My Conversation with Adam Francisco, author of “Making the Case for Christianity”, Part 2

Below is my ongoing email correspondence with Dr. Adam Francisco, author of “Making the Case for Christianity”.  He states that he had trouble commenting on this blog, so he has chosen to respond to my review of his book by email.  Below is his latest email (in which he responds to some of my previous statements) and my response:

(Gary):  I am disappointed, Adam, in your unwillingness to admit that you and your colleagues did not fully disclose your own biases in your book.  You should have at least stated that in your opinion, the majority of “qualified” New Testament scholars agree that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses, and then clarified your definition of “qualified”.  You left the impression with your lay readership (this book is not written for scholars but for the lay person) that it is a near unanimous consensus of (all) NT scholarship that eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels.

Again, I think you’re reading into the text. Also, I don’t have the book in front of me but I seem to recall that Pierson’s chapter is pretty clear that Ehrman’s higher criticism masquerading as text criticism has been quite influential and my chapter has a bit on the tremendous influence of higher criticism on studies of the historical Jesus. Isn’t that admitting there is scholarship which advocates very different views of the NT text and historical Jesus? Doesn’t the whole book advertise the fact that there are other views out there?

(Gary): Imagine your reaction if a liberal scholar wrote the following in his book:  “It is the near unanimous consensus of NT scholarship that the Empty Tomb is a myth.”  This is a blatantly false statement.  I would be just as critical of this liberal scholar.  The only way a liberal scholar could make such a statement would be to dismiss as irrelevant the position of all conservative NT scholars and only consider the views of scholars who agree with him on this issue.  It is a biased and deceptive statement.

Welcome to the world of scholarship Gary. Much of what I read on the resurrection assumes the empty tomb or bodily resurrection of Jesus is a myth. And much of it equally assumes that there is scholarly consensus on this issue.

(Gary): The laity and general public deserve clear, honest teaching from theologians and scholars.  Publishing scholarship that is vague, or as some would say, deceptive, is only going to cause doubt in the teachings of Christianity and distrust of the clergy among the laity, and send a good number of us headed for the exits of the Church.  One only has to look at the plunging membership and baptism statistics of almost every Christian denomination in the United States to see that this phenomenon is taking place as we speak.

If it was somehow proven, factually, that Jesus didn’t rise from he dead I would be out the exit too. I happen to believe there is good factual evidence to believe he did rise. (That I trust he did this for me and you is an entirely different matter.)

 

Gary’s Response:

Adam,

Here are some of the quotes from your book that I contest for their veracity:  Dr. Pierson made these quotes in his chapter:

“Since Paul died in c. 65 AD, Acts would be dated before then.”  —Mark Pierson, page 58

The Book of Acts written prior to 65 AD?? Where did he get that? How many conservative NT scholars believe this? Not many, I suspect. That is fringe scholarship.

“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.” Page 55

My goodness, Adam! Historians say that Papias was born in circa 70 AD.   Dr. Pierson wants us to believe that at the tender age of TEN, Papias was “making careful inquiries and relying on oral testimony”! This is just preposterous.  The true date of Papias’ writings was circa 120-130 AD, not 80 AD, according to most historians.  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. In addition, Papais never claims to have met even ONE eyewitness.

Dr. Pierson then makes the argument that eyewitnesses (to the alleged Resurrection of Jesus) were alive at the time the Gospels were written. How does he know this? Does he provide any evidence for this claim? No. Give us a list of names, Dr. 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 65-75 AD, as the majority of scholars believe, 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 65-75 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, Antioch, or other distant locations?  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? Answer: We don’t know!

Mr Parton made this comment in the opening pages of chapter 3, on page 78:

“The assertion of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is, of course, presented in the New Testament materials. Elsewhere in this volume the case for the total reliability of those primary source documents has been made and so need not be repeated here. Trial lawyers also have made the case for the reliability of the canonical Gospels as primary source documents,26 and the solidity of those materials (i.e., what we have is what the writers wrote and that they had every means, motive, and opportunity to get the facts right) is simply beyond serious dispute. As Montgomery, himself a lawyer, notes: “To express skepticism concerning the resultant text of the New Testament books…is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as is the New Testament.”27″ ”  (bolding, Gary’s)

“simply beyond dispute”

This is a blatantly false statement, Adam.

Dr. Bombaro, in his chapter, goes on to repeat this claim, again using John Warwick Montgomery’s above quote from 1964.

At best, your book represents a minority view of NT scholarship, at worst it is biased, deceptive, outdated scholarship. But you and your colleagues presented your claims as if it is accepted fact “beyond dispute”. It is not, Adam. Your very conservative claims are very much disputed in modern New Testament scholarship. Your readers deserve honest, clear, accurate scholarship.

