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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label gospel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gospel. Show all posts

Friday, September 23, 2016

Bill Maher Whores out the Horus Myth Against Jesus

A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. That aphorism is no truer than within the new atheism where people become instant experts because they read something that sounded plausible and agreed with their biases.

Take the charge that the accounts of Jesus's life, death, and resurrection were not only not history, but they are simply a retread of the dying and rising God myths, such as the Egyptian myths concerning Horus. In his movie Religulous, prominent atheist Bill Maher confidently tells some Christians that "the Jesus story wasn't original." The film then moves to a series of texts making the following claims:
Written in 1280 BC, the Egyptian Book of the Dead describes a god, Horus… Horus is the son if the god Osirus born to a virgin mother. He was baptized in a river by Anup the Baptizer, who was later beheaded. Like Jesus, Horus was tempted while alone in the desert… healed the sick… the blind… cast out demons… and walked on water. He raised Asar from the dead. "Asar" translates to "Lasarus." Oh yeah, he also had 12 disciples. Yes, Horus was crucified first, and after three days two women announced Horus the savior of humanity had been resurrected.1
Each of these claims is overlaid on top of a movie clip where Jesus is paralleling the detail.

Which Horus is Maher Talking About?

However, there seems to be something missing from Maher's little tutorial; he offers no citations of the sources from which he's drawing his data. We're left to believe all one needs to do is pick up a translation of one Egyptian Book of the Dead and we'll have everything laid out in front of us. That's the assumption you get from what was presented, right?

You'd be incredibly wrong. Egyptian mythology isn't so neatly unpacked. Much of what was written about Horus in a systematic manner doesn't come from the Egyptians at all, but from Plutarch who wrote them some 30-60 years after the Gospels were composed. Egyptologist E.A. Wallis Budge explains:
Plutarch, as a learned man and a student of comparative religion and mythology was most anxious to understand the history of Isis and Osiris, which Greek and Roman scholars talked about freely, and which none of them comprehended, and he made enquiries of priests and others, and examined critically such information as he could obtain, believing and hoping that he would penetrate the mystery in which these gods were wrapped. As a result of his labours he collected a number of facts about the form of the Legend of Isis and Osiris as it was known to the learned men of his day, but there is no evidence that he had the slightest knowledge of the details of the original African Legend of these gods as it was known to the Egyptians, say, under the VIth Dynasty. Moreover, he never realized that the characteristics and attributes of both Isis and Osiris changed several times during the long history of Egypt, and that a thousand years before he lived the Egyptians themselves had forgotten what the original form of the legend was.2
Not only have the myths changed, but they've been mixed together, even among the Egyptian texts. John Gwyn Griffiths, in explaining some of the Horus mythology, writes "Little consistency, however, is shown with regard to the genealogy of Horus. He is described as the son of Nut, the son of Geb, and once perhaps as the son of Hathor. Sethe sees Hathor as the original mother of Horus in the Horus-nome of Damanhur-Momemphis, where she is later replaced by Isis who assumes her bovine headdress." 3 Griffiths goees on, but just in that section it sounds like Maher will have an incredibly difficult time demonstrating the December 25 birth date, the born of a virgin claim, or that he was the son of Osirus.

Just before all those assertions that Horus had the original Gospel story some 1300 years before Jesus's birth, Maher authoritatively tells his Christian interviewees how many gods of that era were bor4n on December 25 and they should really "study the religions of the Mediterranean region from a thousand years before." He seems to say they need to shed their naiveté. It is obvious, though, that Maher hasn't studied Horus at all if he thinks a quick read of the Book of the Dead will give you a 1280 BC parallel of the Gospels. You can try it yourself here.

Next time I'll look at Plutarch's version of the Horus myth to counteract any final appeals there. But I think Maher (as well as all those Internet atheists who like to parade these claims) needs to take a bit of his own advice. Perhaps he should at least look into the Horus myth before going off half-cocked with wild-eyed speculations on parallels that don't exist.


1. Religulous. Dir. Larry Charles. Perf. Bill Maher. Thousand Words, 2008. Ill Maher - Jesus, Horus, Mithra, Krishna - Religulous ( 2 Mins ). YouTube, 29 Dec. 2011. Web. 23 Sept. 2016.
2. Budge, E. A. Wallis. "IX. The History of Isis and Osiris." Legends of the Gods: The Egyptian Texts, Edited with Translations. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner &, 1912. Web.
3. Griffiths, J. Gwyn. The Origins of Osiris and His Cult. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1980. Print. 15.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Why the Resurrection Cannot be a Lie

Easter week is here and Christians are getting ready to mark the rising of Jesus from the grave. The Resurrection is the foundational event of Christianity and it drastically changed human history. But skeptics don't believe the accounts of the resurrection as the Gospels and Paul present them. They doubt the historicity of the resurrection, and think the Gospel writers either intentionally fabricated the tale or recorded legends that grew into the familiar story we know. However, both theories have significant problems associated with them.

Problems with Charging the Resurrection as Fraud

Some charge the Gospel writers with fraud, inventing the resurrection accounts as part of a purposeful plan to "sell" Christianity to the masses or to gain power. This charge goes all the way back to the Jewish Sanhedrin themselves, who claimed the disciples stole the body in order to claim Jesus had been raised from the dead (Matt 28:13).

First, it is very unclear how concocting a story of a crucified leader who rises physically would be more appealing to a first century Jew than perhaps a spiritual or ephemeral resurrection. I noted yesterday how the idea of a resurrection here and now created a paradigm shift from traditional Jewish thought. Further, Romans initially reacted to the story with persecution and death. Tacitus even reports that after the first couple of decades for the resurrection, Christians were "hated for their abominations" so much Nero thought they would be the perfect fall guys to blame the burning of Rome on.1

Moreover, the change in the disciples themselves and their unflinching belief in seeing the resurrected Jesus become more implausible if these early followers really knew the whole thing was a conspiracy. Not one disciple ever recanted seeing the risen Christ, even upon pain of torture or death. In fact, their behavior changed drastically. They became bold proclaimers of the risen Lord, even directly defying the very Sanhedrin from whom they ran and hid when Jesus was arrested (Acts 4:18, Mark 14:27).

What About Those Who Held Christianity in Contempt?

Also, the false resurrection theory cannot account for the conversion of those who were antagonistic to Jesus and his message. Throughout Jesus's ministry, his brothers were outsiders, not believing him to be the Messiah (ref. Mark3:21, 6:3-4). However Jesus appeared to James after his resurrection which changed him so much he became the leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:12-21). What would cause James to change his beliefs? If he didn't believe the miracles of Jesus before his crucifixion, why would he believe Jesus rose unless he actually saw him as 1 Corinthians 15:7 states?

