A Skeptic’s Easter Message to Conservative Christian Pastors and Apologists

Image result for image of jesus' resurrection

If the Evidence for the Eyewitness Authorship of the Gospels is as Good as Conservative Christian Apologists Claim, why do Most Roman Catholic Scholars Reject It?

Many conservative Christian apologists will admit that most New Testament scholars today reject the claim that eyewitnesses or the associates of eyewitnesses authored the Gospels.  Yet at the same time, these conservative Christian apologists will tell their lay Christian reading public that the evidence for the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels is good; even better than good; it is “strong”.  They claim in their books and on their blogs that the lay Christian sitting in the pew on Sunday morning can be confident in the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus because the stories told about this alleged event come from reliable eyewitness sources as recorded by eyewitnesses themselves (or their close associates) in the four Gospels of the Christian New Testament.

How do they explain this disparity?

The following statement by an online conservative Christian blogger sums it up:

“When it comes to the gospels, there are huge double standards. They are often presumed to be guilty until proven innocent. Normal ways of doing history seemingly get thrown out the window. And a big example of this is when it comes to the debate [regarding the] authorship of the gospels.  We have very good external evidence that the gospels were written by the names traditionally ascribed to them—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.”

 Why would most New Testament scholars have a bias regarding the authorship of the Gospels?  Is it because most NT scholars have a bias against Christianity?  That seems hardly possible since most New Testament scholars identify as “Christian”.  So why?  Many conservative Christian apologists allege that even though most NT scholars identify as Christian, a large percentage of them are liberals, and many liberals do not believe in the historicity of the miracle claims in the Gospels and are dubious of the supernatural in general.

Is this true?  If so, that would be good evidence that the majority scholarly opinion on the authorship of the Gospels may very well be based on a bias.  But there is a problem!  It isn’t just liberals and atheist scholars who hold this view.  Most Roman Catholic New Testament scholars hold this view!  Most Roman Catholic New Testament scholars reject the claim that eyewitnesses or the associates of eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels.  Can anyone credibly claim that most Roman Catholic scholars are biased against the supernatural or that they use a double standard for evaluating the historicity of ancient Christian documents???

Read the following statements from probably one of the most respected Roman Catholic NT scholars of our time, Raymond E. Brown:

Image result for image of nt scholar raymond brown
Roman Catholic New Testament scholar, Raymond Brown

“Jesus did not write an account of his passion; nor did anyone who had been present write an eyewitness account.  Available to us are four different accounts written some thirty to seventy years later in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, all of which were dependent on tradition that had come down from an intervening generation or generations.  That intervening pre-Gospel tradition was not preserved even if at times we may be able to detect the broad lines of its content.  When we seek to reconstruct it or, even more adventurously, the actual situation of Jesus himself, we are speculating.” 

The Death of the Messiah, pp. 4-5

 “I have already said that I do not think of the evangelists themselves as eyewitnesses of the passion; nor do I think that eyewitness memories of Jesus came down to the evangelists without considerable reshaping and development.”   

The Death of the Messiah, p. 14

And here is a statement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops regarding the authorship of the Gospel of Matthew:

 “The questions of authorship, sources, and the time of composition of this gospel [Matthew] have received many answers, none of which can claim more than a greater or lesser degree of probability. The one now favored by the majority of scholars is the following:  The ancient tradition that the author was the disciple and apostle of Jesus named Matthew (see Mt 10:3) is untenable because the gospel is based, in large part, on the Gospel according to Mark (almost all the verses of that gospel have been utilized in this), and it is hardly likely that a companion of Jesus would have followed so extensively an account that came from one who admittedly never had such an association rather than rely on his own memories. The attribution of the gospel to the disciple Matthew may have been due to his having been responsible for some of the traditions found in it, but that is far from certain.”   

from the USCCB website

Dear conservative Christian apologists:  How can the evidence for the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels be “strong” if so many New Testament scholars who very much believe in the supernatural, miracles, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus reject this claim?  How can you honestly continue to make this claim faced with this evidence?  The fact is that with few exceptions, the only NT scholars who hold to the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels are evangelicals and fundamentalist Protestants.  Now, who seems to be operating from a bias?

