Peter J. Williams is the Warden (CEO) of Tyndale House and a member of the Faculty of Divinity in the University of Cambridge. He received his MA, MPhil and PhD, in the study of ancient languages related to the Bible from Cambridge University. After his PhD, he was on staff in the Faculty of Divinity, Cambridge University (1997–1998), and thereafter taught Hebrew and Old Testament there as Affiliated Lecturer in Hebrew and Aramaic and as Research Fellow in Old Testament at Tyndale House, Cambridge (1998–2003). From 2003 to 2007 he was on the faculty of the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, where he became a Senior Lecturer in New Testament and Deputy Head of the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy. In July 2007 he became the youngest Warden in the history of Tyndale House. He also retains his position as an honorary Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies at the University of Aberdeen.
Summary of the lecture:
What if the stories about Jesus are legendary?
were the gospels transmitted accurately?
were the gospels written in the same place as where the events happened?
do the gospel authors know the customs and locations where the events happened?
do the gospels use the right names for the time and place where the events took place?
do the gospels disambiguate people’s names depending on how common those names were?
how do the New Testament gospels compare to the later gnostic gospels?
how do the gospels refer to the main character? How non-Biblical sources refer to Jesus?
how does Jesus refer to himself in the gospels? do the later Christians refer to him that way?
how does Jesus teach? do later Christians teach the same way?
why didn’t Jesus say anything about early conflicts in the church (the Gentiles, church services)?
did the writers of the gospels know the places where the events took place?
how many places are named in the gospels? how about in the later gnostic gospels?
are the botanical details mentioned in the gospels accurate? how about the later gnostic gospels?
And here are the questions from the audience:
how what about the discrepancies in the resurrection narratives that Bart Ehrman is obsessed with?
what do you think of the new 2011 NIV translation (Peter is on the ESV translation committee)?
how did untrained, ordinary men produce complex, sophisticated documents like the gospels?
is oral tradition a strong enough bridge between the events and the writers who interviewed the eyewitnesses?
what does the name John mean?
why did the gospel writers wait so long before writing their gospels?
do you think that Matthew and Luke used a hypothetical source which historians call “Q”?
which gospel do critical historians trust the least and why?
I really enjoyed watching this lecture. He’s getting some of this material from Richard Bauckham’s awesome book “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, so if you aren’t familiar with it, you can get an idea of what’s in it. Peter Williams is a lot of fun to listen to – an excellent speaker.
Dr. Ehrman, is a graduate of Wheaton College (Illinois), Professor Ehrman received both his Masters of Divinity and Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary, where his 1985 doctoral dissertation was awarded magna cum laude. Since then he has published extensively in the fields of New Testament and Early Christianity, having written or edited twenty-one books, numerous scholarly articles, and dozens of book reviews. Among his fields of scholarly expertise are the historical Jesus, the early Christian apocrypha, the apostolic fathers, and the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.
Dr. Evans received his B.A. degree in History and Philosophy from Claremont McKenna College, his M.Div. degree from Western Baptist Seminary in Portland, Oregon, and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Biblical Studies from Claremont Graduate University in southern California. Author and editor of more than fifty books and hundreds of articles and reviews, Professor Evans has given lectures at Cambridge, Durham, Oxford, Yale, and other universities, colleges, seminaries, and museums, such as the Field Museum in Chicago and the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa.
Note: This is a very snarky summary, and I am just paraphrasing things to be silly and funny. Reader discretion is advised.
Snarky things I made up are in italics.
Question 1: are the gospels historically reliable?
Bart Ehrman opening speech:
I used to be an ignorant fundamentalist like you!
but then I went to Princeton, and now I know better
to Craig: are there errors in the Bible
the gospels have some reliable and some unreliable info
only careless readers don’t see contradictions in the gospels
contradictions in the genealogies
contradictions in timing of recognizing Jesus as the Messiah
contradiction about when Jesus died
contradiction about when the stone was rolled away
contradiction about who was at the empty tomb
contradiction about when the disciples went to Galilee
contradictions in minor details means the gospels are unreliable
Craig Evans opening speech:
the question is “do the gospels tell us enough about Jesus for faith?”
