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An Atheist Reads I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist: Chapter 9 
Thursday, May 9th, 2013 | 10:30 am [i don't have enough faith, video, vlog]
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An Atheist Reads I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist
Chapter 9: Do We Have Early Testimony About Jesus?

The Gospel According to Non-Christians

  • Geisler and Turek begin by describing the extra-biblical sources for Jesus. First, they summarize the mentions of Jesus in Josephus (which doesn’t take long). Twice in Antiquities of the Jews (finished in A.D. 93), he mentions Jesus: once to call him a wise and virtuous man who had disciples from among the Jews and other nations, who was crucified, and whose disciples believed had risen from the dead; and once when referencing the death of James, the brother of Jesus.

  • Geisler and Turek claim a total of ten non-Christian sources for Jesus dating to within 150 years of his life. From only these non-biblical sources, we can learn the following twelve things about Jesus: (p. 223)

  1. Jesus lived during the time of Tiberius Caesar.

  2. He lived a virtuous life.

  3. He was a wonder-worker.

  4. He had a brother named James.

  5. He was acclaimed to be the Messiah.

  6. He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.

  7. He was crucified on the eve of the Jewish Passover.

  8. Darkness and an earthquake occurred when he died.

  9. His disciples believed he rose from the dead.

  10. His disciples were willing to die for their belief.

  11. Christianity spread rapidly as far as Rome.

  12. His disciples denied the Roman gods and worshiped Jesus as God.

  • Even if we trust Geisler and Turek completely (and we shouldn’t — their scrutiny of evidence that supports their beliefs about Jesus is noticeably slacker compared to how they approached evidence for abiogenesis and evolution), nothing in this list of twelve facts about Jesus compels belief in any god, or belief that Jesus was himself divine, or that our opinion about him or the nature of his death has anything to do with our fate after we die.

  • Geisler and Turek assert that the non-biblical sources for Jesus refute the theory that Jesus never existed.

    • I think there probably was some historical basis for the Jesus we read about in the New Testament, but I must point out (since I doubt Geisler or Turek will) that the non-biblical sources mostly only report what people believed about Jesus. Proponents of the Jesus Myth Theory don’t have to exclude them from the record in order to make their case.

  • “But the implications run even deeper than that. What does this say about the New Testament? On the face of it, non-Christian sources affirm the New Testament. While the non-Christian authors don’t say they believe in the Resurrection, they report that the disciples certainly believed it.” (Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH FAITH TO BE AN ATHEIST, p. 223)

    • On the face of it, non-Christian sources affirm parts of the New Testament. Apologists play this game all the time, treating the New Testament as a monolith, so that a confirmation of one part of it can be used as a confirmation of every part of it. It doesn’t work that way.

    • Also, non-Christian sources reporting what the disciples believed is evidence for only that — what the disciples believed. It proves nothing about whether or not what the disciples believed was actually true. In fact, the beliefs of the disciples about Jesus — he was God, he worked miracles, he returned from his own death — are so incredible that even if we weren’t separated from these supposed events by thousands of years, we would still need much more compelling evidence than a report of what people believed before it would be reasonable for us to believe those things, too. There are many, many sources from outside the alien abductee community that report that people in that community believe they have been taken aboard alien spacecraft. Does knowing they believe it make me believe it?

  • To determine if the New Testament is a reliable historical record, Geisler and Turek ask two questions: (p. 224)

  1. Do we have accurate copies of the original documents that were written down in the first century?

  2. Do those documents speak the truth?

Question 1: Do We Have an Accurate Copy?

  • Geisler and Turek deny that the provenance of the New Testament is comparable to the telephone game, since it is not a single message told to one person, who then told it to another, etc. Rather, it is numerous separate messages from independent witnesses, who each put down their observations in writing to be passed down.

    • So it’s not one telephone game; it’s several telephone games, being carried on concurrently.

  • “When we speak of the New Testament documents, we are not talking about one writing, but about 27 writings. . . . These individual writings have since been collected into one book we now call the Bible. So the New Testament is not just one source, but a collection of sources.” (p. 224)

    • It’s not a monolith when they need to count it as more than one source. It is a monolith when they need to use external confirmation of the plausible stuff to argue for the crazy, made-up stuff.

