  (By the way, it is what we have in the Book of Mormon and the Quran which is why I regard their claims as dubious on their face – and even more so because in both cases the protagonist is the author!)

You are right that historical documents should be viewed with a skeptical eye, but I wouldn’t limit the skepticism to merely those that contained supernatural claims.  In any case, once a document has survived appropriate scrutiny, however, we ought not continue questioning it.  Otherwise we become excessively suspicious because we can’t trust anything.  (Apparently there are people who think the moon landing was faked or that the USA engineered the 9/11 attacks.) 

The dozens of documents produced over a thousand years by ancient Israel (that we call the Old Testament) had passed the test.  They were completely accepted in 1st Century Israel.  People certainly disagreed about what they meant, but no one challenged that they existed or what they said. 

It is these documents that originally made the bold and dramatic assertions about a protagonist – over and over again.  Therefore the New Testament was not an isolated document – not by a long shot.  Neither was it predicted by an isolated document, but rather many documents all regarded as national treasures (just as every country treasures the documents related to its formation and its pivotal moments).

Moreover, the New Testament itself was not a single document, but rather a collection of 27 of them – also by various authors – none of whom is the protagonist.  People often overlook this when they make the claim that it was “written many years after the facts described.”  This is only true of the historical books of the New Testament (the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles), and I’ll say more about them in a moment.  The other 22 books of the New Testament were letters, and thus were ipso facto documented as the act of writing occurred.  It wasn’t as if Paul’s letter to the Ephesians began with “Twenty years ago I wrote you a letter in which I said…” and ended with “…and that’s what I wrote you twenty years ago.”

As for the New Testament’s historical books, what is uncommon about history being written years after the fact?  In the last few years books have been published on World War II (60 years ago), the American Revolution (over 200 years ago), and, of course, virtually every period of history.  Are such books immediately discredited because they are written so long after the fact?  On the contrary, they’re accepted prima facie.  That’s not to say that no one disagrees with a historian’s conclusions; it’s to say that no one dismisses the historian because he’s not writing contemporaneously with the events.  In fact, no one allows that sort of thing to even be called history – it’s called journalism instead.

And journalism brings us to this point: the Gospels and Acts emanated from eyewitnesses.  In the cases of Matthew and John, the eyewitnesses wrote the accounts; in the case of Mark, Luke, and Acts, the writer assembled eyewitness accounts.  They were not immediately written down after Jesus’ resurrection, as if the good news was going to be spread through a book tour and an appearance on Oprah.  It was much more of an oral culture in those days.  In fact, it’s likely that most of the material we see written in these historical books existed in oral form for years before they were written down (which accounts for why they’re consistent without being uniform).  What then caused them to be written down?  Certainly one factor was the age and impending doom of the eyewitnesses. 

Peter and Paul each testify to their expectations of death.  The imminent destruction of Jerusalem (which occurred in 70 A.D., of course) would cause further disruption.  If the associates of the carpenter’s son managed to escape martyrdom (which, apparently, few did) there was still the fact that they weren’t getting any younger.  If they were the same age as Jesus, they would have been approaching 70 at the destruction of the temple by the Romans. Thus, oral transmission of the eyewitness accounts of Jesus was soon going to be impossible.  Better to have their depositions taken than to rely on second-hand witnesses and hearsay going forward.

As to your last point – on your “biggest indictment of the big religions” – I agree with you.  And I want to elaborate in a separate reply below this one when I have more time.

Dialogue with Don (re: Second Coming)

In this discussion, Don is objecting to my position on the Second Coming.  I believe it occurred long ago as I have made clear in Jesus Christ Has Already Come Again.  Don holds to the evangelical Christian view that Jesus’ Second Coming is still in the future.

Don and I went to high school together a little over forty years ago, and we’ve interacted only sporadically since then.  This dialogue originally took place as a comment exchange last month.  If you want see it in its original context, see All the Promises of the Bible Have Been Kept.  I’ve done only minor editing here, and that for the sake of readability.

