One of the Authors of “Making the Case for Christianity” responds to my Amazon review of his Book

Read here:

https://www.amazon.com/review/RWK1SAV59GN48/ref=cm_cr_dp_cmt?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0758644191&channel=detail-glance&nodeID=133140011&store=digital-text#wasThisHelpful

I have copied the author’s comment and my response from Amazon Book Reviews, below:

 

km says:

 The concern for accuracy expressed by this reviewer is commendable. One would therefore expect the reviewer to be concerned about the accuracy of his own remarks. Unfortunately, this appears not to be the case.

The reviewer claims, for instance, that the author of the first chapter (on the existence of a creator) “asserts that this generic Creator is most certainly the ancient Hebrew deity, Yahweh, without providing a single piece of evidence for this assertion.” In fact, the author nowhere “asserts that this generic Creator is most certainly the ancient Hebrew deity.” In fact, he quite specifically states that the argument he employs “intends only to demonstrate the existence of a First Cause of the cosmos” (p. 29). What the author does modestly note on the same page, however, is that there may be logical reasons to believe that the First Cause for which he argues is also “a personal being whose properties are consistent with the God of Christian theism.” But contrary to the reviewer’s characterization, this is neither a simple assertion nor a mere assumption; some specific reasons for entertaining this claim are provided at pp. 23-24 and 29-31.

The reviewer also claims that the author of the second chapter makes “the assertion that the overwhelming scholarly consensus is that eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels.” In fact, the author nowhere makes this assertion about “the overwhelming scholarly consensus.” Indeed, he makes something very much like the opposite claim, noting that “The current consensus in the academy as well as the media suggests that only those who shut their eyes and ears to the facts can maintain traditional beliefs about Jesus” (p. 36). He does so precisely because he understands that the “current consensus in the academy as well as the media” is against eyewitness authorship. This is also why the author was compelled to argue his case, rather than simply appeal to a consensus in favor of his conclusion, which he well understands does not exist. Further, even the author’s own conclusion is not, in fact, that “eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels.” He explicitly acknowledges, for example, that the author of the third Gospel “never knew Jesus” (p. 65). Thus, on the same page he announces his actual, and much more modest conclusion: “Eyewitness testimony was relied on for each of the four Gospels.”

The reviewer also faults two of the other authors for quoting John Warwick Montgomery as having asserted—in 1964—that eyewitness authorship of the Gospels is the “overwhelming majority scholarly consensus.” It is not at all clear why the reviewer places these words within quotation marks since, yet again, Montgomery made no such assertion about an “overwhelming majority scholarly consensus,” nor was he quoted in support of such an assertion. In fact, and yet again, Montgomery’s point—as the authors themselves recognized—is very nearly the opposite of what the reviewer presents it to be. His claim was simply that if one were to treat *other* ancient literature with as much skepticism as scholars (today, yes, but also already in the 1960s) typically treat the New Testament books, one would have to “allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity.” This is the case, Montgomery claims, because “no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as is the New Testament.” In quoting this passage, one of the authors even specifically emphasizes that this bibliographical claim does not address “truth questions” (concerning, e.g., content or authorship), but “seeks only to prove that the text has reliably come down to us as written” (pp. 78-79 n.27).

There is no fault in a reviewer disagreeing with authors. But if that is what a reviewer claims to be doing, he has some moral obligation to disagree with what the authors actually wrote, rather than to misrepresent it and do battle with straw men of his own creation.

 

Gary M. says:

Thank you Dr. Maas for engaging my review of your book. Let me attempt to support my assertions. First assertion: “However, with just one sentence at the very end of the chapter, the author asserts that this generic Creator is most certainly the ancient Hebrew deity, Yahweh, without providing a single piece of evidence for this assertion.”

On the final page of Joshua Pagan’s chapter (p. 29), he says this: “…the KCA intends only to demonstrate the existence of a First Cause of the cosmos. Subsequent to this conclusion, one may then reason that a personal being whose properties are consistent with the God of Christian theism is the most coherent analysis and best explanation of the First Cause.” The fact that Pagan has capitalized “First Cause” indicates that by “First Cause” he means the Creator God. Therefore, I believe my assertion is correct. Pagan never gives evidence for why we should believe that Yahweh is this generic Creator other than a vague statement that the properties of Yahweh are consistent with a “personal being”. Why not Allah? Why not Lord Brahma? Why not another god who has not yet been identified? Christians simply assume that if there is a Creator, he must be THEIR god. Neither pages 24-25 nor pages 29-31 give any specific support for the existence of Yahweh versus the existence of another as yet unidentified Creator. That is my point. Proof for a Creator does not automatically translate to proof of the existence of Yahweh.

