Richard Bauckham’s Scholarship is Full of Holes

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Gary:  Nine out of ten times that I ask a conservative Christian apologist for evidence for the eyewitness/associate eyewitness authorship of the Gospels, they will point to the scholarship of conservative evangelical New Testament scholar, Richard Bauckham,  in particular his book, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, published in 2006.  Dr. Bauckham believes that the Gospels are historically reliable accounts of the life and death of Jesus primarily because:

“Many characters in the Gospels are unnamed, but others are named.  I want to suggest now the possibility that many of these named characters were eyewitnesses who not only originated the traditions to which their names are attached but also continued to tell these stories as authoritative guarantors of their traditions.  In some cases the Evangelists may well have known them.”

–Richard Bauckham, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” p. 39

“It is the contention of this book that, in the period up to the writing of the Gospels, gospel traditions were connected with named and known eyewitnesses, people who had heard the teachings of Jesus from his lips and committed it to memory, people who had witnessed the events of his ministry, death, and resurrection and themselves had formulated the stories about these events that they told.  These eyewitnesses did not merely set going a process of oral transmission that soon went its own way without reference to them.  They remained throughout their lifetimes the sources and, in some sense that may have varied for figures of central or more marginal significance, the authoritative guarantors of the stories they continued to tell.” 

–Richard Bauckham, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, p. 93

Gary:  What is the evidence given for this claim?  Answer:  Assumptions and conjecture, nothing more!  But let’s take a look at a truly shocking statement that Bauckham makes later on in the book which directly undermines his claim that these named characters in the Gospel stories “remained throughout their lifetimes the authoritative guarantors of these stories”.  First, Bauckham explains why he does not believe that the disciples Levi and Matthew are the same person:

“…the identification of Matthew with Levi the son of Alphaeus—a traditional case of harmonizing the Gospels in view of the parallel passages Matt. 9:9 (about Matthew) and Mark 2:14 (about Levi) must, on the same grounds of the onomastic evidence available, be judged implausible.  Mark tells the story of the call of Levi the son of Alphaeus to be a disciple of Jesus in 2:14 (followed by Luke 5:27 where the man is called simply Levi) and lists Matthew, with no further qualification, in his list of the Twelve.  It is clear that Mark did not himself consider these two the same person.  In view of the other details Mark does include in his list of the Twelve, he would surely have pointed out Matthew’s identity with Levi there had he known it.”

–Richard Bauckham, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, p.108

Gary:  Here Bauckham explains why the author of the Gospel of Matthew, who Bauckham does not believe was Matthew the Apostle, invented a fictional tale in this Gospel:

The most plausible explanation of the occurrence of the name Matthew in [Matthew] 9:9 is that the author of this Gospel, knowing that Matthew was a tax collector and wishing to narrate the call of Matthew in the Gospel that was associated with him, but not knowing a story of Matthew’s call, transferred Mark’s story of Levi to Matthew.  The story, after all, is so brief and general it might well be thought appropriate to any tax collector called by Jesus to follow him as a disciple.  There is one feature of Matthew’s text that helps to make this explanation probable.  In Mark, the story of Levi’s call is followed by a scene in which Jesus dines with tax-collectors (Mark 2:15-17).  Mark sets this scene in “his house”, which some scholars take to mean Jesus’ house, but could certainly appropriately refer to Levi’s house.  In Matthew’s Gospel, the same passage follows the narrative of the call of Matthew, but the scene is set simply in “the house” (Matthew 9:10).  Thus, this Evangelist has appropriated Mark’s story of the call of Levi, making it a story of Matthew’s call instead, but has not continued this appropriation by setting the following story in Matthew’s house.  He has appropriated for Matthew only as much of Mark’s story of Levi as he needed.”  (bolding, Gary’s) 

—Richard Bauckham, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, p.111

GaryWow!  The author of Matthew has inserted a fictional story into the inerrant Word of God!  How could that possibly have happened if Bauckham is correct that the named characters in these stories safe-guarded the integrity of these stories until they passed them on to the Evangelists?  The fact that even evangelical Christian scholars believe that fictional tales exist in the Gospels (evangelical scholar Michael Licona believes that Matthew’s “Dead Saints Shaken out of their Tombs” story is also fiction) indicates that either the “guardians of truth” were not very reliable…or…Bauckham’s theory is full of holes!

