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36 comments | Saturday, May 27, 2006

I was watching The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe with my kids last night. There is a scene early on where Lucy returns from her first time into Narnia ecstatic. She tells her brothers and sister about the magical place. However, they don’t believe her. Lucy becomes upset and storms off running into the professor. Later, the professor challenges their assumption that Lucy is fictitiously making up the story. Susan asks, “Are you saying that we should believe her?” He answers, “Why not?” Susan tells him, “Well, logically it’s impossible!” “Logic!” said the Professor, “Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it’s obvious she is not mad. For the moment then, and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.”

Do you see the trilemma? I will let you decide. This has always been a fascinating subject for me. I remember hearing about it, but finally reading it in Mere Christianity—Lewis states the following:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about him: I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon and you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

The Lord-Liar-Lunatic trilemma has been attacked viciously by skeptics. But what most people don’t know is that he discussed and expanded on this issue in God in the Dock. The Mere Christianity version is not quite as developed and in addressing the “legend” aspect (though it is an excellent primer). This is not overly surprising likely because much of it is from a radio show. More readily available though (after much digging), is a section of chapter 19 of the book called What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ? Though there are still some problems to be worked out (as in it’s not air tight), here is a more complete version of it:

What are we to make of Jesus Christ? This is a question which has, in a sense, a frantically comic side. For the real question is not what are we to make of Christ, but what is He to make of us? The picture of a fly sitting deciding what it is going to make of an elephant has comic elements about it. But perhaps the questioner meant what are we to make of Him in the sense of 'How are we to solve the historical problem set us by the recorded sayings and acts of this Man?' This problem is to reconcile two things. On the one hand you have got the almost generally admitted depth and sanity of His moral teaching, which is not very seriously questioned, even by those who are opposed to Christianity. In fact, I find when I am arguing with very anti-God people that they rather make a point of saying, 'I am entirely in favour of the moral teaching of Christianity'——and there seems to be a general agreement that in the teaching of this Man and of his immediate followers, moral truth is exhibited at its purest and best. It is not sloppy idealism, it is full of wisdom and shrewdness. The whole thing is realistic, fresh to the highest degree, the product of a sane mind. That is one phenomenon.

The other phenomenon is quite the appalling nature of this Man's theological remarks. You all know what I mean, and I want rather to stress the point that the appalling claim which this Man seems to be making is not merely made at one moment of His career. There is, of course, the one moment which led to His execution. The moment at which the High Priest said to Him, 'Who are you?' 'I am the Anointed, the Son of the uncreated God, and you shall see Me appearing at the end of all history as the judge of the Universe.' But that claim, in fact, does not rest on this one dramatic moment. When you look into His conversation you will find this sort of claim running through the whole thing. For instance, He went about saying to people, 'I forgive your sins.' Now it is quite natural for a man to forgive something you do to him. Thus if somebody cheats me out of ££5 it is quite possible and reasonable for me to say, 'Well, I forgive him, we will say no more about it.' What on earth would you say if somebody had done you out of ££5 and I said, 'That is all right, I forgive him'? Then there is curious thing which seems to slip out almost by accident. On one occasion this Man is sitting looking down on Jerusalem from the hill above it and suddenly in comes an extraordinary remark——'I keep on sending you prophets and wise men.' Nobody comments on it. And yet, quite suddenly, almost incidentally, He is claiming to be the power that all through the centuries is sending wise men and leaders into the world. Here is another curious remark: in almost every religion there are unpleasant observances like fasting. This Man suddenly remarks one day, 'No one need fast while I am here.' Who is this Man who remarks that His mere presence suspends all normal rules? Who is the person who can suddenly tell the School they can have a half-holiday? Sometimes the statements put forward the assumption that He, the Speaker, is completely without sin or fault. This is always the attitude. 'You, to whom I am talking, are all sinners.' and He never remotely suggests that this same reproach can be brought against Him. He says again, 'I am begotten of the One God, before braham was, I am,' and remember what the words 'I am' were in Hebrew. They were the name of God, which must not be spoken by any human being, the name which it was death to utter.

Well, that is the other side. On the one side clear, definite moral teaching. On the other, claims which, if not true, are those of a megalomaniac, compared with whom Hitler was the most sane and humble of men. There is no half-way house and there is no parallel in other religions. If you had gone to Buddha and asked him 'Are you the son of Bramah?' he would have said, 'My son you are still in the vale of illusion.' If you had gone to Socrates and asked, 'Are you Zeus?' he would have laughed at you. If you would have gone to Mohammed and asked, 'Are you Allah?' he would first have rent his clothes and then cut your head off. If you had asked Confucius, 'Are you Heaven?', I think he would have probably replied, 'Remarks which are not in accordance with nature are in bad taste.' The idea of a great moral teacher saying what Christ said is out of the question. In my opinion, the only person who can say that sort of thing is either God or a complete lunatic suffering from that form of delusion which undermines the whole mind of man. If you think you are a poached egg, when you are looking for a piece of toast to suit you, you may be sane, but if you think you are God, there is no chance for you. We may note in passing that He was never regarded as a mere moral teacher. He did not produce that effect on any of the people who actually met Him. He produced mainly three effects——Hatred ——Terror——Adoration. There was no trace of people expressing mild approval.

What are we to do about reconciling the two contradictory phenomena? One attempt consists in saying that the Man did not really say these things, but that His followers exaggerated the story, and so the legend grew up that He had said them. This is difficult because His followers were all Jews; that is, they belonged to that Nation which of all others was most convinced that there was only one God——that there could not possibly be another. It is very odd that this horrible invention about a religious leader should grow up among the one people in the whole earth least likely to make such a mistake. On the contrary we get the impression that none of His immediate followers or even the New Testament writers embraced the doctrine at all easily.

