Tag Archives: Gospels

Richard Carrier debates Mark Goodacre: Did Jesus exist?

It’s April Fools today, and I have an April Fool for you – his name is Richard Carrier.

Debate topic:

Richard Carrier is the world’s foremost proponent of the “mythicist” view of Jesus – that he never actually existed as a historical person. He explains his theory that St. Paul only ever spoke of Jesus in the spiritual realm and that the Gospels are “extended parables”. Mark Goodacre is NT professor at Duke University. He contends that Carrier’s mythicist view is extremely far fetched and the evidence for the historical Jesus is beyond reasonable doubt.

Here are the participants:

Mark Goodacre is an Associate Professor in New Testament at the Department of Religion, Duke University, North Carolina, USA. He earned his MA, M.Phil and DPhil at the University of Oxford and was Senior Lecturer at the University of Birmingham until 2005. His research interests include the Synoptic Gospels, the Historical Jesus and the Gospel of Thomas.

Richard Carrier holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University in ancient history, specializing in the intellectual history of Greece and Rome, particularly ancient philosophy, religion, and science, with emphasis on the origins of Christianity and the use and progress of science under the Roman empire.

The debate can be listened to here:

This debate took place on Justin Brierley’s “Unbelievable?” show based in the UK.

Carrier uses the letters of Paul as his sources, because they are the earliest. He doesn’t think that there is enough there to ground Jesus as a real person in history. Goodacre responds by looking at the letters of Paul to see what facts about a real, historical Jesus are there, and also which other eyewitnesses Paul talked to. In particular, Carrier has to respond to the early creed in 1 Corinthians 15 as well as his meeting with Peter and James, two other eyewitnesses, twice in Galatians. 1 Corinthians and Galatians are two early Pauline letters that are unanimously regarded as authentic. Carrier’s strategy is to try to introduce parallels between myths and the historical Jesus.

Goodacre also raises the crucifixion a historical fact about Jesus, which is a virtually undeniable fact about Jesus that is not even denied by people like the radical atheist John Dominic Crossan. Goodacre says that the crucifixion story would be embarrassing to the early Christians. They would not have invented a story of their Messiah-candidate being crucified – it was considered to shameful of a way to die. Carrier responded that other groups make up history that is embarrassing to them all the time. Goodacre says this practice was not common among the groups of Jews that we know about. Carrier says that there are other unknown groups of Jews that we have no evidence for who did do that. Then he calls arguing based on the practices of the Jews that we do not know about an “argument from ignorance”.

Carrier talks about how Philippians has that embarrassing passage about Jesus abandoning his divine capabilities to humble himself by becoming an actual human being, and says that this is evidence that he was not an actual human being. (Unforced error!) Philippians is another one of the Pauline epistles that is not in doubt. Carrier then says that John invents historical reports in order to emphasize certain things about Jesus, and therefore that means that other non-John sources are therefore all falsified by John’s exaggerating on some details. He then cites the radical atheist John Dominic Crossan to say that historical narratives are actually extended parables.

Mike Licona explains the As, Bs, Cs, Ds and Es of New Testament reliability

Mike Licona is one of my favorite Christian apologists, and here is an excellent lecture to show you why.

In the lecture, he explains why the four biographies in the New Testament should be accepted as historically accurate: (55 minutes)

Summary:

  • What a Baltimore Ravens helmet teaches us about the importance of truth
  • What happens to Christians when they go off to university?
  • The 2007 study on attitudes of American professors to evangelical Christians
  • Authors: Who wrote the gospels?
  • Bias: Did the bias of the authors cause them to distort history?
  • Contradictions: What about the different descriptions of events in the gospels?
  • Dating: When were the gospels written?
  • Eyewitnesses: Do the gospel accounts go back to eyewitness testimony?

This is basic training for Christians. It would be nice if every Christian was equipped in church to be able to make a case like this.

Are post-mortem visions of Jesus enough to infer the resurrection?

Lydia McGrew has written an interesting post where she argues that the minimal facts approach of Craig and Habermas is not as good as proving that the gospels are generally reliable. In particular, she says that because skeptical scholars only grant that the disciples had “experiences” of Jesus after his death, then this is not enough to infer a real bodily resurrection.

Lydia says that the only minimal fact that skeptical scholars will accept is that a variety of people had “experiences” of Jesus. Experiences of Jesus are compatible with some sort of hallucination hypothesis, except that it doesn’t explain the empty tomb. But in order to get away from the hallucination hypothesis, you have to get to a variety of experiences, from individuals to groups, friends to enemies, believers to skeptics. And that means you are going to have to use the rest of the gospels.

