Bruce Gerencser (a former Baptist pastor turned atheist) and I are currently involved in a conversation with a Christian named, Inga, on another of my posts. Inga has asked Bruce and me to read a couple of books written by Christian authors who attempt to rebut agnostic, New Testament scholar, Bart Ehrman. Because of the popularity of his books, and the effects they are having on Christianity, Bart Ehrman has become Enemy Number One to many conservative Christians.
Inga is not alone in recommending a Christian reading list to me. It seems like every Christian whom I debate on the issue of the veracity of Christianity has a reading list of Christian books for me to read, including my former pastor and my relatives. They all seem to believe that if I will just read their recommended books, I will see “the light” and return to Christianity. But I will tell Inga what I have told all these other Christians: There is only ONE book you need to read to determine if Christianity is true or false…the Bible!
And as the Apostle Paul said, the Resurrection is the cornerstone of the Christian Faith. If the bodily Resurrection of Jesus did not happen, Christianity is false.
So here is my challenge to Inga and to every other Christian: Take out your Bible and start reading the four Gospels, in parallel, beginning with the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem prior to his arrest and crucifixion. Read each segment of the Passion Story in parallel in all four Gospels. Read them in the order in which most scholars believe they were written chronologically: Mark first, then Matthew, then Luke, then John. (There is debate on whether Matthew or Luke was the second gospel written, so choose one of them to read second and consistently read that gospel second, the other third, then John.)
So for example, read the Triumphal Entry story in Mark chapter 11, then the story in Matthew/Luke, then in John. Then read the next segment in Mark, the Last Meal, and then the same story in the other three gospels, again in chronological order. And so on, until you read to the end of each Gospel.
Here are the issues I ask you to pay particular attention to:
1. Are there any significant discrepancies/contradictions which can only be resolved with the most contorted of explanations (spin)?
Example: When did Mary Magdalene first learn that Jesus had risen from the dead and who told her?
Example: Did Jesus tell his disciples to meet him in Galilee or to remain in Jerusalem until the arrival of the Holy Ghost?
Example: Did Judas die from hanging or from his intestines exploding and who bought the Potter’s Field, Judas or the Pharisees?
Example: Why does the author of John not have a Passover Meal in his Passion Story? Why does he have Jesus die on the day before Passover, when the other three gospel authors have Jesus dying on the day of Passover?
2. If after reading the Passion Story in the four Gospels in parallel you come to believe that there are significant discrepancies and outright contradictions in the four Gospels regarding very important aspects of the “Jesus Story”, what does that tell you about the reliability of these four books as historical sources?
The Apostle Paul mentions very few details about the historical Jesus in his epistles. He never mentions even one of Jesus’ parables, sermons, or miracles. Isn’t that odd? Even if the primary purpose of Paul’s epistles were to address specific problems in specific churches, why would he never refer to any of Jesus’ sermons, parables, or miracles? Is it possible that it was because Paul had never heard these stories? Is it because some or all of these stories were invented by the author of the first Gospel, Mark, written circa forty years after Jesus death? Paul never mentions an empty rock tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, one of the principle pieces of evidence in the Christian apologist’s armamentarium for the historicity of the Resurrection. Is it possible that the Empty Tomb story was another theological invention of the author of Mark?
In conclusion: We have zero documentation of anyone claiming to have witnessed the reanimation of the dead body of Jesus or to have witnessed his reanimated dead body walk out of his sealed tomb. All we have are claims by grieving family and friends of seeing their dead loved one “appear” to them. Over the millennia of human existence, thousands of grieving family and friends of the recently departed have claimed to have received “appearances” from their deceased loved one; appearances in which the deceased talks to them and even touches them. We don’t believe any of these “ghost stories”, so why should we believe a similar story from a group of people living twenty centuries ago???
But what about the claim that groups of people saw Jesus at the same time?
There are many examples, in many religions, of multiple people allegedly seeing the same supernatural being or event. Most Protestants do not believe Roman Catholic claims of groups of people seeing the Virgin Mary, so why should anyone believe similar stories about Jesus from two thousand years ago?
And what about Paul? He claims that a dead man appeared to him on a desert highway. Should we believe him just because his conversion from a devout Jewish scholar to a Christian missionary is so dramatic and because he was willing to suffer and die for his new Faith? Think about this: if someone today converted from one religion to another and suffered persecution and death for his new belief, would that prove to you that his new religion was true?
Of course not.
Human beings make very odd, unexplainable life decisions all the time!
So you see, Inga, you don’t need to read one single scholar’s book, Christian or skeptic, to know if the central claims of Christianity are true or not. All you need to do is read the Bible in a way that most Christians have never done: in parallel. If you do, you will see that the Bible is not a divine book. It is a collection of ancient writings by superstitious, very fallible, ancient human beings, full of discrepancies, contradictions, and errors.
The supernatural is not real, Inga. Just as we no longer believe that evil spirits cause diseases and epilepsy, or that ghosts lurk behind every tree in the dark woods, we should no longer believe that invisible gods and devils engage in invisible battles for our invisible “souls”.
These are all ancient superstitions.
They should be abandoned…once and for all.
A silly ancient tall tale that no modern, educated person should believe is historical fact.