The Weakest Link in the Christian Apologist’s Defense of the Resurrection

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Christian Apologist:

I would argue that the gospels are in fact very close to the facts and were either written by eyewitnesses or people who personally knew (and received their information from) eyewitnesses. Having carefully surveyed the evidence, I am persuaded that the traditional authorship of the gospels (that is, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) is probably correct. The gospel accounts are not the product of decades of oral tradition, but rather of eyewitness memory. The case for this can be made robustly by pointing to the numerous points of detail in the four gospels that can be cross-checked and corroborated historically (for a detailed defense of this, see my previous articles on the subject).

Gary:

Your statement points to probably the weakest link in the Christian argument for the historicity of the Resurrection: The view that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses or by their close associates. This view is a minority position in modern New Testament scholarship. In reality, only evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant scholars hold this position. Even most Roman Catholic scholars, who very much believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the supernatural, and miracles, reject the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels. See this link:
https://lutherwasnotbornagaincom.wordpress.com/2016/11/08/majority-of-scholars-agree-the-gospels-were-not-written-by-eyewitnesses/

Imagine a defense attorney appearing in court, presenting a case using minority expert opinion as a defense. The prosecution would rip his case to shreds when they demonstrate to the court that the defense attorney’s “experts” are considered to be outliers…fringe.

Using fringe expert opinion in defense of the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus is just as preposterous and irrational as someone today using fringe expert opinion to reject the expert consensus that Covid-19 is real (it is not a hoax) and that the vaccines against it are safe and effective.

Siding with fringe experts on any issue is not wise, folks. Most people who do so, do it simply because they like the fringe expert’s conclusions, not because the fringe expert has proven the majority opinion false.

The overwhelming majority of New Testament scholars doubt the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels. Most scholars believe that the Gospels were written by non-eyewitnesses living one or more generations removed from the alleged events they describe. Therefore, no one, let me repeat, no one should believe in virginal conceptions, water walking, or corpse reanimations based on such questionably reliable historical sources.

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12 thoughts on “The Weakest Link in the Christian Apologist’s Defense of the Resurrection

  1. With the seemingly large numbers of evangelical colleges, seminaries, and universities, I wonder if their total number of Phd. holding faculty have surpassed the number of scholars in mainline seminaries and secular university religious studies depts, which may be on the decline. I have tried to find numbers to compare, but, so far haven’t had any luck. What do we sceptics do if and when evangelical scholars outnumber those liberal/mainline/agnostic/Catholic scholars.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes. As a non scholar, I am forced to rely on scholars on these kinds of questions, just like I would be about dentistry, surgery, highway construction, etc. What to do when scholars disagree on issues that are important and divisive, especially when many or most scholars take a position that goes against what I think is true? Is going with the consensus of the majority of scholars the correct approach?

        On the one hand, of course. But on the other hand, for example, my extremely limited knowledge of Islam and Arabic doesn’t stop me from dismissing the supernatural conclusions I’m sure most Islamic scholars have, even if that gives them the right to say their position is that of the majority of scholars. Why? I guess it’s because I think it’s a pretty safe bet that most people around the world with advanced degrees in Islamic studies are in fact Muslim, and furthermore, live in countries where they wouldn’t dare publish anything that goes against established teaching, lest they be lynched or thrown in jail. Further, we know people who are believers tend to believe the religion of their parents. All that means motivated reasoning. Of course, they would assert non believers use motivated reasoning because of pride, rebellion against God, etc.

        So I can accuse them of motivated reasoning, but it still means I’m going against the consensus of scholars. Does that put me in the same league as anti vaxers, and flat earthers? I hope not, but I don’t have the answer to this (at least for me) dilemma.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. There is no such thing as a scholar or expert of the supernatural. Whether the person is a scholar of the Bible, the Koran, or the Book of Mormon, their expertise is in the dating of the manuscripts and exegesis of the text (what the author was trying to say). That’s it. I’m sure the overwhelming majority of Bible scholars believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. So what! That opinion is not a scholarly opinion, it is a faith-based opinion.

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    1. What should we do if climate scientists one day become dominated (a majority) by scientists who have signed a document pledging not to support or endorse any position which contradicts the belief that man-made climate change is a hoax? Answer: We reject the majority expert opinion of this group of experts as hopelessly biased.

      Ditto with New Testament scholars.

      When the primary objective of a particular group of experts becomes the validation of a presupposed truth and not the discovery of truth—whatever that may be—using objective, standardized means of research, then the opinion of this group of experts is no longer of any value.

