Friday, August 06, 2010

The Search For the Historical Jesus

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...Image via Wikipedia

A Short Argument for the Early Dating of the Gospels By: Gregory Koukl
The so-called "search for the historic Jesus" is over one hundred years old.  Virtually nothing discovered during that time undermines the Gospel accounts.
For example, we know the Apostle Paul died during the Neronian persecution of A.D. 64.  Paul was still alive at the close of Acts, so that writing came some time before A.D. 64.  Acts was a continuation of Luke's Gospel, which must have been written earlier still.  The book of Mark predates Luke, even by the Jesus Seminar's reckoning.  This pushes Mark's Gospel into the 50s, just over twenty years after the crucifixion
A succinct argument by Gregory "Columbo" Koukl for an early dating of the earliest Christian writings. Gary Habermas does a version of this where he establishes that -- even discounting Luke's account in the Acts of the Apostles -- the apostles were preaching the resurrection and a high Christology within a year of the death of Christ.

As for the "search for the historical Jesus" -- it usually results in the persons finding a Jesus who looks a lot like them, sharing their world-view, priorities, etc.  Furthermore, the only Jesus worth finding is the one depicted in the four gospels we have at hand -- the Jesus who is Lord, Savior, and Son of God.

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26 comments:

P@J said...

Are these the same people who counted back "begats" and determined the earth was created on an October Tuesday in 6000 BC?

Joe said...

From faded memory I read somewhere that of all the ancient documents out there our first extant version of the New Testament is closest to the original than any other such literature. With the exception of a few verses the entire New Testament as we know it can be compared to copies of the New Testament written within the first century and a half of Christianity. Works like the Iliad have gaps of multiple centuries between the original and what we now believe to be the Iliad.

xn--hrfn-woa said...

"Paul was still alive at the close of Acts, so that writing came some time before A.D. 64."

This is an Argument from Silence -- at the best of times not an ironclad argument, and this is one of the less compelling examples (I can think of dozens of reasons why the author of Acts might fail to mention Paul's death).

Further we DO NOT "know the Apostle Paul died during the Neronian persecution of A.D. 64." This is merely a Christian tradition. THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THIS CLAIM. That this author states tradition as fact demonstrates that HE HAS NO CREDIBILITY WHATSOEVER!

It would appear that "the Search For the Historical Jesus" is nothing more than 'a search for lies to convince the gullible about the historical Jesus'.

To the best of my knowledge, it is questionable whether any contemporary independent (i.e. non-Christian) account even reliably establishes the existence of Jesus, let alone attests to his actions (the weight of scholarly opinion appears to be that he did exist, but that there's little, if anything, that can be said with certainty about who he was and what he did).

I don't know how Habermas "establishes" the contrary, but I can be certain that it is not on the basis of reliable contemporary independent attestation.

xn--hrfn-woa said...

"With the exception of a few verses the entire New Testament as we know it can be compared to copies of the New Testament written within the first century and a half of Christianity."

I would question that. As far as I can see (e.g. from the articles in subcategories under Biblical manuscripts by century) most of the "ancient documents" are highly fragmentary before the 4th Century, and almost non-existent before the 3rd Century.

Given that, unlike the Iliad, the content and meaning of these documents was the subject of considerable, and often bitter, early debate, I don't think the number of (often conflicting) relatively early (but often fragmentary) copies adds too much to the debate.

Finally, at least 3 books in the New Testament, 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus are widely acknowledged not to have been written by their purported author, Paul or Tarsus, and are thus fakes (with three more, Ephesians, Colossians & 2 Thessalonians being widely questioned).

As these books are approximately as "ancient" as the rest of the New Testament, the ancient-therefore-authentic argument looks rather shaky.

xn--hrfn-woa said...

Further holes in the historicity of Jesus-in-the-Bible (as opposed to a minimalist 'Bare-Jesus'), include:

1) The Nativity account, which is full of holes (conflicting accounts, conflict with political context, non-existent census, non-existent reason-for-going-to-Bethlehem, non-existent Slaughter of the Innocents), and is widely discredited -- e.g. called "pious fictions" by Religious Historian Géza Vermes.

2) Childhood home of Nazareth is not mentioned in any pre-Christian texts, and there is no unambiguous archaeological evidence of a pre-Christian era settlement.

3) Early non-Christian sources are more apt to talk about Christians than Jesus, and those that refer to Jesus are questioned as to whether they are original or later Christian interpolations (some obvious, some not so obvious).

xn--hrfn-woa said...