    • It’s not fair to count each book of the New Testament as a separate source, especially when it comes to the gospels. I’ll get more into that shortly.

  • Even though we lack the original manuscripts, Geisler and Turek assure us we can be confident that the copies of the New Testament in our Bibles accurately contain what was in those original manuscripts because we have many very early manuscripts. In fact, there are more early manuscripts for the New Testament than for any other ancient document, including Homer’s The Iliad.

  • “Most other ancient works survive on fewer than a dozen manuscripts, yet few historians question the historicity of the events those works describe.” (p. 225)

    • There is plenty of disagreement regarding the historicity of Homer. And even those who take The Iliad, for example, to be essentially historical don’t believe in the existence of Zeus, or Apollo, or Athena, or any of the other gods who feature very prominently in that story.

  • The New Testament also has very early manuscripts to confirm its authenticity.

  • “The earliest undisputed manuscript is a segment of John 18:31-33, 37-38 known as the John Rylands fragment . . . Scholars date it between A.D. 117-138, but some say it is even earlier.” (p. 225)

    • “Some say.” They love those weasel words.

    • The portion of John 18 on that oldest surviving manuscript fragment depicts Jesus before Pilate, and contains Pilate’s famous question, “What is truth?” And according to Geisler and Turek it originated as long as a century after the death of Jesus. Pardon me if I’m not terribly impressed.

  • The New Testament manuscripts are also supported — meaning they are quoted in other works from around the same time — so extensively that even if no early manuscripts survived, the original documents could still be reconstructed almost entirely from quotations.

  • Geisler and Turek argue that the manuscripts are accurate because, even though there are an estimated 200,000 errors in the manuscripts, most of these are grammatical errors. Only 400 variants in the manuscripts change the meaning of a passage, and only fifty occur in passages of real significance, and no variants affect articles of faith or Christian duties that are not found in other, better confirmed passages.

    • If the New Testament was the perfect word of God, why should we expect to find any errors or inconsistencies between copies? In fact, finding absolutely no error or inconsistencies in early copies might not have proven that the Bible was the Word of God, but it certainly wouldn’t have hurt.

    • I also quarrel with the claim that the inconsistencies don’t impact any articles of faith. Back in my series reviewing Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, I discussed how the Codex Vaticanus, one of the oldest surviving near-complete manuscripts, lacks the passage in Luke describing the Agony at Gethsemane, which has significant implications concerning the nature of Christ, whether he was fully human, fully divine, or, as was eventually decided, of a dual nature, simultaneously fully human and fully divine. That’s in the video reviewing Chapter 3 of The Case for Christ, if you haven’t seen it and you’re interested.

Question 2: Is the New Testament Historically Reliable?

  • Here’s what Geisler and Turek have to say about how to go about answering that question:

  • “In order to discover this, we need to ascertain what kind of records comprise the New Testament. Are they documents written soon after the events by eyewitnesses (or by those who interviewed eyewitnesses), or are they documents written much later by biased followers who simply embellished details about the life of a real historical figure?” (p. 230)

    • Or is the actual answer far messier and more complicated than either of those two possibilities?

  • Geisler and Turek list seven historical tests to which they will subject the New Testament over the course of this and the following three chapters: (p. 231)

  1. Do we have early testimony?

  2. Do we have eyewitness testimony?

  3. Do we have testimony from multiple, independent, eyewitness sources?

  4. Are the eyewitnesses trustworthy?

  5. Do we have corroborating evidence from archaeology or other writers?

  6. Do we have any enemy attestation?

  7. Does the testimony contain events or details that are embarrassing to the authors?

  • Before focusing on the first test, determining if there is early testimony, Geisler and Turek discuss four common objections to the reliability of the New Testament.

  • History Cannot Be Known.