Just how historically reliable can the Gospels be if even evangelical scholars admit that they contain invented, fictional material???

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The Sinlessness of Jesus was a Human Invention. The Evidence is Found in The Gospels Themselves!

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Guest post on Bart Ehrman’s blog:

In the first blog post I showed how the earliest Christians were forced to make sense of the death of Jesus in light of belief in his resurrection.  Why had the one they “had hoped” would redeem Israel died at the hands of the Romans by means of crucifixion?  To answer this question the early believers turned both to their Jewish scriptures and to their ritual life associated with the Jerusalem Temple and its sacrificial cult.  In scripture they found echoes that resonated with their experience, especially such passages as Isaiah 53 in relation to the death of Jesus, and Psalm 110 in relation to their conviction that Jesus had been raised to the right hand of God.  Appeals to specific proof-texts also led to generic assertions that the death and resurrection of Jesus was to be found in scripture.

So Luke could have the risen Jesus simply assert (24:45-47): “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.’”  The problem is, of course, that nowhere is this written in the Jewish scriptures.  Nevertheless, their conviction that God had raised Jesus from the dead became the central key to unlocking the true meaning of both Jewish scripture and Jewish ritual as harbingers of a crucified messiah whose death atoned for sin.  (Perhaps ironically, Luke does not make the connection between the death of Jesus and atonement for sin.  Rather Luke casts Jesus as the first martyr whose triumphant resurrection vindicates his tragic death.)

The retrospective theologizing of the earliest Christians that resulted in a perfectly sinless Jesus led inexorably to a process of retrojection, whereby the Gospel writers told and retold the story of Jesus in the firm belief that he had lived a perfectly sinless life, a divine life, the life of a divine man, the selfless son of God who gave himself for others. The process of retrojecting a sinless Jesus can be seen in a variety of places within the Gospel traditions, but nowhere more clearly than in the baptism and birth stories.

The story of Jesus’ baptism is recounted in all four of the canonical Gospels.  But the differences between the accounts reflect a significant reworking of the base tradition about Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist.  The account presented in the Gospel of Mark is rightly viewed as representing the earliest version of the tradition.  The account is very straightforward.  John the Baptist has been preaching a baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus comes and is baptized by John, after which the Spirit of God descends upon Jesus as a dove and a heavenly voice declares that Jesus is God’s Son, echoing Psalm 2:7.  Most scholars recognize Mark’s baptism scene as the anointing and adoption of Jesus as God’s Son.

That Jesus might have been perceived as submitting to a baptism of repentance from sin does not concern Mark at all.  But it bothers Matthew in the extreme.  Matthew famously adds material to address two problems with the tradition he received from Mark.  First, Matthew must deal with the problem of having Jesus submit to John the Baptist at all, making Jesus appear subordinate and inferior to John.  Matthew accomplishes this by having John the Baptist object to baptizing Jesus, and by having the Baptist clearly subordinate himself to Jesus (Mt 3:14): “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  But, secondly, Matthew must also deal with the larger problem of why Jesus is getting baptized by John at all.  Jesus cannot be perceived as seeking baptism for forgiveness of sins.

And so Matthew introduces a rather curious rationale to explain why Jesus is getting baptized by John (Mt 3:!5): “But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he [John] consented.”  As is well known, the motif of righteousness is prominent throughout Matthew’s Gospel, and Matthew invokes it here in the baptism scene to explain why Jesus is getting baptized.  It is not for anything to do with forgiveness of sin.  In this way Matthew sanitizes Mark’s potentially troubling story by retrojecting a sinless Jesus back into the baptism story.  The baptism story apparently was such a strong tradition that there was no way to avoid it, but that didn’t mean the evangelists could reshape it.  And reshape it they did.