Even more amazing than James is the conversion of the Apostle Paul. Paul was trained in the ways of the Pharisees (Phil. 3:5), a highly observant and passionate follower of the Jewish faith who found the claims of Jesus and the Christians so offensive, he petitioned the Sanhedrin to capture or kill any Christians he could find (Acts 9:1). Without Jesus appearing to Paul, why would Paul abandon such deeply held and what he would only consider as righteous beliefs? As I explain here, it's like a high ranking ISIS commander, one who ordered the beheadings of Christians in Syria all at once renouncing not only ISIS but Islam and converting to Christianity and holding Billy-Graham style crusades around the world. Again, it wasn't an empty tomb that Paul offered as the reason for his conversion. It was the fact that Paul saw the risen Jesus himself (1 Cor. 15:8-9).

If the resurrection account is a lie, then Paul's conversion screams for an explanation. Paul believed it was a lie. He believed it was more than a lie, but also an affront to God himself. So, what made Paul do a 180 degree change in his beliefs and his attitude?

Where's the Alternative?

To claim the resurrection is a fraud, the skeptic is denying the testimony of Paul and the Gospel writers themselves. Therefore, the skeptic must offer some plausible explanation for the facts we do know: that Jesus died by Roman crucifixion, that the disciples so deeply believed they had experienced the risen Jesus it transformed them and they held their belief even unto death, that Jesus's skeptical brother  James became a leader in the Christian church and that one of the deadliest enemies of Christianity reversed himself in the blink of an eye and became its biggest advocate.

How does the skeptic account for these things and is their account more plausible than the resurrection itself? I don't think any alternative theory has measured up to the challenge.


Friday, March 18, 2016

The Gospels Had to Meet High Expectations as History

Apologists often make the claim that the resurrection is one of the most well-attested facts of ancient history. Some of this is due to the fact that the resurrection account is recorded in multiple independent sources which includes the Gospel accounts. Further, scholars have argued that the Gospel accounts count as a very specific kind of ancient historical genre; they are written as biography.1

Sometimes skeptics will grant the fact the Gospels were written to be taken as a historical record, but they don't believe that's enough. They will assume that history two thousand years ago meant a very different thing than what we mean today. History was basically propaganda where anyone could claim anything.

While it is true that those in power had the ability to shape events in a more positive light, it is far from the case that the ancient audiences didn't care about the truth in historical reporting. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Writings that claimed to be reporting historical events had very specific criteria of recounting what people who were there actually experienced and they should record those experiences as accurately. I'll take a look at each of these in turn.

History was supposed to report what people saw

Were ancient people more gullible and ignorant than people of today? Not necessarily. Just because cultures of the past may have had misinformed or perhaps what we would consider backwards views on matters dealing with science, it doesn't follow they would hold backwards view on everything. Such assumptions are a kind of chronological snobbery.

The fact is ancient historians held to their peers to high standards when recording historical events. Samuel Byskrog, whom Richard Bauckham quotes, explains how the people who were there and could personally recount the event being recorded were consider the most reliable sources, since they weren't hearing about events second or third hand. He writes:
The ancient historians – such as Thucydides, Polybius, Josephus, and Tacitus"were convinced that true history could be written only while events were still within living memory, and they valued as their sources the oral reports of direct experience of the events by involved participants in them. Ideally, the historian himself should have been a participant in the events he narrates"as, for example, Xenophon, Thucidides, and Josephus were"but, since he could not have been at all the events he recounts or in all the places he describes, the historian had to also rely upon eyewitnesses whose living voices he could hear and whom he could question himself.2

History was supposed to be accurate

Beyond looking for first-hand reports, historians would also police each other – just like today. While the peer review process wan't as developed, there was certainly n exchange between historians when one thought the other was being less than accurate or trying to push an intentionally biased account. Craig Keener states, "Historians harshly criticized other historians whom they accused of promoting falsehood, especially when they were thought to exhibit self-serving agendas." 3

One such example form ancient history is how the Greek historian Polybius dressed down Timaneus, another historian, on what Polybius shows as clear mistakes in his report of Africa. He writes:
No one can help admiring the richness of the country, and one is inclined to say that Timaeus was not only unacquainted with Africa but that he was childish and entirely deficient in judgement, and was still fettered by the ancient report handed down to us that the whole of Africa is sandy, dry, and unproductive. The same holds good regarding the animals. For the number of horses, oxen, sheep, and goats in the country is so large that I doubt if so many could be found in the rest of the world, 4 because many of the African tribes make no use of cereals but live on the flesh of their cattle and among their cattle. 5 Again, all are aware of the numbers and strength of the elephants, lions, and panthers in Africa, of the beauty of its buffaloes, and the size of its ostriches, creatures that do not exist at all in Europe while Africa is full of them. Timaeus has no information on this subject and seems of set purpose to tell the exact opposite of the actual facts.(Emphasis added.)4
Polybius goes on criticizing Timaneus' account simply because he offers a false report, but he wasn't the only historian to believe in standards. Even Pliny the Younger, who wrote at the same time the Gospels were being written, thought history should be done with "fidelity and truth"5

Dismissing historical records as unreliable simply because they are old is irrational. Ancient cultures well understood truth from a lie and they wrote history because they wanted to preserve what really happened. The Gospels fit into a genre where truth mattered. Certainly, that doesn't mean everything recorded in every ancient account is true; false perceptions, witnesses would color the truth, and interpreting events so Caesar looked good did happen. But one cannot simply waive one's hand and discount the Gospels because they are old and therefore they could pass fantastic stories on to an uncritical audience. That's simply not the world in which the Gospels were written.


1. See Craig Keener's discussion on this in The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, 74-84.
2. Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2006. Print. 8-9.
3. Keener, Craig S. The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009. Print. 96.
4. Polybius. "Fragments of Book XII." XII.3.3 Polybius • Histories. University of Chicago, 1927. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.
5. Pliny, Epistles 7.17.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Has Archaeology Proven the Gospel of John?

Charisma News published a web article last week with the bold headline "Pool Where Jesus Healed a Blind Man Discovered, Proves Gospel of John Is True." It opens with the claim "Archaeological evidence now proves the Gospel of John is true," then references both Eric Metaxas and a Los Angeles Times article that quoted Princeton New Testament scholar James H. Charlesworth. The claim is irresponsible.

