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An Atheist Reads I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist: Chapter 11 
Thursday, May 23rd, 2013 | 08:14 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 11: The Top Ten Reasons We Know the New Testament Writers Told the Truth


  • Even if we accept, as Geisler and Turek would have us do, that the New Testament is essentially historical, how can we be sure the various authors of the gospels and epistles weren’t exaggerating or embellishing their accounts? Geisler and Turek devote this chapter to ten reasons why, as they put it, we can be confident the authors of the New Testament did not play fast and loose with the facts.


  1. The New Testament Writers Included Embarrassing Details About Themselves


  • Geisler and Turek describe what they call “the principle of embarrassment,” which you may recall from Chapter 9 is the seventh test of historical reliability to which they are subjecting the New Testament.

  • “This principle assumes that any details embarrassing to the author are probably true. Why? Because the tendency of most authors is to leave out anything that makes them look bad.” (Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH FAITH TO BE AN ATHEIST, p. 275)

  • The authors list several examples of embarrassing details about the disciples of Jesus: they are dim-witted, often misunderstanding Jesus; they are uncaring, often behaving callously and insensitively toward others, including Jesus; they are rebuked by Jesus and each other, and Jesus even calls Peter “Satan” at one point; they are cowardly, running away and hiding after the arrest of Jesus; they are doubters, refusing to believe that Jesus has risen from the grave until they see him for themselves.

  • “What do you think the New Testament writers would have done if they were making up a story? You know perfectly well: they would have left out their ineptness, their cowardice, the rebuke, the three denials, and their theological problems, and depicted themselves as bold believers who stood by Jesus through it all and who confidently marched down to the tomb on Sunday morning right through the elite Roman guards to find the risen Jesus waiting to congratulate them on their great faith!” (p. 277)



  • Not if they had any sense of drama.

  • Geisler and Turek are basing their reasoning on two faulty assumptions. First, they assume there’s no plausible reason for the New Testament writers to have invented embarrassing details about the disciples. But this ignores the value early Christians, their beliefs shaped very strongly by Jewish tradition, placed on humility and repentance. It wasn’t embarrassing to reveal your flaws — it was a sign of good character. Plus, let’s not forget that the purpose of the New Testament isn’t to make the followers of Jesus look good — it’s to make Jesus look good. If his disciples are all sharp-witted people of sturdy faith and strong moral fiber, you can’t draw much of a contrast to illustrate what made Jesus so special. These stories were being told by people cultishly devoted to Jesus. Their aim was to put him over, even if it meant doing it at their own expense. Which brings me to the second point:

  • It wasn’t at their own expense, since the New Testament, including the gospels, wasn’t written by anyone who actually knew Jesus personally. The authors of the New Testament — the actual authors, not the traditional authors for whom the gospels are named — aren’t writing about themselves. They’re writing down stories that have been passed from person to person orally, and which are designed to convey a narrative about Jesus — that he was better than us, that he was divine and we are fallen, and we need his help.

  • Finally, any Christian who can’t imagine why the authors of the New Testament would invent embarrassing details about the followers of Jesus needs to take another look at his or her fucking religion. Is there any human institution that places a higher premium on self-debasement than the Christian church? We are sinful, we are rebellious, we are worthless, every good thing about us is a gift from God and every good thing that happens to us is the result of the grace of God, and we’d better not forget it. The disciples — the stupid, cowardly disciples, hopelessly lost without Jesus — are the perfect role models. They’re the type of people the church tells us we all are.



  1. The New Testament Writers Included Embarrassing Details and Difficult Sayings of Jesus


  • The New Testament includes passages about Jesus that seem to show him in a bad light, including that he was seen as a lunatic and a drunkard, that he was doubted by his own family, that he was deserted by his own followers, that he angered many of his fellow Jews enough to make them want to kill him, that he was subjected to a public and humiliating form of execution.

    • These “embarrassing details” about Jesus are all the perceptions of other people. The New Testament doesn’t say that Jesus was a drunk or a lunatic, just that other people thought he was. Again, if you’re telling a story meant to put Jesus over as superior, why not surround him with doubters and nay-sayers who he can ultimately prove wrong?

    • As for the ignoble method of Jesus’s execution, it’s entirely possible that this detail wasn’t invented. Remember, despite how Geisler and Turek occasionally treat the New Testament, it isn’t a monolith, and we aren’t faced with the choice of it either being 100% historically accurate, or 100% invented. Maybe the historical Jesus whose life inspired these stories was actually crucified. That doesn’t mean he worked miracles, was the Son of God, or rose from the dead.