  • “. . . if we cannot know history, then skeptics cannot claim that Christianity is untrue. To say that Christianity is untrue, the skeptic must know history. Why? Because every negation implies an affirmation. To say that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead (the negation), the skeptic must know what actually did happen to him (the affirmation).” (p. 232)

    • The study of history isn’t about absolutes. It’s about assembling a picture as best we can from the pieces we have available to us. The assertion that history can’t be known is true, if by “know” you mean “to have absolute certainty about”. There’s always the possibility that past events, even those we have the best, most complete understanding of, could actually have happened differently than we think. And that possibility is greater the more removed the event in question is from the present, and the less evidence we have pertaining to the event.

    • History can be known, to varying degrees of certainty. And the certainty with which we can know about a given historical event varies depending on the evidence we have available. That’s why the statement, “To say that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, the skeptic must know what actually did happen to him” is so blatantly absurd. To say that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, all I need is a reason to doubt that Jesus rose from the dead. If you borrow my car, and you promise to bring it back here by ten o’clock tonight, and ten o’clock comes around and you show up in another car, and I ask you where my car is, and you say “On Mars,” I don’t have to know where my car actually is to be able to conclude, provisionally but with a high degree of confidence, that my car is not on Mars.

  • The New Testament Documents Contain Miracles. Geisler and Turek remind us that they have already proven that God exists. (Thanks for that reminder, fellas!) Therefore, miracles are possible.

    • This is the problem with trying to put stuff on a shelf you didn’t actually hang. Also, if the only thing necessary for the plausibility of miracle claims is the existence of God, does that mean Geisler and Turek aren’t skeptical about miracle claims from outside Christianity? Are the supernatural claims made by Muslims about Muhammad credible to them?

  • The New Testament Writers Were Biased. Geisler and Turek dispute the proposition that the New Testament is unreliable because it was written by the converted, on the basis that they must have converted for a reason.

  • “The New Testament writers certainly had no reason to make up a new religion. We must remember that all of them (with the possible exception of Luke) were Jews who firmly believed they already had the one true religion.” (p. 234)

  • The same could be said for the early followers of Joseph Smith, and yet I notice Geisler and Turek aren’t Mormons. And something tells me if they wanted biographical information on Smith, they would look beyond the writing of people who believed him to be a prophet of God.

  • Converted People Are Not Objective. Geisler and Turek dispute this. The writers of the New Testament may not have been neutral on the subject of Jesus, they say, but that doesn’t mean they were incapable of being objective.

    • The thing is, the people who originated and disseminated the stories recorded in the New Testament documents weren’t just a little biased. They were members of a cult. They weren’t just fond of Jesus — they worshipped him. They were convinced that he was God. And more than that, they were convinced that he wanted them to convince others that he was God, also. Am I honestly supposed to accept their testimony as evidence that the things they believed are true?

Are the New Testament Documents Early?

  • So, back to our first historical test. Geisler and Turek argue that the New Testament documents are early. They argue that every book of the New Testament was written by A.D. 100, because of quotations found in letters written by Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp — early church fathers writing in the late first and early second centuries. They further argue that most if not all of the New Testament was written by A.D. 70, because the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, in A.D. 70, isn’t mentioned, which Geisler and Turek compare to a book written about the history of the World Trade Center not mentioning the 9/11 attacks.

  • But wait! They push their origination date back even further by repeating the same argument to claim that Luke must have written his gospel and the Book of Acts by A.D. 62, because Luke, the companion of Paul, fails to mention Paul’s death in A.D. 68, or the death of James the brother of Jesus in A.D. 62. And if Luke wrote his gospel in A.D. 60, Mark must have written his even sooner, because Luke used Mark as a source. This pushes the date back even further to the mid-to-late 50s.

  • “But even if Mark is not before Luke, the very fact that we know beyond a reasonable doubt that Luke is before 62 and probably before 60 means that we have meticulously recorded eyewitness testimony written within 25 or 30 years of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. This is far too early to be legendary.” (p. 241)

    • You guys who have watched the series I made on The Case for Christ, do you remember the “too early to be legendary” argument? For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, it’s the idea that proving the New Testament was written within a few decades of the life of Jesus also proves that the New Testament is historically reliable, because that’s not nearly enough time for the stories to have been contaminated by legend. There are countless examples of why this argument is total bullshit. My favorite is the stories about George Washington, written by Parson Weems and published within a year or so of Washington’s death. It’s from Weems that we get the popular myth that Washington chopped down a cherry tree, then confessed it to his father by saying “I cannot tell a lie.” Historians know, with great certainty, that this never actually happened. And yet many people today still believe it, even though Parson Weems flat-out made it up, when the memory of Washington was still fresh in the minds of nearly every American.