Another point is that on that view you would have to regard the accounts of the Man as being legends. Now, as a literary historian, I am perfectly convinced that whatever else the Gospels are they are not legends. I have read a great deal of legend and am quite clear that they are not the same sort of thing. They are not artistic enough to be legends. From an imaginative point of view they are clumsy, they don't work up to things properly. Most of the life of Jesus is totally unknown to us, as is the life of anyone else who lived at that time, and no people building up a legend would allow that to be so. Apart from bits of the Platonic dialogues, there are no conversations that I know of in ancient literature like the Fourth Gospel. There is nothing, even in modern literature, until about a hundred years ago when the realistic novel came into existence. In the story of the woman taken in adultery we are told Christ bent down and scribbled in the dust with His finger. Nothing comes of this. No one has ever based any doctrine on it. And the art of inventing little irrelevant details to make an imaginary scene more convincing is a purely modern art. Surely the only explanation of this passage is that the thing really happened? The author put it simply because he had seen it.

Then we come to the strangest story of all, the story of the Resurrection. It is very necessary to get the story clear. I heard a man say, 'The importance of the Resurrection is that it gives evidence of survival, evidence that the human personality survives death.' On that view what happened to Christ would be what had always happened to all men, the difference being that in Christ's case we were privileged to see it happening. This is certainly not what the earliest Christian writers thought. Something perfectly new in the history of the Universe had happened. Christ had defeated death. The door which had always been locked had for the very first time been forced open. This is something quite distinct from mere ghost-survival. I don't mean that they disbelieved in ghost-survival. On the contrary, they believed in it so firmly that, on more than one occasion, Christ had to assure them that he was not a ghost. That point is that while believing in survival they yet regarded the Resurrection as something totally different and new. The Resurrection narratives are not a picture of survival after death; they record how a totally new mode of being has arisen in the Universe. Something new had appeared in the Universe: as new as the first coming of organic life. This Man, after death, does not get divided into 'ghost' and 'corpse'. A new mode of being has arisen. That is the story. What are we going to make of it?

The question is, I suppose, whether any hypothesis covers the facts so well as the Christian hypothesis. That hypothesis is that God has come down into the created universe, down to manhood——and come up again, pulling it up with Him. The alternative hypothesis is not legend, nor exaggeration, nor the apparitions of a ghost. It is either lunacy or lies. Unless one can take the second alternative (and I can't) one turns to the Christian theory.

'What are we to make of Christ?' There is no question of what we can make of Him, it is entirely a question of what He intends to make of us. You must accept or reject the story.

The things He says are very different from what any other teacher has said. Others say, 'This is the truth about the Universe. This is the way you ought to go,' but He says, 'I am the way the Truth, and the Way, and the Life.' He says, 'No man can reach absolute reality, except through Me. Try to retain your own life and you will be inevitably ruined. Give yourself away and you will be saved.' He says, 'If you are ashamed of Me, if, when you hear this call, you turn the other way, I also will look the other way when I come again as God without disguise. If anything whatever is keeping you from God and from Me, whatever it is, throw it away. If it is your eye, pull it out. If it is your hand, cut it off. If you put yourself first you will be last. Come to Me everyone who is carrying a heavy load, I will set that right. Your sins, all of them, are wiped out, I can do that. I am Re-birth, I am Life. Eat Me, drink Me, I am your Food. And finally, do not be afraid, I have overcome the whole Universe.' That is the issue.

I thoroughly enjoy Lewis writings; yet, I would treat them as basic instructions for starting to open the mind. The most problematic issue I see with the trilemma is that it is possible to come up with different options. So, the horns don’t seem to stick you if there are alternatives. The most common objection I see is that Jesus didn’t state any of those things regarding His divinity in the Bible and that early Christians added those things to the text and put them on his lips.

I don’t plan to make a case against the “legend” in this post; but as a primer, I would preliminarily field the objections with the following points: i) it’s odd that early church writings do not dispute regarding additions or changes to the text. ii) Secondly, no matter how many verses are striped from the text (take the Jesus seminar for example), you will not find a Jesus without supernatural or divine attributes. Essentially, Jesus’ divine nature is at the core of all His teachings. Hence, the entire thing would have to be fabrication (I can hear this tune already!) iii) Another widely accepted historical fact is the radical change in the disciples after Jesus’ death. They were willing to die and many did. This would seem highly unlikely for someone who had direct knowledge of a fabricate of “Jesus, the God Man”. It also seems irrational to suppose that they would make Jesus God after being humiliatingly beaten and crucified as a criminal. iv) Lastly, as I already demonstrated in my last post, Jesus’ high Christology was already established in the first century.

The trilemma is helpful to key in on the specific issues of the New Testament. I do think it can and has been development more by able Christian scholars; yet, I wouldn’t write it or C.S. Lewis off as easily as many skeptics and Christians do today.

In The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, the professor offered three options: Lucy was either telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. I don’t think the “legend” was an option entertained at the time. However, as it turns out, Lucy was telling the truth and in Jesus’ case—He was also telling the truth; which, makes Him Lord. The question of Jesus being either Lord, Liar, Lunatic or Legend is the most important question anyone could ever ask.

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2 comments | Tuesday, May 23, 2006

There were many theological disagreements when Constantine became emperor. One of them was the Arian controversy. In 325, Constantine called for a resolution of the disagreements. However, his organization of the meeting bared little influence on the outcome. More accurately, Athanasius should be credited for proposing a formulation of the creed. At best, Constantine achieved an immense accomplishment by convening the council.