Mike: There are no prophecies in the Bible which are awaiting fulfillment.  They have all been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  This does not make the Bible less relevant to our lives – it makes it more relevant…and more trustworthy.  You can believe that God will keep all His promises to you because everything He promised in the Bible to do, He did.

For more on this topic, see All Bible Prophecy Has Been Fulfilled .

Don:  The Second Coming has not occurred.

Mike:  Should I believe you or the Bible?

Don: Well, the Bible of course. I don’t hold to a Dispensational view as so many evangelicals do concerning the second coming, but I don’t see how you say the second advent has already occurred. Do you hold to a more Seventh Day Adventist view that the second coming was not an earthly return and Jesus entered into the heavenly sanctuary?

 Mike:  I’m told that Adventists believe in an imminent physical return of Jesus as is common among evangelicals. Beyond that, I’m not knowledgeable about all the various beliefs that churches hold.

I say that it’s already occurred because of having read the Bible. That is, when you read the New Testament it is clear that the apostles saw the event as imminent in their age, and insisted that it would not be delayed. To say otherwise is to say that the New Testament is wrong. How can we believe the Bible regarding Jesus’ first coming but not regarding His second? Rest assured that we can believe the Bible regarding everything it says. Jesus Christ Has Already Come Again explains the issue. At the end of that post, there is a link to a book-length biblical case where I go into detail with discussion of specific relevant passages.

 Don:  What about 2 Peter 3:8-10, “But, beloved do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not will that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works of it will be burned up.”

This creates problems to your thoughts. One is that if the scriptures say these things will happen soon, we need to consider how the Lord views time. Two is that there is something that has not been fulfilled.

Mike:  1) Your interpretation of Peter’s words “with the Lord one day is as…” would mean that all the other New Testament instructions about the timing of the event were misleading. Peter, however, was not breaking rank as you suggest. He was reinforcing the idea that Jesus had laid down: no one would know the day or the hour, but as to the general timeframe everyone should be aware.

2) To be precise about it, the New Testament nowhere proclaims that the Second Coming had occurred – only that it was about to occur. Therefore, if it was imminent for them almost two thousand years ago, it must be past tense for us today. Of course, the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. was the key historical event confirming the truth of the prophecies. Nonetheless, the Second Coming itself was just as Peter said: “like a thief in the night.” Otherwise, “if the owner of the house had known what day or hour to expect the thief, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into.”

As to these two points, see also the post Do Not Withhold Good.

Dialogue with Rob (re: Jesus and the Bible)

This dialogue centers on Jesus and the Bible – can they be trusted?  I trust that the Bible is telling the truth about Jesus, and that He is all He claims to be.  Rob is questioning me on these points because he does not understand why I take this stance.  It does not seem a reasonable stance to him.

This dialogue began a couple of days ago on someone else’s blog.  I had made some comments on a post there.  Then Rob, who also commented on that post, challenged my comments (by the way, we don’t otherwise know each other) and our dialogue took on a life of its own.  Therefore, I’ve moved it here.  (For a quick background on dialogues that appear on this site, see the post Dialogues.)

(If you want to see our initial comments in their original context, see Is Richard Dawkins a Secret Christian? on Scott’s Catholicism Blog on About.com.)

In this post I’ll reproduce all our exchanges to this point (with some very minor editing to improve readability).  Then Rob will be able to comment on this post and the dialogue can continue.

Here are the two statements I had made which provoked Rob’s first comment:

 “Jesus read the same Old Testament that [Richard] Dawkins did and it led Him to a life of kindness, generosity, power, self-sacrifice and – summing it all up – love…that has not been achieved by any other human being before or since.”

“I believe what the Bible says about Jesus because it’s logical and persuasive.” 

And here then is how Rob began:

Rob:  Mike, it says in the bible that Jesus lived this oh-so-perfect life, and you assume this to be true…..why?

Obviously the writers of the bible had a bit of a vested interest in having you think that Jesus lived a perfect life. Even so, how do you know that no one before or after did the same, but just didn’t get attention for it? There’s been 20-billion-some people on the planet, and you’re willing to state that Jesus lived a “better” life than any of them?