Before we go too far, let me first say that the discovery of the pool of Slioam is a significant find for biblical archaeology. Discovered in 2004, it offers additional evidence that the author of John's gospel had first-hand knowledge of the city of Jerusalem, just as the discovery of the pool of Bethsaida (the setting of the healing in John 5) was found with its five porticoes, just as John described them. Since the 5th century, Christians had thought Siloam was the outlet of Hezekiah's tunnel, but this discovery shows a much larger, grander pool, according to the Biblical Archaeological Society.1 As Charlesworth stated in a Los Angeles Times interview which was cited by Charisma News, "Scholars have said that there wasn't a Pool of Siloam and that John was using a religious conceit… Now we have found the Pool of Siloam ... exactly where John said it was."2

Both Metaxas in his commentary and Charlesworth are correct to say the discovery lends credence to the level of historical reliability the Gospel of John holds. But that is a completely different claim than the one leading the Charisma News article. Both the article and the headline trumpeted "Archaeological evidence now proves the Gospel of John is true." Proves? It proves the truth of the entire Gospel? That's a troubling oversimplification that is actually dangerous to the message of the Gospel, as we can see by looking at a parallel story in the Los Angeles Times.

Are You Willing to Believe in Greek Gods?

The well-developed pantheon of gods in Greek mythology is familiar to most people. Much of that familiarity comes from the required reading of Homer's epic The Illiad. It is Homer's tale that provides the narrative of Helen of Troy ("the face that launched a thousand ships"), Achilles and his heel, the Trojan War and the accompanying Trojan horse. We read how the Greek gods work for or against the story's heroes and for or against each other.

Of course, Troy and Sparta are real places, but many scholars also held the Trojan War references in The Iliad were just as mythical as the references of the Greek gods. Troy was considered at first to be "entirely mythical."3 But in 1993, the Los Angeles Times reported "Archeologists have uncovered strong evidence that the Trojan War described by the poet Homer in 'The Iliad,' one of the first and most important books in Western literature, actually occurred."4

The article then reports the archaeological advancements at Troy:
In the 1870s, German merchant Heinrich Schliemann identified what he believed to be its site, a large mound on the Anatolian Peninsula about 15 miles from the modern city of Canakkale. The mound, about 600 feet long, 450 feet wide and more than 100 feet tall, is called Hisarlik (Place of Fortresses) and is accepted as the site of Troy…

But archeologists from Blegen's generation and later ones argued that the citadel was too small to be the Homeric Troy. "People believed there was a kernel of truth in the (Homeric) story, but the citadel was too small to be an important place," Korfmann said. 5
In the 1990s, when excavations resumed after a fifty year hiatus, archaeologist can now show the Trojan War was not merely possible, but maybe even probable.

Sauce for the Goose, Sauce for the Gander

Given this, does archaeology prove Homer's Iliad is true? Would any Christian claim such? Of course not. It shows Homer was familiar with the area of Troy. In fact, the article quotes archaeologist Korfmann postulating "Homer might have written down his story while viewing this ruins of this city. The ruins available in this landscape could have been the stage for an epic."6

Similarly, the archaeological evidence for the Siloam Pool demonstrates it is implausible to believe the Gospel of John was wholly invented in Asia well after the fall of Jerusalem by someone who has never visited the city. It adds credence to the claim that John was an eyewitness to Jesus' miracles at the Pool of Siloam or Bethsaida. But one cannot claim it proves the Gospel of John. Otherwise, a well-informed atheist can simply ask why you don't also believe in Achilles, and the Greek gods, since archaeology has proven the Iliad in exactly the same manner.

There are many things archaeology can tell us and many things archaeology cannot tell us about the Bible. But let's be careful in how much we assume.


1. Staff. "The Siloam Pool: Where Jesus Healed the Blind Man." Bible History Daily. Biblical Archaeological Society, 3 Dec. 2015. Web. 8 Feb. 2016.
2. Justice, Jessilyn. "Pool Where Jesus Healed a Blind Man Discovered, Proves Gospel of John Is True." Charisma News. Charisma Media, 4 Feb. 2016. Web. 08 Feb. 2016.
3. Maugh II, Thomas H. "Archeological Evidence of Homer's Trojan War Found : History: Researchers Show That City Was Large Enough to Withstand the Epic Battle Described in 'The Iliad.'" Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 22 Feb. 1993. Web. 06 Feb. 2016.
4. Maugh, 1993.
5. Maugh, 1993.
6. Maugh, 1993.
Image courtesy Ian Scott (Pool of Siloam) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Talking Wrong and Testimony as Trustworthy

When I was a kid, I listened to Steve Martin's Wild and Crazy Guy album. Martin told a joke there about a dirty trick to play on a three year old kid:

In the clip, Martin explains "Kids learn how to talk from listening to their parents. So, if you have a three-year-old kid and you want to play a dirty trick on him, whenever you're around him you talk wrong. So now it's like his first day in school and he raises his hand: "May I mambo dogface to the banana patch?"1

Martin's joke is funny, but it actually highlights an interesting point about the nature of being reasonable. Kids DO believe others will talk with them in a way that's trustworthy. They believe parents will give them a basically truthful concept of the world, that they will be honest in using words and filling them with proper meaning, and that, dad jokes excepted, people are not trying to intentionally mislead them.

We shouldn't think of children as being unreasonable in trusting the statements of others even with no evidence. One of the reasons that dad's tall tales work on kids is because dad is generally otherwise trustworthy. Those tall tales leverage the child's inexperience and their reasonable trust of authority.

The Principle of Testimony

However, children are not the only ones to whom it would be considered reasonable to hold to the general trustworthiness of others. All people must operate on this principle in order to have a world that makes any sense at all. Yesterday, I highlighted one of the fundamental principles of knowledge, the Principle of Credulity, which Richard Swinburne defined. Along with that one, Swinburne also offers the Principle of Trustworthiness. Swinburne defines this as "individuals ought to believe the reports of others about how things seemed to them, and so (given the principle of credulity) that things were as they report—in the absence of counter-evidence. That is, other things being equal, the reports of others are probably true."2

Swinburne goes on to clarify that one would never be able to understand another person if one were to believe they were playing Steve Martin's dirty trick on them. How could we? Even if they used proper words but communicated false ideas half the time, it would be impossible to know if and when they truly meant anything. That would make all of their statements untrustworthy and therefore meaningless.

Swinburne does say that experience can teach us that "certain persons or persons in certain circumstances are not to be trusted."3 That's why I can no longer get away with pulling dad jokes on my kids; they recognize when I've planted my tongue in my cheek. Now, they just roll their eyes and continue the conversation.

The Trustworthy Testimony of the Gospels

The principle of testimony also applies when reading ancient historical writings. While people can always be biased (should we believe the campaign slogans of politicians even today?), for the most part an ancient source can be held as truthful. Take Luke who wrote the Gospel that bears his name as well as the book of Acts. Craig Keener notes that the dominant view of Luke's writings by scholars today is that they are historical in nature. Keener quotes the Anchor Bible Dictionary in stating, "The reasons for regarding Luke-Acts as a History are obvious, and to most scholars, compelling."4 Keener then points out that when compiling the different genres suggested for Luke's writings, "history appears five times as often as novel and, together with biography, seven times as often as the novel."5 In other words, Luke is hoping to convey what he believes is historical reality. That means one should approach Luke as someone trying to tell the truth and measure his trustworthiness in what we can measure.