The men that were at the council suffered great persecution for their faith and would not readily hand over their deeply held beliefs at the whim of the emperor. These men were survivors of the pre-Constantine persecution and many even died for not handing over sacred texts. Simply rolling over for the emperor seems highly unlikely. Moreover, there is certainly no indication that they would “take the material and play throw it against the wall and see what sticks” as one commenter in my last post stated. More accurately, from Columbia University:

The Church was willing to accept the help of an emperor, to listen to what he had to say, but not to accept the rule of an emperor in matters of faith. However one describes the role of Constantine at the Council of Nicea, it must be remembered that the Creed of Nicea expressed what the great majority of bishops at the council found to be traditional, Biblical, and orthodox of the Christian faith, a faith in which they believed so firmly that they were willing to die for it. [emphasis added]

I wouldn’t go as far as saying that Constantine was irrelevant; however, is influence could merely go so far. In addition, the matter of Jesus’ Christology was quite one sided. Only Theonas of Marmarica and Secundus of Ptolemais were the ones not agreeing and in the end voted against the creed. Moreover, there is no historical record that I know of that includes Constantine in the votes. This doesn’t sound like pulling ostentatious or contrived doctrine to me.

The high Christology of Jesus came long before Constantine. We have record not only in the New Testament, but early Church fathers attesting to Jesus’ high Cristology (i.e. calling Him God) as well. For example, Ignatius (30-107 A.D.), Polycarp (69-155 A.D.), Justin Martyr (100-165 A.D.), Tatian (110-172 A.D.), Irenaeus (120-202 A.D.), Tertullian (145-220 A.D.), Caius (180-217 A.D.), Gregory Thaumaturgus (205-265 A.D.), Novatian (210-280 A.D.), Athanasius (293-373 A.D.), and on and on. Jesus’ Divinity did not appear out of thin air centuries after His death.

In Ignatius’ (30-107 A.D.) letter to the Ephesians, and other letters we find:

"Jesus Christ our God"; "who is God and man"; "received knowledge of God, that is, Jesus Christ"; "for our God, Jesus the Christ"; "for God was manifest as man"; "Christ, who was from eternity with the Father"; "from God, from Jesus Christ"; "from Jesus Christ, our God"; "Our God, Jesus Christ"; "suffer me to follow the example of the passion of my God"; "Jesus Christ the God" and "Our God Jesus Christ."

More authoritatively, the New Testament itself established the Divinity of Christ throughout. Nevertheless, given human nature there, were plenty of apostates in the second century. Historian Will Durant in The Story of Civilization: Part III-Caesar and Christ explains:

The Church took over some religious customs and forms common in pre-Christian [pagan] Rome-the stole and other vestments of pagan priests, the use of incense and holy water in purifications, the burning of candles and an everlasting light before the altar, the worship of the saints, the architecture of the basilica, the law of Rome as a basis for canon law, the title of Pontifex Maximus for the Supreme Pontiff, and, in the fourth century, the Latin language . . . Soon the bishops, rather than the Roman prefects, would be the source of order and the seat of power in the cities; the metropolitans, or archbishops, would support, if not supplant, the provincial governors; and the synod of bishops would succeed the provincial assembly. The Roman Church followed in the footsteps of the Roman state.

In spite the clear admonition by the Apostle Paul, apostates of the second century fell pray to the pagan Roman religions of their day. The Biblical origins that were in place at the time were ignored or dismissed—just as they often are today. Power, especially governmental power, corrupts man. And in corruption faith always takes the back seat. Such as the infiltration of corruption entered the Christian faith, so stood those defended the Orthodox understanding of Christ often with their blood and their lives.

To fight against such apostasies and bring unity back to the Church; the Council of Nicea formulated the creed which was the recognition of the foundations of Christianity—not the establishment of Christianity. Unfortunately, Constantine’s establishment of Christianity in Rome brought much corruption. Constantine’s involvement with the Council of Nicea didn’t influence doctrine, but did influence the affairs of the Church and State in the Empire, which would change history forever.

However, the debate for Christ has never ended—it has continued for centuries. That’s why scripture is to be the final authority. Nonetheless, it has always been the central tenant of Christianity. In think Spurgeon said it best in “Holding Fast The Faith” when he wrote:

One of the main points of a Christian—without which the rest of his life will not be acceptable with God—is that Jesus shall be to him “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” The practical, the doctrinal, the experimental must all be found by us in Jesus Christ our Lord or else we have not placed Him in His right position. And we cannot be right anywhere unless the center is right and unless Jesus is that center. God grant that we may never turn aside from the faith once for all delivered to the saints. But may we resist all false philosophies—steadfast and immovable!

By demoting Christ and removing His deity and incarnation, one removes the central Truth of Christianity. It’s about His Person—who He is. Jesus is the center of our Faith; remove Him and it’s not Christianity, it just someone’s flavor or invention of “religion.”

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32 comments | Monday, May 15, 2006

The growing trend of castigating Christians and their views due to an alleged intellectual inferiority is deplorable in many ways. All too often many non-believers refuse to honestly and seriously consider the Christian viewpoint. How do I know this? When I see the complete misrepresentation, lack of understanding, complete failure to present the opposing view point, and in some cases utter hostility—I become suspect of any honest inquiry performed to reach ones conclusions. Moreover, when a non-believer continually demonstrates an unreserved lack of interest in their opponents view point in their own criticisms, it shows either their inability or complete refusal to test the merits of their own view point.