"The epistles, though, record a high Christology within 10 to 20 years of the crucifixion." -- Gregory Koukl

I would however point out that these epistles say very little about the life or ministry of Jesus. They therefore provide verification of the historicity of Christianity, but very little of the historicity of Jesus.

RkBall said...

Joe -- the texts of the NT are the most attested to (via extant manuscripts) by a factor of about 1000. It is a wonderful thing to study them. I once saw an ancient copy of the gospels at the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington. Worm holes, and all.

It was thrilling to be so proximate to an ancient witness.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex_Washingtonianus

The manuscript in question has an alternate ending to the book of Mark.

xn--hrfn-woa said...

The Codex Washingtonianus is dated to circa 400 CE -- after Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire.

Joe said...

"The Codex Washingtonianus is dated to circa 400 CE -- after Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire."

Proving what?

Christianity and Rome are not synonymous. The Ancient Church in India, Egypt, Ethiopia etc also have versions of the New Testament that bear witness to the veracity of that which we read. Much of the written New Testament can be found in Europe but the documents I'm referring to predate Constantine by well over a hundred years.

That being said I don't read the Gospel accounts of Jesus for the sake of history. I know He existed as He is also testified to in non Christian history. I read the Gospel accounts because they are Spiritual words that speak to the Spiritual man within me. That will drive darkness dwellers like xn hrfn woa insane but I don't care. I simply wish he would come out of the dark and discover what this wonderful Creation and Its even more wonderful Creator has to offer. Kind of sad though watching a blind man deny the beauty of a sunset because someone else equally blind said sunsets don't exist. Pity!

xn--hrfn-woa said...

Joe:

"Proving what?"

That it really 'attests' to very little.

"Much of the written New Testament can be found in Europe but the documents I'm referring to predate Constantine by well over a hundred years. "

Which documents? And are they reasonably complete or small fragments?

"I know He existed as He is also testified to in non Christian history."

Where is he directly and reliably "testified to in non Christian history." As far as I know, the 'testimony' is either (i) Christian interpolations (such as the Testimonium Flavianum in Josephus), (ii) references to early Christians as opposed to Jesus himself (Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny the Younger) or (iii) passing references, which may be to Jesus-of-the-Bible, but may also be to somebody else of the same name.

And thank you for calling me a "darkness dweller". May I return the compliment by calling you a clueless, scientifically-ignorant, logically-challenged, truthiness-believing troglodyte.

Joe said...

xn hrfn woa Did you realize that a closed loop doesn't allow for growth? Of course you do that is why you keep coming up with pat answers! You don't want the growth! You prefer the closed loop of eliminating everything that doesn't line up with your darkened petty world view. Pity really and definitely not scientific. But then that is what is to be expected from someone who spends way too much time on a Christian web site arguing black is white. I guess I shouldn't really be surprised after all what should I expect from a bunch of temporarily coalesced atoms, intelligent discourse?

xn--hrfn-woa said...

"Closed loop"?

Your Christianity therefore the Bible therefore Christianity thinking is the very epitome of Cognitive Closure.

You have about as much understanding of the scientific method and the philosophy of science as a blind-from-birth man would have of a rainbow.

Again, you are making ad hominem attacks to deflect from the point that you have no facts to back up your claims.

Joe said...

Well xn hrfn woa since you won't accept any facts there doesn't seem much point in presenting them. It would be kind of like casting pearls before swine or giving the kid's lunch to the dog.

I would really like you to go back over my posts and find where I have said I believe in Christianity because of the Bible or that I believe in the Bible because I am a Christian. I have never said as much because I don't believe as much.

I am a Christian firstly by the Gift that I have been given. That Gift being the Gift of Belief. At the same time I can cite example after example of things not being the way it would seem they are. I could tell you of how my family lived for 3 1/2 years with no income and no money to begin with. I can tell you of having $10.00 in the bank but taking out $540.00 to pay the rent that month. I could tell you of feeding the neighbours and our family with barely enough food to feed our family. Then having so much food left over we threw it out. I could tell you of having no money in the bank in January and owning a house free and clear the next January (twice). I can tell you of how I taught my wife how to play the piano without any understanding of the piano myself. I could tell you of playing the trumpet and having the entire church fall silent at the end as the Spirit of God ministered to the people. I could tell you of preaching sermons where entire churches rushe the altar. I could tell you of the Shedinah Glory coming down from the Cross on the wall of an old country church as the congregation bowed its head in prayer. I could tell you all these things but it would be casting pearls before swine and feeding the kid's lunch to the dog since you are not capable of Spiritual understanding. I base my belief on my understanding and my experience. I read the Bible not for its history but for what it has to say to me today. Yes the Bible is historical and yes the history in it is accurate but that matters less than the Spiritual Words it speaks to the Spiritual man that dwells within me.

