The second chapter is entitled, “The New Testament Gospels as Reliable History”. This chapter is written by Mark Pierson, an LMS Lutheran and professor of Theology and Philosophy at an LCMS university. He is currently pursuing a PhD in New Testament Studies.
I am not a theologian. I do not have a masters in Theology or Philosophy as does Mr. Pierson. But I read enough of scholarship that I can recognize bad, biased scholarship when I see it. And Mr. Pierson’s scholarship in this chapter is very, very poor and very, very biased.
Let me give you an example: “Since Paul died in c. 65 AD, Acts would be dated before then.” —Mark Pierson, page 58
Are you serious? The Book of Acts written prior to 65 AD??
This is something a fundamentalist Baptist preacher would print in his church bulletin, not something a seminary trained theologian should say. As I mentioned in part 1 of this series, prior to the internet, a pastor or theologian might get away with making a comment like this because the laypersons in the audience did not have the time to go to a library and do a literature search on this assertion. Such an endeavor would have taken weeks to months!
But today, with the availability of the Internet, anyone can do a quick search to verify the accuracy of this statement.
Note in Mr. Pierson’s statement that he does not say that a minority of mostly fundamentalist NT scholars hold this position, (which is the case). No. He makes his statement as if it is the scholarly consensus. Mr. Pierson makes his statement that the Book of Acts was written prior to 65 AD as if this statement is accepted fact. Shame on him.
Most NT scholars believe that the Book of Acts was written in the late first century, most likely no earlier than 80 AD. Don’t believe me? Go on the Internet and find out for yourself.
As I have mentioned previously, most of us evaluate truth claims which involve issues in which we ourselves are not experts, by obtaining the consensus position of the experts in that field and accepting their expert opinion. Only a minority of NT scholars believe that the Book of Acts was written prior to 65 AD. Mr. Pierson did not say this. He should have. His statement is misleading and biased.
It is interesting that Mr. Pierson starts out this chapter by attacking former Christian/turned agnostic, NT scholar, Bart Ehrman, for being biased. Using a Biblical analogy: Mr. Pierson needs to take the “log” out of his own eye before attempting to remove the splinter from the eye of Mr. Ehrman.
In Mr. Pierson’s introduction, Mr. Pierson makes this statement: “Christianity ultimately amounts to a sham if the Jesus of history was (and is) not the same Jesus whose ministry, death, and resurrected are narrated in these texts.” The Apostle Paul said essentially the same thing. I believe that by the end of my review of “Making the Case for Christianity” I will demonstrate that although the evidence is reasonably good for the existence of the Jesus of history, the evidence for the existence of the Gospel authors’ god/man, born of a ghost-impregnated virgin, who walked on water, rose from the dead, and eventually levitated into outer space, is scant to non-existent.
Jesus the man is historical. Jesus the god/man with magical powers is a legend.
Here are the major, poorly supported, assumptions presented by Mr. Pierson in this chapter; presented as facts, many of which the majority of modern New Testament scholars have concluded are false:
1. The apostle Matthew, John Mark, Luke the physician, and John son of Zebedee wrote the four Gospels.
Not only do the majority of NT scholars not believe in the traditional authorship of the Gospels, the majority of NT scholars do not believe that the Gospels were written by ANY eyewitnesses! Don’t believe me? Google it.
2. Because we have thousands of copies of the original four Gospels, more than any other document from Antiquity, this plethora of copies supports the historical veracity of the stories told in those Gospels.
Wrong. If we had thousands of copies of Homer’s Iliad that would not mean that we should all believe in the historical reality of Cyclops and Greek gods. The existence of thousands of copies of the Gospels does not in any way confirm the historicity of the events told in these ancient books.
3. Papias provided good evidence for the traditional authorship of the Gospels.
Mr. Pierson makes the following shocking statement on page 55:
“The earliest reference to Gospel authorship comes from Papias, a bishop following good historical methods. Around AD 80, while eyewitnesses of Jesus were still alive and teaching, Papias, after making careful inquiries and relying on oral testimony, noted that Peter’s oral teaching was recorded by Mark, and that Matthew himself also composed a work about Jesus. This is not mere rumor, nor is it likely that Papias gullibly accepted a tradition that “had been made up” as (Bart) Erhman suggests. Rather it comes from an early date and from someone who deliberately collected data from any who qualified as a ‘living and surviving voice.’ This means that the first and second Gospels can be tied to two of Jesus’ closest disciples.”
Wow. WOW! What sloppy, sloppy, sloppy scholarship.