This is probably the most difficult aspect of the atheist/theist interaction. Often, Christianity is dismissed without sufficient consideration (or vise versa). Though this accusation is explicitly denied, it will usually pervade in the arguments of the one whom holds to the position (weather consciously or not). Atheist or theist, all one is doing is treating the other person/position with contempt. Forthrightly, I am growing tired of being categorized as inferior because I am Christian. The misconception is that one his somehow more rational to be a skeptic than a believer.

On the same note, Christians should not dogmatically aim to enforce their convictions on others in an effort to militantly convert, but aim to persuade them of Christianity’s vitality through love, reason, and compassion. The act of persuasion necessarily entails engagement; unfortunately, this is the very thing that aggravates non-believers. A large portion of this aggravation is due to an ineffective or inappropriate apologetic approach. Increasingly though, I have found the hesitancy for faith based discussion, even with various approaches to be futile with many non-believers. This is not because non-believers have found substantial objections that silence the Christian apology, but rather, the complete disinterest in any such engagement. For what ever reason, there is a sect of skepticism that has fashioned itself into cynicism. The cynicism now permeates through the blogsphere.

Part of the problem is that there has been a detrimental failure upon Christians to give thoughtful reasons why they believe, which is a possibility why many non-believers would rather not converse with Christians. It’s not as if we must have stock answers for every objection. I certainly have not been able to readily answer every objection that’s come across my path. But the general viewpoint of Christianity is irrationality. Atheist George Smith notes his distaste for interactions with Christians in the following paragraph:

The first thing I want to point out is rather depressing to some people. Since reasonableness is a habit to be learned, not everyone is capable of conducting a good argument. For that matter, not everyone is capable of arguing in an intelligible sense at all. Argument is also a skill that has to be learned and practiced. What this means is that, for the most part, you are probably wasting your time if you argue with many religionists, for the simple reason that many of these religionists are incapable of arguing well. It's almost like you have to educate some Christians before you can persuade them to atheism. You have to first convince them that they should be concerned with what's true and what's not. They should be able to distinguish between rational and irrational argument. And so on and so on. And then two months later, you might be able to say to this person that if they carry this out, it will lead them to atheism. But unless you have a lot of personal interest in this person, unless they are personally significant to you, you will probably not want to waste a lot of your time educating or re-educating this person to the principles of reason. What do you do? Some people just give up on the person. Some people, you have to.

George Smith’s observations paint with a wide brush; however, I think the same observation can be applied to many (not all) self proclaimed atheists today. All one needs to do is replace “Christians” or “religionists” with “Atheists.”

It is important for Christians, to maintain and communicate a distinct Christian worldview. Truth emerges as differing perspectives dialogue with one another in the kind of marketplace of ideas; privatization of these ideas only hinders the ability to reach an informed position.

However, it seems that those of secularism don’t want to or are unwilling to dialogue—the discussion is over. They would rather muzzle the mouths of religion. However, in rejecting religion, secularism has only become a religion itself. When skeptics close the door in the face of Christianity, they have only locked them self in a room where they can pat each other on the back and join in on their own parade of intellectual superiority. James E. Faust notes:

The civil religion I refer to is a secular religion. It has no moral absolutes. It is nondenominational. It is non-theistic. It is politically focused. It is antagonistic to religion. It rejects the historic religious traditions of America. It feels strange. If this trend continues, non-belief will be more honored than belief. While all beliefs must be protected, are atheism, agnosticism, cynicism, and moral relativism to be more safeguarded and valued than Christianity, Judaism, and the tenets of Islam, which hold that there is a Supreme Being and that mortals are accountable to him? If so, this would, in my opinion, place America in great moral jeopardy.

Skepticism is noting new and I don’t take much issue with it. However, I think sometimes it’s taken to a counterproductive extreme driven by alternative motives. All the Christian is really asking for is to treat us and our position with respect and give our arguments the honest consideration they deserve. Skeptics will have to realize that Christianity is something they will have to contend with on a serous level sometime or another. Sooner or later, the facade of intellectual superiority with mocking, ridicule, and jokes will grow old and fade away and they will have to deal with Christianity on a serious note. It’s time to be honest with oneself.

G.K. Chesterton said, "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried."

In regards to the cynicism that now permeates through our culture, it seems that fruitful discussion has ended.

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11 comments | Saturday, May 06, 2006

There’s a lot of credence given to the Jesus Myth lately. However, the attack on the historicity of Jesus is no surprise. What better way to debunk Christianity that to take away Jesus? Christianity is built upon the person of Jesus. Christianity is not like any other religion in that it rests not on teachings, but rather, Christ Himself.

Though there is plenty of hype given to the Jesus myth; it’s mostly just conspiracy theory. One needs a lot of imagination to come to the conclusion that Jesus never existed. The Jesus myth seems more of hypercritical skepticism—skepticism about everything except skepticism. Nevertheless, since the Jesus myth has taken such a welcome acceptance, I thought I might address some of the issue (though not comprehensively).

From searching the net, an often sited or referenced article on the subject of the Jesus Myth (pro skeptic) was Marshall J. Gauvin’s article called, "Did Jesus Christ really live?." I read Gauvin’s article looking for a solid argument for his case. It was very interesting; however, flawed. Below, I will comment on some of the things of Gauvin’s article I disagree with. There are parts that I left out because they did not warrant response (see link for entire article):

In the beginning of Gauvin’s article he states:

Not only has the divinity of Christ been given up, but his existence as a man is being more and more seriously questioned. Some of the ablest scholars of the world deny that he ever lived at all. A commanding literature dealing with the inquiry, intense in its seriousness and profound and thorough in its research, is growing up in all countries, and spreading the conviction that Christ is a myth.