the gospels don’t tell us everything, but they tell enough for faith
the extremely early creed in 1 Cor 15:3-7 has an outline of the gospel
it contains the burial, the appearances to eyewitnesses
and it agrees with the early sermons of Peter in Acts 2
the gospels agree with these extremely early summaries
the gospels are based on earlier sources
the gospels are corroborated by the Jewish historian Josephus
Question 2: Do the gospels accurately preserve the teachings of Jesus Christ?
are there any discrepancies in the gospels?
the gospels have things Jesus said, and things he didn’t say
if the Bible is inaccurate in some minor details, then it’s all unreliable
in the latest gospel, John, Jesus calls himself God and sees himself as divine
but these high-Christology statements are not in the synoptics
therefore, Jesus really didn’t say these things
why didn’t the synoptics record these claims to divinity
the author of John changed the words of Jesus and John the Baptist?
E.P. Sanders (a non-Christian scholar) says we can know what Jesus taught
cites E.P.’s list of Jesus’ core teachings that are agreed on by most scholars
Jesus’ focus was talking about the Kingdom of God – the rule of God
Jesus’ followers were expected to record and understand the words of Jesus
It is permissible for the followers of Jesus to have some editorial license
Question 3: Do the gospels accurately preserve the activities of Jesus Christ?
E.P. Sanders agrees with me that there are discrepancies in the gospels
E.P. Sanders agrees with me that there are mistakes in the gospels
If Jesus’ followers changed his words a little, then we can’t know anything he said
If the author changes the story a little, then the story was changed a lot
If there not 100% accurate, then they’re not accurate at all
contradiction of the ordering of Jesus’ temptations
contradiction of the number of animals Jesus rode into Jerusalem
contradiction of whether Jesus spoke or didn’t speak in some instance
contradiction of what Jesus said on the cross
contradiction of the number of robbers who speak to Jesus
Jesus can only say ONE THING when he’s on the cross
the gospel writers have to be in complete agreement
E.P. Sanders (non-Christian) lists 7 virtually indisputable facts about Jesus
just because there are discrepancies, doesn’t mean there are no minimal facts
in additional to E.P. Sanders, there are other facts that are widely-accepted
many assertions in the gospels are embarrassing to the author
many liberal scholars think that Jesus was a healer and an exorcist
all scholars agree on the crucifixion
most scholars accept the “King of the Jews” placard placed over the cross
this means that Jesus was viewed by his followers as the Messiah
Question 4: Do the gospels contain eyewitness tradition?
I used to be an ignorant uninformed fundie, like you all
but then I started to study seriously, not like Craig Evans
I changed my mind based on intense research, not peer pressure
My apostasy has nothing to do with the problem of evil and suffering!
I use my brain, and Craig Evans and you fundies don’t use your brains
the gospels don’t claim to be written by eyewitnesses
the titles of the gospels were added later
the gospels don’t claim to be written by the authors attributed to them
the gospels were written anonymously
the gospels only had names attached in 120-140 AD
even if gospels were written by eyewitnesses, they are not always accurate
written 40-60 years after Jesus died
written in Greek, not Aramaic
written in different countries
based on stories that were told and retold and changed over time
Richard Bauckham says the gospels are largely based on eyewitness accounts
the gospels were written while there were still eyewitnesses alive
the people who met Jesus were there to correct the written accounts
there were many disputes about things in the early church, so if the early church invented sayings, then why not invent sayings of Jesus to resolve the disputes?
there is no evidence of things being invented wholesale by the early church
Pappias says that he talked to Christians who knew the eyewitnesses to Jesus
Question 5: Do archaeologists and historians use the gospels as sources?