You don't want to believe? Fine by me. But I KNOW WHOM I HAVE BELIEVED! and nothing you can say or do will ever take that away.

xn--hrfn-woa said...

No Joe, neither you nor Rick have presented A SINGLE FACT! Just a string of unsubstantiated assertions. Both of your postings on this blog give the appearance of the notorious Gish Gallop: "a rapid-fire approach during a debate, presenting arguments and changing topics very quickly ... failing to answer objections raised by his opponents."

And Joe, I don't give the proverbial "pair of fetid dingo's kidneys" for your personal testimonial. As I have stated before, such experiences are very personal, very idiosyncratic, and so are non-transitive. That you expect it to have any effect whatsoever, after you have so obviously lost all credibility with me, is just further evidence of your egocentricity.

Joe said...

xn hrfn woa you're funny! You remind me of the occasion of the Challenger exploding. Everyone in the area could see the thing explode but somewhere far removed was some clown saying it seems we have had a malfunction. In other words you haven't a clue and as such are not worthy of debate. I have witnessed as have MILLIONS upon MILLIONS of others over the MILlENIA the Truth have witnessed and you standing on your little pile of dung are going to prove us all wrong by power of your wearisome insult. Well news flash to you Christianity has taken this old world by the ear and shaken it. If fact as Someone far greater than I proclaimed "the forces of hell shall not prevail against this faith". You want to carve holes in dung heaps feel free you prove nothing and persuade no one. The fact is that I pity you. Having done your damnedest what have you gained? New freedom? New insight? No you just look foolish and prove yourself as deep as a parking lot puddle. Enjoy banning all the evidence you want and when you are finished your sentient temporary coalescence what shall it matter? Shall men and women look back with fondness as they plant your sorry atoms? Will you implant great hope and wisdom to present and future generations or will they laugh at you and your rabid foolishness? As for me I will by His Grace continue to serve Him and in serving Him I shall continue to speak the words He gives me to speak. And as I speak those words I will smile in remembrance of you. When as often happens I get a phone call at all hours of the day and night with people on the other end saying "Remember those words you spoke last Sunday?", I will smile as I remember you because I know that just as surely as I can't remember the words I am credited with speaking I know that those words were not my own.

xn--hrfn-woa said...

More Gish Galloping baloney from the ever-dishonest Joe.

"Everyone in the area could see the thing explode but somewhere far removed was some clown saying it seems we have had a malfunction."

Get a f@cking clue, you arrogant delusional Christian chauvinist. "Everyone" does not accept Christianity. In fact more than two thirds of the world accept some other religion.

"I have witnessed as have MILLIONS upon MILLIONS of others over the MILlENIA the Truth..."

And "MILLIONS upon MILLIONS of others" have "witnessed" the truth of Islam.

And "MILLIONS upon MILLIONS of others" have "witnessed" the truth of Hinduism.

And "MILLIONS upon MILLIONS of others" have "witnessed" the truth of Chinese traditional religion.

And "MILLIONS upon MILLIONS of others" have "witnessed" the truth of Buddhism.

And "MILLIONS upon MILLIONS of others" have "witnessed" the truth of Animism.

And "MILLIONS upon MILLIONS of others" have "witnessed" the truth of African traditional and/or diasporic religions.

And "MILLIONS upon MILLIONS of others" have "witnessed" the truth of Sikhism.

And "MILLIONS upon MILLIONS of others" have "witnessed" the truth of Judaism.

And "MILLIONS upon MILLIONS of others" have "witnessed" the truth of Baha'i.

And "MILLIONS upon MILLIONS of others" have "witnessed" the truth of Jainism.

And "MILLIONS upon MILLIONS of others" have "witnessed" the truth of Shinto.

And "MILLIONS upon MILLIONS of others" have "witnessed" the truth of Cao Dai.

This means that your own "MILLIONS upon MILLIONS of others" is in no way unique

AGAIN, this is the whole point behind the Argument from Inconsistent Revelations.

The fact that (i) my religious experiences have been very different to, and irreconcilable with, yours & (ii) that, long after I chose another religious path, I chose as an intellectual journey to investigate the basis for my tribe's myths, and found clear evidence that they were man-made, not divine, is no legitimate reason to "pity" me. That you do so is clear evidence of your arrogance and your bigoted chauvinism.