Gauvin is completely incorrect about historical scholarship. Though admittedly much of scholarship has given up the divinity of Christ; to the contrary, scholars of the world” have reached the opposite of Gauvin’s conclusion. In fact, the issue seems quit dead. Perhaps, if the proponents of the myth theory consisted of competent scholarly historians, then the realm of historical scholarship might be more persuaded.

Christopher Price has already done the research for me and outlined all persuasions of scholarship with supporting quotes in “Scholarly opinions on the Jesus Myth.” In addition to the already devastating outline, Price also provides A “History of Scholarly Refutations of the Jesus Myth,” just incase one had some restrained doubts.

Gauvin’s motive becomes evident abruptly after his first statements. He obviously has no respect for any intellectual foundation for Christianity. He states:

[Christianity] has stayed the march of civilization, and made martyrs of some of the noblest men and women of the race: and it is to-day the greatest enemy of knowledge, of freedom, of social and industrial improvement, and of the genuine brotherhood of mankind. The progressive forces of the world are at war with this Asiatic superstition, and this war will continue until the triumph of truth and freedom is complete. The question, "Did Jesus Christ Really Live?" goes to the very root of the conflict between reason and faith; and upon its determination depends, to some degree, the decision as to whether religion or humanity shall rule the world.

As can be seen, Gauvin has mad some degrading remarks toward Christianity. It appears that his motives go beyond some inquiry into history, and for whatever reason, into some personal agenda contra Christianity. I find his aforementioned statements a deciding factor in his conclusion regarding the Jesus Myth rather than any historical inquiry.

Gauvin’s first attack is on the gospels themselves:

What, then, is the evidence that Jesus Christ lived in this world as a man? The authorities relied upon to prove the reality of Christ are the four Gospels of the New Testament -- Matthew, Mark, Luke and John… the Gospels themselves do not claim to have been written by these men. They are not called "The Gospel of Matthew," or "The Gospel of Mark," but "The Gospel According to Matthew," "The Gospel According to Mark," "The Gospel According to Luke," and "The Gospel According to John." No human being knows who wrote a single line in one of these Gospels. No human being knows when they were written, or where.

The trick here is that Gauvin has automatically presupposed that there is no objective basis for determining if the Gospels are a reliable source of history. There are methods of dating and using textual analysis of contemporaneous vernacular, recorded events or omission of events, forensic analysis, corroborating patristic writings etc. Gauvin is overstating his case, which becomes a palpable motif of his. The fact that there is no signature or photograph attached to the Gospels doesn’t make them unreliable.

Biblical scholarship has established the fact that the Gospel of Mark is the oldest of the four. The chief reasons for this conclusion are that this Gospel is shorter, simpler, and more natural, than any of the other three. It is shown that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were enlarged from the Gospel of Mark. The Gospel of Mark knows nothing of the virgin birth, of the Sermon on the Mount, of the Lord's prayer, or of other important facts of the supposed life of Christ. These features were added by Matthew and Luke.

The dating of Mark prior to the other Gospels is a theory based of similarity rather than an established fact as Gauvin asserts. Scholars infer that Mark is used as a reference or source since much of the material is contained in Mathew and Luke. In fact, many scholars infer a document called “Q” as a secondary source for material not in Mark, but found in both Mathew and Luke (however, that’s another trail). Though there are many similarities, there are numerous differences. I don’t particularly take the position that Mark is later than the other Gospels though.

The Gospel of John is admitted by Christian scholars to be an unhistorical document. They acknowledge that it is not a life of Christ, but an interpretation of him; that it gives us an idealized and spiritualized picture of what Christ is supposed to have been, and that it is largely composed of the speculations of Greek philosophy.

Scholars may have differing opinions about the specifics of the Gospel of John; however, Gauvin makes it sound like a complete consensus is contra historical. The Gospel of John is far from unhistorical. His criticism erroneously dismisses the entire corpus of the text based on alleged tampering by early Christians. The dispute within the majority of scholarly circles revolves around theological implications, rather than centering on complete fabrication of the entire text.

There is not the smallest fragment of trustworthy evidence to show that any of the Gospels were in existence, in their present form, earlier than a hundred years after the time at which Christ is supposed to have died.

Though we don’t have any original manuscripts; we do have copies. Papyrus tends to decay after so long; nonetheless, we do have a papyrus fragment called P52 with portions of Johns Gospel. Since it’s is the general consensus that John is the latest Gospel; it can be inferred that there were earlier manuscript of the other Gospels (Mathew, Mark, Luke). This would date the earlier Gospels in time period contra Gauvin’s thesis.

We are told that Mark was written some time after the year 70, Luke about 110, Matthew about 130, and John not earlier than 140 A.D. Let me impress upon you that these dates are conjectural, and that they are made as early as possible.

Gauvin’s dates are highly conjectural. He states that the dating is “as early as possible” for the Gospels. However, I believe he is being disingenuous to other scholarly dating here. Again, with the P52 papyrus fragment, this would push the dates of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John much earlier than he prescribes.

Every leading Christian scholar since Erasmus, four hundred years ago, has maintained that [the Gospels] were originally written in Greek. This proves that they were not written by Christ's disciples, or by any of the early Christians

Gauvin assumes that contemporary Palestinians did not speak or write Greek at the time Jesus was alive, or shortly after. However, this alleged proof is given without any benefit of argument.

