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Evangelical Scholar Craig Evans Agrees: Significant Majority of NT Scholars Rejects the Eyewitness Authorship of the Gospels

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NT scholar Craig A. Evans

Several weeks ago I mailed out a survey to some of America’s top conservative Christian NT scholars, theologians, and apologists regarding the authorship of the Gospels.  I asked them the following questions:

 

Dear Conservative New Testament scholar or apologist:  I am conducting a survey on topics related to the authorship of the Gospels.  Would you kindly participate?

1. Do you agree with this statement by conservative NT scholar Richard Bauckham that a significant majority of NT scholars rejects the eyewitness/associate eyewitness authorship of the Gospels:

“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   

Your answer:  Yes  or  No

2. If you agree with Bauckham’s statement that “almost all recent scholarship” believes that the texts of our Gospels are NOT close to the eyewitness reports of the words and deeds of Jesus, do you believe that this scholarly consensus is due to an objective evaluation of the evidence, or due to a bias against the supernatural, as some conservative Christian apologists allege (see here)?

Your answer:  Evidence  or  Bias

 

Gary:  Many did not respond, but a few did by email.  You can read their responses here.  Only one, evangelical NT scholar Craig Evans, responded by US mail.  Here are his responses to the above questions:

Answer to Question 1:   Yes

Answer to Question 2:  Evidence (but often the evidence is not well understood)

Gary:  This is evidence that at least two prominent evangelical New Testament scholars (Richard Bauckham and Craig Evans) agree that a significant majority of scholars rejects the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels.  Evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant apologists need to stop denying the existence of a significant majority scholarly consensus on the non-eyewitness authorship of the Gospels!

 

 

End of post.

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How Reliable is Gary Habermas’ Research?

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Gary Habermas

Conservative evangelical Christian theologian and philosopher Gary Habermas is most famous for his research regarding the Empty Tomb:  He claims that his literature search reveals that 75% of New Testament scholars believe that the Empty Tomb of Jesus is historical.  However, to my knowledge, Habermas has refused to make his data public.  So is his claim on this issue accurate?

Not too long ago Dr. Habermas was giddily touting the imminent release of a first century copy of the Gospel of Mark (here).  Turns out, it was not a first century copy after all!

Now Dr. Habermas’ is claiming that “even agnostic NT scholar Bart Ehrman” believes that the Early Creed mentioned in First Corinthians 15 originated within a couple of years after Jesus’ death.  But wait!  Bart Ehrman says that Habermas must have him confused with another scholar!  Ehrman says he has said no such thing.

Gary:   Dr. Ehrman, Are you aware that Gary Habermas claims that you believe that the Early Creed in First Corinthians 15 originated within a few short years of Jesus death?  Here is a quote from “The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ Among the Major World Religions”, Gary Habermas, PhD, copyright, 2016, page 29-30:

“Agnostic New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman both freely and often dates the earliest of these creeds to the 30s AD, sometimes within just 1-2 years after the crucifixion! [fn. 49]”

Habermas gives a footnote link for this statement:
49. Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Harper Collins, 2012), see pages 22, 27, 92-93, 97, 109-113, 130-132, 141, 144-145, 155-158, 164, 170-173, 232, 249-251, 254, 260-263; cf. 289-291.

Bart Ehrman:  [There is] no evidence at all [for Habermas’ claim], that I’m aware of. Do you have the book?  Look up those pages. I stopped after the first half dozen or so. I never mention the passage on them. He’s surely thinking of something else?  …I don’t see the logic of that [that scholars can know that the Early Creed was written within a couple years of Jesus death], for two reasons. One is that rumors don’t take 3-5 years to start.  They can start 30 minutes later. But also, on what grounds could anyone date the creed to the year 35 or so? Paul only says that he told it to the Corinthians after hearing it himself. He would have started the church in the late 40s, right? So why does that make the creed fifteen years earlier?

From a discussion on Erhman’s blog: here 

 

 

 

End of post.

Advice for Atheist Children When Harassed by Christians at School

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My children are in elementary and middle school.  I have taught them to decide for themselves if they want to believe in gods, devils, and the supernatural.  My only stipulation to them is:  Know why you believe what you believe.  Have good evidence for your beliefs.  Don’t believe something just because that is what other people believe.  I have encouraged them to avoid getting into debates over religion.  I have encouraged them to be respectful of the beliefs of others.

