Visualizing the Reliability of the New Testament Compared to Other Ancient Texts

Dan Wallace (professor of NT Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary):

“NT scholars face an embarrassment of riches compared to the data the classical Greek and Latin scholars have to contend with. The average classical author’s literary remains number no more than twenty copies. We have more than 1,000 times the manuscript data for the NT than we do for the average Greco-Roman author. Not only this, but the extant manuscripts of the average classical author are no earlier than 500 years after the time he wrote. For the NT, we are waiting mere decades for surviving copies. The very best classical author in terms of extant copies is Homer: manuscripts of Homer number less than 2,400, compared to the NT manuscripts that are approximately ten times that amount.”

To illustrate this, Mark at Visual Unit has produced a great infographic comparing the NT manuscript evidence with other ancient writings:

For other helpful diagrams, illustrations, and infographics related to the Bible and Christianity visit Visual Unit.

HT: Tim McGrew

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  1. Peanutaxis
    Peanutaxis says:

    Do any of those other texts contain outlandish supernatural claims? I think they are in an entirely different category to the new testament.

  2. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Why do you consider the claims of the New Testament outlandish? I think you’ll find the reason is because you as the reader are in an entirely different category.

  3. Peanutaxis
    Peanutaxis says:

    Hey Stuart!

    Not sure what you mean about me being in a different category. I simply mean that I don’t think any of those other texts make claims about the creator of the universe or his son or about the afterlife, and so they are quite different to the NT texts.

  4. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    The infographic demonstrates the reliability of the text itself, not the truthfulness of the information content of the text. For the latter we look to the philosopher of history to argue for the principle of multiple, independant and early, eye-witness testimony as giving support for the New Testament’s historicity. And if we have that, then its a short step to the theological affirmations you mentioned. You want to criticise the reliability of the New Testament with words such as “outlandish” and “supernatural”? Well, you gotta have a reason. And if you accept the reliability of Homer or Plato for instance, that reason cannot be, as it so often is on the internet, because the text we read today has been corrupted or changed over time. The infographic is a powerful agrument against such reasons, simply because the NT is in the same category as those other texts. They are in the same category by virtue of being ancient, and by virtue of containing at least some information that is valuable to the historian.

  5. Peanutaxis
    Peanutaxis says:

    So when you say “the reliability of the text itself” as opposed to the “information content of the text” you mean that we can be much more certain that the existing manuscripts accurately reflect the original manuscripts in the case of the NT.

    “For the latter we look to the philosopher of history to argue for the
    principle of multiple, independant and early, eye-witness testimony as
    giving support for the New Testament’s historicity.”

    I think you are cherry-picking though. You select multiplicity and closeness to the original because it is convenient, but ignore the content of the text, which is very important. The NT documents are religiously motivated, whereas, to my knowledge, the others aren’t. This puts them in a very different category to the others.

    ” You want to criticise the reliability of the New Testament with words such as “outlandish” and “supernatural”? Well, you gotta have a reason.”

    Well it’s definitely supernatural. And it is outlandish in that the NT makes extraordinary claims compared to the other texts. Comparing, say, the writings of Plato or the historical writings of Tacitus with the world we know today, there is little that could be called extraordinary claims. But the NT has many extraordinary claims. We should be rightly suspicious of these extraordinary (outlandish) claims.

    “And if you accept the reliability of Homer or Plato for instance, that
    reason cannot be, as it so often is on the internet, because the text we
    read today has been corrupted or changed over time.”

    The problem is that Homer and Plato wrote stories and philosophies, not religion.
    Personally I think that most of the changing of the gospels occurred before they were written down. The blatant copying between gospels, and their contradictions with each other also go a long way in showing how much they were likely based on legend rather than actual events.

    “They are in the same category by virtue of being ancient”

    This really is willfully naive! That’s like saying that “A brief history of everything” and “The twilight saga” are in the same category by being modern!

  6. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    The inforgraphic demonstrates that we can be confident that the text we have today is as it was when it was originally written down. You want to be suspicious because of what that text says, but thats not the point the infographic addresses. 

    For that point, we look to the criteria for best explaination, common to all historical work. Sure, I picked these because they’re convenient to the situation. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t also well established and supported criteria in the field. Are you denying that the historiagraphical critera of multiple, independant and early attestation supports the facticity of purported events? 

    Again, why is it right that we should be suspicious of the claims of the NT? This is what places you as a reader in a different category – if you presuppose supernatural things are extraordinary, then you’re going to be skeptical from the start, aren’t you? But if, for instance and for the sake of argument, the resurrection of Jesus is an historical event, then the other claims of the New Testament may be unique and surprising comparitively to rest of all other ancient works, but not all that outlandinsh all things considered.

  7. Peanutaxis
    Peanutaxis says:

    “The inforgraphic demonstrates that we can be confident that the text we
    have today is as it was when it was originally written down.”

    But what about the sheer volume of manuscripts? That is a major part of the graphic but can’t really speak to the original-copy accuracy. Once they started copying en-mass the volume becomes rather meaningless, and so I think the graphic is deceptive on this. What matters for that would be the variance, particularly of the early manuscripts.
    Personally I’m quite happy that the originals are close to what we have today. I deny a lot of the contents of the gospels and I believe that the legends mainly evolved before anything was written down.

    “Are you denying that the historiagraphical critera of multiple,
    independant and early attestation supports the facticity of purported
    events? ”

    I don’t think that the gospels really are that multiple or independent. Matthew and Luke copied large parts of Mark, and from a common source as I’m sure you know. They’re hardly independent, let alone being derived from multiple eye-witnesses. Far more likely is that there was a core story when the church formed, and as it grew geographically, legends changed and grew and were then written down later. I do think that early attestation is relevant. Mark is the first, and it is the most stark gospel. Later Matthew and Luke were written, and they expanded upon Mark and contain much more outlandish (supernatural) claims. Then, later there was John, and John is much more expanded still and contains even more outlandish stuff. This observation clearly shows legend expanding and growing, as it is wont to do.

    If we observed supernatural occurrances like in the gospels regularly today then I would be unjustified in claiming that supernatural happenings are extra-ordinary. In reality the opposite is true and so I am correct in my view. It takes far more credulity for a person to assume that the gospels are accurate and at odds with the world we observe today than the other way round, especially when one considers the contradictions between and expansions in the evolution of the telling of the gospel.

  8. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Matthew and Luke are multiples with Mark and John, simply by virtue that they are by different authors and you can count to four! (Hey, lets not forget Paul, whose epistles preceeded the gospels). Matthew and Luke copied some from Mark – this, btw, is by no means a settled theory – but regardless, Matthew has material that is not in Mark which Luke has, and some material which is not in Mark and which Luke does not have. So he can’t have copied exclusively from Mark, which means he has his own independant source material. The same is the case with Luke, who also says he interviewed eye-witnesses and did thorough research in order to get the story straight. So we do have independant sources informing what went into the gospels. So the gospel do have multiple and independant sources. 

    You charge that legends developed about Jesus before the gospels were written down and mass produced. This fails to take seriously the criterion of early attestation in connection with date of authorship. In response, lets not forget Paul whose preaching and epistles preceeded the gospels by at least a decade. Lets not forget the creedal material quoted by Paul that can be traced to about 5 years after the crucifixion and contains all the essentials of the Christian message. Lets not forget that in Mark we find source material which can be traced within a mere 7 years of the crucifixion and gives us quite a lot of the passion and empty tomb narrative.

    Moreover, you have failed to take into account the culture in which these ostensible legends have meant to have been developed. You really believe that a culture which prizes its tradition and is used to accurately handing it down orally, which could not concieve of a resurrection of one man before the general resurrection at the end of the world, and esteems its laws so vehemently they’re willing to stone people to death on public streets, between c. 30 AD at the execution of Jesus and the composition of Mark a mere 30 years later would develop a legend of him rising from the dead sufficient to break devout Jew’s attachment to the law, flout their most holy day and declare a man who walked among them was the incarnation of their monotheistic God, able to save them from their sin and deserving of their exclusive worship? This is the outlandish belief. 
    Why do contradictions in the secondary details effect the reliability of the primary details which are not contradicted? This is shoddy thinking, Peanut. I admit that a cursory examination of the details can lead towards skeptical conclusions, but that doesn’t excuse skeptical conclusions when all things are considered. 

    BTW, supernatural ocurances like those recorded in the gospels do occur today. All you have to do is step outside your own skeptical sub-culture and take a look at a wider breadth of human experience to find them. You might be surprised an honest look around will turn up.

  9. Peanutaxis
    Peanutaxis says:

    I’m sorry but it is a settled theory that Matthew and Luke copied from Mark. (Maybe it is debated like the age of the earth is debated) This and the fact that they both used Q means that calling them ‘from a different author’ is very far-fetched. “There are very few passages in Mark that are found in neither Matthew nor Luke”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Markan_priority#Content_only_found_in_Mark

    Luke does not claim to have interviewed eyewitnesses (did you really just get that wrong?). I’ve always found it a bit tall that (at least) Luke is supposed to come from eyewitnesses, and yet the gospels are anonymous.
    Clearly the legends grew and the churches wrote down ‘updated’ gospels. I certainly agree that Paul’s works are a source (the primary, if not only, source of the gospels in my opinion). Although, it is obvious to me that the stories changed and expanded when you consider what Paul didn’t know. The fact that he actually mentions that Jesus was born of a woman, but fails to say that that woman was a virgin is highly embarrassing to say the least. And Mark doesn’t mention it either! And, hallo!, where do Paul and ‘Mark’s’ writings sit chronologically? Yep, at the earliest stages – more data on the legend-heightening theory. People claim that they might have had no reason to mention that Mary was a virgin but I don’t accept this. It’s too important a point to omit; they didn’t know because it hadn’t been invented yet.

    “Lets not forget the creedal material quoted by Paul that can be traced
    to about 5 years after the crucifixion and contains all the essentials
    of the Christian message.”

    I don’t know of this, can you reference?

    “Lets not forget that in Mark we find source material which can be traced within a mere 7 years of the crucifixion”

    Okay, now I’m beginning to think that this is just wishful dating.

    “You really believe that a culture which prizes its tradition and is used to accurately handing it down orally…”

    Well the very Literate Jewish Rabbis did this. The early Christian church was the opposite. In fact most of the churches were nowhere near the Jews! But also, there are many examples where scribes, or perhaps people above them, have altered Texts, let alone mere Oral tradition. And of course there are the contradictions between texts/gospels. If the oral tradition was so inerrant, why is the written one (based on the oral) not more consilient.

    “which could not concieve of a resurrection of one man before the general
    resurrection at the end of the world, and esteems its laws so
    vehemently they’re willing to stone people to death on public streets,
    between c. 30 AD at the execution of Jesus and the composition of Mark a
    mere 30 years later would develop a legend of him rising from the dead
    sufficient to break devout Jew’s attachment to the law, flout their most
    holy day and declare a man who walked among them was the incarnation of
    their monotheistic God, able to save them from their sin and deserving
    of their exclusive worship?”

    Hehe. You think you are alone? What religious person has not justified their religion to themselves? How do you think religions spawn?

    “Why do contradictions in the secondary details effect the reliability of
    the primary details which are not contradicted? This is shoddy
    thinking, Peanut.”

    Oh? So the virgin birth is of secondary importance?

  10. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Quoting an article from Wikipedia is not convincing and shoddy research if that is the extent of your reading. Also simply asserting the matter is settled does not settle the matter. The fact is there are plenty of folk – to be a sure a minority, but still – that hold for a variety of good reasons to the priority of Matthew and others to the priority of Luke. The fact is, establishing which came first on the basis of which author said what and did not say another is a very slippery science. Date of authorship is usually established on grounds other than these factors.

    Luke 1:1-4. “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to complie a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellect Theophilus, that you mat have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”

    This prologue to the gospel is comprised of a single sentence, and ranks among the finest Greek writing of the first century and demonstrates Luke’s skill as a writer. It clearly announces the sources of the narratives were “eyewitnesses” and “ministers” which probably refers to the 12 disciples. The word “delivered” here is the technical term for passing on tradition, and “having followed all things closely” is the same as saying, “I’ve investigated everything carefully…” Indeed Luke and its sequel Acts are among the finest and well attested of ancient historical writings.

    The gospels are anonymous because at the time and for the genre they write in, ie. ancient biography, its not important to say the name of the person who does the writing. But I know that authorship of Luke and Mark aren’t really disputed by anyone, so I don’t really know why you bring up the point?

    The creedal material quoted by Paul: The most discussed is 1 Cor 15:3b-5. I list some bibliographical references that document the critical consensus here https://thinkingmatters.org.nz/2012/01/part-1-a-case-for-the-historicity-of-the-resurrection/

    The same link as above for references for the pre-Markan passion source matierial dated within at 7 years of the crucifiction.

    First, you don’t have to be literate to live in an oral culture and be accostomed to passing things down accurately from generation to generation. Second, its the Jewish churches and the Jewish elements in the far off Gentile churches accepting Christ that you have to explain. Third, inerrancy is irrelevant. I don’t argue for it. Never claimed the oral tradition is inerant either. 

    Re”Hehe”: I don’t understand your mirth. You justify your religious views on ignorance it appears. Much better I justify mine on arguments and evidence.  