All you’ve said is “it is logical,” but with nothing whatsoever to indicate why you think so.

Mike:  Rob, I thought I addressed that but I’ll be happy to repeat and elaborate. I accept the story about Jesus in the Bible to be true because it’s logical and persuasive – the same basis on which I accept news reports, weather reports, history books, and anything else I read. Some things we hear are credible and some are not. I find the gospel accounts to be credible history. As for His disciples having a vested interest in making Him look good, I’d say quite the opposite. They had a vested interest in forgetting the whole thing, and indeed they all forsook Him at the crucifixion. Only when He was raised from the dead was their zeal restored. Even then, they knew that their zeal would only lead to the same fate He had experienced. When Dawkins and Hitchens find acceptance for their message it leads to financial rewards and worldly praise – and I don’t begrudge them that at all. But the fellows you think had a vested interest in fudging the story of Jesus had no such hopes. For them, a job well done meant shame, disgrace, and death. They wouldn’t have done it unless the resurrection were the truth.

Yet another strong corroboration is the Old Testament.  When  you read its prophecies of the Messiah, you see that ONLY the life Jesus lived could fulfill them all.  Until Jesus, these prophecies were considered contradictory (“How could you have a Messiah who both suffered and triumphed?”).  It was a riddle to which Jesus’ life was the only answer.

I’ve read and loved books all my life. When I began reading the Bible in my late 20’s I approached as I would any other book. I did not consider it sacred. I only considered it historic. I still read it today as I would any other book. The difference is that it rewards me more than any other book.

Oh, and as for the possibility that some other human life was as great as His, I suppose that could theoretically be possible. However, that point is moot because no other life could have been the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.

Rob:  Ok Mike, well I guess my standards for credibility wouldn’t include unverifiable ancient texts, but to each his own. At least other things from history (say, Julius Caesar) are corroborated by a lot more sources.

As for the “vested interest,” well, they wouldn’t have written it down if they didn’t have an interest in getting people to follow it. Even if they thought their reward comes in the afterlife.

But maybe even “vested interest” was the wrong term. A better way to look at it is probably almost Darwinian….those religions which were NOT documented in a way that made their founder look particularly impressive, aren’t around today because people weren’t as likely to follow them. So, any religion around today would be expected to be similar in that respect to Christianity….whether it is true or not.

”(How could you have a Messiah who both suffered and triumphed?”) It was a riddle to which Jesus’ life was the only answer.”

Well, ok. And you don’t think that it’s possible….just POSSIBLE….that someone might have altered the story of Jesus to make it fit the prophecy? (as many think they did having him born in Bethlehem, rather than Nazareth)

And… don’t you see the circular reasoning? He only “triumphed” if he really is a supernatural savior. If the atheist point of view is correct, he was simply a guy who was executed in a cruel way, like so many others of his time.

Mike:  Rob, you and I seem to agree that it comes down to this: the followers of Jesus who wrote the New Testament documents were either fabricating the resurrection or telling the truth. I find the latter infinitely more logical than the former.

To believe that the apostles were lying I’d have to believe in a conspiracy involving more people than have ever been involved in a conspiracy…and that they all plotted to put forth a fiction about someone whose chief claim was that He was nonfiction (”I am the truth”).

As the adages go, “truth is stranger than fiction,” and “you can’t make this stuff up.” The New Testament documents are the personal testimonies of His followers about Him. I challenge you to read these documents for yourself with an open mind and come away with the conviction that they made it up.

Rob: 

“…the followers of Jesus who wrote the New Testament documents were either fabricating the resurrection or telling the truth. I find the latter infinitely more logical than the former.”

Hmmm, really? There is this notion of “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” that would seem to apply. If a few people say they saw a car accident, I am inclined to believe they are not lying. If those same people say they saw space aliens come out of a flying saucer, I want a little more than hearsay to back it up. I consider my approach pretty logical, if I am really interested in knowing the truth.

“To believe that the apostles were lying I’d have to believe in a conspiracy involving more people than have ever been involved in a conspiracy”

Are you basing this on simply reading the Bible, or have you followed any of the scholarship on the historicity of Jesus?