But sometimes some little Christian evangelist on the playground decides that he or she wants to tease my children regarding their non-belief in God.  My children will usually respond:  “No.  I don’t believe in a God.  But we are all different.  We should respect our differences of opinion.”  That is usually enough to stop the little evangelist in his or her tracks.

But what if the little evangelist doesn’t want to let the issue go?  What if he or she begins to taunt the atheist children for their non-belief in “God”?  How should the atheist children respond?  Sure, they could walk away, but I suggest doing some counter-evangelism!  It would go something like this:

Christian kid:  So you don’t believe in God?  EVERYONE believes in God!  What is wrong with you?  You’re weird!

Atheist kid:  I don’t believe in ghosts.  I think belief in ghosts is silly and ignorant.  I think it is weird to believe in ghosts.

Christian kid:  I don’t believe in ghosts!

Atheist kidSure you do.  If you are a Christian you believe in ghosts.  Christians believe that their god is a ghost.

Christian kidYou’re crazy.  Christians don’t believe that!  

Atheist kid:  Sure they do.  Christians believe that a ghost lives inside their bodies.  His name is Holy Ghost.  Christians believe that this ghost is God, the creator of the universe.  Just ask your parents.  Science says that ghosts do not exist.  I trust science.  So I don’t believe in ghosts.  And I don’t believe that your ghost god is real.  I think it is silly and superstitious to believe in ghosts.

(I would love to be a fly on the wall when the little Christian trots home to Mom and Dad to ask why they believe in ghosts!)

 

Update:  Ok.  I’ve taken some flak for this post in which I suggest that atheist children be confrontational when repeatedly criticized for their non-belief in gods.  So let me offer a non-confrontational alternative response:

We are all different.  And that is what is great about America (or whatever democratic country you live in).  We are all free to believe whatever we want!

 

Better?

 

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End of post.

Did Jesus Move to India After His Crucifixion?

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Since even most Bible scholars doubt that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses—but by unknown Christians who were at least one generation removed from the events they describe, in lands far away from Palestine, writing four or more decades after the death of Jesus, in a genre of literature that allowed for extensive embellishments (fiction)—modern, educated men and women can safely assume that the Gospels are not reliable sources of historical information about Jesus or the early Christian movement.

Our earliest historical statement about Jesus is found in the Early Creed, found in Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 15.  The information in this “creed” is very bare-bones.  All it tells us is that Jesus was crucified, buried, rose on the third day, and then “appeared” to a number of different individuals and groups.

Notice that this creed gives zero details about what these alleged eyewitnesses actually saw.  Did they see a walking/talking resurrected body as described in the last three Gospels written many decades later or are these detailed appearance stories just literary fiction?  So is it possible that all that the witnesses in this creed saw were illusions—bright lights or cloud formations—similar to what modern Catholic Christians see when they claim to receive an appearance of Jesus’ dead mother, Mary?

Conservative Christians insist that this is impossible.  “The early Christians claimed to see a body!”

I don’t think that this can be proven, but let’s go with it.  Let’s assume that all the people in the Early Creed really did see Jesus’ walking, talking, broiled-fish-eating body after his public execution.  What is the most likely explanation for these facts?

Answer:  Jesus didn’t die on the cross!  Somehow Jesus survived a Roman crucifixion!

“Impossible!” conservative Christians will object.  “The Romans were expert executioners.  In addition, if the soldiers didn’t make sure the victim was dead, they themselves would be executed.”

Question:  Is it impossible for someone to survive a Roman crucifixion as conservative Christians insist?  No!  Josephus tells the story of at least one man who survived his crucifixion.  So surviving a crucifixion might be improbable but it is not impossible, and to most people in the world (who are not Christians) surviving an execution is much more probable than the resurrection of a brain dead corpse.

So maybe this is what really happened:

Jesus is crucified.  He hangs on the cross for several hours but then cries out, “It is finished”, and hangs his head—as he slips into unconsciousness from the massive blood loss due to his earlier whipping and beating.  No soldier thrusts a spear into his side.  This little detail is just one of many later legendary (fictional) additions to the Jesus Story.

Joseph of Arimathea, a devout Jew who the night before had voted along with the entire Sanhedrin to execute Jesus, is given the task of burying Jesus in a nearby tomb.  (There is no time to get Jesus’ body to the burial site normally used for the poor and for criminals.)  It is almost the Sabbath!  So Joseph is in a big hurry.  He must get the body of this wicked troublemaker off the cross and into the ground before sunset.  He rushes.  He does not check a pulse or for other signs of life.  The idea that Jesus had just lost consciousness does not even cross his mind.  “No one survives a Roman crucifixion!”  He quickly wraps the bloody body in a cloth, puts the body in the tomb, rolls a stone in front of the opening, and rushes home just to make it inside his front door when the sun sets.