      I would discount as not worthy of our attention the opinions of any Bible scholar who has signed a “Statement of Faith” with his (or her) employer/Bible college/university promising not to endorse any position related to the Bible which contradicts the doctrinal teachings of that institution or denomination.

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      1. Some Christians may read this statement and say, “And how are you atheists any different? You reject all conservative Christian views on Bible scholarship due to YOUR biases against the supernatural, religion in general, and Christianity in particular.”

        Not true.

        I accept the work of any scholar, Christian or non-Christian, who demonstrates in their work an objective, discplined search for truth, whatever that truth may be, and not simply a search to validate their own preconceived opinions.

        Scholar Raymond Brown was a Christian New Testament scholar who believed in miracles, the supernatural, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus, yet I highly respect his scholarship as fair and unbiased. His integrity and objectivity is very apparent in his books (which I have read).

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  2. Even prominent evangelical scholars such as Richard Bauckham will admit that the evangelical/fundamentalist Protestant belief that eyewitnesses and/or their associates wrote the Gospels is fringe. Bauckham certainly disagrees with this scholarly consensus, but he is honest enough to admit that such a consensus exists:

    “The argument of this book [Jesus and the Eyewitnesses]–that the texts of our Gospels are close to the eyewitness reports of the words and deeds of Jesus–runs counter to almost all recent scholarship. As we have indicated from time to time, the prevalent view is that a long period of oral transmission in the churches intervened between whatever the eyewitnesses said and the Jesus traditions as they reached the Evangelists [the authors of the Gospels]. No doubt the eyewitnesses started the process of oral tradition, but it passed through many retellings, reformulations, and expansions before the Evangelists themselves did their own editorial work on it.” p. 240 –Conservative Christian NT scholar, Richard Bauckham

    Conservative Protestant and evangelical Christians need to admit that the historical reliability of their sources is HIGHLY disputed.

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  3. re: “The overwhelming majority of New Testament scholars doubt the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels. Most scholars believe that the Gospels were written by non-eyewitnesses living one or more generations removed from the alleged events they describe”.

    OK, so, the Catholics you mention – the ones that believe in the supernatural, and miracles, and the bodily resurrection – they don’t believe the Gospels were written by eye-witnesses, or even by people who knew eye-witnesses.

    but then you say: “Therefore, no one, let me repeat, no one should believe in virginal conceptions, water walking, or corpse reanimations based on such questionably reliable historical sources.”

    So… The Catholics that you mention evidently don’t believe in miracles, the supernatural, or the resurrection based on some faulty notion that the Gospels were written by eye-witnesses. But, they believe in miracles (etc) nonetheless. So, is that OK? 

    If it’s not OK, then why don’t you just post “don’t believe in miracles, the supernatural, or the resurrection, just because…”?

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    1. @ HolyMoly
      In my limited experience of dialoguing with Catholics, their position is somewhat odd. Unlike (many) Protestants, my understanding is that, Catholics do not adhere to Sola Scriptura <e/m> (alone) and seem to take their cues from the ‘Church’, presumably ”whatever the Pope says etc”.
      Of course this supposed Papal infallibility has been challenged and the Pope has publically apologised over some of their more insane doctrines.
      And then there are various ‘side shoots’ that people believe – Classic Theism for example, and many seem big on philosophy which only compounds the problems and can leave one with a bewildering array of terms and interpretations.

      But many religious people often have a nasty and hypocritical habit of interpreting things (scripture and doctrine ) to suit themselves.
      The late Raymond Brown explained the Church apparently did not believe in an
      actual virgin Birth ( I wish I could remember the site I read this-apologies) and yet is is supposedly considered a foundational tenet and all part of Marian devotion,

      There are some miracles Catholics do not believe in – the global flood for example.

      The key of course is the supposed resurrection of the character Jesus of Nazareth.

      But trying to pin a Christian down to get them to provide evidence for this tale is more difficult than plaiting fog.

      On saying that, if you fancy having a go at explaining it and offering evidence then, be my guest.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. ??

      My point is to demonstrate that it isn’t just liberals and atheists who doubt the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels. If this were the case, that might indicate a bias on the part of liberals and atheists. The fact that a large percentage of scholars who do believe in the supernatural and the resurrection doubt the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels is good evidence that this position is based on evidence and not bias.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. If the gospels are eyewitness accounts, why do Matthew and Luke copy great swathes from Mark – who was not an eyewitness himself – often ‘correcting’ him as they went along? Anyone writing as an eyewitness or in contact with eyewitnesses would not do this.
    Imagine Matthew thinking, ‘I have all these eyewitness accounts (including my own) yet I prefer to plagiarise 90% of my account from someone else (Mark) who wasn’t actually there. ‘ Makes no sense whatsoever.

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