In speaking with atheists, though, they don't take this approach with the Gospel accounts. Because they classify them as "religious writings," they hold all of them to be untrustworthy unless the opposite can be proven. That's simply backwards and it causes the same effect: they won't really be able to weigh the evidence the Gospel accounts offer because they refuse to understand them to begin with. In their eyes, Luke may as well have written "May I mambo dogface to the banana patch?" Such a position shows it is those atheists who are the ones being unreasonable.


1. Martin, Steve. A Wild and Crazy Guy. Rhino/Warner Bros., 1978. CD.
2. Swinburne, Richard. The Evolution of the Soul. Oxford: Clarendon, 1986. Print. 13.
3. Swinburne, 1986, 13.
4. "Luke-Acts." The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1992. 406. Print. As quoted in Craig S Keener's Acts: An Exegetical Commentary. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. 91. Print.
5. Keener, Craig S. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. Print. 91.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

What Does "Thou Shalt Not Judge" Really Mean? (video)

One of the most often quoted verses in the Bible is also one of the most misunderstood by Christians and non-Christians alike. Just what did Jesus mean when he commanded his followers not to judge in Matthew 7? Does this mean Christians cannot criticize any action by someone else? No; the command was focused on another idea prevalent in Jesus' day.

In this short video, Lenny explains how Jesus' listeners would have understood his words and how we can apply them today.

Image courtesy Jonathunder - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Commons.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Why the Gospels Cannot be Dismissed as "Religious"

Yesterday, I was part of a panel answering questions at the local college. A member of the Secular Students Alliance approached us and asked about the historical nature of the resurrection of Jesus. As I explained to him, the vast majority of New Testament scholars from the most conservative to the most skeptical (think Bart Ehrman, John Dominic Crossan, and other Jesus Seminar scholars) hold to certain central facts about Jesus, namely his death by Roman crucifixion, his followers truly believed he rose from the dead, the dramatic conversion of the apostle Paul from church persecutor to Christian evangelist, and even how most hold to Jesus's tomb being empty. 1 These count as evidence towards his resurrection.

However, the student kept rejecting the Biblical accounts as legitimate sources of knowledge. He waved off the accounts as "a single source" from "a religious book." But his dismissal is simply wrong for a couple of reasons, both of which should be clear to anyone who wishes to approach the evidence thoughtfully.

The Bible Isn't a Single Source

The first and most flagrant error the student made is to assume the Bible is a single source documenting Jesus's life on earth. This is simply an error of his modern mindset. As I've said, the Bible isn't a single work; it's a collection of sixty-six books written by about forty authors over a 1500 year span. When counting independent sources that discuss the resurrection, one would count at minimum Mark, John, and Paul's account in 1 Corinthians 15. Matthew and Luke draw from Mark's Gospel so scholars may not count them as independent, but dependent on Mark. However, as Michael Licona in summarizing N.T. Wright notes, "dependence may be also be an illusion resulting from a 'natural overlap' in oral tradition or the presence of terms that would be common even if all four Gospels were completely independent when they included reports of women going to the tomb, discovering it empty and being told by an angel that Jesus has risen from the dead."2

Regardless of whether Matthew and Luke (and even the theoretical "Q") count as independent sources, historians would still agree that we have at least three independent sources that describe the resurrection. Multiple attestation is a huge deal when trying to uncover ancient historical events; it's the best data we have and shouldn't be dismissed so easily. The Biblical accounts of Jesus's resurrection by any measure cannot me seen as a single source.

Bias against Religious Texts

The other reason the secularist dismissed the biblical accounts is because they were what he deemed "a religious work."  On this point I tried very hard to make him understand that such a classification is misplaced. As Licona explains, prior to 1990 there were a large segment of New Testament scholars who believed the canonical Gospels fell into a literary genre of their own, a kind of mythical approach to the life of a real person written in order to advance a belief system.3 However, since that time, scholarship has changed dramatically.

In his book The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Craig Keener reviews the different literary genres used at the time the Gospels were written and demonstrates that they fit the category of ancient biography especially well. Keener also notes that skeptical scholar Richard Burridge (who sought to disprove the notion that the Gospel accounts are biography) fits the genre better than any other. Keener comments "So forceful is Burridge's work on the gospel genre as biography that one reviewer concludes, 'This volume ought to end any legitimate denials of the canonical Gospels' biographical character.'"4

It is only because the Gospels are understood as religious texts today that the student's bias has any weight in the mind of others. But using modern glasses to view ancient texts is a poor way to do history. The fact that my interlocutor would not accept my explanations to him concerning the classification of the accounts of Jesus's life says a bit more about his biases than it does the reliability of the Gospels themselves.


1. For detail on this, see Gary R. Habermas, and Mike Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004. Print. 48-77.
2. Licona, Mike. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010. Print. 207.
3. Licona, 2010. 201.
4. Keener, Craig S. The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009. Print.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Gospel Variations and Ancient Biography

Much gets made by skeptics these days about the supposed contradictory accounts of Jesus's life in the four Gospels.  They ask about the timing of the events (how could it have been three days and three nights), how many women were at the tomb, and other facts that seems to be reported differently by the Gospel authors. Sometimes, the errors are an example of expecting robot reporting or snubbing style to force meaning.

A couple of years ago, I was able to sit down with Dr. Michael Licona and discuss how the accounts of Jesus's life differ and what that actually means. You can view the entire interview on YouTube, but the Baptist Press gave a nice summation of it in their publication. One portion I'd like to focus on particularly is Dr. Licona's work in comparing the Gospel accounts to other ancient biography that was written at the same time:
In an interview with Lenny Esposito of Come Reason Ministries at the Evangelical Theological Society's annual meeting, Licona, a former apologetics coordinator at the North American Mission Board, said it had not necessarily ever bothered him that some facts reported in the Gospels appeared to be contradictions.

"I believe in biblical inerrancy, but I also realize that biblical inerrancy is not one of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. The resurrection is," Licona told Esposito. "So if Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is still true even if it turned out that some things in the Bible weren't. So it didn't really bother me a whole lot even if some contradictions existed. But it did bother a lot of Christians."

Licona recalled a student in a class he was teaching at Southern Evangelical Seminary who, with tears forming in her eyes, wanted to know whether there were indeed contradictions. A majority of the class, he said, raised their hands to indicate they were troubled by apparent contradictions. Then he realized it was something he should address.