archaeologists do not use the gospels, they just dig things up
historians do use gospels
Jesus is not mentioned by any Greek or Roman non-Christian source for 80 years after Jesus’ death
The earliest Jewish source is Josephus, writing 60 years after Jesus’ death
Paul is the earliest source, but says nothing about Jesus’ words and deeds
the earliest sources for words and deeds are the discrepancy-filled gospels
the gospels are based on telling and re-telling of the stories
James Charlesworth has a 700-book about archaeology and the Bible
the book contains hundreds of references to the four gospels
the four gospels and Acts are viewed as the best sources for archaeologists
they provide accurate information about the way things were
the gospels and Acts helps archaeologists to know where to dig for things
the Biblical sources are early and based on eyewitnesses
the gospels and Acts fit well in the first century culture
the gospels and Acts talk about real events and real places and real customs
the gospels and Acts talk about real buildings and real public figures and real groups
the language of the gospels traces back nicely to Aramaic
the gospels talk about geography and climate
archaeologists discover many things discussed in the gospels
Question 6: Have the gospels been accurately preserved done through the centuries
if God inspired the Bible without error, he should have preserved it without error
but the originals have NOT been preserved without error
so I no longer accept the inerrancy of the autographs (the originals)
we don’t have the originals
we only have copies of copies… of copies… of copies… of copies
and the copiers all made mistakes
the first manuscripts are decades later
and the manuscripts we have are different from one another
the earliest copies have the most mistakes
even if we have many copies, they are late, so we don’t know what the original said
we don’t have early manuscripts
we know where the discrepancies in the manuscripts are
the discrepancies are marked in your Bible
the discrepancies affect peripheral issues
some discrepancies are supported by other verses
Mark doesn’t have the appearances, but 1 Cor 15 does, and it’s earlier
the errors are things like spelling and grammar errors, typos, etc.
we have fragments that are earlier than the full manuscripts
some early manuscripts have errors, but other early manuscripts are correct
Question 7: Do scribal errors and textual variants significantly impact any teaching of Jesus or any important Christian teaching?
the woman caught in adultery is a late addition
the ending of Mark is a late addition
can we handle snakes or can’t we?
did Jesus sweat blood or didn’t he?
some manuscripts have errors – that should not be allowed by God
some scribes are careless – that should not be allowed by God
we have to have perfect copies of the originals, or I won’t believe!
if God really inspired it, it all has to be perfect! Perfect! I was lied to!!!!
if the snake-handling verse isn’t there, then the whole Bible is lies! Lies!
no variants impact any teaching of Jesus or significant Christian teaching
the vast majority of the manuscripts agree on 98-99% of the text
often, the theology gives rise to a variant, which is introduced later
variants aren’t central enough to affect any theological doctrines
And then there are concluding speeches by each speaker.
I made this summary based on the video, which is here on Apologetics 315.
People often ask the question, “why must I believe in Jesus and only Jesus in order to be rightly related to God?”
Indeed. Why should we care about the teachings of Jesus more than any other religious leader. Well, we know from scientific evidence that the universe had a beginning, and hence a Creator. We know from the fine-tuning argument that there is a Designer of the cosmos, as well. So the question becomes, has there ever been a human being who could give us accurate information about who the Creator and Designer is?
It turns that there is such a person, and we know it because we have evidence that this person rose from the dead – a feat only possible if the Creator and Designer wanted to draw attention to this person, and to his teachings. The account of this is recorded in a collection of ancient writings called the New Testament, which can be investigated using the ordinary rules of ancient historiography. Although much of what is written in the New Testament cannot be proven historical, a few facts that are reported there pass the mainstream historical tests. From those facts, we can infer that God was putting his stamp of approval on the teachings of a very important person.
The man who returned from the dead
Dr. Craig’s famous minimal facts case for the resurrection has been posted at the Christian Apologetics Alliance. He presents 4 facts admitted by the majority of New Testament historians, and then he supplies multiple pieces of evidence for each fact.
Here are the four facts:
FACT #1: After his crucifixion, Jesus was buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea.
FACT #2: On the Sunday following the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers.
FACT #3: On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.
FACT #4: The original disciples believed that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every predisposition to the contrary.
He shows how each fact is supported reasons which pass the standard historical rules used by ancient historians.
Here’s the detail on fact #3, the post-mortem appearances.
FACT #3: On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.
This is a fact which is almost universally acknowledged among New Testament scholars, for the following reasons:
1. The list of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection appearances which is quoted by Paul in I Cor. 15. 5-7 guarantees that such appearances occurred. These included appearances to Peter (Cephas), the Twelve, the 500 brethren, and James.
2. The appearance traditions in the gospels provide multiple, independent attestation of these appearances. This is one of the most important marks of historicity. The appearance to Peter is independently attested by Luke, and the appearance to the Twelve by Luke and John. We also have independent witness to Galilean appearances in Mark, Matthew, and John, as well as to the women in Matthew and John.