Here’s Lydia from the original post:

I think it is necessary to be blunt: If all that we are going to assert and seek to explain is the claim that Jesus’ disciples had some kind of visual experiences soon after his death that they took to be appearances of the risen Jesus, and if we are allowing that these experiences could, for all we know, have been fleeting, unclear, intersubjectively inaccessible (that is, invisible to anyone other than the disciples), and involving no senses other than sight, then the case for the resurrection is gravely weakened.

If one hangs onto the idea that these experiences (whatever their precise nature) came “both to individuals and groups,” and if one includes James, Jesus’ brother, among those who had an individual experience (Habermas discusses the question of whether an appearance experience on the part of James should be included as a “minimal fact”), then this will provide an interesting coincidence, and naturalistic explanations will be somewhat strained. I admit that. Why should these various people, including a former skeptic of Jesus’ ministry (his brother) have had these experiences shortly after his death, even if they may (for all we know) have been somewhat vague and visionary in nature?

But let’s be clear: The conclusion we thought we could support was that Jesus was risen from the dead. Vague, fleeting, or visionary experiences provide a weak case for that conclusion. In fact, if the minimal fact of the appearance experiences is compatible with minimal experiences, then paranormal explanations become an interesting option, which I gather is what New Testament scholar Dale Allison is exploring. Maybe there’s just “something weird” in this world that we don’t know much about that isn’t a miracle, and isn’t a resurrection, but that causes people to have brief experiences “of” a person after his death.

Eric Chabot says in the comments that when the skeptical scholars say “visions”, they don’t necessarily mean hallucinations.

He writes:

Hi Lydia,

Good post. I agree the Gospels matter. But any time I have tried to use the few points of the minimal facts material, I really have stuck with Paul. I think we can show all the scholars (both conservative and non conservative) that think the disciples had experiences. But then we need to be very detailed about what accounts for the experiences. Obviously, as you say above the visions hypothesis is the big one they punt to. But then that leads to ask what do they mean by visions. As we know, Ehrman says:

It is undisputable that some of the followers of Jesus came to think that he had been raised from the dead, and that something had to have happened to make them think so. Our earliest records are consistent on this point, and I think they provide us with the historically reliable information in one key aspect: the disciples’ belief in the resurrection was based on visionary experiences. I should stress it was visions, and nothing else, that led to the first disciples to believe in the resurrection. -Bart D. Ehrman, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (New York: Harper One, 2014), 183-184.

So here Ehrman sides with the visionary language that Crossan, Borg and Lüdemann use. The good news is that Ehrman goes onto to define what he means by “visions” of Jesus. He describes visions as something that are either “veridical” or “nonveridical.” Veridical visions means people tend to see things that are really there while nonveridical visions the opposite-what a person sees is not based any kind of external reality. It is the latter that leads to what is called the hallucination hypothesis. In other words, skeptics assert that nonveridical visions can be attributed to some sort of psychological explanation. Ehrman then punts to his agnosticism again and says he doesn’t care if the appearances can be attributed to either “veridical” or “nonveridical” visionary experiences or anything else. This is rather confusing in that Ehrman first says it is visions that can explain the resurrection appearances.

So what we see here is that when they discuss visions, they really mean ‘subjective visions’ as if they are hallucinations. I haven’t seen any exegetical arguments that visions is what they meant when the talk about the resurrection appearances. They knew the difference between the two. My experience is that no matter how much exegetical work you do to show they didn’t mean visions, they don’t care because of their metaphysical starting points.

But I discuss this in full detail here. Note the large exchange with the atheist afterwards.

Now when I was reading this, I was thinking, well, I can get away from the nonveridical visions to the veridical visions by bringing in the fourth fact that Craig uses, namely, the early proclamation of the resurrection. If the visions that people were having were not of a resurrected body, than they would not have called it “resurrection”, they would have called it exaltation, or something else. And Craig does have arguments for why he thinks that the early proclamation of the resurrection is one of his minimal facts. For one thing, no Jews thought that the Messiah was supposed to die, much less be resurrected. And the concept of resurrection was not supposed to be for an individual, but for all the righteous dead at the end of the age. So something has to be posited to explain why the earliest Christians called what happened to Jesus after he died “resurrection”. This not to even mention the work that’s been done on the word soma which clearly means body.

I think if you factor in this fourth minimal fact, along with the empty tomb, then you can get from “visions” to veridical visions – a bodily resurrection. The empty tomb requires another explanation on the hallucination hypothesis – so you have two explanations – and it doesn’t explain the early proclamation of the resurrection. The resurrection hypothesis explains the appearances, the empty tomb, and the early proclamation of the resurrection.

Peter J. Williams lectures on the historical reliability of the gospel narratives

Peter J. Williams
Peter J. Williams

Here’s the main lecture: (54 minutes)

And here’s the Q&A: (9 minutes)

About Peter Williams:

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.