But Mary Magdalene has been watching!

Within minutes of Joseph of Arimathea leaving the tomb, Mary orders her servants to move back the stone, remove the body of Jesus, and place it underneath some straw in a waiting donkey-drawn cart.  They then quickly take off to Mary’s home nearby (much closer than that of J. of Arimathea), just getting inside before the Sabbath begins.

Mary, like Joseph, assumes that Jesus is dead.  She wants his body.  She wants to give him a proper burial in a location known only to her.   She intends to make his private grave a private shrine—for her alone. But one of her astute servants detects that Jesus is alive!

Mary spares no expense nursing Jesus back to health over the next three months.

Three months later, Jesus shows up (appears), with Mary, to Peter’s house in Galilee.  Peter is shocked and overjoyed.  Peter then takes Jesus to see the Eleven.  The Eleven then call a meeting of all the believers in Galilee which were several hundred.  James and Jesus’ mother come from Nazareth and tearfully embrace Jesus.

Jesus leads them all to a remote spot on a mountain and tells them that he did die on the cross (he sincerely believes he had) but that God had raised him from the dead to prove to the world that he truly is the Messiah.  He will soon usher in the Kingdom of God!

Mary Magdalene thinks Jesus is nuts.  She had believed that he was the messiah—until he was arrested, tried, and executed, but now she knows the truth:  the poor guy is delusional.  But she loves him and says nothing.

Even though Mary says nothing, she has made plans to ensure that she and her delusional lover will have many happy years together.  She knows that for Jesus to stay alive she must get him out of Palestine—out of the Roman Empire—to somewhere safe, like Persia or India, where he will be out of reach of the Romans.  She convinces Jesus to travel with her to visit her relatives in Persia before returning to overthrow the Romans (wink, wink).  They go east, stopping in Persia, but eventually settle in India—where they raise five children and grow old together…never again stepping foot in “the Holy Land”.

After impatiently waiting for three years for Jesus’ triumphal return to establish the New Kingdom, the disciples are forced to invent an explanation for Jesus’ absence (the process of cognitive dissonance).  Finally, someone decides that Jesus’ return from death was more than that—Jesus had been resurrected as the first fruits of the general resurrection!  God has taken him to heaven, but he will return any moment, and the remaining righteous dead will rise…and we Eleven will reign on golden thrones along side Jesus!  Let’s sell everything we have, move to Jerusalem the city of David, live in one big commune, praying for the Messiah’s speedy return.

The story of Jesus’ very real “appearances” to his disciples and family in Galilee soon took on many supernatural details (embellishments).  People began to say that his body glowed white, that he walked through locked doors, and that he would lift off of the ground in front of their very eyes.  One story even began to circulate that Jesus’ first appearance was to a woman (Mary), which in a sense, was the truth!

And that is how the Resurrection Belief began!

 

 

End of post.

Having Faith in Jesus is Like Having Faith in Your Science Teacher

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Conservative Christian:  Faith without evidence is a lot like a kid at the beginning of the year believing her science teacher (or history or math teacher) before digging deeper or doing the math. We all did that, of course. But as she gets further into the year, we learn to do the science and research the foundations for the history we are learning and work the math problem. We now still believe the facts, but we now know what evidence they are based on.  That is what happens for Christians. At the beginning, we believe on the basis of what we are told. But later we learn the basis of the facts we have been told. That kind of faith is NOT believing without evidence.

Gary:  OMG. What a bunch of baloney.

A kid can believe her science teacher because the validity of science has been rigorously tested and retested.  That is very different from the supernatural claims of your superstition (Christianity) which are completely untestable. One must believe in virgin births, water walking,  and dead body reanimations by wishful thinking (faith) not due to a rigorous review of the evidence. Every public university on the planet has stacks and stacks of books validating science. Not ONE public university in the world has a history textbook which validates your cult’s central claim:  the historicity of the reanimation of a bloated first century corpse.

The only evidence that Christians have for the resurrection of Jesus is disputed eyewitness testimony of sightings of Jesus after his public execution.  That is not evidence for a “resurrection”.

So Christians can claim that there is some (disputed) evidence that Jesus was still alive after his crucifixion, but that is all they can claim.  Asking modern, educated people to believe that these sightings of Jesus involved a superhero body with supernatural powers to walk through doors, teleport between cities, and levitate into space is just…dumb.   The era of believing in flying witches, boogeymen, and teleporting zombies is long past.  Modern, educated people should not believe this silliness.