    Re final comment of the Virgin birth: I don’t see how that question addresses my point. And No, I don’t consider the virgin birth of primary importance. But perhaps that is my error. But what does that matter. The most you or I can say is that it cannot be verified on historical grounds.

  11. Peanutaxis
    Peanutaxis says:

    You seem to be addressing the argument about which gospel was written first, but that is not even the point here. The point is that ‘authors’ copied from other gospels and sources, which means that calling the gospels “multiple, and “independent” is a best a stretch and at worst deceptive.

    I’m not sure why you mention that Luke is a skilled writer. To my mind this is even more reason to be suspicious. We know that there were many writings that were forged, added, removed, manipulated – heck some of the suspects are still in the bible. Titus is one suspect, from memory – who more likely to perform such a trick but an educated writer? But anyway, we agree that Luke doesn’t claim to have interviewed eyewitnesses.

    “First, you don’t have to be literate to live in an oral culture and be
    accostomed to passing things down accurately from generation to
    generation. Second, its the Jewish churches and the Jewish elements in
    the far off Gentile churches accepting Christ that you have to explain.
    Third, inerrancy is irrelevant. I don’t argue for it. Never claimed the
    oral tradition is inerant either. ”

    (i) This is just begging the question. What culture wasn’t oral culture back then? The Jews were nothing special (except, as I said, the Literate/Rabbinic). (ii) I don’t know of fully Jewish-christian churches. I doubt they existed – very unlikely to exist right within fully Jewish surroundings. But Jewish people in far-off churches, sure. But they were almost certainly illiterate, for the literate ones would have stuck to tradition. (iii) You claimed that the culture prized handing down oral culture accurately, and I am merely saying that if this is so I would expect the gospels (for instance) to be more in agreement (especially when you consider that most of where they agree they were merely copying each other!) And, in fact, this oral culture was so useless that when it came time to write stuff down they didn’t rely upon it and instead copied other texts!

    “Re”Hehe”: I don’t understand your mirth. You justify your religious
    views on ignorance it appears. Much better I justify mine on arguments
    and evidence.  ”

    I found your story (“which could not concieve of a resurrection…worship”) quite tickling because it is just so arcane, so carved out. So completely without perspective. You have all these minutia about why your religion is true using very detailed and tertiary points (which I don’t mind arguing), all the while ignoring the much more major ones. Like why the heck didn’t all the Jews convert to Christianity if it was so bleeding obvious that Jesus was the son of god? If it’s so easy for you to prove it today, what about back then!!?! And, why is it that you think that a Mulsim’s detailed arguments are any less potent to him?

    It is simply objectively false that I base my views on ignorance. I know far, far more about the NT than the average person. And this is your dilemma: there are far more educated people on this matter than either of us, and they come down on both sides. It seems that for your beliefs you either have to believe that such people are deluded or evil. But there is a far more rational view – rational in the sense of seeing the major issues rather than plunging into the minor ones which, ultimately, don’t work exactly because they ignore the major ones: As Michael Schermer has chaptered it, “Why do SMART people believe weird things? Because they are better at justifying them” Smart people who want to believe something will go into the minutia. I do/can – though I reject christianity WAY before even looking at the NT – because I once knew it all from your side and had to educate myself to know that there is as much a case to be made against christianity from the NT:

    Cases in point. I have shown that the gospels are not really “multiple” or “independant” at all, and copy other texts, often extensively. And that the virgin birth (no less!) is suspiciously not recorded by Paul or Mark, and that even more suspiciously, where it is absent is in the earliest texts. Suggesting that just as the trend in the gospels goes chronologically from least elaborate to more elaborate, the virgin birth was fabricated and added at a later date.
    These points are but a few of many that have been known for practically ever. Except to indoctrinated people as I used to be. And this is why I insist on putting the perspective on one-sided and misleading information such as this post. For much more read Bart Ehrman!

  12. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Peanutaxis, 

    You say, “You seem to be addressing the argument about which gospel was written first, but that is not even the point here. The point is that ‘authors’ copied from other gospels and sources, which means that calling the gospels “multiple, and “independent” is a best a stretch and at worst deceptive.”

    I was addressing your claim that that priority of Mark is a settled issue. In short, its not. 

    You’re suspicious because Luke was a good writer? Why does this make you suspicious. Surely its not that incredible for you to believe someone back then had good writing skills. 

    “…we agree that Luke doesn’t claim to have interviewed eyewitnesses.”

    No we don’t, and I quoted Luke to the effect that he does claim to have interviewed eye-witnesses above. 

    “(i) This is just begging the question. What culture wasn’t oral culture back then? The Jews were nothing special (except, as I said, the Literate/Rabbinic).”

    I appears you don’t understand. The transmission of tradition from generation to generation in oral cultures is supposed to be very accurate. Jewish culture of 1st century Palestine for instance, are trained to memorize vast tracks of information without letting error slip in. So its not begging the question. From the time of the events circa AD 30 to not even a generation later, in the decade between 60-70 AD, when the tradition is written down, there is not time in such a culture for significant amounts of legendary accretion and to wipe out core aspects of the narrative. 

    “(ii) I don’t know of fully Jewish-christian churches. I doubt they existed – very unlikely to exist right within fully Jewish surroundings. But Jewish people in far-off churches, sure. But they were almost certainly illiterate, for the literate ones would have stuck to tradition.”

    Self-confessed ignorance is not much of an argument. Neither does your personal doubt bare much weight in convincing folk of your perspective. But seriously? You think there weren’t any mostly or fully Jewish Christian Churches in first century Palestine? 

    Literate Jewish Christians should have stuck to tradition and been like Saul of Tarsish, persecuting the Christians for teaching false doctrine. That is unless they were convinced otherwise, and surely a good amount of argument or evidence was required for them to do adopt Christian beliefs. Even so we see the church in Rome circa AD 56 filled with literate Jewish Christians. And this is just one example. 

    But your whole point here is predicated on the idea that illiterate people are more gullible than literate ones, and thus more prone to believe falsehoods regarding Christ. This is, to put it lightly, insulting and a colossal falsehood.

    Another basic mistake you make is to think that just because someone is literate that they do not live in and imbibe an oral culture and the memorization benefits thereof. 

    “(iii) You claimed that the culture prized handing down oral culture accurately, and I am merely saying that if this is so I would expect the gospels (for instance) to be more in agreement (especially when you consider that most of where they agree they were merely copying each other!) And, in fact, this oral culture was so useless that when it came time to write stuff down they didn’t rely upon it and instead copied other texts!”

    First of all, its like you zoom up on the difficulties between the gospel accounts so much and these loom so large and you can’t see the vast amount of similarities and agreement between them. 

    Second, you exaggerate the amount of copying critical scholarship agrees the gospels feature.

    And third, this type of textual criticism is very difficult to substantiate. When you dig into it, its mostly based on flimsy speculation.

    Fourth, “I would expect” ??? What makes your expectations comparable to expert opinion? 

    Fifth, regarding oral culture being useless and relying on other texts: Utilizing would be a better word, and why wouldn’t they if one was available? This can’t be true of Mark since he was apparently first. And this doesn’t explain non-Marken material in Matthew and Luke. And ignores John, written by an eyewitness who spent a life-time reflecting theologically on the experiences of his youth. 

    “…all the while ignoring the much more major [questions]. Like why the heck didn’t all the Jews convert to Christianity if it was so bleeding obvious that Jesus was the son of god? If it’s so easy for you to prove it today, what about back then!!?!”

    Its not easy to prove today. But is possible, just like it was back then. And many were convinced back then. As they are now. Thus the revolution of Christian belief! Back in the first centuries and today. The answer to the first question? Some people are just stubborn, some are too prideful to bend the knee and yield to God, and some simply hadn’t/haven’t heard yet.

    “And, why is it that you think that a Mulsim’s detailed arguments are any less potent to him?”

    This isn’t particularly relevant question. And you want me to psychoanalyze a Muslim? First, I’m not qualified. Second, perhaps he hasn’t really considered all the arguments for Christianity?

    “Cases in point…”

    Regarding the gospels providing multiple and independent attestation of certain historical facts, i.e. the crucifixion, the empty tomb: you have failed to understand that even if the authors had copied certain aspects of each others narratives that this would not mean that they do not contain multiple and independent sources to said facts. Before you mentioned Q, so being aware of this source you should know that already.

    Regarding the virgin birth: an argument from silence, and equally evidence that the doctrine isn’t that important. And again, the most you or I can say about that is that it cannot be proven true on historical grounds.

    It appears you have been led astray by the likes of Bart Ehrman, whose main argument against the reliability of the gospels is philosophical – not historical (though it pretends to be), and being a Humean objection to miracles has been resoundingly refuted. That being said, nothing you have said or argued so far has been convincing or stood up to closer scrutiny. I encourage you to read more widely and reassess some of your conclusions .

  13. Peanutaxis
    Peanutaxis says:

    Yes, you are right. When you said “Matthew and Luke copied some from Mark – this, btw, is by no means a settled theory” I took you to be focusing on the “copied” bit, which is why I said: “I’m sorry but it is a settled theory that Matthew and Luke copied from Mark.” My focus is on the “copied” bit, thus:

    “I don’t think that the gospels really are that multiple or independent.
    Matthew and Luke copied large parts of Mark, and from a common source as
    I’m sure you know. They’re hardly independent, let alone being derived
    from multiple eye-witnesses.”
    Clearly my point is about their independence, I can only assume you would tangent to the priority issue as a calculated derail.

    I’m happy that Luke was a good writer, but why would you feel the need to say “ranks among the finest Greek writing” and “demonstrates Luke’s skill as a writer”. So what? Why would you even say that? What does it prove? Dawkins is an extremely good writer and no doubt you love him!
    And second, that an educated writer is more likely to be deceptive. Case in point: I have christian friends who know very little of the academics surrounding the NT, and they would never claim the very deceptive: “Matthew and Luke are multiples with Mark and John, simply by virtue that
    they are by different authors and you can count to four!” It takes a person who is somewhat educated in the origins of the NT to misrepresent things in this way. So too with Luke with all this “most excellent Theophilus” nonsense. (If Theophilus was Roman, why it is that it just so happens that his name means Love of God? Come on…)

    I can’t see one thing in the passage in Luke that claims that he has interviewed eyewitnesses:
    ” It clearly announces the sources of the narratives were “eyewitnesses”
    and “ministers” which probably refers to the 12 disciples.”
    Okay, but this doesn’t claim that Luke interviewed them.
    “The word “delivered” here is the technical term for passing on
    tradition, and “having followed all things closely” is the same as
    saying, “I’ve investigated everything carefully…”
    And neither does this. Though I can see that one might claim that he interviewed the eyewitnesses using the same standard of reasoning as claiming the gospels being multiple and independent.

    You claim that the transmission of tradition in oral cultures was supposed to be very accurate. Well, I claim that this was only relevant for individuals who had education, and therefore Rabbinic education. It’s not like everyone went to school back then. The very, very lucky few who did went to learn the Torah etc. And even then, again, oral transmission was obviously terrible, given that there were at least three Jewish ‘sects’ who had the same written Law but completely disagreed with each other over oral Law! The likes of the Pharisees, the Saducees, and the Essenes! I’d like to see you explain that one! ;-0

    “You think there weren’t any mostly or fully Jewish Christian Churches in first century Palestine? ”
    Well you claimed ” its the Jewish churches (in Palestine)…accepting Christ that you have to explain”
    Clearly you must have evidence that these ex-Jewish-now-Christian churches existed in Palestine, else you are guilty of the ignorance and personal doubt – or rather gap-filling – you accuse me of. I am perfectly happy for you to prove me wrong here. The reason that I doubt these churches existed is because I’ve simply never heard mention of them. And, for instance, where are Paul’s letters to them? Maybe he mentions them somewhere and you can point this out to me? But i doubt it.

    “That is unless they were convinced otherwise, and surely a good amount
    of argument or evidence was required for them to do adopt Christian
    beliefs.”

    This is a perfect example of where you have spent far too much time versing yourself on why You think Christianity is objectively true. People, by the insane! majority, do not convert because of evidence. In fact, I bet it was only a minor part for you, as it was me.
    You can’t even hold to what you have just said in the light of how people are converted to Islam, or the Cargo cults. Newsflash. For people converting to Christianity it is no different.

    “But your whole point here is predicated on the idea that illiterate
    people are more gullible than literate ones, and thus more prone to
    believe falsehoods regarding Christ. This is, to put it lightly,
    insulting and a colossal falsehood.”

    I…..I just don’t believe that at all. Where do you get this from? Never claimed it.
    I DO think that the educated people are the ones who are instructed the most in their religious traditions and are less likely to leave Judaism – nothing to do with gullability, though. And this exactly what we find; Initially the Christian church started primarily – or even almost completely – with uneducated people in Palestine.

    “..Utilizing would be a better word, and why wouldn’t they if one was
    available? This can’t be true of Mark since he was apparently first. And
    this doesn’t explain non-Marken material in Matthew and Luke. And
    ignores John, written by an eyewitness who spent a life-time reflecting
    theologically on the experiences of his youth. ”

    I agree, they are anything but independent.
    Sure, if Mark was fist, then he didn’t copy from others and relied upon orals and creeds. I can only assume that you are hoping that I don’t know that most of the non-Markan material in M&L was almost certainly them copying another text, Q, given that a lot of what they didn’t copy from Mark bears the hallmarks of coming from a common source of sayings. You know this very well, too, so why misrepresent things? Given Q, you have now made an exactly false statement “And this doesn’t explain…Luke”. So actually, once again, Copying DOES explain the non-Markan material in M&L. Who are you trying to kid?