I have had enough of your "rapid-fire ... arguments and changing topics", and unless you start to "answer objections raised by" myself to your previous assertions and arguments, I will simply cite Gish Gallop hereafter.

Joe said...

"Argument from Inconsistent Revelations." Which in no way authenticates your position or takes away from mine. Since your position is the most inconsistent of all!

itsboopchile said...

What a fight !!!
I'm sorry I started reading it.
Why do people have to have proof on paper to believe anything?
I'll not put my words down to argue but I will keep right on believing Jesus as my Saviour and not worry about anything else.
Betty G

RkBall said...

Boopchile -- what a fight indeed. Things have gotten out of hand. The phrase, "except I thrust my hand into his side and see the nail prints in his hands, I will not believe", comes to mind!

Faith is a gift. But, it is not irrational nor unfounded.

Hræfn said...

"'Argument from Inconsistent Revelations.' Which in no way authenticates your position or takes away from mine. Since your position is the most inconsistent of all!"

Way to go with the "shallow" Joe: take a single word completely out of context, make an unsubstantiated assertion based upon it, and Gish Gallop away, ignoring the 4.7 to 4.9 billion people who have a contradictory religious experience.

The Rick&Joe show STILL ignores the elephant in the room and pretends that there are only two choices: Atheism or the Christian God.

Joe said...

"STILL ignores the elephant in the room and pretends that there are only two choices: Atheism or the Christian God."

A statement based on speculation not fact.

The point of the exercise is to refine one's choice not blindly accept one's choice. The debate begins as one between atheism and theism. Is there a god or not. In my mind and the minds of most of the people that have ever lived on this planet there is a god.

If there is a god what is he like? Each faith describes what they believe their god to be.

Since you picked three I will pick the same three.

Tao which holds that the universe is god and although its purpose is completely unknown if you follow these simple rules you will benefit.

Islam gives its god the name Allah. Allah is pure will. There is no reasoning with him nor is there any real understanding of him. He has created something out of nothing and we are it. If Allah is merciful to you you will go to heaven if not you lose.

Jewish/Christians worship the God we call Yahweh. Yahweh means I AM. Yahweh is comprised of three parts Will (Father), Reason (Son) and Presence (Spirit). Yahweh is not the creation nor is He completely separate from His Creation. Yahweh did not create the universe out of nothing He created the universe out of Himself. "In Him we live and breath and have our being". Further God is not a dispassionate observer but rather an active participant going so far as to have His Reason empty Himself and take the form of one of His creations a Man. Like all things living that Man died. However that Man did not stay dead but rather bodily rose again that small minds such as you and I can come the realization that this world is not the end. This world and its existence is not the purpose for our being here. Rather this world is like a school from which we eventually graduate to go on to other purposes. Being a school there are rules and codes of conduct but they are not the purpose for our being here. Rather our reason for being here is to become more like Him. Our eventual goal is to be fully grown Children of Yahweh. In our infancy we get distracted by the latest rattle or the newest 'shiny' but the rattle and the shiny are not our purpose. The Jewish/Christian understanding of Yahweh is the only understanding that makes sense and gives purpose. All the others are but a very very very pale imitation.

Hræfn said...

"A statement based on speculation not fact."

No, a statement based upon the existence of many religions, with many ("billions upon billions") of believers.

"The point of the exercise is to refine one's choice not blindly accept one's choice."

I'm sorry, but given your extreme bias in favour of one of these 'choices', I do not trust you to frame the question, particularly as (as I show below), your framing is flawed

"The debate begins as one between atheism and theism."

No it does not. There is also Buddhism, Taoism (see below), Animism, Shamanism, and probably numerous other nontheistic religions.

"Is there a god or not. In my mind and the minds of most of the people that have ever lived on this planet there is a god."

Except that in many minds there is no god (Buddhism is after all one of the largest religions, and Animism and Shamanism most probably among the oldest, and probably the most widespear prehistorically), or many gods (polytheism).

"Each faith describes what they believe their god to be."

Yes they do, but these are your descriptions, not theirs.

"Tao which holds that the universe is god..."

No, what you are describing is Pantheism. Whilst Taoism is arguably a form of Pantheism (as is Hinduism), it seeks harmony with the Tao, not worship of it as a "god".

"Yahweh is comprised of three parts Will (Father), Reason (Son) and Presence (Spirit)."