The Gospel of Luke reshapes John the Baptist right out of the story!  This is yet another way to put distance between Jesus and John the Baptist’s preaching a baptism for forgiveness of sins.  Luke famously takes the story of John’s arrest that is narrated later in Mark 6 and moves it to immediately before the baptism of Jesus in Luke 3.  The baptism story is told in the passive voice, and John the Baptist is conspicuously absent.  This was Luke’s creative solution to dealing with the dual problems of inferior submission and sin inherent in Mark’s telling of the baptism story.

The Gospel of John goes one better than even Luke by simply not having a baptism of Jesus at all.  Of course there is great doubt that John knew any of the Synoptic Gospels in their written form, but John seems to know enough about the traditions to reduce John the Baptist to a mere witness to the Spirit coming upon Jesus, quite apart from any baptism.

The birth narratives about Jesus presented in Matthew and Luke also demonstrate a process of retrojecting a perfectly sinless Jesus coming into the world in divine fashion. In Matthew’s account, much modeled on the birth story of Moses and his escape from Pharaoh, Joseph is portrayed as a righteous man who plans to divorce Mary since she is found to be pregnant before they consummate their marriage.  This can only mean, of course, that Mary has sinned and is guilty of adultery.  But Joseph receives a vision that the child is from God, and that Joseph is to name the child Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins.”  Already in the birth narrative, then, the purpose and destiny of Jesus finds articulation.

The implication is clear.  How will he save his people from sin?  By dying as a ransom for many on the cross.  Thus the significance of the death of Jesus in light of the resurrection is retrojected all the way back to the birth.To safeguard Mary as well as Jesus, Matthew also goes out of his way in the genealogy to enlist the help of four women (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, the wife of Uriah) to invoke stories that show how the appearance of sexual scandal can in reality be God’s righteousness at work.  Just as Matthew sanitized the baptism story of Jesus, so he retrojects a sinless birth story for both mother and son in light of early Christian belief in the resurrection of the crucified messiah.

Luke’s approach to the birth of Jesus differs significantly from Matthew’s, but still gets rid of any scandal associated with the pregnancy of Mary or the birth of Jesus.  Unlike Matthew, Luke makes no reference to Mary’s pregnancy being a problem.  Rather, the birth of Jesus occurs amidst the inhumanity of having to travel and give birth in an animal stall.  Songs of praise are offered to God throughout Luke’s birth narrative.  Jesus’ lowly birth will set the stage for the motif of reversal that dominates the rest of the Gospel.  Just as Jesus will identify with sinners and prostitutes in Luke, so he will offer salvation to a thief on the cross next to him.  Luke shares the vindication of resurrection faith in the reversal stories that characterize his Gospel as a whole (e.g., Jesus’ sermon in Luke 4, the woman of the city in Luke 7, tax collectors in Luke 18 & 19).

The retrojection of perfection onto Jesus carries over into the Gospel of John’s pre-history of Jesus as the Word who was in the beginning with God, and through whom all things were made.  Similar motifs can be found in hymns to Christ in Colossians 1 and in the book of Revelation’s heavenly choirs who give praise to the victorious lamb, who conquered through his blood.  Elsewhere, Christian tradition continued to grow after the Gospels were written, for example, in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas with its perfect divine child.  Somewhat later the apocryphal Gospel of the Hebrews (as quoted by Jerome) has Jesus respond to the suggestion that he should get baptized by John the Baptist by asking, “what sin have I committed that I should go and be baptized by him?”

In the next post I will explore how the Christian tradition utterly subordinated any vestige of human weakness in Jesus to such a degree that not only didn’t Jesus sin, but that as the Son of God he did not have the capacity to sin.

–Jeff Siker, New Testament scholar

If There is No Supernatural, How do Atheists Define Good and Evil?

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Conservative Christian:  If there is no supernatural, how do you define good and evil? If there is nothing beyond this material world of space and time and physics, what are we? Surely the logic which rejects the supernatural reduces us to curious assemblages of complex molecules, ‘living’ on a small rock circling an unremarkable star in the unfashionable western spiral arm of one galaxy in 100,000,000,000 galaxies in the observable universe. You and I, Gary, if you are right, have no value, meaning or significance, for these must come from outside ourselves. Any self-constructed meaning is no better that the ‘superstitous’ beliefs which you condemn.