You owe your Christian readers the truth.  The evidence for the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels is not strong, in fact, it is weak.  And if the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels is in doubt, how can anyone claim that the evidence for the historicity of the Gospels’ stories of first century peasants claiming to have seen a walking, talking, broiled fish eating (resurrected) corpse is good?

 

 

 

End of post.

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “A Skeptic’s Easter Message to Conservative Christian Pastors and Apologists

  1. On a related note is something I’ve noticed in the mythicism debate.

    One of the key ‘evidences’ claimed for a historic Jesus is Paul’s “James the brother of the Lord” passage.

    Catholicism has 2,000 years of apologetics stating Jesus had no siblings. Yet the Catholic arguments for James not being Jesus’ brother are never brought up to counter the historicists’ claims.

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      1. James is also listed in Matthew 13.55, in the same context as Jesus’ biological mother, father and sisters: “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us?”

        However Catholics and others choose to interpret this verse, as well as Galatians 1.19 in which Paul calls James the Lord’s brother, the obvious literal reading is that James was considered to be Jesus’ biological sibling.

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  2. A conservative Christian blogger’s response to this issue on his blog:

    Gary, I suspect you’ve not checked what the overwhelming majority in fact believe. But suppose you’re right.

    How do those who make up the overwhelming majority respond to Bauckham’s case? If your reply is that they don’t, or you don’t know, then that pretty much shows why the comment about what the majority think is kinda useless. I’ve been in the world of academic theology and biblical study long enough to know that the majority can be just wrong because they don’t properly evaluate arguments.

    Dismissals are never good enough if you want to persuade anyone. Rebuttals are a better way to go.

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    1. Hi Glenn. Thanks for responding to my comment.

      Have you read Richard Bauckham’s book, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”? I have. Very interesting, very provocative book.

      The most interesting topic I found in this book was the research regarding the names used in the Gospels. Bauckham points out that the Jewish names in the Gospels correspond to the popularity of Jewish names found in Palestine during the first century, which is different compared to the popularity of Jewish names in the Diaspora. This is good evidence that the Gospel stories originated in first century Palestine and evidence against the claim that these stories were fabricated by someone not of Palestinian Jewish origin. (Of course, just because the evidence indicates that a story came from first century Palestine is not a guarantee that the story is historically true.)

      Bauckham goes on to make other claims that most scholars question. One of those claims is that there are hidden literary clues within the Gospel of Mark which point to Peter as the source of this gospel. One of these alleged clues is the frequency with which the author of Mark mentions Peter in his gospel. Now, if the author referred to Thaddeus more than any other disciple, that might be a good clue as to the source, but Peter was the chief disciple. It is not surprising, therefore, that Peter is mentioned so often. Secondly, Bauckham claims that the author of Mark uses an ancient literary technique called an “inclusio”. In this technique, an ancient author would indicate the source of his material by using the name of that source as the first and last character in his story. But is Peter the first and last character mentioned in the Gospel of Mark? No. John the Baptist is the first character mentioned.

      Bauckham goes on to suggest other hidden literary clues in the Gospel of Mark, including the author’s choice of verb tense and other odd claims.

      The most shocking (and completely unsupported) claim that Bauckham makes is that the pericopes in the Gospels which contain named individuals were preserved intact and passed on to the Gospel authors by those very named persons. So for instance the story of Bartemaeus the blind man. Since Bartemaeus is mentioned in this story, Bartemaeus preserved this story and passed it on to the Gospel authors. Evidence for this claim? None! It is pure conjecture.

      Lastly, Bauckham addresses the issue of why the author of Mark does not tell us the source of his gospel. Bauckham claims that the reason for this is that the Gospel of Mark was written during a period of time in Palestine when the Church was being persecuted. Bauckham surmises that the author of Mark did not want to expose Peter to any danger of arrest and execution, therefore he kept his name anonymous. Evidence? None! More conjecture.

      Glenn: Why do you think that most Roman Catholic scholars reject the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels?

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