Christian Research Institute: Dear Gary,
Greetings in the precious name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and thank you for contacting the Christian Research Institute!
Wow, that is quite the impressive list of books you have read on subjects related to Christianity.
Regarding radical Jesus scholars, I’ve personally read Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus, Forged, and Lost Christianities. Others read include: The Five Gospels by the Jesus Seminar, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time by Marcus Borg, and New Testament & Mythology and Other Basic Writings by Rudolf Bultman. Atheist titles I’ve read include: The God Delusion and The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins along with God is not Good by Christopher Hitchens, Why I Am Not A Christian by Betram Russell, and The Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey. I’ve also viewed popular antichristian media productions like Zeitgeist: The Movie by Peter Joseph and Religulous with Bill Maher.
You mentioned currently being “agnostic.” Can you clarify?
I understand an agnostic to be someone who suspending judgment for lack of evidence. So, are you suspending judgment for lack of evidence that the New Testament preserves eyewitness testimonials to Jesus Christ and the resurrection? Are you simultaneously making a positive judgment that the New Testament lacks any eyewitness testimonial to Jesus Christ and the resurrection?
If there could be evidence to believe the New Testament preserves eyewitness testimonials to Jesus Christ and the resurrection, what would it be? Are you settled with the conviction that nothing ever could be produced as evidence for the New Testament preserving eyewitness testimonials to Jesus Christ and the resurrection, and any further search would be an exercise in futility?
Why would [evangelical NT scholar Mike] Licona’s take on Matthew 27:52-53 being a poetic device undermine the contention on the historicity of the resurrection? Does he not explain the point on pp. 548-553? Could not New Testament writers blend factual history with metaphor for effect? Don’t modern writers do the same? So, FDR’s statement “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy” alludes to both the historical fact and the moral outrage of the Pearl Harbor attack. Of course, there is no place called “infamy” where the December 7, 1941 presently resides, — it’s metaphorical. Why dismiss Licona’s work just on his take on Matthew 27:52-53? Either one can agree or disagree with Licona on Matthew 27:52-53 but one can still glean other important research on the resurrection form this work. Right? Why not?
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you always!
Christian Research Institute
Gary: Hi Warren. Nice to hear from you again.
“You mentioned currently being “agnostic.” Can you clarify?”
I don’t remember using that term. I refer to myself as a “non-supernaturalist creator-ist”. Simply put, I believe that there is sufficient evidence to believe that our universe had an intelligent creator, but, the evidence also suggests that this creator is/was most likely mortal and definitely fallible, not immortal and infallible as described in the Christian holy book. My guess: Our creator was a scientist in another universe whose experiment went…BANG…and voila, our universe came into existence. Where did the original universe come from? I have no idea. As to the gods of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, etc., I am an atheist. I do not believe that there is sufficient evidence to believe that any of these beings exist.
Bottom line: Once scientists reach a consensus on the origin of our universe, I will accept the consensus expert opinion, whatever it may be. Period. Currently, there is no expert consensus.
I am impressed that you have read works by atheists and other skeptics of the claims of Christianity. Good for you. I hope you would encourage all Christians to be well-read on the claims of Christianity, reading the works of both Christians and skeptics. Here are my reading recommendations:
Christian: “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” by Josh and Sean McDowell; “The Death of the Messiah” by Raymond Brown.
Skeptic: “The Outsider Test for Faith” and “The Case Against Miracles”, both by John Loftus.
“So, are you suspending judgment for lack of evidence that the New Testament preserves eyewitness testimonials to Jesus Christ and the resurrection?“
No, I accept majority expert opinion on all issues and the majority expert opinion is that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses or by the associates of eyewitnesses but by non-eyewitnesses living one or more generations removed from the alleged events they describe. However, if the majority of experts were to change their mind on this issue, I would have no problem accepting it. Why? I don’t believe that eyewitness authorship of the Gospels makes dead person sightings any more probable or believable! Thousands of people throughout history have claimed to have seen dead people. You don’t believe most of these stories. I don’t believe any of them!
“Are you simultaneously making a positive judgment that the New Testament lacks any eyewitness testimonial to Jesus Christ and the resurrection?”
Absolutely not. It is entirely possible that both Homer’s Iliad and Matthew’s Gospel contain accurate eyewitness testimony (and fictional tall tales). The tricky part is figuring out which parts are historical and which parts are fictional.
“If there could be evidence to believe the New Testament preserves eyewitness testimonials to Jesus Christ and the resurrection, what would it be?”
The same type of evidence professional crime investigators use to determine if someone really was an eyewitness to an event. Once again, I must remind you, even if four authors in Antiquity were eyewitnesses to alleged dead person sightings, that in no way convinces me that these dead person appearances really took place. Ample court evidence has demonstrated time and time again that eyewitnesses, even groups of eyewitnesses can be mistaken. Eyewitnesses can “see” things that were not there. It is entirely possible that the disciples experienced vivid dreams, trances (day dreams), illusions, cases of mistaken identity (seeing someone in the distance and thinking it is Jesus), delusions, or hallucinations. Groups of people CAN experience the same illusion (a bright light) or case of mistaken identity (a group of excited disciples seeing “Jesus” on a distant hill for a brief few seconds in the morning mist…when in reality it is just a shepherd separated from his flock).
“Are you settled with the conviction that nothing ever could be produced as evidence for the New Testament preserving eyewitness testimonials to Jesus Christ and the resurrection, and any further search would be an exercise in futility?
I have no idea. I am not a textual critic of ancient Near East literature. If the majority of Near East literature textual critics change their minds about the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels, I will accept their new position. Eyewitness authorship of the Gospels and Acts is not a threat to my non-supernatural belief system, as I have explained above.
“Why would Licona’s take on Matthew 27:52-53 being a poetic device undermine the contention on the historicity of the resurrection? Does he not explain the point on pp. 548-553?
You tell me. If the Gospel authors were mixing poetic metaphor with historical facts…and not explicitly telling the reader they were doing so…how would the reader know which parts of their stories are historical and which parts are fictional? When the Gospel authors precede a story with, “Jesus then told a parable…”, we know not to take that story literally. But the author of Matthew makes no such statement regarding his story of an earthquake shaking dead saints out of their graves to wander the streets of Jerusalem. This story is told as fact, no different from “Matthew’s” story of Jesus walking on water, his story of guards at the tomb, or his story of women disciples touching Jesus’ feet in the garden. If any scholar or apologist thinks he knows as fact that “Matthew” meant this particular story to be read as “poetic”, he is delusional or a liar. We have no indication in the text or from other sources that the author of Matthew meant this story to be understood figuratively.
Could not New Testament writers blend factual history with metaphor for effect? Don’t modern writers do the same?”
Absolutely. And I will bet that this is exactly what the Gospel authors were doing! They weren’t trying to deceive anyone. It was totally acceptable to a first century Greco-Roman reading public for an author to mix fact with embellishments. It is only later Christian readers who insisted that every detail of these stories had to be 100% historical fact.
But the big question for Christians is: Since neither the authors of the Gospels nor their scribes are still living, how do we know which parts of their stories are historical fact and which parts of their stories are literary/theological embellishments (fiction)? What if the original sightings of Jesus all involved sightings of bright lights??? What if the original stories, as told by the eyewitnesses themselves, did not involve anyone seeing a walking, talking corpse? What would that do to your faith, Warren?
End of post.