Dear Reader, go on the internet and google “Papias”. One of the first things you will see is his approximate year of birth. What does it say? When do most scholars believe that Papias was born? Answer: 70-75 AD! Yet Mr. Pierson tells us that in circa 80 AD, Papias was “making careful inquiries…”. Wow! I didn’t realize that five/ten year olds could make “careful inquiries”!!!!
This is just preposterous. The true date of Papias’ writings were circa 120-130 AD, not 80 AD. So how many eyewitnesses to the death and alleged resurrection of Jesus would still be alive in 120-130 AD? Answer: Not many, if any.
And nowhere in the writings of Papias does he ever state that he interviewed actual eyewitnesses for his information. Nowhere. In actuality, Papias states that his information came from third or fourth hand sources. So who told Papias that John Mark had written a book containing the memoires of Peter? Answer: We don’t know! And get this: Papias never quotes from this book written by John Mark so we have no idea if the book we today call “the Gospel of Mark” is the same book that Papias was referring to.
Assumption, after assumption, after assumption, my friends.
And to top it off, even later Christian Church Fathers did NOT consider Papias a reliable source of information. Just where does Mr. Pierson get his claim that “Papias followed good historical methods”? And as far as Papias’ claim that Matthew wrote a Gospel, his actual claim was that Matthew wrote a gospel in Hebrew. Only a fringe minority of NT scholars (if any) believe that the original version of the book we today refer to as “The Gospel According to Matthew” was written in Hebrew.
This is really sloppy scholarship, folks. The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod should be ashamed to have its name identified with this book!
4. Eyewitnesses to the death and alleged resurrection of Jesus were still living at the time of the writing of the Gospels.
Give us a list of names, Mr. Pierson! We have pretty good evidence that both Paul and Peter were dead by the late 60’s. If the first Gospel, Mark, was written in circa 70-75 AD, as many scholars believe is very possible, what evidence do you have that ANY person who had witnessed the crucifixion and the alleged post-resurrection appearances of Jesus in circa 30 AD was still alive in 70 AD? And even if some of these eyewitnesses were still alive, how do we know that these eyewitnesses who lived in Palestine had access to Gospels which most scholars believe were written in Rome and Antioch? How long did it take these gospels to reach Palestine? Isn’t it entirely possible that copies of the first gospel Mark did not reach Palestine until the end of the first century, seventy years after Jesus’ death? How many ninety and one hundred year old eyewitnesses were alive at that time?
Bottom line: It is possible that eyewitnesses were alive at the time of the writing and distribution of the Gospels and were able to “proof read” these texts. But, it is also possible that they were all dead or if still alive, unavailable to review these documents for accuracy.
So can Christians name any first century or early second century source which states that eyewitnesses were still alive when the Gospels were first written and distributed?
Answer: No. They cannot. Christians can only point to later, very questionable, Church traditions. We therefore have no idea how or when the other ten Apostles nor any of the other alleged eyewitnesses died. It is yet another Christian assumption to presume that eyewitnesses to the death and alleged resurrection of Jesus were still alive when the first Gospel was written, let alone when the later Gospels and the Book of Acts were written.
5. The fact that Jesus was never mentioned by any of his contemporaries should not surprise us.
“(Bart) Ehrman declares that if Jesus was really as important as Christians assert, ‘we would expect to find scores of accounts’ about him ‘written by contemporaries outside the group of his closest disciples.’
…It is remarkable that Jesus should be mentioned in (later) secular accounts at all.” —Mark Pierson, page 61
Really? Philo of Alexandria, who lived at the same time as Jesus, mentions Pilate extensively. So why didn’t he ever mention Jesus, the greatest of all Messiah-pretenders whom Pilate condemned to death? Jesus of Nazareth, the man who single-handedly brought all of Palestine to the brink of revolt…if we are to believe the Gospel accounts; the man who caused the mighty Pilate to fear the anger of the Jews who wanted Jesus dead; the self-professed Son of God who raised people from the dead, including the daughter of a Roman official; the self-proclaimed King of the Jews and messiah who caused the city of Jerusalem to rock with anticipation of the impending new Kingdom of Israel and the defeat of the Romans during his triumphal entry parade on Palm Sunday; the man who upon his death, an unheard of three hour solar eclipse blacked out the sun across the entire planet (or at least in Jerusalem); major earthquakes accompanied his death; the Temple veil tore down the middle; and last but not least, scores of dead people were shaken out of their tombs, to walk the streets of the capital city….if we are to believe the Gospel accounts.
But Philo is silent.
Nope. No reason for Philo to have mentioned Jesus.