Respectfully,

Gary

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3 thoughts on “My Conversation with Adam Francisco, author of “Making the Case for Christianity”, Part 2

  1. My latest email to Dr. Francisco:

    Adam,

    If our conversations have ended, let me leave you with the following. I hope that you will at least agree that:

    – the scholarly support for the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels is disputed.

    -if the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses, we have no solid evidence that any eyewitness to the alleged post-death appearances of Jesus reviewed/proofread the Gospels for accuracy. It is therefore possible that the stories of the Virgin Birth, walking on water, raising the dead, and the Resurrection stories are all theological embellishments. Yes, it is likely that there were persons alive in 30 AD who were still alive in circa 70 AD when the first Gospel was written, but there is no proof that any eyewitness to the Resurrection was alive at this time.

    -although the evidence is strong that Paul believed that Jesus had been bodily resurrected, there is no evidence that Paul ever claimed to have seen a resurrected body. The only claim we have from the Bible is that Paul believed he had seen a talking bright light in a “heavenly vision”. Visions are not reality. If Paul could be confused as to whether or not he literally had been transported to a third heaven he could well have been confused about literally seeing a talking bright light.

    -Paul’s odd conversion is not proof that he saw a resurrected body or that the claims of Christianity are true. It is only proof that humans can make very odd life decisions. History is full of strange conversions.

    -NT Wright’s claim that no first century Jew would have believed in the resurrection of one person without seeing the resurrected body with their own two eyes is proven false by Paul’s claim that Jews in Asia Minor believed based on Paul’s testimony and by reading Scripture.

    -If the Resurrection of Jesus was the earth shattering event that the Gospels make it out to be, why did no contemporary of Jesus mention this event? Philo was a contemporary of Jesus. He wrote quite a bit about Pilate. So why no mention of the most earth-shattering event to occur in history? A three hour eclipse of the sun is not an insignificant event. It is an unheard of, mind-blowing event. Yet Philo nor any other contemporary says a word about it.

    -Even if the Empty Tomb is historical, there are many natural explanations for an empty grave. If it is impossible that a Jew would have moved the body, as many Christian apologists claim, then why would “Matthew” make the claim in his Gospel that this is exactly what the Sanhedrin told the Roman guards to tell the people??

    -The fact that thousands of people converted to Christianity despite intense persecution is not proof of the veracity of Christianity. Many people of many other religious sects have suffered the same fate and their sect has grown too.

    So you see, Adam, without the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels, the case for Christianity is very poor. I believe that this is why you and other conservative Christians so desperately cling to outdated scholarship which still claims that Matthew, John Mark, Luke the physician, and John the son of Zebedee wrote these four anonymous first century books.

    In conclusion, “Making the Case for Christianity” cannot stand on evidence alone, because the evidence is very weak. The case for Christianity can only be made if one appeals for the potential convert to take a leap of faith; a leap of faith from a foundation of weak evidence to full belief and commitment to this ancient story. I believe that this leap of faith is nothing more than the abandonment of reason and logic and an appeal to emotions.

    The Case for Christianity fails if based on actual evidence, Adam.

    Sincerely,
    Gary

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    1. Dr. Francisco’s reply:

      Gary,

      Here’s the problem with blogs. You’ve been cutting and pasting every email that I’ve sent you in your blog. And then you respond. Then I email, and then you respond. This could go on forever. And you’ll always get the last word. It’s no better than a shouting match. Also, your assertions about “historians” saying x, y, and z but failure to name any (except maybe Ehrman) makes me wonder if we are approaching the issue on the same ground. I’m willing to engage you on a specific issue, though, so long as it is focused and can be rectified by historical evidence/research (not wikipedia or partisan websites, but real books and historical documents). Since your big issue seems to focus on the authorship of the gospels, how ’bout we start there? Perhaps we can look at and weigh the case for the gospels being at least based on eyewitness testimony as explored by R. Bauckham in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses? His book has made quite a splash; some says it’s paradigm shifting. (I’m not an ancient historian, my knowledge of Greek is pretty slim, so I need to rely on an expert. I suspect you aren’t an ancient historian and have limited knowledge of Greek, too.) We could look at each of the pieces of evidence Bauckham provides and assess it based on our own research of the primary sources. What do you say?

      Adam

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      1. Gary’s response:

        Sounds good.

        I will buy the book today on Amazon and review it on my blog, chapter by chapter. I hope you will respond directly on the blog. Setting up a WordPress account is free.

        Gary

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