Gary:   You seem to be suggesting that unless I can come up with a better answer for the origin of morality and the purpose of the universe, you win and I lose. But we are not in a contest regarding who can come up with the prettiest, most comforting explanation for all the mysteries of the universe. I for one, search for the truth. And what if the truth is that: The supernatural does not exist; there is no such thing as universal, objective morality; and there is no purpose to the universe. It simply exists.

You might find that ugly and scary but if that is what the truth is, your feelings on the subject are irrelevant. The reason why I don’t believe in the supernatural is not because I don’t like it, it is because there is no good evidence for it.

A recent study found that 40% of Americans under the age of 30 now identify as “non-religious”. Imagine what the numbers are like in Europe! I believe that within not too many generations, belief in gods and devils (at least in the educated West) will be seen as just as silly as belief in witches and goblins.

So how do I define “good”:  I should treat others in the manner that I want them to treat me.  Sound familiar, Christians?  Yes, Jesus said that.  He wasn’t the first to formulate that “moral lesson”, but it is a good one.  But “do unto others as you would have them do to you ” because it is in your best survival interest (and will make you feel good), not because a god tells you to do it…or else!

A Modern Version of the Doubting Thomas Tale

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Conservative Christian:  While there are many individual, different, testimonies of conversion [to Christianity] there is much consensus in experience of born from above, “heart strangely warmed”-Wesley, “surprised by joy”-CS Lewis, and the evidence of millions of changed lives, down the centuries. Even as you now mock and belittle it all as blind faith.  Is your main aim to de-convert those who are in fact of enlightened, eyes-wide-open intellectual, rigorous, reasonable, logical consistent Creedal faith?  God bless you and your family. May you come to know and have that evidence of personal relationship, for which we exist.

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio

Gary:  I would never attempt to disprove the reality of the supernatural or of your alleged supernatural experiences—for the simple reason that the supernatural, by definition, defies the scientific method, the very method I choose as the most reliable indicator of universal truths.  But what I can say is that odd, rare events happen to people of all faiths and even to atheists. Could all these odd, rare events happening to people of all belief systems be miracles? Maybe. But couldn’t they also simply be…odd, rare events?   Isn’t it possible that your alleged “personal relationship” with a man who lived and died 2,000 years ago is simply a fantasy; your mind playing tricks on you?  Isn’t it possible that your personal relationship is not with an invisible spirit living somewhere inside your body—but you having an on-going internal dialogue with…YOU???  If that is what is going on, the “strangely warm” feelings you describe are no different from the wonderful, warm, comforting feelings that an emotionally traumatized child derives from his imaginary friend.  Bottom line, until I see a laws-of-nature defying event myself, I will not believe in the supernatural nor in your alleged supernatural experiences.  I do not believe that feelings and personal perceptions, regardless of how intense and wonderful they may be, are reliable indicators of universal truths.

In my worldview, the tale of Thomas the Doubter, found only in the last canonical Gospel written, has it all wrong.  A more accurate version of that tale would be:

And Jesus said unto Thomas:  ““Blessed is he who verifies all universal truth claims with good, unbiased evidence, and woe to the foolish man or woman who believes universal truth claims based on feelings, personal perceptions, wishful thinking (faith), and fringe expert opinion.”


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What Happens When You Tell Conservative Christians that Most Scholars Doubt the Eyewitness Authorship of the Gospels? They get Mad!

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Wow.  Nothing like consensus scholarly opinion to infuriate a person of faith!  Check out my discussion with a group of conservative Christians, on a conservative Christian blog, regarding the authorship of the Gospels.  It is amazing how these believers will twist themselves into pretzels to deny the massive evidence against their many false assumptions.  Click on this link to read this fascinating discussion:  here

Do the 153 fish in John 21 count for anything?


Update 5/12/2019:  These people are so blinded by their superstitions!

It is very sad.  They absolutely refuse to accept the overwhelming evidence that most scholars today reject the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels.  And why?  Because they know that if they admit that most experts do not believe that the Gospels are eyewitness sources, the believability in the historicity of the fantastical tales in these books—stories about people seeing a walking, talking, broiled fish eating, into outer space levitating corpse—becomes very, very questionable.





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