In the fifth chapter of J.P. Moreland’s book “Scaling the Secular City” he offers six arguments for the earlier dating of the Gospels. Below is the excerpt:

Six arguments, taken together, provide a powerful case for dating Acts at 62 to 64. First, Acts has no mention of the fall of Jerusalem in 70, and this is quite odd since much of the activity recorded in Luke-Acts centers around Jerusalem. A large section unique to Luke focuses on Jesus' last movement to the Holy city the resurrection appearances occur around Jerusalem (see Luke 24:13), and Jerusalem plays a key role in the structure of Acts. The omission of any mention of the fall of Jerusalem makes sense if Luke-Acts was written prior to the event itself.

Second, no mention is made of Nero's persecutions in the mid-60s and the general tone of Acts toward the Roman government is irenic. This fits the pre-65 situation well. Neither the tone of Acts nor the omission of an account of Nero's persecutions can be adequately explained by saying it was an attempt to appease the Roman government. It was not the nature of the early church to appease anyone-witness conflicts with Judaism and the Pharisees which are recorded in Luke's writings.

Third, the martyrdoms of James (61), Paul (64), and Peter (65) are not mentioned in Acts. This is also surprising since Acts is quick to record the deaths of Stephen and James the brother of John, leaders in the early church. These omissions are even more surprising when one realizes that James, Peter, and Paul are the three key figures in Acts. The silence in Acts about these deaths makes most sense if, again, we assume that Acts was written before they occurred.

Fourth, the subject matter of Acts deals with issues of importance prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70. The falling of the Holy Spirit on different people groups (Jewish, Samaritan, Gentile), the divisions between Palestinian Jews and Hellenistic Jews, Jewish-Gentile relations centering on circumcision and the law of Moses, and other themes make sense prior to 70. At that time Jewish Christianity was wiped out and the importance of a record of how Gentile pagan converts are to relate to Jews in the church would be much lower than the importance of such a record prior to 70.

Fifth, several of the expressions in Acts are very early and primitive. More will be said about this later. But the phrases the Son of man, the Servant of God (applied to Jesus), the first day of the week (the resurrection), and the people (the Jews) are all phrases that readers would understand without explanation prior to 70. After 70, they would need to be explained. These phrases, therefore, indicate that Acts was intended for an audience which would remember these terms and their usage.

Sixth, the Jewish war against the Romans (from 66 onward) is not mentioned in Acts. As Hugo Staudinger argues, "The Jewish war is an important part of the history of the early Church. The original followers in Jerusalem lose their significance through the war. With the destruction of Jerusalem Jesus' prophecy is moreover fulfilled. If Luke had been writing after 70, it would be incomprehensible that he should break off his narrative shortly before the fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy, and not indicate the fate of the followers in Jerusalem."

So a strong case can be made for dating Acts at 62 to 64. But this means that Luke should be dated just prior to that. Further, Matthew and Mark should be dated even earlier, perhaps from the mid-40s to mid-50s. The picture of Jesus presented in the Synoptics is one that is only twelve to twenty-nine years removed from the events themselves. And they incorporate sources which are even earlier.

I find Moreland’s six points persuasive. For me, the omissions of certain historical facts give credibility to an earlier dates since many of them would have been profitable to add to the text had it been written later.

Gauvin actually makes some valid points about textual transmission. However, again, he ignores scholarship of textual critics on the transmission of biblical texts.

The oldest Gospels that we have are supposed to be copies of copies of copies that were made from those Gospels. We do not know who made these copies; we do not know when they were made; nor do we know whether they were honestly made. Between the earliest Gospels and the oldest existing manuscripts of the New Testament, there is a blank gulf of three hundred years. It is, therefore, impossible to say what the original Gospels contained.

Gauvin is piggybacking on the optimism that his late dating is accurate. However, the content of the Gospels clearly shows contemporaneous eye witness data, culture, geography and so forth that provide ample reasons why they are historically valid. It’s the way they are written that’s gives historical validity. In addition, the papyri fragments we have corroborate with later manuscripts available. Moreover, the amount of manuscript we have (over 5,000) helps to distinguish what was in the original manuscript. The fact is that manuscripts copied from different individuals or groups spread over diverse parts of the Middle East and Mediterranean regions actually concur remarkably with each other.

If there were significant allowances of autonomy to add to or take away considerable writings from previous manuscripts, there ought to be a vast amount of departure in later or geographically distant tests. However, what we find is the complete opposite.

If Gauvin or other Jesus Myth proponents applied their hypercritical skepticism to other historical texts, we would have to discard Homer (Iliad), Sophocles, Aristotle, Caesar’s (Gallic Wars) etc. The NT text fair far better (with flying colors) than much of what we would consider history.

If Christ was an historical character, why was it necessary to forge documents to prove his existence? Did anybody ever think of forging documents to prove the existence of any person who was really known to have lived? The early Christian forgeries are a tremendous testimony to the weakness of the Christian cause.

Again, Gauvin overstates his case. Gnostic writings were not written to “prove the existence of Jesus.” Rather, they were heretical spin offs of the original Gospels. These Gnostic gospels and writings were countered heavily. Why would such objection arise if Jesus never existed? For example Origen, in Contra Celsius (Chap. LXI) wrote the following :

And let it be admitted further, that there are some who give themselves out as Gnostics, in the same way as those Epicureans who call themselves philosophers: yet neither will they who annihilate the doctrine of providence be deemed true philosophers, nor those true Christians who introduce monstrous inventions, which are disapproved of by those who are the disciples of Jesus…and these are the twofold sect of Ebionites, who either acknowledge with us that Jesus was born of a virgin, or deny this, and maintain that He was begotten like other human beings

Gauvin moves on to an alleged geographical error regarding Nazareth.