    • Also, anyone who has witnessed the pornographic relish with which many Christians regard the gruesome and degrading circumstances of Jesus’s death shouldn’t have to wonder why such a story might have appealed to members of the early church, as well.


  • Geisler and Turek also cite several “difficult sayings” of Jesus, such as sayings that seem to cast doubt on his deity (e.g. saying “the Father is greater than I”), or incidents that are embarrassing (cursing the fig tree when figs weren’t in season, refusing to work miracles in his hometown).

    • Again, it’s possible these “difficult sayings” have some basis in truth. Perhaps the real Jesus was said to have done these things or said these things, and so these details made their way into the stories told about him. None of the examples cited by Geisler and Turek would be acceptable as evidence that Jesus was God, and none of them do anything to explicitly disprove that Jesus was God, either. They’re just some odd bits of the story that can’t immediately be accounted for. Perhaps that’s because they have some basis in fact, perhaps that’s because these stories were told and retold and embellished by multiple people for many years before they were finally written down.

    • Also — and this might be giving the authors of the New Testament far too much credit for consistency and foresight — perhaps the intended lesson of these difficult passages is that you, as a member of the church, as a follower of Christ, should trust in Christ — and more immediately, in the church — even when things don’t seem to make sense. Because despite these confusing details, the overall message of the New Testament and the church is unambiguous: Jesus is Lord, and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll do what he says. (And also what we say.)




  1. The New Testament Writers Left In Demanding Sayings of Jesus


  • Why would the disciples invent a Jesus who made such strict and counterintuitive rules for his followers? The New Testament tells of a Jesus who commanded the love of enemies, who declared that lust is equivalent to adultery, who told his followers to deny themselves personal wealth, and not to pass judgment on others.

  • “These commands clearly are not the commands that people would impose on themselves. Who can live up to such standards? Only a perfect person. Perhaps that’s exactly the point.” (p. 280)

    • I think the point I take from the demanding sayings of Jesus is a little different than the point Geisler and Turek want me to take. Why would the writers of the New Testament invent such hard to follow rules? Well, let’s think about this. Jesus wasn’t around anymore to enforce these rules. Neither were the original disciples by the time most of the New Testament was written down. But who better to see to it that the members of the church were living proper, godly, Christ-centered lives than the supposed successors of the disciples, the leaders of the late-first- and early-second-century church? It’s true, only a perfect person could live up to such a standard. Luckily enough for all the non-perfect people, the church — with its priests and bishops and various other wielders of authority — was there to give them a hand.

    • They establish standards no one could ever hope to meet, but that everyone must meet, then establish themselves as the men with the authority to enforce those standards. Is it really that difficult to imagine a plausible motive for doing this?




  1. The New Testament Writers Carefully Distinguished Jesus’ Words From Their Own



  • The writers of the New Testament always made it very clear when Jesus was speaking, as opposed to themselves. If the stories were invented, why didn’t the authors make up quotes from Jesus in order to settle debates in the church?

    • Aren’t there reasons to assume they did exactly that? Haven’t we discussed such reasons in this series? Remember the depiction of the Agony at Gethsemane, which is an interpolation inserted into Luke, probably to settle an argument in the early church over the nature of Jesus? Isn’t that just the sort of thing Geisler and Turek are saying the writers of the New Testament didn’t do? And yet they did it. We know they did it.

    • Geisler and Turek go on to mention Paul, and how Paul is careful to only quote Jesus a few times in his writings, and always to distinguish his own words from those of Jesus. But Paul, by his own testimony, never knew Jesus. Paul’s theology and teachings are based either on things he heard other early Christians say, or things he straight made up himself. What relevance does how careful Paul seems to be about quoting Jesus have to whether or not the New Testament is true?




  1. The New Testament Writers Include Events Related to the Resurrection That They Would Not Have Invented



  • The account of the burial and resurrection of Jesus includes several details that would not have been invented, including Jesus being buried by Sanhedrin member Joseph of Arimathea, the first witnesses to the empty tomb of Jesus being women, the conversion of many Jewish priests following the resurrection, and the story in Matthew that Jewish priests paid soldiers to spread the rumor that the disciples had stolen Jesus’s body.

    • Perhaps Joseph of Arimathea was historical. If so, it does nothing to prove that the supernatural claims about Jesus are true.

    • Also, Geisler and Turek say that no alternative burial story has ever been found, making Jesus’s burial in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea the only possibility. But in the Apocryphon of James, a non-canonical text from probably the early 2nd century, Jesus describes being buried shamefully, which would seem to suggest something other than being laid to rest in the tomb of a rich leader of the community.