    Another related thought which you’ve just seeded in my mind: The (suspiciously accurately dated, given that the gospels are dated at the Best +/- 5 years) creed(s) that you mentioned before are yet another extension of the ‘growing-legend’ trend that in the gospels. I hadn’t considered that before. We can see the elaborateness extend from Mark in time to M&L and then John, and then further texts of non-orthodox churches. But the creeds fits in nicely, too. They are far, far more stark – i.e. completely UN-elaborated – even than Mark, and, as a growing-legend model would predict, far earlier.
    I also don’t understand why you just point blank say that John was written by an eyewitness as though it was fact, despite the fact that most scholars don’t think so.

    “Its not easy to prove today. But is possible, just like it was back then.”
    Lol. Literally.
    “Some people are just stubborn…”
    Here beginneth the Grand Conspiracy Theories…… Does it ever occur to you that people in other religions think the equivalent things, and that they have their favourite evidences (yes, yes, yours are special. To you. But so are theirs to them) for their religion? Have you ever actually realized that you are in completely the wrong religion, barking up the wrong tree, because you were born into the wrong one, Stuart? It took me half a lifetime to confront this inevitability. To realize that by mere happenstance I could be as convinced as you are, but that Buddhism was the only way – and proveable!


    “And, why is it that you think that a Mulsim’s detailed arguments are any less potent to him?”

    This isn’t particularly relevant question. And you want me to
    psychoanalyze a Muslim? First, I’m not qualified. Second, perhaps he
    hasn’t really considered all the arguments for Christianity?”

    On the scale of what we have been discussing here, Stuart, it is the only relevant question. EVERYTHING hinges upon it. Like I have said, you are busied with the minutia of justifying your views, and you have just called ‘irrelevant’ a question which is orders of magnitude more important than any of that minutia. The answer to it has HUGE ramifications, and yet – I state again in almost disbelief – you have just called it ‘irrelevant’!

    I am not so much suggesting that you psycho-analyse a Muslim as I am that you should pshycho-analyse yourself. We all should. If you were born into another religon, as likely as you are now convinced that Christianity is the one true religion, you would be as convinced about that other religion. And you would have arguments for claiming your position objective just as you do now. And your very idea of what objective is would be coloured by your religious worldview. Of course it would.
    But you are that person, Stuart. You were born in to the wrong religion, and you have just never considered all the arguments for X religion. Or rather, you have no way of knowing otherwise!
    Once you peer above the trees of defending your own religion and realize that you are doing nothing different to adherents in other religions who are simply studying and defending their own trees – you can see the whole forest. It then becomes alarmingly apparent to a person that to have been insisting that one’s own arguments and experiences are the objective ones and that others are lost is extremely arrogant by way of short-sightedness.

    But the first step does seem to have to be empathy. It is easy to recognize when you are dropping it, though, and in religious terms I tend to call it the Grand Conspiracy Theory. The moment a person starts to try to explain others’ views by way of them being deluded or unfortunate, and puts themselves in a position of special knowledge. This point is necessarily the end of empathy and the beginning of arrogance. Not purposeful arrogance, mind, but by way of being blind.
    They say that one of the major ‘errors’ of Northern Ireland was to have segregated schools. Why? Because if your kids go to school with the ‘enemies’ kids it’s really hard to keep viewing them as less than yourself; or as yourself as being right and better. You are basically forced to deal with them as people and empathise with them.
    This is what I am saying you are missing and it keeps you from seeing the larger picture, which is that building your views of what is objective based upon your experiences is not enough. Because your experiences are not special. No ones are.

  14. Peanutaxis
    Peanutaxis says:

    “Regarding the virgin birth: an argument from silence, and equally
    evidence that the doctrine isn’t that important. And again, the most you
    or I can say about that is that it cannot be proven true on historical
    grounds.”
    “It appears you have been led astray by the likes of Bart Ehrman”

    Soberingly, you have obviously been led astray by the completely unobjectivity of religious experience. This and the….formal form of this: The argument from silence, does explain a lot of your gap-filling.

    “That being said, nothing you
    have said or argued so far has been convincing or stood up to closer
    scrutiny. I encourage you to read more widely and reassess some of your
    conclusions .”

    Hehe. If you keep saying it…..
    Ehrman has pointed out just how crazy it is to toe the Christian line given all the frauds, trends, omissions, contradictions etc. that exist in the manuscripts that we have. It is telling that Ehrman’s book was the first in the field on textual criticism for the popular audience. It took Ehrman’s book first before the response(s?) “Misquoting Truth” to come out. The reason is simple, though. There is just so much stuff that is jarring to the Christian audience. So much ugliness (frauds, trends…) that almost all Christians are completely ignorant of, that it was completely in the interest of the Orthodox view to keep theses things hidden, and to keep hidden just how tenuous it is to fill in the gaps so that orthodox Christianity – or indeed Christianity at all – wins out.

  15. Edward T. Babinski
    Edward T. Babinski says:

    I’m sure Muslims like to point out how many copies of the Koran they copied in their culture too. And how early it was canonized. 

  16. Peanutaxis
    Peanutaxis says:

    In studies about how religious scientists are I did always wonder why it is the Social scientists who are the least religious. At first glance you would think it would be the hard scientists. But it makes perfect sense to me now. It is their job to empathise.

  17. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Peanutaxis, 

    The length of this reply is indication as to why its taken me a while to respond. If you want to reply to this, I ask you don’t repeat objections that I’ve already responded to.

    The gospels contain multiple and independent source material to historical events. They are multiple sources themselves, if not completely independent. And the impression you give of Matthew and Luke coping wholesale from Mark complete passages is a false one. The details vary in each to show other source material was utilized and integrated separately. Where there is overlap indicating a common source, it mostly concerns only the sayings of Jesus. 

    Besides this, a certain amount of commonality and variance is what you would expect if the sources are from early eyewitnesses reporting events that actually happened. Then there is what Tim McGrew calls “undesigned coincidences” (which are independent of any solution to the synoptic problem) that show the gospels are written by authors close to the eyewitnesses if not eyewitnesses themselves. 

    I say Luke was a good writer, because we would expect a good writer and researcher to get historical details correct – something that the author of Luke does quite remarkably.

    You ask, “(If Theophilus was Roman, why it is that it just so happens that his name means Love of God? Come on…)”

    Perhaps he changed his name when he was converted. We know this type of thing  happened. Perhaps a non de plume. We know the church was persecuted at or near the date of authorship. Perhaps another reason. This certainly is not worthy of your incredulity. 

    “I can’t see one thing in the passage in Luke that claims that he has interviewed eyewitnesses:”

    Semantic dribble here. The point is Luke clearly claims his source material included eyewitnesses which he’d met.

    “The reason that I doubt these churches [in first century Palestine] existed is because I’ve simply never heard mention of them. And, for instance, where are Paul’s letters to them? Maybe he mentions them somewhere and you can point this out to me? But i doubt it.”

    You’ve never read the Bible have you? A book you’re purportedly an expert on and you’ve never run across Paul talking about the church in Jerusalem (i.e. Rom 15)? What about Acts, which has plenty to say about the church there, and also talks about the early missionary work to Samaria and throughout Judea in towns like Caesarea. Damascus, though further up north, had a Christian community there, and Antioch even further up north was a lively center for early Christianity and would have been full of Jewish people. After going there we might also mention the first rate archeological work done to date. 

    You claim that I illegitimately am filling in the gaps of ignorance with religious beliefs, but what you do here quite blatantly is fill in gaps of your own ignorance with beliefs of ‘non-existence.’ Hypocrite much? Such a state of ignorance on your part should result in agnosticism, not affirmations of doubt. And I wonder why you have to doubt something that really isn’t all that incredible, especially since the existence of the first century Palestinian church filled with Jewish nationals would simply and easily explain the second century church in Palestine, and all the attention the church Fathers give to it.

    “This is a perfect example of where you have spent far too much time versing yourself on why You think Christianity is objectively true.” 

    I could say the same to you as for why its not (i.e. where you have spent far too much time versing yourself on why you think Christianity is not true), but its clear you haven’t. And let me get this straight – you object that I know exactly why I believe what I do? 

    So you think that Q was a text that Matthew and Luke both copied? From what I understand Q is a mixture of written material and oral tradition, and while its true many scholars think Q is a collection of written sayings of Jesus, many scholars do not. To be so confident about Q’s existence for all that it is something that no one has ever seen is not very like you. Theres also a lot of assumptions and subjective opinion that goes into source criticism as a discipline which makes the whole enterprise rather conspicuous to begin with. You also give the impression that theres are a lot of material from Q which features in Matthew and Luke. Actually, its not much at all. From the top of my head I think I recall reading theres at most 250 whole or part verses – and again, mostly the sayings of Jesus, not so much historical events. 

    Re the creeds being another example of growing legend: This is pretty silly speculation, but a level of speculation expected given you just found out about them and know next to nothing as to what historical and theological information they do provide. The idea that Jesus was God is generally thought by skeptics to be one of those things that developed much later. But this idea is found in the pre-Pauline creeds (eg. see esp. Phil 2:6-11).

    “I also don’t understand why you just point blank say that John was written by an eyewitness as though it was fact, despite the fact that most scholars don’t think so.”

    The most straightforward reading of all the internal evidence is that the author of John was John the son of Zebeddee, an eye-witness to the events of the gospel. This conclusion is unanimous when examining all the external evidence as well. If most scholars reject this conclusion (and I wonder at your source for this conclusion and if they can manage a decent reason why the traditional author isn’t the right answer) thats ok with me since I’m determined to go with what the evidence says.

    Is it really fair to label something a “conspiracy theory” when someone says people won’t believe because they are stubborn? Yes, it does occur to me that I could be wrong and that my favorite arguments aren’t really all that convincing. But then I examine the evidences and arguments as best I can without prejudice and I can’t convince myself otherwise.

    Thus, the only thing relevant in this discussion regarding other religious perspectives is that if one was born a Muslim or Buddhist, etc., then I’d make an excellent candidate for a Christian convert. I suppose one could argue me into adopting another position, but what matters is the arguments and evidence on offer, not the probability of convincing me otherwise or the possibility of me being born in different circumstances. As I said, the power a Muslim’s arguments have for him or her is irrelevant. What matters is if those arguments are good and sound arguments or not.

    You say, “On the scale of what we have been discussing here, Stuart, it is the only relevant question. EVERYTHING hinges upon it. ”

    NOTHING here hinges upon the answer as to why a Muslim’s arguments are potent to him? This is a philosophical problem you have that is unrelated to the examination of the evidence and argumentation for the authenticity of the gospels. 

    Do you realize that this argument you advance about peering above the tree (of one’s own religion) to see the forest is uttered from just another tree in this forerst? It advances a type of relativism. By a consistent standard and in your own terms, it lacks empathy and is the beginning of a blind arrogance.

    “This is what I am saying you are missing and it keeps you from seeing the larger picture, which is that building your views of what is objective based upon your experiences is not enough. Because your experiences are not special. No ones are.”

    In my discussion with you here, I have not appealed to religious experience. Why you mention this is a bit of a mystery, unless you are mistaking my passing remark as a main point, namely, that certain experiences which may be classed as religious can be found which confirm the miraculous does occur.

    “So much . . . that almost all Christians are completely ignorant of, that it was completely in the interest of the Orthodox view to keep theses things hidden, and to keep hidden just how tenuous it is to fill in the gaps so that . . . Christianity wins out.”

    Its no secret that there are gaps in your knowledge. And its no secret that the Christian laity don’t know everything Christian scholars do. With respect to deliberate obscurantism, you first have to convince others of your perspective which is very difficult if you can’t keep up with their standard of argumentation and scholarship. Again, Ehrman’s challenges have all been answered. And curiously, one of the goals of Thinking Matters is to educate the Christian laity in these challenges with their corresponding answers.

  18. Peanutaxis
    Peanutaxis says:

    Hi Stuart,

    Yes I’ll try for brevity. However, it is a bit tall to request the final say.

    I feel that I have already shown that there is plenty of evidence to doubt much of the credulous (orthodox) reading of the New Testament. I would simply encourage people to read about textural criticism. Bart Ehrman, sure, but just read! I feel that the more people read about just how complicated unearthing what the original texts say – if the concept ‘original text even makes sense – and how what the original texts say is often not that convenient to the orthodox view anyway – the more they will realize just how much of an acrobat one must be to contrive the orthodox view.
    A small example I was browsing through last night in ‘Misquoting Jesus'(P133..) was about whether Jesus is angry or compassionate towards a leper. The angry Jesus is considered more likely given that it is a more difficult reading, and is also found in the earliest manuscripts (of Mark). Mark says Jesus was angry, but when Matthew and Luke relay the story they don’t say ‘compassionate’ or ‘angry’; they omit the word from their story altogether. In the other occasions where Jesus is angry in Mark, both Matthew and Luke remove Jesus’ anger. All of the stories in M&L were sourced from Mark, except one in Luke which is re-written or at least written differently.
    On this issue in ‘Misquoting Truth’ Timothy Paul Jones basically agrees with Ehrman’s analysis of this issue and then says that M&L still paint a reliable picture of Jesus as being compassionate on the whole in their gospels, and even goes on to suggest some very sensible reasons why Jesus might have been angry. However he doesn’t address the most important questions which arise, even from such a tiny passage:
    Why would M&L
    change Mark, for they most definitely do? To what extent can we trust
    manuscripts if authors just change things like this, or even simply
    re-write them?  How much might have changed from the original manuscript
    in even Mark itself to the first extant manuscript, especially when you consider that most manuscripts of Mark (the later ones) themselves have been changed to a compassionate Jesus from an angry one!?