You can read an interview with Peter Williams here on Between Two Worlds.

And you can listen to the Peter Williams vs Bart Ehrman debate. That link contains a link to the audio of the debate as well as my snarky summary. It’s very snarky.

And Apologetics 315 also posted Peter Williams’ assessment of Bart Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus”.

Who were the Jesus Seminar? Should anyone have taken them seriously?

Was having a conversation Sunday evening with the woman I am mentoring and she brought up the Jesus Seminar – a small group of naturalistic, pluralistic academics. Apparently, someone’s child went to college, heard about them, and lost their faith because of their writings. I wanted to find a good article for her on this, and since Dr. William Lane Craig has debated most of the leading scholars in the Jesus seminar, (e.g. – John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, Roy Hoover, Gerd Ludemann, Robert Price, John Shelby Spong, etc.), I chose an article by Dr. Craig. I also link to two debates that Dr. Craig did with Jesus Seminar people below.

First a short video (4 minutes):

If you can’t watch anything long, then watch that.

Here is the article, on the Reasonable Faith web site.

Intro:

In 1985 a prominent New Testament scholar named Robert Funk founded a think tank in Southern California which he called the Jesus Seminar. The ostensible purpose of the Seminar was to uncover the historical person Jesus of Nazareth using the best methods of scientific, biblical criticism. In Funk’s view the historical Jesus has been overlaid by Christian legend, myth, and metaphysics and thus scarcely resembled the Christ figure presented in the gospels and worshipped by the Church today. The goal of the Seminar is to strip away these layers and to recover the authentic Jesus who really lived and taught.

Excerpt:

The number one presupposition of the Seminar is antisupernaturalism or more simply, naturalism.Naturalism is the view that every event in the world has a natural cause. There are no events with supernatural causes. In other words, miracles cannot happen.

Now this presupposition constitutes an absolute watershed for the study of the gospels. If you presuppose naturalism, then things like the incarnation, the Virgin Birth, Jesus’ miracles, and his resurrection go out the window before you even sit down at the table to look at the evidence. As supernatural events, they cannot be historical. But if you are at least open to supernaturalism, then these events can’t be ruled out in advance. You have to be open to looking honestly at the evidence that they occurred.

[…][T]he second presupposition which I wanted to discuss, namely, sceptical critics presuppose that our most primary sources for the life of Jesus are not the Gospels, but rather writings outside the New Testament, specifically the socalled apocryphal gospels. These are gospels forged under the apostles’ names, like the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Philip, and so forth. These extrabiblical writings are said to be the key to correctly reconstructing the historical Jesus.

In addition to that, there seems to be a third presupposition – radical religious pluralism.

John Dominic Crossan closed his opening speech in his debate with Dr. Craig with this:

When I look a Buddhist friend in the face, I cannot say with integrity, “Our story about Jesus’ virginal birth is true and factual. Your story that when the Buddha came out of his mother’s womb, he was walking, talking, teaching and preaching (which I must admit is even better than our story)—that’s a myth. We have the truth; you have a lie.” I don’t think that can be said any longer, for our insistence that our faith is a fact and that others’ faith is a lie is, I think, a cancer that eats at the heart of Christianity.

But of course, he thinks that all miracle claims are lies, because of his supernaturalism. What he is really trying to do here is redefine these claims so they are not truth claims at all, but personal preference claims.

But the main point is that the co-chair of the Jesus Seminar pre-supposes that nothing that Christianity claims that offends people in other religions can be true. Before he sits down to look at the evidence. I’m not saying that these guys can’t do history, I’m saying that the real debate with these guys should not be about history. The real debate should be about their presuppositions. We should work to defeat their pre-supposition naturalism with good scientific arguments like the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning, the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, the habitability-discoverability argument, etc. And we should work to defeat their pre-supposition of pluralism by just asking them to defend it, and maybe point out that a person’s being offended by some claim about reality being true does not make that claim false. Logic requires that people who make claims that are made false by reality are wrong and no amount of crying and sobbing can change that.

The second article in the series that Dr. Craig mentioned in the article I linked above is a generic article on the evidence for the historical Jesus. If you have not read a case for the resurrection of Jesus, then read it, too. Or you can check out this lecture by Dr. Craig on the Jesus Seminar and the historical Jesus:

If you want to see a good debate between Dr. Craig and Marcus Borg, here it is:

Dr. Borg is one of the more respected Jesus Seminar people, and a really nice guy. But also, a really wrong guy.

The key thing to know about them is that they presuppose naturalism (miracles never happen) and radical pluralism (no exclusivist religion can be correct, because that would make people in the other religions feel bad). The presuppositions are key to understanding the “historical work” of the Jesus Seminar.