    • The women being the first witnesses to the empty tomb is a subject I discuss in my series on Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ. In the video examining Chapter 12 of that book, I mention Peter Carnley’s book The Structure of Resurrection Belief, where Carnley describes the early church tradition of the disciples accepting that Jesus had risen on the basis of his post-resurrection appearances to them, not the empty tomb. By having women discover the empty tomb first, the author of Mark (the earliest gospel and source for Matthew and Luke) could have it both ways — depict witnesses discovering the empty tomb, and also maintain the tradition that it was the appearances, not the empty tomb, that convinced the disciples Jesus had risen.

    • Also mentioned in that list of events that wouldn’t have been invented is the conversion of many Jewish priests. The only reference to this is in the Book of Acts. No non-Christian source treats the resurrection appearance of Jesus as actual historical occurrences. If so many people saw him alive after his death, and were persuaded that he had returned from the grave and was the Son of God, why does it seem that nobody gave a shit about this other than people who were already followers of Jesus to begin with?

    • Finally, the story that Jewish authorities paid soldiers to spread false rumors about the disciples stealing Jesus’s body and faking his resurrection sounds like just the sort of story you’d want to tell if members of your cult had stolen your dead leader’s body to fake his resurrection, and local authorities found out and were telling people about it.




  1. The New Testament Writers Include More Than Thirty Historically Confirmed People In Their Writings



  • We’ve heard this argument before. Sometimes it cites actual places or historically accurate details, sometimes it cites people we know were real historical figures. Either way, it’s the same reasoning: some of this stuff is true, therefore it all must be true.

  • “There is no way the New Testament writers could have gotten away with writing outright lies about Pilate, Caiaphas, Festus, Felix, and the entire Herodian bloodline. Somebody would have exposed them for falsely implicating these people in events that never occurred.” (p. 284)

    • “Somebody would have exposed their false claims” does not inevitably lead to “there’s no way they could have gotten away with claiming these false things.” Look at a few examples in our modern, media saturated world, of enduring false beliefs: millions of people use homeopathic remedies to treat illnesses, despite irrefutable evidence that they don’t work; many are convinced that George W. Bush, or his family or his presidential administration, was directly responsible for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks; many are still convinced that Barack Obama was born in Kenya; some still insist, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Elvis is alive. If false beliefs such as these can still endure, when there are plenty of people around who know better, and information has never been more abundant or easier to access, is it really so impossible to believe that inaccurate or exaggerated or even entirely fabricated stories involving real people, which many would have known to be false, would have been accepted by some as true in an era before popular media, when our modern concepts of journalism, and history, and science did not yet exist?




  1. The New Testament Writers Include Divergent Details



  • The fact that the gospels disagree on some incidental details is actually proof that they were telling the truth, not evidence that they made things up, since it shows there was no collusion among the various gospel writers to assure they all told the same story.

  • “Critics are quick to cite the apparently contradictory Gospel accounts as evidence that the Gospels can’t be trusted for accurate information. For example, Matthew says there was one angel at the tomb of Jesus while John mentions two. Isn’t this a contradiction that blows the credibility of these accounts?” (p. 284)

    • Most critics, skeptics, non-Christians such as myself, don’t reject the New Testament as the Word of God because of contradictions in the gospels on incidental details like the number of angels. We reject it because of preposterous details like the presence of angels.

    • Divergent details might help to disprove collusion, but they don’t disprove fabrication, or exaggeration, or embellishment, all of which are far more plausible explanations for the New Testament than “it all must be true.”




  1. The New Testament Writers Challenge Their Readers to Check Out Verifiable Facts, Even Facts About Miracles



  • Geisler and Turek reiterate some previously cited examples of the New Testament writers inviting their readers to check up on them — Luke asserting his accuracy to Theophilus, Paul claiming 500 eyewitnesses saw the resurrected Jesus, etc. — then add another: Paul, writing in II Corinthians, reminding his readers that he personally performed miracles for them when he was among them.



  • “Now why would Paul write this to the Corinthians unless he really had done miracles for them?” (p. 286)

    • So the options Geisler and Turek have given us are these: either Paul is making up a story which he knows the Corinthians will reject, or Paul is telling the truth and he actually did perform miracles. What about the possibility that the Corinthians thought Paul had performed miracles, and perhaps even Paul thought he had performed miracles, too, but no miracles were, in fact, performed. There are many Christians today, all over the world, including here in the civilized, sophisticated, educated West, who believe with absolute conviction that they have witnessed miracles, signs and wonders performed at their churches. I don’t think miracles, signs and wonders are occurring in their churches, or in any churches, not today, not in Paul’s day, not ever.