    I think these are the inevitable, and feared, questions which dictated that the first pop book on textural criticism was only ever going to be a non-orthodox one. Certainly people can toe the orthodox line, but it becomes more and more…acrobatic the more one realizes just how dangerous it is to simply take texts at face value. Anyway, so I encourage people to read this stuff, orthodox and not.

    —–

                            “Besides this, a certain amount of commonality and variance is what you
    would expect if the sources are from early eyewitnesses reporting events
    that actually happened.”

    If there were such multiple eyewitness accounts I wouldn’t expect M&L to have written the vast majority of their gospels from other writings and I wouldn’t expect the gospels to become more and more elaborate as time went on. I would expect exactly these things if there was a growing-legend.

    You claim that Luke is more likely to have historical details correct because he is more erudite, and yet you can’t seem to even evidence your claim that Luke interviewed eyewitnesses. I’m honestly quite open to him having done so, but you only seem to be able to show that he says that the ” sources of the narratives were ‘eyewitnesses’ and ‘ministers’ ” and that ” [he’s] investigated everything carefully…”. P.S. You later claim that he’d MET the eyewitnesses. Can you source?

    I certainly am rusty on the bible. Especially the epistles, which is why I asked you to evidence these early churches in Palestine. Thanks. How Jewish they were, and how educated they were I am still suspicious of due to the whole the-educated-were-religiously-educated thing.

                             “I could say the same to you as for why its not (i.e. where you have
    spent far too much time versing yourself on why you think Christianity
    is not true), but its clear you haven’t. And let me get this straight –
    you object that I know exactly why I believe what I do? ”

    You are quite right that I (almost certainly) haven’t versed myself in anti-christian arguments nearly as much as you have the opposite, but this reflects badly on you not me, in just the same way that you would view a Jew having spent years versing himself in his own evidences as barking up the wrong tree. As I have been arguing, what is needed is not more tree-studying, but a dose of perspective.
    Like I have eluded to much earlier, by far the majority of the reason I am not a Christian has nothing to do with the NT or versing myself on why Christianity is wrong. The majority of my reasons for rejecting Christianity is by being empathetic, looking at bias and objectivity, and most important;y looking at what all humans believe.

    My recollection of Q is merely that it is a collection of sayings of Jesus hypothesized from common writings in M&L. I hadn’t thought about it before but the fact that the passages are identifiably common between M&L would suggest to me that it was in fact Written given that I rather think that oral transmission was even less trustworthy. You say that Q is about 250 verses or part verses, well, using the wonderful internet there appear to be about 1100 verses in each of M&L. Now, given that Q is made up Only of verses Common to M&L, that means that approximately one quarter(!!) of the verses in M&L are tainted – and probably completely derived – from Q. But it gets worse. Wikipedia(“Q source”) at least (first paragraph) says that Q sayings are NOT in Mark. Therefore, what M&L derived from Mark is Additional to what they derived from Q.
    On that note, I just noticed the diagram in Wikipedia(“Synoptic Gospels”). And if it is to be believed, only 35% of Luke and 20% of Matthew is original! The diagram does appear to be correct in your figure of 250 part/verses from Q: the ‘double tradition’ is almost exactly 1/4 in both.

    The creeds fitting into the growing-legend hypothesis: I’m willing to make a prediction here. I can’t find them, or any good info on these crucifiction+5 and +7 year creeds that you talk about, which suggests to me they are probably more….orthodox-gap-filling than real (can you show me any? Wikipedia, for example? or quote them from texts? I don’t even know what you purport is in them.) but I’m willing to bet that they don’t mention virgin birth, given that Paul and Mark’s writings hadn’t invented it yet. ‘Cos I know that the popular creeds have the virgin birth. Heh, It’d be awesome if I was right!

    ——-

    I really do think that Conspiracy Theory is an adequate title, because if, by your own views for instance, 4/6ths of the world’s population has been led down the garden path, well, that puts aliens, moon landings, and 911 conspiracies to shame by such a degree that……..well, that it’s not even funny!

                                           “But then I examine the evidences and arguments as best I can without prejudice and I can’t convince myself otherwise.”
    But people of other religions do(claim) exactly this, too, don’t they. Where to from here….?

                                           “but what matters is the arguments and evidence on offer…What matters is if those arguments are good and sound arguments or not.”
    Yes, but one’s judgement of the arguments and evidence is completely biased. Jews sit there years on end rehearsing in their heads their own arguments just as you do yours. For instance, you believe an orthodox reading of scripture, and so you learn the arguments that navigate you to that conclusion. And I (now) do the opposite. And it’s not even purposeful most of the time, we don’t even know we’re doing it. No doubt we both try to be unbiased, but we’re always going to be. That’s why I say

                                           “NOTHING here hinges upon the answer as to why a Muslim’s arguments are potent to him? This is a philosophical problem you have that is unrelated to the
    examination of the evidence and argumentation for the authenticity of
    the gospels. ”

    that everything hinges upon the answer to this question. If a Muslim considers that his arguments are more objective, that has everything to do with the examining evidence and argumentation!

                                            “Do you realize that this argument you advance about peering above the
    tree (of one’s own religion) to see the forest is uttered from just
    another tree in this forerst? It advances a type of relativism. By a
    consistent standard and in your own terms, it lacks empathy and is the
    beginning of a blind arrogance.”

    Yes! Of course it can be called just another tree. And you are correct, I would claim that it is more objective, but not in the usual sense on the word, I think. But I do think it is more empathetic. As I think I have said “it” could be said to be what deconverted me. It is so hard to write down, but I think I can word it in the form of three related Observations:

    – I observe that both in mundane daily life, and in important topics, I believe that I am correct. But I also observe – initially to my frustration – that others think that they are correct too. In response I then go over and over the reasoning as to why I am correct(this is the point at which I think most religious people stop), but I observe again – initially to my frustration – that others can and do do this too. Despite how special my window on the world seems – for I cannot physically look through anyone else’s eyes – I have to conclude that others have windows which seem to them as special as mine does to me. I simply have to conclude that I am not special.

    – I am not special. I am (on average) no smarter than the person next to
    me or, more pertinently, someone on the other side of the world. I
    fully recognise that if I were Stuart or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, I would
    believe as Stuart or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does.

    – I AM Stuart, or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad! Or rather, how can I know that I am not? For they justify their own views to themselves just as I do.

    There are some weird things about this reasoning – and I even hesitate to call it reasoning. First, I’m not entirely sure what comes first, the empathy or the observations. In my own deconversion from christianity I could not even say. A friend who would describe me as ‘pivotal’ in softening his religious views from home-schooled-fundamentalist to…not fundamentalist, said that the thing that really floored him – though we had many conversations – was when I exclaimed that we could easily be a Mulsim and an ex-Mulsim in conversation, and the only difference would be the happenstance of where we were born. So perhaps with him it was merely pointing out the observation. The second weird thing is that one is reaching – like you say – another viewpoint that claims to be objective, but it is done by recognising that one is not objective.

    I used to be just another christian pinballing myself around the Christian-worldview forest, justifying my views (ultimately only to myself – or perhaps to other christians too). The problem with these – or any – worldview is that they are so self-confirming that one becomes lost. Firstly because they are such well rehearsed – and so ingrained – justifications, and secondly because of the confirmation bias – not only because you only notice evidence which confirms your beliefs, but also because you end up not even accepting forms of evidence in which other worldviews are strong (Okay I guess you could call all of these three different forms of the confirmation bias). All the while the Buddhist, say, is doing the exact opposite for his religions strong points!

    For example, the written evidence of christianity is one of it’s strong points, I think. So christians rehearse these arguments to themselves to the point where they become biased towards them on those confirmation-bias points: They become so ingrained and rehearsed that their merit is unnaturally heightened, and also one starts to over-play the importance of written evidence when evaluating all religions/worldviews to the point where someone like yourself actually claims that it is possible to prove christianity! This is, of course, a vicious circle, because the only reason that written evidence was focused on in the first place is because it confirmed one’s bias towards Being a Christian in the first place. And I’m sure this happens in all religions/worldviews.

    This is what I mean when I say that it ends up being after-the-fact reasoning: When we are in the trees we tell ourselves that we are basing our worldview on the trees/arguments, whereas in fact our worldview has dictated which forest we are in/which arguments we even listen to in the first place.
    But it’s even worse than that: As I have mentioned before the insane majority of people convert to a religion not because of reason and evidence but because of, well, emotional or even spiritual (if you will) reasons. So I contend that almost ALL religious arguments/evidence are after-the-fact. People only really learn them After they are converted. All of this means, I think, that objectivity is almost completely out the window when it comes to evaluating religious views.

    I must stop writing and have completely failed on the brevity thing but I feel that seeing the forest in this way is, well, first off quite sensible and based on but a few observations (one can go into more ‘scientific’ data like twin studies etc.), is a more accurate understanding of the backwards relationship between worldviews and evidence, and is much more satisfactory to claiming that other people are deluded or unlucky or even wicked.

    p

  19. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    “Original text” wtf? We have recovered the original to about 99.5% accuracy. I think that was the figure. None of the textual variants in the NT are theologically significant. Erhman does give a a false impression on the origin of the New Testament.
    You say, “Like I have eluded to much earlier, by far the majority of the reason I am not a Christian has nothing to do with the NT or versing myself on why Christianity is wrong. The majority of my reasons for rejecting Christianity is by being empathetic, looking at bias and objectivity, and most important;y looking at what all humans believe.”
    As I suspected. You base your views on philosophical and emotional grounds, not with sound argumentation and on evidential grounds.
    I gave you some sources on the creeds already. They’re a plethora of writing on them. You could just look to any commentary written in the last half-century. I give you a lot of sources on the creed of 1 Cor 15: 3b- from and article by Gary Habermas. For the full article go here http://www.garyhabermas.com/articles/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005.htm

    For several strong reasons,[44] most scholars who address the issue think that this testimony predates any New Testament book. Murphy-O’Connor reports that a literary analysis has produced “complete agreement” among critical scholars that “Paul introduces a quotation in v. 3b. . . .”[45] Paul probably received this report from Peter and James while visiting Jerusalem within a few years of his conversion.[46] The vast majority of critical scholars who answer the question place Paul’s reception of this material in the mid-30s A.D.[47] Even more skeptical scholars generally agree.[48] German theologian Walter Kasper even asserts that, “We have here therefore an ancient text, perhaps in use by the end of 30 AD . . . .” [49] Ulrich Wilckens declares that the material “indubitably goes back to the oldest phase of all in the history of primitive Christianity.”[50]
    Footnotes:

    [44] For example, Paul precedes the text by using the equivalent Greek for the technical rabbinic terms “delivered” and “received,” which traditionally were the way that oral tradition was passed along (see also 1 Corinthians 11:23). Further, the report appears in a stylized, parallel form. The presence of several non-Pauline terms, sentence structure, and diction all additionally point to a source prior to Paul. Also noted are the proper names of Cephas and James (including the Aramaic name Cephas [cf. Luke 24:34]), the possibility of an Aramaic original, other Semitisms like the threefold “kai oti” (like Aramaic and Mishnaic Hebrew narration), and the two references to the Scriptures being fulfilled. See Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, from the German, no translator provided (Minneapolis: Augsberg, 1983), 97-99; John Kloppenborg, “An Analysis of the Pre-Pauline Formula in 1 Cor 15:3b-5 in Light of Some Recent Literature,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 40 (1978), 351, 360; Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, “Tradition and Redaction in 1 Cor 15:3-7,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 43 (1981), 582. [45] Murphy-O’Connor, “Tradition and Redaction in 1 Cor 15:3-7,” 582. Fuller agrees: “It is almost universally agreed today that Paul is here citing tradition.” (The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives, 10)
    [46] I have outlined the case elsewhere, for instance, in Habermas, The Risen Jesus and Future Hope, chap. 1; “The Resurrection Appearances of Jesus” in In Defense of Miracles, R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas, eds. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1997), 262-275.
    [47]For just a few of these scholars, see Hans Grass, Ostergeschen und Osterberichte, second ed. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Rupert, 1962), 96; Francis X. Durrwell, La Résurrection de Jésus: Mystère de Salut, 22; Reginald Fuller, The Foundations of New Testament Christology (New York: Scribner’s, 1965), 142, 161; C.H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments (Grand Rapids: Baker, reprint, 1980), 16; Oscar Cullmann, The Early Church: Studies in Early Christian History and Theology, ed. A.J.B. Higgins (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1966), 65-66; Pannenberg, Jesus: God and Man, 90; Raymond Brown, Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection, 81, 92; Peter Stuhlmacher, Jesus of Nazareth–Christ of Faith, trans. Siegfried S. Shatzmann (Peabody, MA.: Hendrickson, 1993), 8; Helmut Merklein, “Die Auferweckung Jesu und die Anfange der Christologie (Messias bzw. Sohn Gottes und Menschensohn),” Zeitschrift fur die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der Alteren Kirche, 72 (1981), 2; John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, vol. 3: Companions and Competitors (New York: Doubleday, 2001),139; Dunn, The Evidence for Jesus, 70; Leander E. Keck, Who is Jesus? History in Perfect Tense (Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina, 2000), 139; C.E.B. Cranfield, “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ,” Expository Times, 101 (1990), 169. O’Collins thinks that no scholars date Paul’s reception of this creed later than the 40s A.D., which still would leave intact the major conclusions here (O’Collins, What Are They Saying? 112). [48] Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians, 254; Lüdemann, The Resurrection of Jesus, 38; Robert Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels (New York: Macmillan, 1993), cf. 18, 24; Michael Goulder, “The Baseless Fabric of a Vision,” in D’Costa, Resurrection Reconsidered, 48; Jack Kent, The Psychological Origins of the Resurrection Myth (London: Open Gate, 1999), 16-17; A.J.M. Wedderburn, Beyond Resurrection (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999),111, 274, note 265; Thomas Sheehan, The First Coming: How the Kingdom of God became Christianity (New York: Random House, 1986), 118; cf. 110-112, 135; Michael Grant,

    “Where to from here….?”
    Look at the arguments! Don’t get side tracked on irrelevant issues, e.g. why a Muslim believes what s/he believes.