  • But wait! Again! There’s yet another revision of the origination date, thanks to Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. In I Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul summarizes the basic Christian beliefs about the resurrection and post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, quoting what Geisler and Turek, citing Gary Habermas (another Case for Christ alumnus), call an early creed of the church that could date back to as early as eighteen months following the crucifixion.

  • “Moreover, notice that Paul cites fourteen eyewitnesses whose names are known: the twelve apostles, James, and Paul himself . . . and then references an appearance to more than 500 others at one time. . . . By naming so many people who could verify what Paul was saying, Paul was, in effect, challenging his Corinthian leaders to check him out.” (pp. 242-243)

    • Geisler and Turek make a big deal about these 500 anonymous witnesses, as does Lee Strobel in The Case for Christ. When Paul was writing, most of those 500 would have still been alive! Imagine, 500 first-hand eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus, available to confirm the authenticity of what Paul and others were writing about Jesus. Apologists seem to imagine that these 500 witnesses were just sitting around, minding their own business, waiting for Christians to come up and question them. But if 500 people had personally witnessed Jesus walking around, preaching after his death and burial, wouldn’t we find the fact of his resurrection much better attested in the non-biblical historical record? Remember, the non-Christian sources touted earlier in this chapter consist of people writing many decades after the fact, reporting what his followers believed about Jesus. There are no early sources from outside the church that mention Jesus being seen by multitudes of people after his death. And yet, if there were 500 first-hand eyewitnesses to this, shouldn’t we expect to see a lot more noise being made about it in historical documents from that time? Wouldn’t the story of this man who had been widely seen having returned from death have been a major topic of discussion?

    • Note: I’m not saying the lack of a bigger footprint (or any footprint) in the non-biblical sources is proof that the resurrection didn’t happen. I just find it reason enough not to accept these reported 500 eyewitnesses as evidence that it did happen.

    • So, about these dates. The argument to get them to A.D. 100 actually sounds credible to me. The argument that gets them to A.D. 70 sounds like an argument from incredulity. Geisler and Turek do their best to put over the destruction of Jerusalem as worse than Pearl Harbor and 9/11, an event that no Jew who survived it would ever omit from an account of the life of Jesus — who supposedly predicted the destruction of the temple. But there are many surviving documents from the early church that don’t make a big deal about the destruction of Jerusalem. In that context, I don’t see why the New Testament not mentioning it is so significant. Geisler and Turek use the same appeal to incredulity to get to A.D. 60, insisting that Luke would have written about significant events if they had happened yet when he was writing.

    • And then there’s the use of the creed in I Corinthians 15. This is my favorite, because in order to use this as evidence, Geisler and Turek have to draw attention to the fact, admitted by Paul himself, that Paul was merely passing on received information. Even this early church creed, originating mere months after the crucifixion, comes to us in the form of second-hand hearsay. Granting Geisler and Turek all their arguments, giving them everything they’re asking for here, only gets us early evidence of what followers of Jesus believed about him. And that is simply not good enough, particularly when the claims made about Jesus are so far-fetched.

Skeptic’s Advocate

  • Geisler and Turek address three hypothetical skeptical objections to their case for an early New Testament.

  • The Documents Are Not Early Enough. This objection states that even if the New Testament writings about Jesus were made within 15-40 years of his life, that is too long a gap to expect the information contained in them to be reliable. Geisler and Turek counter that it is relatively easy for most people to remember events that took place within their lifetimes, even decades past, especially if those events were of some great significance to them. They, like Strobel in The Case for Christ, cite A. N. Sherwin-White to establish that legend could not possibly have corrupted an account written within two generations of the actual events.