As he studied the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Licona began keeping a document of the differences he noticed. The document grew to 50 pages. He then read ancient biographies written around the time of Jesus because New Testament scholars often regard the Gospels as ancient biographies, he said.

Licona focused on Plutarch's biographies. The assassination of Julius Caesar, he noted, is told in five different biographies by Plutarch.

"So you have the same biographer telling the same story five different times. By noticing how Plutarch tells the story of Caesar's assassination differently, we can notice the kinds of biographical liberties that Plutarch took, and he's writing around the same time that some of the Gospels are being written and in the same language—Greek—to boot," Licona told Esposito.

"As I started to note some of these liberties that he took, I immediately started recognizing these are the same liberties that I noticed that the evangelists take—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John," Licona said.1
There's a difference between a contradiction and a stylistic change meant to emphasize one aspect of an event in one account, while another account may stress different aspects of the same event. As I've stated, these differences actually work in favor of the validity of the eyewitness accounts.


1. Roach, Erin. "HBU's Licona Addresses Bible's 'contradictions'" Baptist Press. Baptist Press, Southern Baptist Convention, 13 Feb. 2013. Web. 25 Sept. 2015.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

"Lost Gospels" are to the Gospels as Sci-Fi is to Shakespeare

Yesterday, I began to discuss the so-called Lost Gospels, those second and third century writings claiming to be Gospel accounts by Apostles like Peter, Thomas, and Judas. As I noted, the Apostles names applied to these writing are clearly forged. The writings themselves are too late to come from those living at the same time Jesus ministered, unlike the four recognized Gospels of the New Testament. However, that doesn't stop some skeptics from trying to promote the idea that these documents are somehow on par with the canonical Gospels.

In his book Lost Christianities, Bart Ehrman makes the claim that there was some kind of competition between the four Gospels we know and these other writings. He states:
The Gospels that came to be included in the New Testament were all written anonymously; only at a later time were they called by the names of their reputed authors, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But at about the time these names were being associated with the Gospels, other Gospel books were becoming available, sacred texts that were read and revered by different Christian groups throughout the world: a Gospel, for example, claiming to be written by Jesus' closest disciple, Simon Peter; another by his apostle Philip; a Gospel allegedly written by Jesus' female disciple, Mary Magdalene; another by his own twin brother, Didymus Judas Thomas.1
Ehrman then claims "Someone decided that four of these early Gospels, and no others, should be accepted as part of the canon," and then asks "How can we be sure they were right?"2

Obfuscating the Late Composition of the Gnostic Texts

As a New Testament scholar, Ehrman is being extremely disingenuous here. First, notice the phrasing of the sentence "about the time these names were being associated with the Gospels, other Gospel books were becoming available." It is written tom mislead readers that the Gnostic accounts are nearly contemporaneous with the Gospels. That isn't true. The Gospels were well known and circulated from the first century onward. As I've shown here and here, early church fathers named the authors of all four of the Gospels by 100 AD and no other candidates were ever seriously advanced. The Gnostic texts weren't even written until the second and third centuries, and that's when the church began making lists of what counts as Scripture and what doesn't. Thus, when Ehrman claims that "other Gospel books were becoming available," he means other Gospel books were being written. And when he claims this happened "about the same time these names were being associated with the Gospels" he means the Church put down on paper a list of Gospels bearing the names Matthew. Mark, Luke, and John.

But what of Ehrman's other claim that these texts were considered sacred, revered and worthy to be considered as part of the Christian Scripture? Internet skeptics make similar assertions all the time. However, these Gnostic texts, although labeled by their forgers as "Gospels" don't hold a candle to the real Gospels. In fact, all it takes is a quick read of them to show they are about as similar to the Gospels as a pulp science fiction novel is to one of Shakespeare's plays. Let's take a look at a few snippets to get a flavor.

Gospel of Peter

Ehrman points to the Gospel of Peter as a potential candidate for Scripture. Yet, in the Gospel of Peter, Pontius Pilate becomes free of all guilt because he washed his hands, thus flipping John's account on its head. It was the unwashed Jews and Herod that are supposed to take the blame for Jesus's death:
But of the Jews no man washed his hands, neither did Herod nor any one of his judges: and whereas they would not wash, Pilate rose up. And then Herod the king commanded that the Lord should be taken into their hands, saying unto them: All that I commanded you to do unto him, do ye.3

Such a re-envisioning of Herod's washing as a good thing is remarkable enough, but what's worse is how the account of the resurrection portrays Jesus coming out of the tomb on Sunday morning accompanied by two angels. All three of them have elongated necks and there a floating cross that answers God the Father! The passage reads:
They saw again three men come out of the sepulchre, and two of them sustaining the other and a cross following, after them. And of the two they saw that their heads reached unto heaven, but of him that was led by them that it overpassed the heavens. And they heard a voice out of the heavens saying: Hast thou (or Thou hast) preached unto them that sleep? And an answer was heard from the cross, saying: Yea.4

Certainly, the Gospel of Peter does not hold the same historical weight as the Gospel accounts.

Gospel of Thomas

The Gospel of Thomas was another account that Ehrman mentions. This text is interesting because it is probably the earliest of the Gnostic texts written sometime in the early or middle second century. But to call it a Gospel is to malign the term. First of all, it isn't a narrative of Jesus' ministry. It is only 114 verses long and is a collection of supposed sayings or teachings of Jesus. About a third of these are copied from the existing Gospel accounts. About a third are teachings not necessarily incompatible with Christian doctrine, but we don't know if Jesus said them. The last third, though, are completely Gnostic.

For example, take verse 22, which is comprised of double-speak :
 When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter [the kingdom].5
Or verse 30, which is not only confusing but seems to reject monotheism:
Where there are three deities, they are divine. Where there are two or one, I am with that one.6
Finally, Thomas ends with a disturbing bit of Gnostic ideology where Jesus states only men can get into heaven and Mary Magdalene must be turned into a man to enter the Kingdom:
Simon Peter said to him, "Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life." Jesus said, "I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.7
I could go on, but I think my point is made. The so-called Lost Gospels are nothing of the kind. They weren't lost, they were rejected. And they weren't Gospels, because they are devoid of the Good News of salvation. Of course, people can spiritualize anything; that's why a significant number of people in England and Wales identified themselves as holding to the Jedi faith.8 Holding that the Gnostic texts were serious candidates as Gospels falls into the same category as believing Obi-Wan Kenobi is a religious scholar. It makes me wonder in what way Dr. Ehrman watches Star Wars.


1. Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Christianities: The Battle for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. New York: Oxford UP, 2003. Print. 4.
2. Ehrman, 2003. 4.
3. Gospel of Peter, I.1-2. Translated by M. R. James. The Gnostic Society Library. The Gnostic Society Library, 1995. Web. 28 May 2015.
4. Gospel of Peter,XI.38-42.
5. Gospel of Thomas. 20. Translated by Stephen Patterson and Marvin Meyer. The Gnostic Society Library. The Gnostic Society Library, 1994. Web. 28 May 2015
6. Gospel of Thomas, 30.
7. Gospel of Thomas, 114.
8. "'Jedi' Religion Most Popular Alternative Faith." The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 11 Dec. 2012. Web. 28 May 2015.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Why There's No Such Thing as a Lost Gospel

Are there really "lost" Gospel texts that were eliminated from the Bible? The claim has been circulating for many decades now, with specials on television that highlight the Gospel of Judas or books such as Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. Yet, simply because someone calls a writing "Gospel" does that mean it should be considered as a candidate for Scripture alongside Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? I don't think so.

There are a number of reasons why the texts that are collectively known as the "lost" Gospels are nothing of the kind. First of all, they were written much later than the canonical Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were all penned in the first century, within 30 to 60 of Jesus's ministry. However, scholars have dated the vast majority of the Gnostic Gospels to originate in the second or third centuries. Scholars who are both liberal and conservative agree that the Gnostic accounts were created after the apostolic age.1 That means Gnostic works bearing the name of Thomas or James or Peter or Judas are definite forgeries.

Gnostic Texts Rely on the Canonical Gospels

Although the Gnostic Gospels are forgeries, the reason why they use the names of well-known apostles is interesting. The writers knew that for their writings to have any credence at all, they would have to bear the name of recognized figures during Jesus's ministry. Thus, the names of Thomas, James, Peter, and Judas are used to try and give these writings an air of authority.

Martin Hengel makes the point that unlike the original four Gospels, these Gnostics were written with the name attached to them from the very beginning. He notices that there are no competing claims nor are there any discussions about the author attribution for the Gnostic texts as there was for the canonical Gospels. He then concludes, "The uniformity of this unusual form of title strongly suggests that the titles "were not secondary additions but part of the Gospels as originally circulated. . . . [T]hese superscriptions were not added to the Gospels secondarily, long after their composition . . ."2

The question one should ask next, though, is how did those reading the Gnostic texts know these names of the apostles? The answer is simply that the four canonical Gospels were not only already in existence, but accepted as authoritative. In fact, by the middle of the second century, all four of the Biblical Gospels have been quoted as authoritative by Polycarp, Ignatius, Irenaeus, and included in the Diatessaron, a book that sought to harmonize all the Gospel accounts.

Further, throughout the Gnostics accounts, familiar portions of the canonical Gospels are leveraged. We read of Pilate washing his hands and of Jesus being buried in a tomb in the Gospel of Peter. About a third of the Gospel of Thomas are sayings of Jesus that steal from the canonical accounts.3 Ben Witherington concurs, writing "One of the key indicators that Gnosticism is a later development is that it depends on the canonical Gospels for its substance when it comes to the story of Jesus. Even more tellingly, the Gnostic texts try to de-Judaize the New Testament story."4

Gnostic Texts Seek to Usurp Gospel Accounts

Witherington's last point is not to be missed. The Gnostic texts set themselves apart from the canonical texts in both their theology and their claims to be the truth while the established Christianity of the church fathers was false. The term gnostic is based on a Greek word for knowledge, and the Gnostics continually preached that they had secret knowledge others didn't. The Apocalypse of Peter clearly sets the Gnostics against the Christian church leaders when it proclaims, "And there shall be others of those who are outside our number who name themselves bishop and also deacons, as if they have received their authority from God. They bend themselves under the judgment of the leaders. Those people are dry canals" (emphasis added).5 The Testimony of Truth proclaims "They do not have the word which gives life." 6

It is clear that the Gnostic Gospels are not on par with the canonical Gospels with regards to their sources. They are forgeries that were written too late, they relied on the existing four Gospels for at least some of their content 9thus tacitly endorsing Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as properly authoritative), and they set themselves up to be competitors to the teachings of the church that were handed down from the apostles. These so-called Gospels were never lost; they were simply rejected as poor imitations of what true scripture would look like.


1 Scholar Darrell Bock in his book The Mission Gospels: Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianities (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub, 2006), points to the work of Rebell, Ehrman, Klauk, Lapham and White to support these dates.
2. Hengel, Martin. The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Investigation of the Collection and Origin of the Canonical Gospels. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity International, 2000. Print. 50.
3. One such example is Thomas 20 which reads, "The disciples said to Jesus, 'Tell us what Heaven's kingdom is like.' He said to them, "'It's like a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, but when it falls on prepared soil, it produces a large plant and becomes a shelter for birds of the sky.'"
4. Witherington, Ben. The Gospel Code: Novel Claims about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Da Vinci. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004. Print. 22.
5. "The Apocalypse of Peter." Translated by James Brashler and Roger A. Bullard. The Nag Hammadi Library. Web.
6. "The Testimony of Truth." Translated by Søren Giversen and Birger A. Pearson. The Nag Hammadi Library. Web.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Is It Fair for God to Judge Those Who Never Heard?

Christianity teaches that all people are born sinners. They have a natural desire to rebel against the things of God, to be selfish and immoral. But God does not abandon them here. The good news of the Gospel is that God sent his only son Jesus to become a man and redeem us from our sins. Once we put our trust in Jesus and his act of redemption, we are reconciled to God and we can commune with him forever.

In the Christian story, both the judgment of men and the reconciliation of them are acts of God. But some cry foul at this story, claiming God is unfair for judging those who may have never heard about Jesus or their need for redemption. Is God truly unfair to those who were isolated by geography or history from the Gospel? The Apostle Paul argues they aren't, and offers a couple of reasons why.

1. God Revels Himself to All Men

In Paul's day, most of the world wasn't familiar with Christianity or even the Jewish ideas from which it sprang. When writing to the Romans, Paul realizes that the church in Rome would include people from many different backgrounds and locations across the known world. He tells the Christians there that while God had revealed himself and his holy standard to the Jews through the writings of Moses and the prophets, the Romans didn't. However Paul contends the Romans should still realize there is a God to whom they are accountable. In Romans 1:20 he writes, "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."

Imagine those who were first settling the country. Immigrants didn't speak the same language. They came from places with different laws and different customs. One family travels west and finds a picturesque spot with a stream and a meadow. However, there's a fence that encloses the land. Though the immigrant understands little of the law, he would assume that the fence is an indicator that someone had claimed this land. He would realize the fence doesn't simply appear. Even if he comes from a culture that had never used fences to mark property boundaries, through a quick examination he could easily conclude its purpose and meaning.