Second assertion: “The second chapter begins with the assertion that the overwhelming scholarly consensus is that eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels, specifically, that Matthew the Apostle, John Mark, Luke the physician, and John the Apostle wrote the Gospels.” THIS ASSERTION IS FALSE. After reviewing the second chapter, I must concede that my assertion is false. Mr. Pierson states on page 36 the following: “The current consensus in the academy as well as the media suggests that only those who shut their eyes and ears to the facts can maintain traditional beliefs about Jesus.” I therefore apologize to Mr. Pierson for my mischaracterization of his position.

(However, Mr. Pierson IS guilty of perpetuating the misguided conservative Christian belief that liberal and non-Christian scholars are biased against Christianity and it is due to this bias, and not due to the lack of good evidence, that these scholars do not believe in the veracity of the Gospels as eyewitness testimony (and therefore in the bodily resurrection of Jesus). Mr. Pierson says this about skeptics of the veracity of the Gospels: “seldom is it recognized that their conclusions typically stem from unjustified starting points, and their assessment of the data is unsound.” (p. 36) Tell that to conservative Christian scholar, NT Wright, who is on record stating, “I do not know who wrote the Gospels and neither does anyone else.”)

However, what I should have said is that the author of chapter THREE, Mr. Craig Parton, assures us that the Gospels can be trusted as primary sources of eyewitness testimony based upon the evidence presented by Mr. Pierson in chapter two. Mr. Parton assures us that the reliability of the Gospels as primary sources of eyewitness testimony is “simply beyond serious dispute”. Therefore, it is Mr. Parton and not Mr. Pierson who is guilty of misstating the scholarly consensus position on the question of whether or not the Gospels should be viewed as primary source documents. Here is Mr. Parton’s actual statement: “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 have also made the case for the reliability of the canonical Gospels as primary source documents, 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.” p. 78

“Beyond serious dispute”? Hardly.

Parton then goes on to build a legal case for the evidence for the Resurrection based on the assumption that the claims of Mr. Pierson in chapter two are “beyond serious dispute”, which means that the overwhelming majority of scholars would, if called to the stand, testify in support of the reliability of the Gospels as primary source documents in Mr. Parton’s hypothetical trial of the Resurrection evidence. This is a false assumption.

And what were Mr. Pierson’s claims in chapter two? Answer: “Eyewitness testimony was relied on for each of the four Gospels. The best evidence indicates that three of Jesus’ closest followers—Matthew, Peter, and the beloved disciple—stand behind the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John. The author of the third Gospel compensated for the fact that he never knew Jesus by consulting those who did, such as the apostles and Jesus’ relatives. Significantly, narratives about Jesus were being composed when both favorable and hostile witnesses were still living and could protest any gross inaccuracies; yet no written challenges appear before the second century. Even before the Gospels, Jesus’ words and deeds would have been essentially remembered in an oral culture.” p. 65

Almost every sentence in this statement is disputed in modern scholarship but Mr. Parton, in chapter three, tells us that these claims are simply “beyond serious dispute”. Nonsense. There is no consensus that the Apostle Matthew, the Apostle Peter, and the Apostle John “stand behind” the Gospels Matthew, Mark, and John. Therefore, Mr. Pierson can only be accused of holding a minority position in scholarship; but Mr. Parton must bear the blame for making the false claim that Mr. Pierson’s minority held view is the consensus position (a position beyond serious dispute).

Therefore, my original assertion that the authors of “Making the Case for Christianity” misstate the current scholarly consensus regarding the reliability of the Gospels as primary source documents (and that therefore we can be confident that the Gospels contain eyewitness testimony) still stands.

Gary:  Let me add one more comment.  Dr. Maas complains that I misrepresent John Warwick Montgomery’s statement from 1964 quoted above.  My issue is with Mr. Parton’s use of Montgomery’s statement regarding bibliography to support his claim of the “total reliability of the Gospels as primary source documents”.  The fact that thousands of copies of the Gospels exist in no way supports the claim that the Gospels are primary source documents from eyewitnesses of the bodily resurrection of Jesus, as the authors of this book want to assert.  This is what Mr. Parton asserts on page 78.  Read the entire paragraph yourselves, friends.  It is Mr. Parton who is misusing Montgomery’s statement, not me.

And here is the quote from Dr. Bombaro on this issue: “Those who would like to dismiss Christianity as utterly subjective or merely ethical or perhaps purely metaphysical, like [Richard] Dawkins, only do so by way of an inconsistent commitment to the methodological principles of historical investigation.” Dr. Bombaro then gives a link to a footnote at the bottom of page 122 which states: “John Warwick Montgomery explains the importance of this point: “the documentary attestation for these [biblical events] is so strong that a denial of their reliability carries with it total skepticism toward the history and literature of the classical world.” History and Christianity: A Vigorous, Convincing Presentation of the Evidence for a Historical Jesus (1964).

Here Dr. Bombaro is not talking about bibliography—the accuracy of the copies of the original Gospels. He is talking about HISTORY. Dr. Bombaro clearly uses Montgomery as an authoritative source on history to assert that to question the historicity of biblical events is to question the historicity of all of Antiquity.

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