    “Yes, but one’s judgement of the arguments and evidence is completely biased. ”
    That doesn’t mean we can’t do our best to minimize the effect of our biases with good methodology, or that good reasoning cannot overcome bad reasoning.

    “If a Muslim considers that his arguments are more objective, that has everything to do with the examining evidence and argumentation!”

    Perhaps of his view, but not of mine. With respect to the trust-worthiness of the gospels, its completely irrelevant unless this Muslim has some sort of counter-argument against my own view.

    Even the Buddhist looks both ways before he crosses the street. When he faces the bus, he knows its either the bus stops, he moves or splat. The same with the Christian, the same with the atheist. It is the same way with any other truth – even religious truth. Someone’s gotta be right. And why not myself? I’ve questioned this, realized I am a product of historical and geographical location and could have been a Taoist for instance, but looked at the evidence with as skeptical eye as I can, as well as the evidence for other religious traditions, and I can’t convince myself Christianity is not the one true religion.

    “…to the point where someone like yourself actually claims that it is possible to prove christianity.”

    I don’t claim to be able to prove Christianity. It just seems to me to be the best option available on the evidence there is, and I put my trust in that. The level of certainty I purport to prove Christianity to the same standard as that used in any court; beyond reasonable doubt.

    “objectivity is almost completely out the window when it comes to evaluating religious views.”

    And you include yourself in this, right?
    First, there ARE people who are convinced on the basis of the evidence. Second, not all religious traditions to confirm their religious beliefs with argumentation and evidence. Third, if people’s religious beliefs are confirmed “after-the-fact” with evidences, this doesn’t necessarily mean they lack objectivity – though it could. It means that at least some are uncritical, or that some are unsuccessful at minimizing the effect of their biases, and possibly that some are rightly convinced because they it turns out they are correct.

    “much more satisfactory to claiming other people are deluded or unlucky or even wicked”

    Totally an emotional reason – not rational one.

  20. Peanutaxis
    Peanutaxis says:

    “Original text” wtf? We have recovered the original to about 99.5% accuracy.”

    Clearly you desire the ‘original text’ to be, well, Gospel. But this just has so many problems. Just because we might be able to say “this is what the first ‘original’ version of gospel X said in its first written form” doesn’t mean that that original text is magically historically accurate:
    Firstly, when Matthew and Luke were first written down in their complete form they weren’t very ‘original’ were they! At best they were 35% and 20% original (hardly independent eyewitness accounts!). So: Second, if Matthew and Luke were not only not-very-original, but at least largely, copied (and modified) versions of previous texts, Mark was doubtlessly written in a similar fashion. Third, given how writers had little shame in copying and modifying texts back then (also evidenced by how people changed texts from the ‘original text’), the very LAST thing we should attempt to conclude is that “when we find the original texts, we will have an accurate historical record”. This is the force of Ehrman’s…leitmotif.

    “None of the textual variants in the NT are theologically significant.”
    As they clearly build upon one another, I’d largely agree, actually. Perhaps it is a good thing they DID copy!

    Erhman does give a a false impression on the origin of the New
    Testament.
    Wow! I have no answer to that. You have proved me wrong. Lol.

    “As I suspected. You base your views on philosophical and emotional
    grounds, not with sound argumentation and on evidential grounds.”

    Me: “Like I have eluded to much earlier, by far the majority of the reason I
    am not a Christian has nothing to do with the NT or versing myself on
    why Christianity is wrong. The majority of my reasons for rejecting
    Christianity is by being empathetic, looking at bias and objectivity,
    and most important;y looking at what all humans believe.”

    Merely repeating this helps my cause, I feel. Because your accusation that I don’t use evidence and argumentation is so obviously hypocritical: For you also rely on [what you would call] “philosophical and emotional” grounds to deny other religions. I am the one being consistent, for I believe – and have evidence – that it is not arguments and evidence that dictate the religion to which one adheres. On top of this you clearly demonstrate that you are not interested in being empathetic – which involves calmly considering what others believe from their point of view – and are not interested in looking at bias and objectivity, including your own. You think that your opinions on what you and others believe is what is important.
    Get over yourself!

    “Where to from here….?”
    Look at the arguments! Don’t get side tracked on irrelevant issues, e.g. why a Muslim believes what s/he believes.
    How many guesses do I get as to who you think should be the judge of what ‘irrelevant is’.

    “Perhaps of his view, but not of mine. With respect to the
    trust-worthiness of the gospels, its completely irrelevant unless this
    Muslim has some sort of counter-argument against my own view.”

    So the Mulsim is sitting there saying ‘its completely irrelevant unless this Christian has some sort of counter-argument against my own view” and yet I have never seen Stuart examine a Muslim’s view. Instead, you are both running ignorantly around your own trees. Talk about short-sighted.

    “..looked at the evidence with as skeptical eye as I can, as well as the
    evidence for other religious traditions, and I can’t convince myself
    Christianity is not the one true religion.”

    Then you are an adherent of Grand Conspiracy Theory. I mean seriously, you think people in other religions don’t claim exactly the same thing? You do? Oh well they must be deluded, then. Not you. You’re special!

    “First, there ARE people who are convinced on the basis of the evidence.
    Second, not all religious traditions to confirm their religious beliefs
    with argumentation and evidence. Third, if people’s religious beliefs
    are confirmed “after-the-fact” with evidences, this doesn’t necessarily
    mean they lack objectivity – though it could. It means that at least
    some are uncritical, or that some are unsuccessful at minimizing the
    effect of their biases, and possibly that some are rightly convinced
    because they it turns out they are correct.”

    (i)Very, very, very few (twin studies, heritability of religion, my and your experience), (ii) So what? Given (i) religion does not even function within this sphere. (iii) My point is that the reasoning that one is fed After converting SEEMS objective due to the confirmation bias(es) that I mentioned earlier. I can even see this within myself, why can’t you? Given (i) almost all are unobjective. If I am wrong, then why don’t 95% of Muslims convert, and then deconvert shortly after when they hear and disbelieve the arguments for Islam?

    “objectivity is almost completely out the window when it comes to evaluating religious views.”

    And you include yourself in this, right?

    Except that I am trying to see the world through others’ eyes, which makes my view at once less my view, and also more objective.

  21. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Peanutaxis,

    You say, “Clearly you desire the ‘original text’ to be, well, Gospel. But this just has so many problems. Just because we might be able to say “this is what the first ‘original’ version of gospel X said in its first written form” doesn’t mean that that original text is magically historically accurate:”

    Yes, the text being originally from author and historical accurate are different.

    Because you say “At best they were 35% and 20% original (hardly independent eyewitness accounts!)” you make it obvious that you still haven’y understood that the gospels _contain_ independent eye-witness accounts though they may not be all that independent themselves. 

    You say, “So: Second, if Matthew and Luke were not only not-very-original, but at least largely, copied (and modified) versions of previous texts, Mark was doubtlessly written in a similar fashion.”

    “…doubtlessly…”? Where did that come from? On the contrary, it seems likely that Mark’s chief source was based upon the sermons and stories of Peter. 

    You say the last thing we should conclude is “when we find the original texts, we will have an accurate historical record.” Who claims this? I don’t. However, once we we are confident the gospel’s text today is as it was when it was written, and that it was written very close to the events themselves, we should be confident that we have very good historical sources. 

    I have said, “None of the textual variants in the NT are theologically significant.” and you have replied, “As they clearly build upon one another, I’d largely agree, actually,” but I don’t have a clue what you are referring to. I challenge you clarify and substantiate what you are saying here.

    “Merely repeating this helps my cause, I feel. . . Get over yourself!”

    People may accept their own religion and deny other religious beliefs as true on emotional grounds, but that does not mean they don’t _also_ have good philosophical and evidential ground for said beliefs. True, I’m most interested in the latter.

    What you need to understand is that this discussion is on the reliability of the gospels – a factual claim, or if you like, a question, Are the gospels reliable? The answer is either Yes, No, or some area of grey in-between. We come to know facts, like which one is the correct answer, by considering and evaluating the reasons, i.e. the arguments and evidence. Not by assessing one’s feelings and emotions, or calmly considering what others believe from their point of view. I could see through your eyes for instance, or the eyes of the Muslin, and Jew, an atheist, etc., and I could understand how all these felt about a certain matter, but none of that would help me determine what answer is truly true and what is truely false. Truth is independent of people’s empathy.

    To be objective is to lay aside personal feelings as best as one can to minimize the effect of one’s biases on any given subject and assess rationally the reasons for and against. 

    “So the Mulsim is sitting there saying ‘its completely irrelevant unless this Christian has some sort of counter-argument against my own view” and yet I have never seen Stuart examine a Muslim’s view. Instead, you are both running ignorantly around your own trees. Talk about short-sighted.”

    I wasn’t aware I was in dialogue with a Muslim. If I knew this, then perhaps this Muslim’s reasons as to why he believes his religion and not my own is correct would become relevant. 

    And as it turns out, I have considered a Muslim’s view of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection and I assure you my reasons are completely rational. By using proper historical methodology I am able to minimize my own inherent biases as a Christian and avoid emotional complications. And I do think that Muslim who seeks to do this also will have to cede that on purely historical grounds the Islamic view is inferior. There are so many Muslims around still, no doubt because (i) many have not done this, (ii) were they to know how to do it, would represents a great deal of trouble for them doing something that they are not really that interested in doing, (iii) but also because they accept the conclusion and disbelieve still, but this time on theological, philosophical, and yes – even (a-rational) emotional grounds.

    You say, “Then you are an adherent of Grand Conspiracy Theory. I mean seriously, you think people in other religions don’t claim exactly the same thing? You do? Oh well they must be deluded, then. Not you. You’re special!”

    And where do you sit in this conversation? Stuart must be wrong because Peanusaxis is right! “Oh, no,” you say. “I’m special. I don’t have to defend my view with rational reasons. This emotional one will do. My tree is impervious to being cut down because I’m more objective.”

    [sarcastically] Right! Good one.

  22. Peanutaxis
    Peanutaxis says:

    I simply think that the gospels are so obviously not original for all of the parts that we can trace the source, that I don’t trust that any of their material is from eyewitnesses, let alone independent ones.

    I assume you are using Papias or Eusebius to say that Mark used Peter as a source. I don’t remember the details, but from what I’ve read these ‘historians’ are about as reliable as the gospel writers. We can go into details if you want but it is a foregone conclusion that there is more than enough room to doubt them, I’m [not] afraid.
     
    It is by far the most sensible conclusion that if M&L basically just copied and modified at will, then so did Mark. Even if it is the first text that popped up from the expanding legend.

    If you actually go and look at how religions pop up, you will see that 30 years is lifetime (literally!) enough for legends to expand. There is a great chapter in The God Delusion on this.

    —-

    “…and deny other religious beliefs…have good philosophical and evidential ground for said beliefs. True, I’m most interested in the latter.”

    I don’t think you are. I don’t think that you are even remotely interested in examining just how the term ‘objective’ operates when examining the beliefs, evidences, and epistemologies of apologists of other religions. Like these opposing apologists, I think that you are merely interested in worsening your own confirmation bias.

    “What you need to understand is that this discussion is on the reliability of the gospels…Truth is independent of people’s empathy.”

    One cannot understand the reliability of anything from one’s subjective opinion. Demanding that one’s subjective understanding is objective is the very act of reversing the role of evidence and beliefs.
    The real Truth is that if you were born someone else, you could have completely different opinions on what is objective.

    “To be objective is to lay aside personal feelings as best as one can to
    minimize the effect of one’s biases on any given subject and assess
    rationally the reasons for and against.”

