(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.