Because it wasn’t many people that would be involved in the “conspiracy” at all. It wasn’t written down until decades later, and it was then circulated in lands far away from where it supposedly happened, where it was impossible for anyone to fact-check the original story or corroborate with any witnesses. Sure, supposedly a bunch of people witnessed the resurrected Jesus, but this is simply what a few (unknown) authors wrote much later, after most of those people would be dead….and their readers had no ability to verify it one way or the other. Lots of witnesses” doesn’t count for anything if the information, via retelling, gets bottlenecked through a much smaller number of people.

“…and that they all plotted to put forth a fiction about someone whose chief claim was that He was nonfiction (”I am the truth”).”

Oh dear, I don’t know even what to do with this. Because the story says that Jesus said “I am the truth,” that’s really good enough for you? Are you suggesting that, while people might lie, they sure wouldn’t go so far as to lie about someone claiming to be telling the truth….? I’m losing you here. If someone said he saw Elvis in a 7-11, would you give it more credence if he mentioned that Elvis said “I’m really still alive”?

“As the adages go, “truth is stranger than fiction,” and “you can’t make this stuff up.” The New Testament documents are the personal testimonies of His followers about Him. ”

Yes, you can make stuff like that up, and history shows many cases of people making up stranger stuff. (and actually, a lot of very similar stuff) And no, the New Testament was probably not written by his direct followers, it was probably written by unknown people many decades later.

Mike:  Rob, I take the New Testament at face value – that is, that the documents are simply what they present themselves to be (Occam’s Razor, if you will). By contrast, you believe that they are fabrications produced decades after the fact by people who were not Jesus’ direct followers…and that they did this at the peril of their lives because they believed God would reward them in the afterlife for doing so. Talk about extraordinary claims! Where’s your extraordinary evidence?

If someone told me that Elvis appeared and said, “I am the truth,” I would reject the idea because it is inconsistent with what I know of Elvis’ life and sayings. When Jesus says “I am the truth” I read the four accounts we have of His life and sayings, and I see consistency. And His claim to be the truth is one I cannot logically reject.

I should tell you that I began reading the Bible in my late 20’s and did so as a skeptic. At that point, I only considered the Bible as having literary value. It was the text itself that convinced me otherwise. Until you read the New Testament for yourself you are depriving yourself of the opportunity to make an informed decision about the claims Jesus made for Himself.

Rob: Mike, all I can say is that is a strange application of Occam’s razor. You take an ancient document at face value because it is simpler to assume the magical claims of the document are true, than that the author might not be fully truthful? People lie/exaggerate/spread myths all the time. Come back from the dead? We don’t see that so often.

I seriously doubt the authors of the gospels put themselves at risk by writing it. People later put themselves at risk by spreading it around, sure. But that happened with numerous other religions, which you presumably don’t accept the truth of. Do you think those who flew airplanes into skyscrapers were “correct”? If you apply Occam’s razor as you have, you’d have to assume they must have been. No, reasonable people would assume they were deeply misguided. Just because someone puts themselves at personal risk in the name of some religion does not bolster the truth.

And I think you missed the point on the Elvis thing. Substitute Harry Houdini if it helps. If Houdini came back from the dead, it probably would have been consistent for him to communicate that he really is him. Regardless, hearing second-hand (or third or fourth hand), that he said “I am really me,” does not in any way strengthen the claim that he came back from the dead. It is bizarre to me that you would quote someone’s claim of being truthful, as if it somehow strengthens the case that they indeed are.

And trying to demonstrate that a work is not fictional simply because it is internally consistent (not that the Bible is known for consistency, but whatever!), makes no sense at all. I’m sorry you don’t see the problem there. You need to look outside the Bible (or Harry Potter, or the myths of ancient Greece, etc) to be able to make any inferences as to its truth. And there is little outside the Bible to back its claims (other than the most basic, such as that Jesus probably did live, get some followers, and was executed … none of which was particularly remarkable).

Thankfully our judicial system has doesn’t use such illogical means of establishing truth.