6. The Jews living in first century Palestine kept their oral traditions very accurately, therefore we can be confidant that the oral stories about Jesus were very accurately maintained until they were later written down by the Gospel authors.
This may have been true of the Jewish religious elites in regard to the Torah and the Talmud but are we really to believe that a bunch of uneducated fishermen and other peasants maintained the same accuracy regarding stories about their dead friend and leader? And what about when these stories were passed from one country to another, from one language to another, from one decade to another? Remember, the majority of scholars believe that the four Gospels were written many decades latter, by non-Jews, in far away foreign lands, who were not eyewitnesses. Are we really to believe that no embellishments to the original Jesus story ever crept in during these many decades? How can anyone be sure?
Assumptions, folks. Assumptions.
Again, just because we have many, many copies of the original Gospels this in no way means that the stories told in those originals were historically factual. Only if conservative Christians like Mr. Pierson can convince his readers that a group of first century peasants maintained the accuracy of the supernatural-laden story about their dead leader, in oral form, over many decades (approximately 40 years), across the boundaries of multiple countries and continents, retranslated from the original Aramaic, passed from person to person to person to person, can they maintain the illusion that the Gospels are accurate, eyewitness accounts of historical facts.
Gary: For proof that the majority of NT scholars do NOT believe that Matthew, John Mark, Luke the physician, and John the son of Zebedee wrote the four Gospels , and, that the majority of scholars believe that the first Gospel (Mark) was written circa 70 AD (meaning that the Book of Acts was most likely not written prior to 65 AD as Mr. Pierson above states), here are some excerpts and links:
“The traditional authors of the canonical Gospels–Matthew the tax collector, Mark the attendant of Peter, Luke the attendant of Paul, and John the son of Zebedee–are doubted among the majority of mainstream New Testament scholars. The public is often not familiar, however, with the complex reasons and methodology that scholars use to reach well-supported conclusions about critical issues, such as assessing the authorial traditions for ancient texts. To provide a good overview of the majority opinion about the Gospels, the Oxford Annotated Bible (a compilation of multiple scholars summarizing dominant scholarly trends for the last 150 years) states (pg. 1744):
Neither the evangelists nor their first readers engaged in historical analysis. Their aim was to confirm Christian faith (Lk. 1.4; Jn. 20.31). Scholars generally agree that the Gospels were written forty to sixty years after the death of Jesus. They thus do not present eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings.
Unfortunately, much of the general public is not familiar with scholarly resources like the one quoted above; instead, Christian apologists often put out a lot of material, such as The Case For Christ, targeted toward lay audiences, who are not familiar with scholarly methods, in order to argue that the Gospels are the eyewitness testimonies of either Jesus’ disciples or their attendants. The mainstream scholarly view is that the Gospels are anonymous works, written in a different language than that of Jesus, in distant lands, after a substantial gap of time, by unknown persons, compiling, redacting, and inventing various traditions, in order to provide a narrative of Christianity’s central figure–Jesus Christ–to confirm the faith of their communities.”
Biblical historian Gary Greenberg: “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John did not write the Gospels says biblical historian Gary Greenberg in his latest book, Who Wrote the Gospels? Why New Testament Scholars Challenge Church Traditions. At least, not the Matthew, Mark, Luke or John of Church tradition, he adds. Controversial as this view is, he notes that it is widely accepted among New Testament scholars. Yet few members of the lay public know about this modern scholarly consensus, let alone why scholars hold these views…”
Early Christian Writings: “It is the near-universal position of scholarship that the Gospel of Matthew is dependent upon the Gospel of Mark. This position is accepted whether one subscribes to the dominant Two-Source Hypothesis or instead prefers the Farrer-Goulder hypothesis.
It is also the consensus position that the evangelist was not the apostle Matthew. Such an idea is based on the second century statements of Papias and Irenaeus. As quoted by Eusebius in Hist. Eccl. 3.39, Papias states: “Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could.” In Adv. Haer. 3.1.1, Irenaeus says: “Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome and laying the foundations of the church.” We know that Irenaeus had read Papias, and it is most likely that Irenaeus was guided by the statement he found there. That statement in Papias itself is considered to be unfounded because the Gospel of Matthew was written in Greek and relied largely upon Mark, not the author’s first-hand experience.”
Boston College (RCC university): “Although some scholars disagree, the vast majority of researchers believe that Mark was the first Gospel to be written, sometime around the year 70.”
American Bible Society: “From a historical perspective, the vast majority of biblical scholars believe Mark’s Gospel to be the earliest written narrative about Jesus, written in or about 70 CE.”