    • If you watch the last video in my Case for Christ series, I address the apologist reliance on Sherwin-White, and how they misuse him to establish this non-existent principle for how long it takes legend to develop around a historical account. The short version is: Sherwin-White doesn’t say we shouldn’t ever expect to find legendary corruption within two-generations, doesn’t mean to establish any such principle, and besides, we can see for ourselves — through the George Washington stories, through Elvis sightings, through belief in conspiracy theories, and numerous other examples, that mistaken beliefs about historical figures and events can take hold very quickly and endure even if the people who hold these beliefs are surrounded on all sides by other people who know better.

  • Why Not Earlier? Why didn’t the New Testament writers put their testimony on paper even sooner? Geisler and Turek have a good answer:

  • “First, since the New Testament writers were living in a culture where the vast majority of people were illiterate, there was no initial need or utility in writing it down.” (p. 245)

    • Okay. Oral culture. Most people illiterate. No need to write it down. And yet, we still have these documents, these accounts of Jesus, passed down to us today. Keep that in mind as we move to the third and final objection.

  • Why Not More? Why isn’t there much, much more about Jesus in the historical record than there is? Why only a few passing mentions in non-church sources? And most significantly (and I only say that because I just mentioned it myself a few minutes ago), why nothing from the 500 witnesses of the resurrected Jesus? Geisler and Turek have an answer for this:

  • “This is an unreasonable expectation, for a number of reasons. First, as we have already pointed out, first-century Palestine was an oral culture. Most people were illiterate and remembered and passed on information orally.” (p. 247)

    • So for the New Testament documents that we do have, the oral culture and illiteracy only delayed them being written down for a few decades. But that same oral culture and common illiteracy prevented the testimonies from these 500 first-hand eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus from surviving for us to read. There are more epicycles in this apologetic than in the Ptolemaic system.

    • Two more points about the missing testimony of the 500 and how it relates to the rest of the New Testament. First, remember that the gospels were not actually written by their traditional authors. They began as oral traditions and were eventually written down, too. If there were 500 first-hand eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus just walking around Jerusalem in the years following the crucifixion, why do we have only four gospels in the canon? And why are these four gospels largely plagiarized from each other, rather than separate, independent sources? There were apparently plenty of sources available, at least for the post-death portion of Jesus’s ministry.

    • Second, it’s not just the lack of recorded testimony from the 500 that compels skepticism — it’s the total absence of the miraculous event they supposedly witnessed from the non-Christian historical record. Again, if there were 500 eyewitnesses to Jesus preaching after his execution and burial, why is it the most we find about the resurrection in non-Christian sources are brief, passing references to the fact that followers of Jesus believed this?

    • Finally, on a more general note, Geisler and Turek repeatedly make the point toward the end of this chapter that we actually have more evidence for Jesus than we would expect to have. To expect more evidence, more historical records, more extra-biblical sources, is just unreasonable, they say. Okay. Fair enough. Then believing Jesus was the Son of God, born of a virgin, worked miracles, and was raised from the dead is unreasonable, too. They say “We have more than enough evidence to establish historicity.” And if you’re trying to convince me that the Jesus of the Bible is based on a real person, you win. I accept that there probably was an historical Jesus. But if you want me to believe that this historical Jesus was in fact the same Jesus we read about in the gospels — the supernatural, divine Jesus Christians worship — I’m going to need a lot more. All I’ve got so far is that there was a man who lived a long time ago, who people had some pretty incredible beliefs about. And if you’re telling me that the best explanation for these beliefs — held by superstitious and credulous people, who were also uneducated by Geisler and Turek’s own description — is that they are true, then I have to seriously consider putting you in that superstitious, credulous category as well.

Next: Chapter 10: Do We Have Eyewitness Testimony About Jesus?
Thursday, May 9th, 2013 | 07:48 pm (UTC) - an atheist reads i don't have enough faith to be an atheist chapter 9
you are welcome steve and thank you by the way for doing these videos to show us viewers how convaluted christianity really is.corey donaldson
Sunday, May 12th, 2013 | 04:50 am (UTC) - i don't have enough faith to be a goddamn apologist
i never noticed these "liner notes" and comments before or i would have commented. i've watched all your "an atheist reads..." videos and i look forward to them when they come out. always very entertaining, especially when your 'talent' for subtle mockery rears its evil head. PLEASE keep up the good work!
kurt otto, from texas
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