Who's speculating now? Where in the Bible does it equate the Trinity with "Will", "Reason" & "Faith"? (Putting aside the fact that the Bible doesn't even explicitly articulate the concept of the Trinity.) I would further point out that the concept that Jesus is most widely and closely associated with is Love not Reason -- and it is the former that was arguably the main focus of his ministry.

"The Jewish/Christian understanding of Yahweh is the only understanding that makes sense and gives purpose. All the others are but a very very very pale imitation."

Unsubstantiated assertion -- even if I accepted your descriptions at face value, they in no way lead to a conclusion that the others are either "a very very very pale imitation" (which is "a very very very" biased statement), nor that the others are incapable of 'making sense or giving purpose'. Many "billions upon billions" of people find sense and purpose in faiths other than yours --I am one of them. And given your "very very very" shallow and caricatured dismissal of everybody else's religion, I feel under no obligation to credit yours as being anything more than just another one of the many religions that I don't believe in -- and one that very far from 'making sense' is largely illogical and unhistorical as far as I can see.

Joe said...

You know Hræfn your sophomoric 'logic' is getting really wearisome. It reminds me of a young engineer I knew who got into a debate with an old mechanic about the workings of an alternator. The young engineer fresh out of college thought he knew more than this old coot that hadn't graduated grade 8. When it came time to work on the alternator the old mechanic had his dismantled, diagnosed and reassembled in working order before the young engineer had his dismantled. Not only did the old mechanic do the work quickly he also explained, with great patience and painstakingly detail the workings of the alternator, as he disassembled it.

You are a wet behind the ears college graduate who thinks that somehow college qualifies him to do something he has never done or experienced before. Don't let me get in the way of your childish arrogance. Please feel free to rant on, you impress no one and prove less.

So while you choose not be believe based on a theory that is not your own, I choose to believe because of my hands on experience. You don't like it? Tell someone who cares. The fact that you have this compulsion to post on this website tells me that in a few years you will be a Christian. I look forward to welcoming you when you arrive. In the mean time have a blessed life!

Hræfn said...

"You know" Joe, your patronising pretension, lacking any substantiated facts, and anything resembling valid logic, "is getting really wearisome."

You have given me no reason to regard you as an "old mechanic" with a lifetime of legitimate experience of the matter. Rather you remind me of Jack Chick, whose caricatured portrayals of opposing views convince nobody who has not already 'drunk the Koolaid' as to the validity of his viewpoint.

You present, not "painstaking [and unbiased] detail", but empty (in that it is both factually unsubstantiated and logically invalid) rhetoric.

"You are a" tired and unconvincing old Bible-basher, who (in common with many creationists -- and I wouldn't be surprised if you are one too) falsely believes that an engineering degree gives him any valid insight into the method, philosophy and thought of science, rather than simply a ready-made toolkit based upon the original insights of others.

"So while you choose not be believe based on a theory that is not your own..."

No, I choose not to believe the empty rhetoric of somebody I don't trust as far as I could spit him.

You obviously have little understanding of people. In order to convince them of anything, you need to either employ solid logic based upon things they do agree with, or build a rapport. You have done neither.

"...I choose to believe because of my hands on experience."

Again: Your arrogant, strident, repeated demands that non-Christians should privilege the religious experiences of Christians over the billions/majority of religious experiences of non-Christians has become more than a little grating.

"The fact that you have this compulsion to post on this website tells me that in a few years you will be a Christian."

The fact that you'd make such an absurd statement tells me that you have no idea how people think. I come on to this blinkered, science-denying, conservative Christian blog because "I'd like to have an argument, please." Which is why I don't go to a enlightened, liberal, science-phile Christian site for this -- because I'd be too likely to agree with most of what they say. If you want me to go away, then simply stop arguing with me, and convince Rick to stop posting unsubstantiated, logic-devoid, science/secularism/atheism-bashing nonsense for me to argue with.

"I look forward to welcoming you when you arrive."

See you in the Hindu hell first. ;)

"In the mean time have a blessed life!"

I'd wish you a thoughtful life, but my religion doesn't have miracles as an article of faith.

RkBall said...

Hræfn:

Joe says, "O taste and see that the Lord is good".

I am paraphrasing.

I'm sure he also would want to add, "have a nice day", and "be blessed"!

I think he also wants to invite you over for ice-cream, but I could be wrong about that.

Joe said...

I've got the caribou tracks ice cream! Richard brings the cookies! Everyone has to bring their own beverage. If everyone brings a Bible we can do what the Boreans were famous for.

"... nothing intellectually compelling or challenging.. bald assertions coupled to superstition... woefully pathetic"