    Notice that if you could truly lay aside all of those things which make up your biases, you could be anyone and everyone.
    Probably the confusion lies in that it is awfully hard for a person to know when they end and their biases begin. Again, there is plenty of evidence which you don’t want to hear: twin studies, heritibility of specific religion.

    ” There are so many Muslims around still, no doubt because (i) many have
    not done this, (ii) were they to know how to do it, would represents a
    great deal of trouble for them doing something that they are not really
    that interested in doing, (iii) but also because they accept the
    conclusion and disbelieve still, but this time on theological,
    philosophical, and yes – even (a-rational) emotional grounds.”

    Hahah. And ditto to you from the Muslim. There are plenty of Muslim apologists out there who will claim to have examined Xianity from a christian’s point of view, and will claim the equivalent that you do. Still zero-sum!

    “And where do you sit in this conversation? Stuart must be wrong because
    Peanusaxis is right! “Oh, no,” you say. “I’m special. I don’t have to
    defend my view with rational reasons. This emotional one will do. My
    tree is impervious to being cut down because I’m more objective.””

    I think there is an emotional maturity that one gains/exhibits from being able to put one’s religious justifications in a wider perspective. (Again, I think this can be cause or effect.) But put in rational terms they are all but undeniable: It is the difference between a person sitting there exclaiming “Isn’t it fortuitous that I was born into the one true religion!” (face-palm), and a person who can incorporate the fact that religion has everything to do with circumstance, and very little to do with objectivity. One riots when their team loses, the other realises that it’s just a game.

  23. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Peanutaxis,

    You say, “I simply think that the gospels are so obviously not original for all of the parts that we can trace the source, that I don’t trust that any of their material is from eyewitnesses, let alone independent ones.”

    Think about his for a second. We can trace the sources of the gospels! This means we have earlier attestation than we have for the dating of Mark at 30-40 years from the events, (well… we have Paul’s epistles and James already), and more attestation than just the four sources that are immediately apparent when we count the number of the gospels there are. If they don’t display the type of independence that is ideal for you, you should remember (aside from the fact that this is only one of many criteria for authenticity the gospels display on occasion) that for any and every historical event, the type of earliness we’re talking about here makes it all the more likely it actually IS from a common source, i.e. the actual event or eyewitnesses themselves. Also, these sources are taken to be independent by the scholarly community who cannot prove their codependence otherwise and the hypothesis that a source behind the sources is conspiratorially adapting the tradition is implausible – the actual eye-witnesses were still around to safeguard corruption and inclined to be faithful – even to their death – of the kerygma.

    It irks me a little that all this so far has been on a theoretical level, so I wanted to bring an example to make what I’m talking about more clear in practical terms. It is claimed that Jesus taught that in his ministry the kingdom of God had come. For this we can provide the following sources which act as different witnesses: Mark (2:21-22); “Q” (Luke 11:20); “M” (Matt 5:17); “L” (Luke 17:20-21); John (4:23); Paul (1 Cor. 10:11; Col 1:13; 1 Thess. 2:12); and the GT (113). Though not an absolute proof, this evidence certainly puts the burden of proof on anyone who would deny that Jesus taught a “realized eschatology.”

    You say, “I assume you are using Papias or Eusebius to say that Mark used Peter as a source. I don’t remember the details, but from what I’ve read these ‘historians’ are about as reliable as the gospel writers. We can go into details if you want but it is a foregone conclusion that there is more than enough room to doubt them, I’m [not] afraid.”

    You say you’re not afraid to doubt the tradition that Mark used Peter as a source for his gospel. Unimpressive, since hubris is often born of ignorance. That tradition is early (c. AD. 125) and uncontested in the ancient world, i.e. there are no alternative proposals offered for authorship and that Peter was a source behind the Marcan account. While we shouldn’t accept everything the early Christian writers (including on this issue Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and according to Eusebius, Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Papias) tell us about the authorship of the New Testament, without good reason we should not unduly doubt it. 

    Additionally, since the tradition is confirmed rather than disconfirmed by the internal evidence in Mark, we have all the more reason to think Mark used Peter as a source. I actually had in mind this type of internal evidence, not the external evidence. For instance, the structural parallelism of the Marcan account with the summary of Peter’s sermon in Acts 10:36-41.

    You say, “It is by far the most sensible conclusion that if M&L basically just copied and modified at will, then so did Mark.”

    I mentioned before there are sources in Mark we can trace back. I don’t object to the idea that Mark has utilized sources to construct his gospel. I object to the implication that Mark is just another variant of the same sources that Matthew and Luke used and not historically reliable. Mark wrote down a tradition that bares the impress of the apostle Peter, includes a source that is dated to within 7 years of the crucifixion, and possibly even a first-hand reminiscence of events (see Mark 14:51-52). 

    You say, “If you actually go and look at how religions pop up, you will see that 30 years is lifetime (literally!) enough for legends to expand.”

    No doubt. But this discussion is about whether it is justified or not to call the events of gospel, such as the resurrection of Jesus for instance, an “expanding legend” when we have so many multiples of early and independent attestation, and when such a culture would not invent kerygma like this.

     – – – 

    Lastly, you’re confused on objectivity, which is: to not be influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering or representing facts. I recognize that no one can be completely objective, but we should not operate believing no one has the right to think they are correct or that no one has the goods to show they are right. We could all be wrong but someone actually might be right, so let’s look at the arguments and evidence in as best a way we can, recognizing our own biases and being careful that they do not lead us to unwarranted conclusions. I think thats the best you or I could hope for. Because remember, just as I have to be sympathetic to the idea that I am wrong (and that perhaps the Muslim or atheist, etc., is right), so you too have to be sympathetic to the idea that you are wrong (and that perhaps the Christian or Muslim, etc., are right): there is no middle ground – all are biased – even you. 

  24. Peanutaxis
    Peanutaxis says:

    Hi Stuart,

    “Think about his for a second. We can trace the sources of the gospels!
    This means we have earlier attestation than we have for the dating of
    Mark at 30-40 years from the events, (well… we have Paul’s epistles and
    James already), ”

    Like I say I am much less familiar with the epistles, although I remember always loving James, presumably because it contains wisdom (from memory) and rather less supernaturalisms. I mean I used to know more about them, but few observations about them has stayed with me in contrast to the synoptic gospels.
    I’m afraid I don’t even really know what you mean anymore that ‘we can trace the sources of the gospels’. In your mind the state of affairs is so different to mine that I’m not even sure what you mean. Perhaps you mean that Paul’s epistles and…well, James is going to be useless to you I think, so we have Paul’s epistles. Perhaps you should go into details if they are pertinent, but from my point of view I am not going to take Paul’s word for things. For instance, I certainly don’t believe that Jesus the son of God actually appeared to him on the road to Damascus. (I’ll have to tell you my story about my two bi-polar friends some time – one religious, one not…) But anywho, you might have some left-field specifics that I haven’t…thought of here.

    “(aside from the fact that this is only one of many criteria for authenticity the gospels display on occasion)”

    I’m afraid that they display many signs of inauthenticity also. At least 65 – 80% of the copying variety, and much more when you look further. Some of which I have brought up.

    ” that for any and every historical event, the type of earliness we’re talking about here makes it all the more likely it actually IS from a common source”

    No. There is a continuum of course, but there are purported historical events which are largely just events, and then there are purported historical events surrounding which there is much religious fervour, credulity, and most importantly emotions, without which the whole exercise doesn’t happen. A perfect example occurs in the original article here. What is it that causes the yellow circle of ancient documents for the NT to be so large? Emotion. Passion. Pure and simple. No one goes around copying DISpassionate ‘just events’ 40,000 times. Boring! But religious, credulous, emotional and PASsionate people have never-ending energy to do this! (And it appears for all the world, for growing legends, too.)
    I fully recognise that the NT does have writings quite close to the purported events. (I guess that makes sense, though, I mean it’d be hard for someone to suddenly become passionate about a person or their teachings long after they’re gone. All religions are going to work like this I’d imagine.) And I guess this would be quite forceful if they didn’t have conspicuous things missing which were later added, of if they could help themselves from adding things. That sounds blameful but I don’t mean it in that way. I don’t believe that the writers necessarily purposefully added stuff but, as religions are wont to do, legends grow and they added those growths.

    “Also, these sources are taken to be independent by the scholarly
    community who cannot prove their codependence otherwise and the
    hypothesis that a source behind the sources is conspiratorially adapting
    the tradition is implausible – the actual eye-witnesses were still
    around to safeguard corruption and inclined to be faithful – even to
    their death – of the kerygma.”

    Cannot prove their co-dependence?! What?! Remember the 65 – 80% They’re more co-dependent than not even before extrapolating! Honestly, Stuart, you are living in a dream land. And, as always, if there were so many eye-witnesses that were consulted I would expect the gospels to NOT be mostly copied material!

    “It irks me a little… “realized eschatology.””

    Personally I think that the historical Jesus was all about the now, in contrast with the Jews (or phari/saduc/essen etc), just like Rob Bell!. But there are plenty of verses which point to a literal eschatology. I think it’d be a tall order to think that John wasn’t barking up that tree, especially in Revelation. But then, he was talking about Rome and Nero so, well, it’s a little overdue.

    “You say you’re not afraid to doubt the tradition that Mark used Peter as
    a source for his gospel. Unimpressive, since hubris is often born of
    ignorance. That tradition is early (c. AD. 125) and uncontested in the
    ancient world…”

    If you are referring to ‘Papias’ on Mark-being-of-Peter-origin, well, it comes from the 4th century because it is Eusebius ‘quoting’ Papias. My hubris comes – at least in part – from Ehrman, Lost Christianities (p164), on Eusebius:

    [i]”The account [Eusebius’ ‘Church History’] actually begins before Jesus’ birth, with a statement concerning
    the twofold nature of Christ, both God and man, and a discussion of his
    preexistence. That is an unusual way to begin a historical narrative, and it serves
    to show the account’s theological underpinnings. This is not a disinterested
    chronicle of names and dates. It is a history driven by a theological agenda
    from beginning to end, an agenda involving Eusebius’s own understandings of
    God, Christ, the Scriptures, the church, Jews, pagans, and heretics.”[/i]

    And this is concerning the same document in which Eusebius ‘quotes’ Papias ‘quoting’ John the Elder on what Peter ‘remembered’ about Jesus. I have little doubt that Eusebius is an improvement in the standards of history-keeping amongst christians since the gospels, but it is far from dispassionate. The pre-existence of Jesus before His birth might be uncontested in the ancient world also. Should we believe Eusebius here too? Cos it sure as hell aint history!

    “Additionally, since the tradition is confirmed rather than disconfirmed
    by the internal evidence in Mark, we have all the more reason to think
    Mark used Peter as a source. I actually had in mind this type of
    internal evidence, not the external evidence. For instance, the
    structural parallelism of the Marcan account with the summary of Peter’s
    sermon in Acts 10:36-41.”

    That works. Luke was 5 or 10 years before Mark. Mark is a nice growth of the legend; a fleshing out of ‘Peter’s sermon’.
    (Look, as far as I can tell this 7 year stuff is just wishful musings of a believer. Unless you can come up with some serious dialogue/criticism on it I will regard it as such.)

    “But this discussion is about whether it is justified or not to call the
    events of gospel, such as the resurrection of Jesus for instance, an
    “expanding legend” when we have so many multiples of early and
    independent attestation, and when such a culture would not invent
    kerygma like this.”

    No we don’t. As I keep showing again and again there is ample evidence for an expanding legend, and people much smarter and more educated on these issues than I am believe this too. Just found some more interesting stuff. Will put in another post.

  25. Peanutaxis
    Peanutaxis says:

    I had a look the other day on the idea you mentioned that Jesus was not always considered divine and I found this article – skip the preamble about science:

    http://blog.skepticallibertarian.com/2012/03/25/how-jesus-never-claimed-to-be-god/

    (He begins by stating that Paul’s writings never state that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, but I’m not sure that that;s really meaningful because to my knowledge Paul doesn’t really quote Jesus – you’d know better than me. Although he points out that it is very strange that Paul didn’t quote Jesus if he did know and meet Peter. Or at least quote peter telling stories about Jesus! But that’s not what interests me)

    I could barely believe that I hadn’t heard of this idea before. I had always wondered why Jesus was so secretive at times in Mark, especially at the end where “they tell no-one” about Jesus having risen. But this guy points out the PERFECT sense of this. If the historical Jesus was but a man who did not claim to be divine, did no miracles, and wasn’t resurrected (obviously I think so), and you were a very early ‘follow’er, and you were wanting to tell or write stories about Jesus as being divine and doing miracles, you would clearly have to explain the rather embarrassing fact that there are no eye-witnesses to his miracles, or to his claims to divinity, or his resurrection! So what do you do? You write into your stories a Jesus who keeps his divinity secret, his miracles secret, and people who keep his resurrection secret. I simply cannot believe how brilliantly this fits into the growing legend hypothesis! And do we find this secretivity in later gospels? NO! Or if we do, it will be the leftovers from copying Mark.