Mike: Rob, you so frequently misrepresent my positions when you argue with them that I have to assume you are not thinking through what I am saying.

Rob: Mike, you are welcome to clarify. I don’t think I unfairly represented your opinion as being that you believe what the Bible says purely based on the Bible itself, rather than based on any external corroboration. That sort of logic permeates everything you have said, and is incredibly weak evidence, if evidence at all.

If you have a different position, please do state it.

Mike:  Thanks for letting me clarify.

I don’t find the New Testament’s claims “magical” at all.  In fact, the pragmatic nature of the miracles (all of them helped people in practical ways) and absence of titillating embellishment (the New Testament authors do not merchandise or sensationalize Jesus’ accomplishments) lend to their credibility.  I considered the possibility that the documents were falsified but I could not and cannot come up with a plausible motive.  Your notion that a handful of people far removed from Jesus and His lifetime forged the documents in order to get followers does not comport with the uniqueness of teaching and elegance of thought in the New Testament.  In my lifetime, whenever I see religions trying to get followers there is always a motive of self-aggrandizement that appears in one form or another.  I can’t see it in the New Testament for it actually announces the end of organized religion! And indeed, in accord with its prophecies, Jerusalem, the center of Old Testament worship, was destroyed in 70 A.D.  Yes, people do lie/exaggerate/spread myths all the time, but the New Testament just doesn’t read like a lie, exaggeration, or myth.

I agree with you that just because someone puts himself at personal risk in the name of God does not mean he is telling the truth.  The 9/11 killers prove this.  And indeed that’s what they were: killers.  What a contrast with Jesus who condemned not just homicide, but even hateful and disrespectful thoughts toward one’s enemies!  Suicide bombers are putting whole societies at risk; Jesus and His apostles put no one at risk but themselves. 

If all we had were third- and fourth-hand claims of Jesus’ resurrection, I would be suspicious of its authenticity.  However, in the New Testament we have first-hand accounts from Peter, John, Paul, and Matthew – not to mention many others whom they reference.  When I read them, they just don’t sound like liars to me. 

As for what you said was “bizarre,” I wasn’t saying that I believe Jesus was truthful because He said He was truthful.  I was saying that Jesus said, “I am the truth,” and after thinking about this claim in light of all that was in the New and Old Testaments I could not logically or in good conscience reject it.  It’s one thing for a person to say, “I am truthful.”  Both honest and dishonest people say this sort of thing all the time.  What Jesus said was, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”  That sort of boldness invites us to make a decision.  It polarizes.  We must accept or reject such a claim; once we’ve heard it, we cannot ignore it. It’s the kind of statement that would make me think the person uttering it was mentally ill – unless it was that one-in-a-million case where it might possibly be true.  All I have been saying is that after reading the New Testament, I felt far more comfortable accepting His amazing claim than I did rejecting it.

Like you, I want multiple witnesses for an issue as important as this.  For you this seems to mean that you have to go outside the Bible.  But the Bible is not one book; it is a collection, a library.  And I’ve already mentioned at least four different witnesses who said they saw Jesus after He was raised from the dead.  The New Testament says there were over 500 who saw Him.  If such statements were viewed as false at the time of their writing, the writings would have been immediately discredited.  Immediately after the generation of the apostles, many documents sought inclusion as sacred texts, were judged to be false, and were excluded from the collection.  The scores of documents we have in the Bible were the survivors of fierce scrutiny.

If all the evidence for a crime is collected in one folder, I don’t dismiss it out of hand and say it’s not enough to prove the case.  If I do, then there will never be enough evidence because every relevant piece gets added to the folder.  After a while, it’s like saying I can’t believe in the American Civil War because its not chronicled in the history books of India.  Indeed there is corroboration of Jesus’ life in both Jewish and Roman history; of course not in any detail because neither had any interest in prolonging his memory.

Again, I arrived at my position by refusing to take other people’s word for what the Bible said and by reading it – quite skeptically at first – for myself.  Before you completely dismiss Jesus, you owe yourself the same experience.

Your turn, Rob.  Just comment below.