Yes, it is highly unlikely that anyone could survive a crucifixion, but sightings of a recovered Jesus are much more probable than sightings of a resurrected Jesus—someone who died from crucifixion but later came back from the dead as an invincible superhero.

Come on, Christians.  Think rationally!

 

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End of post.

 

Bart Ehrman on the Dating of the Early Creed

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Gary:  Many Christian apologists point to the Early Creed in First Corinthians 15 as evidence for the resurrection. Their argument is: How can the resurrection be a legend if this Creed was circulating within three to five years of Jesus’ death, “as most scholars believe”?

What is the evidence that this “creed” was circulating within a few short years of Jesus’ death, and, is it true that most scholars believe it was?

Bart Ehrman, New Testament scholar:  I don’t see the logic of that, for two reasons. One is that rumors don’t take 3-5 years to start.  They can start 30 minutes later. But also, on what grounds could anyone date the creed to the year 35 or so? Paul only says that he told it to the Corinthians after hearing it himself. He would have started the church in the late 40s, right? So why does that make the creed fifteen years earlier?

From a discussion on Erhman’s blog: here 

 

 

 

 

End of post.

Why We should Not Believe the Resurrection Stories even if they were Written by Alleged Eyewitnesses

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If you have followed this blog for a while you know that one of the most popular subjects discussed here is the evidence (actually, the lack of evidence) for the resurrection of Jesus belief.  I have repeatedly asserted that the biggest weakness in the evidence for this alleged event is the fact that most historians and scholars doubt the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the books that tell this tale (see here).  For all we know, these stories are the theological or literary inventions of their non-eyewitness authors.

But what if these four authors did profess to be eyewitnesses to multiple back-from-the-dead Jesus sightings?  Should we believe them?

No.

Here’s why:  Ask yourself if you would believe that someone today has been resurrected from the dead, appearing in a supernatural body to multiple people; walking through locked doors; teleporting between locations; and levitating into the clouds without mechanical assistance based on the written eyewitness statements of four anonymous people whose testimony is similar to that found in the four Gospels:

–the testimony of Luke and Matthew have absolutely nothing in common in regard to the resurrection story—except the Empty Tomb—which they both could have obtained from Mark.  Almost all experts believe that both Luke and Matthew borrowed extensively from Mark’s eyewitness statement (gospel).

Just how reliable is eyewitness testimony when it is obvious large parts of the testimony is plagiarized from an earlier witness and those few parts of the testimony which are not plagiarized have nothing in common with a third alleged eyewitness who we know also plagiarized much of his testimony from the first alleged eyewitness??

Then we have the (alleged) eyewitness testimony of John.  Although we cannot prove that John had access to the eyewitness statements of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, we do know that these three testimonies (gospels) had been in circulation in the community in which John frequented (the Christian Church), so it is entirely possible that John constructed his eyewitness statement based on the framework of the three previous eyewitness statements.  So when it came to the resurrection appearance stories, John simply amalgamated the appearance statements of Matthew and Luke, keeping Mark’s empty tomb, and then added his own appearance stories, the appearance on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius and the appearance to Doubting Thomas, which are not found in the first three testimonies (gospels).

Does this sound like reliable eyewitness testimony? Of course not.  And notice I haven’t even mentioned the minor discrepancies in the stories (how many angels, which women, before sunrise/after sunrise, etc.) which Christians insist should not be seen as discrepancies.

But what if the four authors all claimed the very same story, with no variation in any of the details?  Should we then believe this ancient tale of dead body reanimation?

No!

Why?

Answer:  Because dead bodies never turn into superheroes with supernatural powers to walk through doors and walls, to teleport, or to levitate into outer space.  Never.  Ever.  Should I say it again:  Never!  So even if the Gospels were written by persons alleging to be eyewitnesses to this event, and even if their stories were identical, no modern, educated person should believe this ancient tall tale.  We wouldn’t believe four people or even five hundred people claiming a similar event happened yesterday among a group of Pentecostals in Appalachia so why should we believe the same event happened among a group of superstitious, fanatical peasants in ancient Palestine?

So when a conservative Christian asks you why you don’t believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, you don’t need to argue with him or her regarding the evidence, you can simply respond with one short, simple statement:

Because it’s a silly, ignorant, tall tale.

Period.

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End of post.