His home was Nazareth. He was called "Jesus of Nazareth"; and there he is said to have lived until the closing years of his life. Now comes the question -- Was there a city of Nazareth in that age? The Encyclopaedia Biblica, a work written by theologians, the greatest biblical reference work in the English language, says: "We cannot perhaps venture to assert positively that there was a city of Nazareth in Jesus' time."

This seems to be Gauvin’s most powerful argument—an obvious argument from silence and an overstatement. Nazareth was no New York, or Los Angeles city. In fact, it was a small and insignificant geographical location. Event in the NT it states, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:47). One should not expect compilations of references to Nazareth by early century historians. Historians tend not to write about rat holes, but significant places. Nevertheless, Metacrock, from Christian CADRE (A historian and Ph.D candidate) dismantles this theory in his article The History of Nazareth.

Moreover, Richard Carrier, who is a prominent skeptic and sympathetic to the Jesus Myth writes the following in thread on the infidel’s website begging here:

[A]rchaeology has confirmed a stone building in Nazareth of the size and type to be a synagogue, and it dates from the time of Christ. See the entry in the Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land...

The evidence is insurmountable that there were numerous permanent structures--most of Nazareth's buildings even before the 1st century were partially carved from the rock of the hill, in a manner similar to Pella...

I was able to track down on my own the most extensive report, that of Bagatti (Excavations in Nazareth, vol. 1, 1969), and I looked through all the subsequent reports on Nazareth from Excavations and Surveys in Israel, and this is what I found:

(a) Very little of Nazareth has been excavated, and therefore no argument can be advanced regarding what "wasn't" there in the 1st century.

(b) Archaeological reports confirm that stones and bricks used in earlier buildings in Nazareth were reused in later structures, thus erasing a lot of the evidence. Therefore, it is faulty reasoning to argue that there were no brick or stone structures simply because we have not recovered them from the relevant strata (i.e. one of Hoffman's sources assumed that the absence of this evidence entailed mud-and-thatch housing, but that is fallacious reasoning--especially since no clear evidence of mud-and-thatch housing has been found, either).

(c) One example of the above includes four calcite column bases, which were reused in a later structure, but are themselves dated before the War by their stylistic similarity to synagogues and Roman structures throughout 1st century Judaea, and by the fact that they contain Nabataean lettering (which suggests construction before Jewish priests migrated to Nazareth after the war). This is not iron clad proof of a 1st century synagogue (since the pieces had been moved and thus could not be dated by strata), but it does demonstrate a very high probability--especially since calcite bases are cheap material compared to the more expensive marble of structures archaeologists confirmed started appearing there around a century later, i.e. by the end of the 1st century AD (or early 2nd century at the latest, since marble fragments have been found inscribed in Aramaic that is paleographically dated to this period), and more extensively again in the 3rd century (when a very impressive Jewish synagogue was built there, this time using marble, which was later converted to Christian use).

(d) I confirmed beyond any doubt that Nazareth was built on a hill--more specifically, down the slope of a hill, with a convenient "brow" roughly one city block away from the edge of the ancient town as so-far determined archaeologically. Because the town was built down the slope of a hill, we have found numerous examples of houses, tombs, and storage rooms half cut into the rock of the hill, leaving a diagonal slope for structures to be built up around them to complete the chambers (as I described above). Since these structural elements were so completely removed and apparently reused by later builders, no evidence remains of what they were composed of (whether mud, brick, or stone).

The bottom line: there is absolutely no doubt that Nazareth existed in the time of Jesus.

Following, Gauvin becomes overly generous regarding the nobility of the Roman government:

Nothing could be more improbable than the story of Christ's crucifixion. The civilization of Rome was the highest in the world. The Romans were the greatest lawyers the world had ever known. Their courts were models of order and fairness. A man was not condemned without a trial; he was not handed to the executioner before being found guilty… Is it thinkable that the master of a Roman court in the days of Tiberius Caesar, having found a man innocent and declared him so, and having made efforts to save his life, tortured him of his own accord, and then handed him over to a howling mob to be nailed to a cross? A Roman court finding a man innocent and then crucifying him? Is that a picture of civilized Rome? Is that the Rome to which the world owes its laws? In reading the story of the Crucifixion, are we reading history or religious fiction? Surely not history.

Philo ((20 BC- 40 AD), has somewhat of a dissimilar opinion. In fact, he states Pontius Pilate was very hostile and unfair. Moreover, it appears that Pilate feared that the Jewish people would cause uproar resulting in his dismissal by Tiberius. Philo States [Source]:

"But when [Pilate] steadfastly refused this petition (for he was a man of a very inflexible disposition, and very merciless as well as very obstinate), they cried out: 'Do not cause a sedition; do not make war upon us; do not destroy the peace which exists. The honour of the emperor is not identical with dishonour to the ancient laws; let it not be to you a pretence for heaping insult on our nation…But this last sentence exasperated him in the greatest possible degree, as he feared least they might in reality go on an embassy to the emperor, and might impeach him with respect to other particulars of his government, in respect of his corruption, and his acts of insolence, and his rapine, and his habit of insulting people, and his cruelty, and his continual murders of people untried and uncondemned, and his never ending, and gratuitous, and most grievous inhumanity. (303)

Therefore, being exceedingly angry, and being at all times a man of most ferocious passions, he was in great perplexity, neither venturing to take down what he had once set up, nor wishing to do any thing which could be acceptable to his subjects, and at the same time being sufficiently acquainted with the firmness of Tiberius on these points.

So we get a different picture of the practice of Roman law and Pilate’s supposed civility. As I stated earlier, Gauvin likes to overstate his case and at times presents things in a manner that distort the historical record that we have available to us.