3. Certain appearances have earmarks of historicity. For example, we have good evidence from the gospels that neither James nor any of Jesus’ younger brothers believed in him during his lifetime. There is no reason to think that the early church would generate fictitious stories concerning the unbelief of Jesus’ family had they been faithful followers all along. But it is indisputable that James and his brothers did become active Christian believers following Jesus’ death. James was considered an apostle and eventually rose to the position of leadership of the Jerusalem church. According to the first century Jewish historian Josephus, James was martyred for his faith in Christ in the late AD 60s. Now most of us have brothers. What would it take to convince you that your brother is the Lord, such that you would be ready to die for that belief? Can there be any doubt that this remarkable transformation in Jesus’ younger brother took place because, in Paul’s words, “then he appeared to James”?
Even Gert Ludemann, the leading German critic of the resurrection, himself admits, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”3
Yes, Gerd Ludemann is actually an atheist new Testament historian, and he has even debated Dr. Craig on the resurrection – not once, but twice. That’s the kind of evidence Dr. Craig uses in his case.
So, if you are undertaking an investigation to see if the God who creates and designs the universe has anything to say to you, a good place to start is seeing what this guy Jesus had to say to you. No faith required.
I listened to a dynamite podcast on the weekend by J. Warner Wallace. I like his longer-form, less polished podcasts better than the newer, slicker 30-minute ones. This time, the podcast had heavy metal intro / ending music and it was an hour and a half long!
In this blast from the past, J. Warner examines the Gospel of Mark for signs of Peter’s influence. Papias, the early church bishop, claimed Mark’s Gospel was written as he sat at the feet of Peter in Rome. According to Papias, Mark scribed Peter’s sermons and created the narrative we now have in our Bible. In this audio podcast, J. Warner applies Forensic Statement Analysis to Mark’s text to see if Peter’s fingerprints are present.
The Omissions of the Gospel Are Consistent With Peter’s Influence
There are many details in the Gospel of Mark consistent with Peter’s special input and influence, including omissions related to events involving Peter. How can Mark be a memoir of Peter if, in fact, the book contains so many omissions of events involving Peter specifically? It’s important to evaluate the entire catalogue of omissions pertaining to Peter to understand the answer here. The vast majority of these omissions involve incidents in which Peter did or said something rash or embarrassing. It’s not surprising these details were omitted by the author who wanted to protect Peter’s standing in the Christian community. Mark was quite discreet in his retelling of the narrative (other Gospel writers who were present at the time do, however, provide details of Peters ‘indiscretions’ in their own accounts). Here are some examples of Petrine Omissions grounded in an effort to minimize embarrassment to Peter (see Cold-Case Christianity for a more detailed explanation of the events summarized here):
Peter’s shame at the “Miraculous Catch” (Mark 1:16-120 compared to Luke 5:1-11)
Peter’s foolish statement at the crowded healing (Mark 5:21-34 compared to Luke 8:42-48)
Peter’s lack of understanding related to the parable (Mark 7:14-19 compared to Matthew 15:10-18 and Acts 10:9-16)
Peter’s lack of faith on the lake (Mark 6:45 compared to Matthew 14:22-33)
Peter’s rash statement to Jesus (Mark 8:31-33 compared to Matthew 16:21-23)
Peter’s statement related to money (Mark 10:23-31 compared to Matthew 19:23-30)
Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial (Mark 14:27-31 compared to Luke 22:31-34 and John 13:34-38)
Peter’s behavior at the foot-washing (Mark 14:22-26 compared to John 13:2-9)
Peter’s denial and Jesus’ direct stare (Mark 14:66-72 compared to Luke 22:54-62)
There are a number of places in the Gospel of Mark where details related specifically to the words and actions of Peter have been omitted in what appears to be an effort to protect Peter from embarrassment. This doesn’t mean Peter failed to talk about these things. He may very well have included them in his sermons and teachings. But Mark, his scribe and close friend, simply chose to omit these details related to Peter, either at Peter’s request or on his own initiative.
Mark doesn’t want to annoy his source, Peter, by calling him out for being foolish at times.
This is highly recommended. There’s another blog post from Cold Case Christianity here, on the same topic.