    Now, for certain, there are parts of Mark where he does do public miracles, like the feeding of the five thousand and the feeding of the four thousand (that second lot wanted dessert, or was it the writer who got called away to dessert and forgot where he left off), and so I bet that such stories are younger; less old. And we already know that the addition to the end of Mark – the last few verses about Jesus appearing to more people – were added later, because our earliest copies of Mark do not contain them. But this makes perfect sense, too. They could only BE added later when the purported witnesses were conveniently temporally inaccessible!
    The author….Bier, also points out one of the EXTREMELY embarrassing copying-modifications when Matthew patently puts “the son of the living God” into Peter’s mouth – one of many telling additions which go to show that christian writers felt {i}absolutely{/i} no shame in adding their own beliefs in, and basically a complete DISregard for tradition!

    It just never ends. The more I learn about all this stuff, the more evidence I come across showing that Jesus was merely a man. Incredible…

  26. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    Lol, you must be joking. Paul explicitly states, only about 20 years after Jesus’ death, that “that he was raised to life on the third day … and that he appeared to Cephas, and afterwards to the Twelve. Then he appeared to over five hundred of our brothers at once, most of whom are still alive, although some have died. Then he appeared to James, and afterwards to all the apostles.”

    Pretty hard to get a religion going under intense persecution when you have no eyewitnesses. And it’s pretty hard to get 500 people to pretend to be eyewitnesses under intense persecution.

    But of course, for someone who buys into secular ideology so credulously, it’s hardly surprising you prefer to read about conspiracy theories on amateur blogs, rather than study real historical scholarship.

  27. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    You say, “I’m afraid that they display many signs of inauthenticity also.”

    I hope you have read wider than Ehrman, because he continually misstates and misapplies the criteria. For instance, “At least 65 – 80% of the copying variety,” is not a criterion. Perhaps you are referring to the criterion of the tendencies of the developing tradition? But this suffers from the very dubious presupposition that the passing on of oral traditions of Jesus’ words and deeds proceed according to certain ‘laws.’ 

    It appears that you also suffer from Erhman’s other mistake of believing that because there are theological interpretations of a purported historical event or theological motivations in reporting a purported event, that means that the event is not historical or that we cannot use said source as a well of historical information. 

    “Cannot prove their co-dependence?! What?! Remember the 65 – 80%…” Before you accuse me of living in a dreamland again, realize that I was talking about the sources for the life of Jesus, not the 4 Gospels themselves. ie. the sources are Mark, John, “M” “L” “Q”, and we may add Paul and James, as well as “GT” and “GP” with caution.

    With respect to the example I gave for Jesus teaching a “realized eschatology”, you say, “Personally I think that the historical Jesus was all about the now, in contrast with the Jews (or phari/saduc/essen etc), just like Rob Bell!. But there are plenty of verses which point to a literal eschatology. I think it’d be a tall order to think that John wasn’t barking up that tree, especially in Revelation. But then, he was talking about Rome and Nero so, well, it’s a little overdue.”

    This is really going off track. And it doesn’t address the example provided at all.

    “If you are referring to ‘Papias’ on Mark-being-of-Peter-origin, well, it comes from the 4th century because it is Eusebius ‘quoting’ Papias. . . Cos it sure as hell aint history!”

    This is the same problem you have with the Gospels: You can’t trust them historically because of the theological content, and you can’t acknowledge that obviously Eusebius was using sources when he wrote. In fact, Eusebius in Historia Ecclesiastica (325 AD) is quoting a portion of a book by Papias (now lost) called Exegesis of the Lord’s Oracles (c. AD 125). Here is a quote from that book:

    “And the Elder said this also: “Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatever he remembered of this things said and done by the Lord, but not however in order.” For neither did he hear the Lord, not did he follow him, but afterwards, as I said, Peter, who adapted his teachings to the needs of his hearers, but not as though he were drawing up a connected account of the Lord’s oracles. So then Mark made no mistake in thus recording some things just as he remembered them. For he took forethought for one thing, not to omit any of the things that he had heard nor to state any of them falsely.”

    Therein the above quote, is another quote not from Papias, but from an earlier authority. So the tradition that Papias is preserving – Peter being the source of Mark – does appear to be quite early in the second century and possibly even from the apostle John himself. Not the 4th century when Eusebius was writing.

    “Luke was 5 or 10 years before Mark. Mark is a nice growth of the legend; a fleshing out of ‘Peter’s sermon’.”

    This is just ridiculous hypothesizing. I think you must be kidding, since you contradict yourself – you said before Mark was the earliest gospel. And are you unaware of the scholarly opinion that Peter’s sermon in Acts 10:36-4 preserves a summary of the kerygma of the early church?

    “(Look, as far as I can tell this 7 year stuff is just wishful musings of a believer. Unless you can come up with some serious dialogue/criticism on it I will regard it as such.)”

    http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/passion-young.html gives a fair overview of some of the arguments for and against. Hyperlinked there is page with a list of 34 scholars of the Jesus seminar who all agree that there is a pre-markan passion source. (So even the very liberal scholars on the fringe of NT scholarship are agreed on this). William Lane Craig does a podcast on it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NiGDS_Lzsi8 which is a good front-door for this issue for someone who has never heard of it before.  

    “As I keep showing again and again there is ample evidence for an expanding legend,”

    Not in the core details of the Christian faith, i.e the resurrection of Jesus, the proclaim that he is God, that he is able to save people from sin, that he was a worker of miracles. One big problem for Erhman is created by his philosophy that miracles don’t happen, and it seems you’re own historical analysis is infected with the same presupposition. i.e. You have to squeeze the evidence to fit your hypothesis because theres no room in your philosophy to accommodate a miracle working Jesus who was risen form the dead. This is allowing history to be shaped by your philosophy, which is backwards – it should be the opposite. The problem is this ‘expanding legend’  hypothesis doesn’t explain without being forced how early the traditions can traced, nor how those traditions are multiply attested – even by eye-witnesses. nor how those sources are independent of one another.

  28. Peanutaxis
    Peanutaxis says:

     If you want to simply believe him, given all the evidence for a growing legend and authors shamelessly inserting what they want to believe, then sure!
    Impossible to get a religion (based upon supernaturalisms) going if you have eyewitnesses. Hence the secretiveness of Jesus in Mark.

    My conspiracy theories are monumentally dwarfed by yours, Bnonn. See earlier conversation here.

  29. Peanutaxis
    Peanutaxis says:

    Stuart,

    “It appears that you also suffer from Erhman’s other mistake of believing that because there are theological interpretations…”

    Haha. I’m sorry but discussion of the state of Jesus before he was born in a ‘Church History’ is just appalling. Expected, though, I s’pose.

    65-80%. I still don’t get you. Most if not all of those sources are co-dependent. Extrapolate…

    I think James backs up the growing legend more than anything. James is a very early book, says very little about Jesus (despite claimed to be written by his half brother!), and mainly contains wisdoms – like it would have been from a just-a-man-Jesus.

    John preaching a literal eschatology isn’t relevant to claims that Jesus might have preached a ‘realized’ one?

    “This is the same problem you have with the Gospels: You can’t trust them historically because of the theological content,”

    No,no. No. I’m happy for the gospels to have theological content because it would supposedly be based on happenings. The problem I have with the gospels is the wanton copying, lying (altering), missing information, contradictions, growing stories etc.
    The quote within the above quote is supposedly John, again. You seem to have found another document in which Eusebius is repeating the story about Mark having been from Peter.
    But still, I’m sorry, pre-birth-Jesus-imaginings in a text supposedly about history is……well, it’s telling…

    “This is just ridiculous hypothesizing. I think you must be kidding,
    since you contradict yourself – you said before Mark was the earliest
    gospel.

    I don’t get you. Mark is the earliest gospel that we know of. Why can’t it be an expansion of Luke’s “Peter’s sermon”? (Perhaps you are getting bogged down again with just assuming that there was no gospel-like writings before Mark? Of course there was, you even believe that there was at least oral ‘traditions’. I would be amazed if there wasn’t written also.)

    I believe that there was apre-Markan passion source! The one you pointed out it Luke, for one. But so what? Again, Mark didn’t just suddenly appear from nowhere, it came from somewhere – some sources.

    “Not in the core details of the Christian faith, i.e the resurrection of
    Jesus, the proclaim that he is God, that he is able to save people from
    sin, that he was a worker of miracles.”

    For certain I am sure we have lost a lot. Maybe even especially because the stuff that was disagreed with was chucked. But there is more evidence than you might think, I think. For instance, James doesn’t mention Jesus’ resurrection, and it’s one of the earliest books. If it was written by his brother, we should take notice! The trend in the gospels which is continued in Mark having Jesus be secretive is a good pointer to the otherwise-obvious truth that every man is merely human, and not god. And there is very good evidence that Jesus never performed miracles: Again the secretive Jesus in Mark and: Paul never mentions them! And once again, yep, Paul’s stuff is the early stuff.

    But, alas, I really am feeling like I am arguing with a Muslim who, of course will never change his mind because so much of his life (read: emotions) are tied up in it. I term it this way because you can understand it that way. In reality, I am talking to a christian. But there is no difference. People adhere to both for emotional reasons not rational ones. Anyway, I’m trying to say that I’m tiring of putting the (ample-evidenced) case across. If I post here again it will only be to something novel and interesting. It was quite interesting, though, Stuart, Thanks. And I certainly did learn something. Especially the Mark-has-jesus-as-secretive thing. But posting here doesn’t feel very fruitful, as I have mentioned earlier, because people do not adhere to religion because of evidence at all. (And because, well, there’s no one else reading.) That does lead nicely to the bipolar thing. I might still post that……

  30. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Peanutaxis, 

    This shall be my last post to you also. Arguing with you is an exercise in frustration.

    “Most if not all of those sources are co-dependent. ”

    I don’t get you either. How can think that Q, M, L and Mark are codependent on each other? Are you proposing a source behind the sources of the gospels? And isn’t it more probable, given the time frame and the disposition of those who would want to preserve the kergyma, that this source behind the sources is the actual person of Jesus, if not the eye-witnesses themselves? 

    “I think James backs up the growing legend more than anything. James is a very early book, says very little about Jesus (despite claimed to be written by his half brother!), and mainly contains wisdoms – like it would have been from a just-a-man-Jesus.”

    This hypothesizing is without knowledge! You are forcing the evidence fit your conclusion, and thats hideous historical method. If James doesn’t have many stories of Jesus’ miracle working power, then thats because that was not his intent for the letter or his concern to convey to his readers. But we can however see that the presumption is there: James has affirmations of Jesus’ deity (1:1; 2:1; 5:14-15), his return (5:7, c.f. 5:4), and an expectation of the miraculous (5:14-18) and forgiveness of sins through prayer in his name, as if James believed it. Also, James’ belief is one of the potent proofs of Jesus’ resurrection!

    Not only is James one of the earliest epistles containing all that, it is actually packed with Q sayings of Jesus (see Patrick Hartin’s book “James and the Q Sayings of Jesus”). One of the emphases of the Q sayings is how the miracle-working of prophets show they act as God’s agents of his kingdom and mission. As I said, the evidence doesn’t support your hypothesis. From the earliest sources available to us, we have a full blown miraculous and risen Jesus.

    “John preaching a literal eschatology isn’t relevant to claims that Jesus might have preached a ‘realized’ one?”

    Yes.

    “The problem I have with the gospels is the wanton copying, lying (altering), missing information, contradictions, growing stories etc.”

    Is that all? Why aren’t you a Christian then? Seriously. Believing all this doesn’t undermine that fact that the gospels provide a generally accurate account of the life and teaching of Jesus, nor does it touch in the slightest the fact that NT provides enough historical information to show the crucial event – the resurrection of Jesus – actually happened. 

    “But still, I’m sorry, pre-birth-Jesus-imaginings in a text supposedly about history is……well, it’s telling…”

    So you would simply discount everything that Eusebius has to say because he was a Christian and believed supernatural things? This shows your anti-supernatural bias when you’re doing history. But whats worse is that Papias beliefs about Mark – and even Mark’s source being Peter – aren’t even supernatural in character. What you are doing is discounting whole realms of sources of  historical information in order to make your hypothesis fit. That is what is telling. 

    “I don’t get you. Mark is the earliest gospel that we know of. Why can’t it be an expansion of Luke’s “Peter’s sermon”?” 

    It was you that has claimed both that Mark is first and that Luke’s Acts is the first. 

    And idea is that the parallel structure of Peters sermon with the outline of Mark shows a common source, i.e. the internal evidence of Mark is that the source material he relied upon bears the impress of Peter himself, i.e. an eye-witness. By anyone’s historical standard that increases the probability of the authenticity of the sayings and events therein to greater than what it would on the background evidence alone. 

    “And there is very good evidence that Jesus never performed miracles: Again the secretive Jesus in Mark and: Paul never mentions them! And once again, yep, Paul’s stuff is the early stuff.” 

    Where is this evidence? The “Messianic Secret” in Mark always only partial and is a motif intimately tied to his authority over the demonic and supernatural power to heal, which then makes the reveal in 8:27-30 of who Jesus is all the more dramatic. From that point on Jesus makes no effort to hide his messianic identify, and boldly sets his face to Jerusalem and the cross.

    “Paul never mentions them” Why would he? This is an argument from silence. Paul does however mention the chief miracle which affirms Christ’s deity: the resurrection. And Yip, his is some of the earliest stuff. And Yip, Paul teaches Christ’s deity. And Yip, Paul teaches the forgiveness of sins through Christ.  And Yip, Paul teaches the gospel approved by James, Peter and John, the top three disciples. 