Similarly, no matter how isolated any culture is from the Gospel, every human being can recognize that there is design in our world. In fact, every culture has recognized that they didn't appear from nothing and there is an order to nature, to survival, and to reproduction. That's why all cultures adhere to some kind of religious practice. It demonstrates how all cultures have recognized there is something higher than themselves to whom they are beholden. In other words, mankind is never the final authority. One must look beyond himself to discover the deepest truths about his design and purpose in the world.

2. People Don't Even Measure up to Their Own Standards

The second point Paul makes is while different cultures have varying standards of morality, no one can claim innocence before God. Of course, no one can measure up to God's requirement of perfection, especially if they don't know all of what God's perfection entails. Yet, Paul states the Romans have within their own consciences enough of God's law to be accountable for that much. He writes:
Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares (Rom 2:14-16, NASB).
Here, Paul simply claims that commandments like "Do not lie, do not murder, do not commit adultery" are universal. There would be many societies who had never heard of the Ten Commandments, yet would recognize the wrongness of such actions. While in some cultures a man may have only one wife and in others a man may have four wives, there is no culture where it is OK to take another man's wife.

The hook is all people fail not only at achieving God's standards, but even at holding their own. Think about two men who work at an office. One is coming in three to four minutes late and sometimes stretches his lunch hour to an hour and a half. The other is strictly prompt, but from time to time will use the work printer to make flyers for a birthday party or take a highlighter and some pens home to use there. The first man may justify his actions, thinking "I may be a few minutes late, but at least I don't steal like that guy!" while the second is thinking "I may use a few extra office supplies, but at least I care enough about my job to be on time!" The fact is both men are guilty and their attempts at self-justification prove it.

Driving on the Freeway

The clearest example I can give on how all people fail to measure up to their own law is by simply asking you to think about your experiences on the freeway. In what ways do you criticize others? If your driving was judged by the same standard as you judge everyone else, do you think you would have no strikes against yourself? I know I would!

If God did nothing more than judge each person on their own standard of conduct they held for others, each one of us would be found completely guilty before him. So, how can anyone accuse God of not being fair? It certainly isn't in his judgment of them. Perhaps they are complaining that he hasn't made redemption sufficiently clear. We can address that topic in another post.

Image courtesy Andrew Mitchell and licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) License

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The Gospel of Judas Rears Its Head on CNN

"Jesus wanted to be sacrificed. He asked Judas to betray him. Judas asks, 'Why me?' Jesus says, 'because you're the closest to me; I beg you to do it.'" 1

These comments are from the CNN special series Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery which has been airing on Sunday nights.  The March 25, 2015 episode was entitled "The Gospel of Judas" and highlights the text that received so much attention when the National Geographic Society published a translation of the rare manuscript in 2006. National Geographic promoted its translation in a special, saying it was "a lost gospel that could challenge what is believed about the story of Judas and his betrayal of Jesus."2 Back then there was much fanfare, but little to surprise or sway biblical scholars. But the media always love to provoke, especially if they can undermine the traditional biblical accounts with any wild speculation they can find. So, nine years later, CNN offers an entire episode on the Gospel.

In fact, the Gospel of Judas wasn't groundbreaking even in 2006. Scholars had known for some time that a document called the Gospel of Judas existed from the writings of the early church fathers, particularly Irenaeus. What's amazing to me is how some otherwise intelligent people lose all sense of bearing when they are confronted with an ancient text that has the word "gospel" on it. Just because a document has the word "gospel" at the top, doesn't mean it even comes close to being on par with the canonical gospels.

Still, the discovery of an actual copy of the text is significant. Was the Gospel of Judas hidden as the result of some kind of conspiracy to keep power in the hands of a few? Does it place the canonical gospel stories of Matthew, Mark, Luke , and John in doubt? Hardly. Let's examine just what this document is and then we'll look at why it really tells us nothing about the formation of early Christianity.

Another Gnostic Gospel

The Gospel of Judas translation that was recently published comes from a third century manuscript, written in Coptic, an ancient Egyptian language. It contains many strange teachings such as:
  • Creation was corrupted by lesser gods who made the material world
  • Jesus wished to be set free from His material body so He could access the holy realm
  • The Gospel holds a type of secret knowledge that only one person (Judas) has
  • The rest of the disciples are clueless to the true mission of Jesus
The manuscript is a copy of an earlier Greek text - most likely written about AD 150. We know this because, as I mentioned, Irenaeus rejected the Gospel of Judas in AD 180 - over 100 years before our Coptic manuscript existed. But we also can see the gospel reflects the beliefs of an early cult of Christianity known as the Gnostics. It's chock full of Gnostic teaching and thought, and since Gnosticism did not exist until the second century, there's no way it could have been written prior to about AD 125. So, that gives us a pretty good window to determine when this text was originally written.

Judas Gospel is Too New to be Bible

Now, I don't want to go into a technical discussion of Gnosticism to show why the Gospel of Judas doesn't hold a candle when compared to the four canonical gospels. We don't need to go that far to show why it should be rejected. We know that the manuscript we have is authentic - which means that it really did come from the third or fourth century. However, that doesn't mean that its contents are true. There's a big difference there. And why am I so sure that the contents of the Judas gospel are false? Well, it's simple. The gospel is too new to be written by the Judas of the Bible. You see, most scholars agree that Jesus' death happened somewhere around AD 33. The gospel is around 100 to 120 years later. Just how old would Judas have to be to write this account? 150? It doesn't make sense. Judas died well before this text originated.

The Associated Press interviewed James M. Robinson from Claremont Graduate University and who they said is "America's leading expert on such ancient religious texts from Egypt."3 There, Robinson agrees with this assessment. Robinson states, "There are a lot of second, third, and fourth-century gospels attributed to various apostles. We don't really assume they give us any first century information."4 He concludes that nothing new can be learned about Judas of the Bible from the text.

Secondly, since Judas didn't really have anything to do with this "gospel", we also know that the documents facts are in serious question. Remember, Judas dies during Jesus' crucifixion, so he couldn't have told anyone this special revelation. Therefore, these conversations must be fictional. You see, real gospels have what is known as an apostolic tradition. In other words, the four gospels can be traced back to the apostles themselves. Christians such as Irenaeus understood this and rejected it as a forgery.

Looking at a Modern Example

I think for a good starting point when discussing this text with others, let's look to a more modern example: the forged memos that surfaced during the 2004 presidential election. During the campaign, 60 Minutes reported on the discovery of an Air National Guard memo that suggested favorable treatment for the president. If these documents were accepted as real they could do much damage to his campaign. However, when the memos were scrutinized it became apparent that they were forgeries. Type styles used in the memos were too recent for the documents to have originated in the 1960's when they were purportedly written.