Gauvin not only stretches things, he is completely ignorant of Christian theology. He even goes so far as suggesting that Christian art of a lamb on a cross suggests the mythical figure of Jesus emerging out of that caricature. Moreover, he completely disregards the scriptural references on why Jesus is crucified when he states the following:

And let us ask, if Christ performed the miracles the New Testament describes, if he gave sight to blind men's eyes, if his magic touch brought youthful vigor to the palsied frame, if the putrefying dead at his command returned to life and love again -- why did the people want him crucified? Is it not amazing that a civilized people -- for the Jews of that age were civilized -- were so filled with murderous hate towards a kind and loving man who went about doing good, who preached forgiveness, cleansed the leprous, and raised the dead -- that they could not be appeased until they had crucified the noblest benefactor of mankind? Again I ask -- is this history, or is it fiction?

Jews were civilized, but take their religion seriously. Has Gauvin never heard of a Pharisees? They were the religious cream of the crop and were outraged to think that Jesus who accused them of being “hypocritical”, “brood vipers” “blind leaders of the blind” and who threw them out of their own temple, would also claim to forgive sins, and say that God was His Father, and even go as far as saying He was one with God. The Pharisees tried to stone Jesus more than once and kill him saying, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God" (John 10:33). What does Gauvin think Paul (as formerly Saul) did before he became a Christian? Is the whole persecution of early Christians by the Jewish leadership fables? No, if there is any fiction, it’s in the mind of Gauvin to explain away history.

Some of the further exaggeration that Gauvin’s supposes, like Paul knowing nothing of Jesus sayings are too nauseating to address. He even goes so far as to suggest that the “very existence of Paul is questionable”. Though he only allows Paul as a historical figure to accommodate his argument. Moreover, he completely discredits the entire corpus of the Gospels because they contain miracles. Prima facie evidence is unnecessary to qualify as history. Every single statement need not be proved with corroborating evidence to support it. What’s even more interesting is that Gauvin relies heavily (again) on the argument of silence—mentioning things that Paul never stated about Jesus in his writings and assuming he never mentioned it in his travels.

If Christ lived, if he was a reformer, if he performed wonderful works that attracted the attention of the multitude, if he came in conflict with the authorities and was crucified -- how shall we explain the fact that history has not even recorded his name? The age in which he is said to have lived was an age of scholars and thinkers. In Greece, Rome and Palestine, there were philosophers, historians, poets, orators, jurists and statesmen. Every fact of importance was noted by interested and inquiring minds. Some of the greatest writers the Jewish race has produced lived in that age.

There are references to Jesus outside of the Gospels, such as Thallus and Josephus. But of course Gauvin is going to disregard any reference to Jesus by Josephus do to some later tampering insertions by some Christians. However, Christopher Price has done a review of Josephus’ reference to Jesus and irrefutably demonstrates that though there were some additions to the text, Josephus did make an original reference to the historical person of Jesus. For anyone who doubts this, they must read “A Thorough Review of the Testimonium Flavianum.” Regardless of Gauvin’s assertions, scholarship is in the majority that there was an original reference to the person of Jesus of Nazareth by Josephus (apparently reverse when the article was written). Also see Extra Biblical Witness to Jesus before 200 AD and “The Reliability of the Secular References to Jesus For further extra biblical references to Jesus.

Gauvin leaves his article in arrogant confidence over his alleged case against the historicity of Jesus. In his closing statement he says:

The Jesus Christ of the Gospels could not possibly have been a real person. He is a combination of impossible elements. There may have lived in Palestine, nineteen centuries ago, a man whose name was Jesus, who went about doing good, who was followed by admiring associates, and who in the end met a violent death. But of this possible person, not a line was written when he lived, and of his life and character the world of to-day knows absolutely nothing. This Jesus, if he lived, was a man; and if he was a reformer, he was but one of many that have lived and died in every age of the world. When the world shall have learned that the Christ of the Gospels is a myth, that Christianity is untrue, it will turn its attention from the religious fictions of the past to the vital problems of to-day, and endeavor to solve them for the improvement of the well-being of the real men and women whom we know, and whom we ought to help and love.

Gauvin hasn’t nearly made his case. He begs the question the entire course of his article. Unfortunately, he must ignore or come up with creative diversionary tactics to explain away history. There are too many issues to write off with the wand of hypercritical skepticism. Gauvin cannot explain to the satisfaction of historians why, Christians would invent Jesus Christ sometime after 100 and have no pagans and Jews who historically have opposed Christianity denied the existence of Jesus. In fact, it’s never even questioned.

Gauvin has artfully tried to claim the alleged theological development (which is an issue that has been disputed) qualifies the entire corpus of the NT as a wholesale invention. More perceptibly, Gauvin has quote mined critical sources and taken his conclusions beyond anything that the critics would have concluded.

Gauvin has misrepresented the apostle Paul claiming he preached a different Jesus than the Gospels. He late dated the Gospels to his convenience. Conveniently, the late dating of the Gospels is the crux of his entire position. He obviously over did it. With the wave of the skeptical wand, Gauvin completely dismissed non-Christian evidences of the historicity of Jesus. His conspiracy theory fails to give a better explanation than acknowledging that Jesus was a real person. I don’t know if any one can—it appears more to be an insurmountable obstacle.

Gauvin reminds me of Holocaust deniers, who deny despite the vast evidence to the contrary. One major problem to deal with is if the Church created Jesus, who created the Church? The fact is, Gauvin and other Jesus myth advocates have to have a lot more imagination than anyone who believes in his existence.

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