  1. New Testament Writers Describe Miracles Like Other Historical Events: With Simple, Unembellished Accounts



  • Geisler and Turek compare the more lurid, extravagant accounts of the resurrection from non-canonical texts to what they consider to be the more matter-of-fact depictions found in the gospels.

    • A preposterous story told in a direct, no-nonsense style is still a preposterous story.

    • The canonical gospels only qualify as “matter-of-fact, almost bland descriptions,” as Geisler and Turek call them, if you don’t consider things like the voice of God speaking from the heavens, the presence of angels, dramatically timed earthquakes and periods of sudden darkness, and a scene of Jesus becoming radiant and speaking with apparitions of Moses and Elijah to be extravagant embellishments.




  1. The New Testament Writers Abandoned Their Long-Held Sacred Beliefs and Practices, Adopted New Ones, and Did Not Deny Their Testimony Under Persecution or Threat of Death



  • That title sums up the argument pretty well, so let me just get to the main point:

  • “How do you explain these monumental shifts if the New Testament writers were making up a story? How do you explain them if the Resurrection did not occur?” (p. 291)

    • It’s not that difficult, really. I can explain those things as resulting from people believing the story the New Testament tells, and believing that the resurrection occurred. And I don’t deny that people did, and do believe that. I deny that those beliefs represent reality.

    • A better question might be, if the Resurrection did occur, how do you explain its non-existent impact on the culture and history of the land and people immediately surrounding it? Why do we find only passing references to the beliefs of Christians, rather than reports of the incredible resurrected rabbi, whose reanimated body was witnessed by hundreds of people, walking around for weeks after his public execution?

    • Also, I don’t think the shifts in sacred beliefs and practices were quite as dramatic as Geisler and Turek are making them out to be. Most of the earliest Christians were Jews who saw Jesus as the fulfillment of their faith, not as someone commanding them to abandon their faith.


  • “Finally, in addition to abandoning long-held sacred institutions and adopting new ones, the New Testament writers suffered persecution and death when they could have saved themselves by recanting.” (p. 292)

  • Geisler and Turek also differentiate between these early Christian martyrs, and Muslim martyrs of centuries past and today, by asserting that, unlike Muslims, Christians base their beliefs on eyewitness testimony, and the early Christian martyrs would have been dying for beliefs that they knew with certainty to be true, or false.

    • This would be the “die for a lie” argument, then. Here are two reasons this is a terrible and unconvincing argument.




  • First, we only know about the disciples and their fates through the New Testament and church traditions. We have no way of knowing whether the stories of their capture and torture and execution are true. We also have no way of knowing whether or not they, or other early Christians who may have been persecuted, could have saved themselves by recanting. Apologists and evangelists assume that this would have been the case, but we don’t know that those early Christians could have escaped their martyrdoms (if they were, in fact, martyred) by renouncing their religious beliefs.

  • Second, Geisler and Turek, and everyone else who makes this argument with reference to the gospels, is assuming that the writers of the gospels were persecuted and martyred. But we don’t know who the writers of the gospels were, let alone if they were among those persecuted and executed. Those church traditions tell about the fates of the apostles, but the gospels weren’t written by the apostles, so even if we could trust those church traditions, they tell us nothing about the writers of the gospels.

  • We simply know too little about who wrote the gospels, who the disciples were, what became of them, which early Christians were persecuted and executed, and why, to make this argument.

  • But even if we grant Geisler and Turek all of this, even if we agree that the followers of Jesus went to their deaths holding on to their faith, when recanting could have saved their lives, we still don’t have a compelling reason to believe, ourselves, that the beliefs they died for were true. It’s possible that they sincerely believed their beliefs were true, even though they weren’t. It’s possible they knew their beliefs weren’t true, but they chose to die without recanting anyway, to make a proud example for their families or churches, or because they believed that their teachings, though based on false beliefs, might lead to a greater good.

  • Again, I think the best explanation is none of this stuff even happened, at least not as Geisler and Turek tell it. But even if the disciples did die as Geisler and Turek describe, there are numerous explanations that are far more plausible than “their beliefs were 100% true.”


Next: Chapter 12: Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?
Comments 
Friday, May 24th, 2013 | 05:15 am (UTC) - an atheist reads i don't have enough faith to be an atheist chapter 11
Anonymous
the one thing i always hated about christianity is how it makes humans feel guilty of being human and speaking of what happened to jesus after he died.what is your theories steve?corey donaldson ps once again you are welcome and thanks for doing these videos
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