    “But, alas, I really am feeling like I am arguing with a Muslim who, of course will never change his mind because so much of his life (read: emotions) are tied up in it…”

    Ditto. You say “People adhere to both [Islam and Christianity] for emotional reasons not rational ones.” Ditto again for you, whatever ideology you’re holding on to. I think I’ve amply shown this above, and the main difference between you and me is your arguments are useless. You say, “Anyway, I’m trying to say that I’m tiring of putting the (ample-evidenced) case across.” Yet, where is this evidence? All I’ve got from you is a hypothesis that forces the evidence to fit its shape if it doesn’t outright ignore it.

  31. Al
    Al says:

    I look in here occasionally, as do perhaps many other people, because I enjoy following a good debate.  This was such a one, even though, to me, the whole premise – that we can really know who wrote what, with what motives, with how much actual first-hand knowledge, in what mental state, coming from what background, and how original any part of the literature, even down to individual words, may be, with what consequent impact on the trustworthiness of the whole, etc, – makes it a pointless exercise.  Scholars have endless discussions about all sorts of historical events, literature, etc, and until a time machine becomes a reality there is no possibility of being able to nail anything down with 100% certainty, so why should the Bible be any different?   However, I couldn’t have made any meaningful contribution to the debate, so I was happy to just read the ongoing arguments and counter-arguments.
     
    I would have liked a bit more discussion, and hopefully agreement, on James’ beliefs about Jesus’ divinity, etc.but apart from that it was good, right up to the point where Bnonn called Peanutaxis a joke.  It was obviously uncalled for, obviously untrue, and, if I may say so, less to be expected and consequently more offensive on this website, which purportedly “exists to encourage the life of the mind in the love of God.”, than on other blogs where slagging people off if you don’t like their argument seems to be de rigueur.  In my opinion, Bnonn, you’ve tainted the whole 4 weeks or so of correspondence, and I’d hope you’d apologize for it.  
     
    On another topic altogether, Stuart, would you consider starting a thread with some thoughts on the omniscience of the Christian God and its implications for, for instance, his desires and hopes for mankind? 
    I think it would be very interesting to get a better understanding of the current Christian viewpoint on the meaning of omniscience, because it’s a word that’s easily bandied obout, but does it actually mean knowing everything there is to know, past, present, and future?
     
    thanks
    allan 
     
     

  32. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Thanks Allan,

    Historians always with work with probability, never with 100% certainty. But that shouldn’t discourage us, since we can still believe events in history have happened with a high degree of probability and have sources that report events in a trustworthy fashion. :-)
    God’s omniscience is one of my favorites, so I’ll consider it.

    Stuart

  33. Peanutaxis
    Peanutaxis says:

    Hi Al,

    Thanks for your input! It’s great to hear that people are actually looking at such discussions. I would like to ask, though, how you know that “many people” look at this site/these discussions, because I’ve always held the opinion that almost no one does given that very few people seem to post responses here – so once again it’s great to hear another voice!

    I actually responded to Bnonn with quite a reasonable….well, response, stating that such a topic is going to be personal in that it matters to people, including myself. But I think that something is wrong if a person feels the need to denigrate another. A person who is confident in what they know and believe does not need to make such a statement. However, my response was not published, as this one might well not be, shameful though that would be. As you point out, on many other blogs slagging people off is the standard. Clearly on this site, then, the standard is far lower for Christians than non.

    p

  34. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    ‘But, alas, I really am feeling like I am arguing with a Muslim who, of course will never change his mind because so much of his life (read: emotions) are tied up in it.’ That is and always will be the problem with religion. The following is not intended to be condescending, but your point above is an important one. I’ve had arguments with people on all sorts of topics, and on some significant occasions I’ve partly or completely reversed my original position (say, the moral argument for being vegetarian, or the argument against abortion). Christians and Muslims, in my experience, very rarely make a rational choice to become atheists, because they have too much vested in the position they hold – and to reject their faith would be to reject their families, their close friends, their diaries, their bookshelves, their weekly schedules, their emotional support structures. I think every atheist has had exposure to the painful realisation that in some cases, it’s better to leave Christians to it, because to force the logical recognition of the irrationality of their ‘faith’ would be to completely to destabilise the individual on a psychological and emotional level. It also explains the animosity you regularly see from Bnonn here – genuinely, I think he is probably too smart for his own good, and he recognises the absurdity of his own beliefs. In this sense, his frustrations are misdirected. Stuart probably just has stronger emotional faith. 
    I think this video is probably the most devastating on this point (although Sam Harris is more exact in explaining why the day-to-day faith of Christians is obscene) 

  35. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Tom, 
    In response, 

    Most deconversion stories I hear from atheists are based entirely on emotional reasons, not intellectual ones. Intellectual reasons often come in later to justify their new position, but I rarely see an atheist who has honestly thought through the entire issue and arrived at their conclusion with a good argument to justify their position.

    I’m not like you, who can psycho-analyse people at a distance – even when you’ve never met them and don’t know them – so my preferred method is to presume you’re like me and interested in what is true (and thus believing less falsehoods) and then try to evaluate the reasons that justify any given belief.

    I freely confess that I have strong emotional ties to my faith. But I’d like to think that if I were convinced that God did not exist, for instance, or that the resurrection did not occur, or that the Christian faith was somehow false, that I’d have the courage to live accordingly. In fact, said value was a large factor in my own conversion story to Christianity (if I have the privilege of claiming one). I not only believe that Christianity is true because of the intellectual reasons that support it, but also because God has revealed himself to me by catering not only to my intellect, but to my emotions as well. 

    Btw, I took Bnonn’s jibe to means Peanutaxis’s arguments were foolish, and the emotional reaction to the percieved personal attack has only served to derail the discussion to the skeptics advantage.

    Also, I should never trust that someone who only posts one small clip from only one side in a long and two-sided debate, is fairly considering the issue at hand. (How did Alister McGrath respond to this? Is there something else that could be said in response? Does Hitchen’s argument fairly represent Christian belief on the issue before he tears it down? Is his argument internally coherent to begin with? In short, does Hitchen’s impressive emotionally-laden rhetorical skills equate to an impressive argument? I just wondered if you’d thought to ask these questions, or if you’re using this video-clip as an emotional crutch? :-)

  36. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    ‘Most deconversion stories I hear from atheists are based entirely on emotional reasons, not intellectual ones. Intellectual reasons often come in later to justify their new position, but I rarely see an atheist who has honestly thought through the entire issue and arrived at their conclusion with a good argument to justify their position.’

    I have went through a slightly different scenario, being as I was, an agnostic with a CoE education and religious parents and grandparents. Christianity was always completely inoffensive to me, and at a certain age I was essentially invited to consider the truth of it more exactly. Take my word for it – my step to atheism was from the very sweet position of standing back with emotional detachment and simply weighing up the arguments. And that took probably 2 years of reading and discussion. So I would like to think it was exactly and intellectual decision. I am sure you would argue that i have not thought through the entire argument because, if I had, I would be a Christian, but my lack of concern over an impending eternity in hell should be an indication of satisfied I am with the process. 

    ‘Is there something else that could be said in response?’ 

    Well quite. Haha. 

  37. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Tom, 

    Perhaps you’re an exception to the rule – I’ll take your word for it. Since it is, I’ll expect you have really good intellectual reasons for your position. I look forward to hearing these next time we interact. Rather, I say that if you had thought through the entire argument you would be really, really old. In response, at some point, you gotta take a “leap of faith” (a commitment to trust in Jesus) – but this leap is a rational and reasonable one. Rather, I take your lack of concern about an eternity in hell as an indication of apathy disguised as satisfaction. My response is that you should read Pascal, and come to know the wise man gambels on God.

  38. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    Sure. Well yes, I’d like to think i am an exception to the rule. But there are surely many exceptions to your rule, especially given the fact that on an emotional level, an eternity of heaven is more appealling than eternity of nothingness – or hell, for that matter. That is to say, the emotional incentives for faith are heavy and absorbing, and have attracted a great swathe of scared and uncertain humans. This is a simple fact.

    I’d hope you guess that i am familiar with Pascal’s wager. It’s an ostensibly safe bet, but it depends in some ways on the weight you put on God’s existence. It also ignores some obvious points with respect to ‘which God.’ You might spend your time worshipping the Christian God, and then find yourself out of favour with Allah when you die. On a purely statistical basis, you have to know that this is a real possibility. What’s more, I don’t accept the author’s premise that living the ‘hedged bet’ life is without severe problems, including the massive consumption of time and energy on something that even the author admits may well be folly. Hardcore cALvinists and evangelicals are particularly demanding in this respect, given that works alone are insufficient and you have to spend so much time in the theoretical.  Not to mention the moral distortions of many cHristians, even those on the wager, attacking homosexuality and contraception and the like.

    I wouldn’t use the terms apathy or satisfactions. It’s not satisfying, I’m not smug about it, but I am content and confident.

  39. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    No no, I said _read_ Pascal. If you had you’d know that the many of problems you’ve raised with his wager are addressed by him in the wider context of his apologetic.

  40. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    especially given the fact that on an emotional level, an eternity of
    heaven is more appealling than eternity of nothingness – or hell, for
    that matter. That is to say, the emotional incentives for faith are
    heavy and absorbing, and have attracted a great swathe of scared and
    uncertain humans. This is a simple fact.

    This isn’t how many atheists see it. Rather, many atheists recognize that eternity in heaven has the precondition attached of trusting, believing in, and worshiping God. And many atheists would rather go to hell than do that (I was one of them).

  41. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    In fairness, I have only read snippets of pascal, but the summary of his argument is worth digesting and considering itself. Apart from anything else, it’s a thought experiement rather than a strong philosophical argument. It’s certainly not persuasive in itself. The fact that people following Pascal criticise him for the same reasons I outlined (Voltaire, for example, or Hitchens) presumably mean he doesn’t adequately address ‘many of the problems’ with his idea. On top of that, his proposition is a dichotomy which is at is essence, self-referencing, because to a person of faith the possibility of God is immediate and automatic, where as to someone like me – even with my background – it is a human construct, and not an automatic possibility with respect to what is or may be true.

    All that aside, I do hope you’re not telling me that you are ‘gambling’ on God. The truth is far more important than what we might wish for ourselves. THe wager raises the question of motivation in an alarming way. I would subscribe to a faith firstly on its truth, and doubly on its virtue, and never just because it calms my fears.

    I’ll have to defer, Bnonn, to how other atheists see it. But it’s circular logic to say an atheist would rather go to hell than beleive in God. If I don’t beleive in God, I don’t believe in God – it has nothing to do with the requirements of that belief. And obviously, I don’t expect to go to hell, so that’s not too much of a problem for me. And let’s be honest, the one virtue of Pascal’s wager is that in a simplistic and narrow sense, he’s right – if I could sacrifice my sunday mornings and my reading time (noting that in a moral sense I’m not so different to most Christians anyway) for an eternity ona bouncy castle in the sky, I would be an idiot not to. But if I don’t think its TRUE, my internal credibility is completely cast aside for me to gamble on God.  I might add that, from my dealings with you, and unlike Stuart, your conversion doesn’t seem to have brought you the serenity such a revelation might be expected to bring.

  42. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    haha, but the jist of it being, the consequences of beliving in and worshipping god are in sum, better than the consequnces of not believing in and worshipping god. am i wrong? in which case, obviously, i completely disagree. one small example being that people like yourself, on the other side of the wager, spend your time trying to figure out whether matthew, mark, luke and john ever contradict each other. or catholics convening on the possibility of limbo.

  43. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    Tom, not sure why you think it’s circular logic for an atheist to say he’d rather go to hell than believe in God. It’s not circular; merely conditional: “If God exists, then I would rather go to hell than worship him, given what he has revealed of himself in the Bible.”

    Mind you, I think Pascal’s Wager, if accepted, tends to cash out in lip-service to God, rather than genuine Christian faith. The former sees studying theology and “trying to figure out whether Matthew, Mark, Luke and John ever contradict each other” as boring, pointless work. The latter sees it as invigorating and interesting.

    As for my own serenity, well, I’d have to recommend you read Luther before you draw any conclusions :)

  44. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    Ah yes -well the ‘if’ statement is key here: “If God exists, then I would rather go to hell than worship him, given what he has revealed of himself in the Bible.” That’s also now a judgement on God’s character, which wasn’t in your original post. And frankly I would agree. But an atheist, by definition, cannot ‘rather go to hell’ except in an a hypothetical sense, which is my point. I agree with your assessment of Pascal. Too bad I couldn’t be quite as succint.

  45. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Your one small example has nothing to do with the wager.

    And the gist of the wager is rather that, in the absence of any other reason, all are justified in giving one’s life to God on prudential grounds, for the potential benefits far outweigh the potential detriments if one is wrong.

  46. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    ‘And the gist of the wager is rather that, in the absence of any other reason, all are justified in giving one’s life to God on prudential grounds, for the potential benefits far outweigh the potential detriments if one is wrong.’ Which is my understanding of the concept, not particularly differen phrasing to the jist I suggested, and falls down when presented with the obvious question of ‘which God?’ After that point, we can start arguing that the ‘potential detriments’ are felt in the real life, while the ‘potential benefits’ are primarily found out in the ‘afterlife’.

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