I think that no matter which candidate you supported, most news agencies showed maturity in their rejection of the documents as unsubstantiated. Even if one holds that special treatment was afforded Mr. Bush during his National Guard service, these specific memos do nothing to give us new or better information about those charges,  simply because they are false testimony. Similarly, a forged gospel of Judas doesn't help us to really understand Jesus, Judas or first century Christianity.

Ultimately, the biggest piece missing from the Gospel of Judas is the gospel message itself. Remember that the word "gospel" means good news. It was called such because early Christians saw their redemption from sin as the good news to share with others. But redemption is the one thing the so-called Gospel of Judas doesn't have. Without that, there's no freedom from sin and no reason to follow Jesus who becomes just another dead man claiming to speak from God.


1. Goodacre, Mark. "'Finding Jesus': Judas Q&A." CNN. Cable News Network, 23 Mar. 2015. Web. 01 Apr. 2015.
2. "The Lost Gospel of Judas." National Geographic Channel. National Geographic Society. Web. 20 April 2006. Archived page at
3.Ostling, Richard. ""Expert Doubts 'Gospel of Judas' Revelation"" USAToday. USA Today, 2 Mar. 2006. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.

4. Ostling, 2006.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Claims of Contradictions May Display Prejudice

The charge of contradiction is one that is easily made. It's simple to take two accounts of the same event that holds different details and claim that they are somehow contradictory. I hear this often when discussing the reliability of the Gospel accounts with skeptics. They claim that the birth narratives of Jesus are contradictory or the resurrection accounts offer opposing stories.

The thing about claiming contradictions is that skeptics can easily make such charges while obstinately rejecting any attempts at understanding possible solutions. Skepticism only seems to run in their favor, as they are less skeptical about the claim of contradiction than they are of the reconciliation of the differences. But this isn't anything new.

Dr. Tim McGrew, who runs the Library of Historical Apologetics organization (check out their Facebook page here), came across this quote, originally written by the British theologian Edward Stillingfleet nearly 200 years ago. He deftly sums up the problem with the immediate assumption of contradiction:
How easily things do appear to be contradictions to weak, or unstudied, or prejudiced minds, while after due consideration appear to be no such things. A deep prejudice finds a contradiction in every thing; whereas in truth nothing but ill-will, and impatience of considering, made any thing, it may be, which they quarrel at, appear to be so. If I had been of such a quarrelsome humour, I would have undertaken to have found out more contradictions in your papers than you imagine, and yet you might have been confident you had been guilty of none at all. When I consider the great pains, and learning, and judgment, which hath been shewn by the Christian writers in the explication of the Scriptures; and the raw, indigested objections which some love to make against them; if I were to judge of things barely by the fitness of persons to judge of them, the disproportion between these would appear out of all comparison.1
When Stillingfleet wrote these words, he did not have to deal with the New Atheists or the various charges that pass from page to page on the Internet. Yet, he notes that much intellectual exertion has been given to the study of the scriptures even to that point by those who would critically examine all its aspects. 200 years late, even more scholars have turned a critical eye towards the accounts of Jesus life, death and resurrection, and it still stands as strong as it has since its composition.

It's easy to fall into the trap of expecting ancient documents to conform to 21st century practice, but as Stillingfleet states, drawing on such expectation to make the accusation of contradiction reflects a weak and unstudied mind who may hold a deep prejudice. As for specifics in dealing with contradictions, I've written a series of posts, some of which may be found here, here, and here. I've also offered offered some quick tips to keep in mind.

While the charge of contradiction may be easy to lob, such charges may actually say more about the accuser than the documents. Let's not be too shaken when they appear.


1. Stillingfleet, Edward. "A Letter of Resolution, to a Person Unsatisfied about the Truth and Authority of the Scriptures," in Origines Sacrae, vol. 2 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1817). Print. 381-82. E-book available at
Image courtesy Woody Thrower and licensed by the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Unlikely Candidates for Gospel Writers

Do you ever remember cutting class in High School? Perhaps there was an event you wanted to attend, so you decided to ditch one day. The problem with ditching school is the ever-present danger of being caught. Teachers take attendance and they want to know why you missed class when you show up the next day. A lot of kids I knew would simply forge an absence note from their mother or father to escape detection.

Why do kids forge notes from their parents, but not the next-door neighbor or a sibling? Usually, it is because it would make the note a whole lot less believable. If a neighbor signed the note, the student would be forced to go to much greater lengths to demonstrate he or she was in the neighbor's care or the neighbor had some legal authority over the child. It complicates things and makes people ask questions in a way that the more widely-recognized authority of the mother and father don't.

Why Forge These Guys' Names?

I bring this point up as I wrap down my little series on the authorship of the Gospels. While it is agreed that the original authors of the gospels didn't sign their names to them (something not uncommon when dealing with a popular level biographical account in the ancient world), they have always been attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In fact, that's a big point. Those who are skeptical will usually claim that no one knows who wrote any of the gospels. They were anonymous and the names they now bear were attached later. Yet, the gospels themselves claim to come from eyewitness testimony (Luke 1:1-3, John 21:24) and ancient biographers sought out eyewitnesses as the best type of evidence. Richard Bauckham, comments that historian Samuel Byrskog stresses that "for Greek and Roman historians, the ideal eyewitness was not the dispassionate observer but one who, as a participant, had been closest to the events and those who direct experience enabled him to understand and interpret the significance of what he had seen. The historians 'preferred the eyewitness who was socially involved or, even better, had actively participated in the events.'"1

Given that involved eyewitnesses would be considered more valuable, then one would imagine that these anonymously-written accounts would offer some more significant apostolic names to be associated with them. Two of the four gospels aren't even names of the apostles: Mark and Luke. Isn't this a bit like picking the next door neighbor to write your absence note? It takes more explaining and weakens the case for their authenticity. Of the two gospels that do bear the names of apostles, Matthew is more relatively obscure apostle, not an Andrew or Peter or James. Only John's gospel account bears the name of one of the "inner circle" of apostles, and his is the one that shows up last. If the pattern was to forge the names onto the Gospels, why wait until John to pick a prominent apostle, unless Matthew, Mark , and Luke actually did write their own Gospels?

No Other Choices

Not only do we have some relatively obscure authors chosen for three of the four gospels, we also notice that there has never been any alternatives offered for the sources of the Gospels. Compare that to a truly anonymous book of the New Testament: the book of Hebrews. Early writers like Eusebius and Athanasius attribute the book to the Apostle Paul. Origen seems to have some misgivings about that, writing "For not without reason have the ancients handed it down as Paul's. But who wrote the epistle, in truth, God knows" (Eccl. History 6.25.13-14). Other possibilities like Silas, Timothy, or Apollos have also been offered, yet the book remains anonymous. The same is not true of the gospels; they are always and confidently ascribed to these four authors and no other possibility is ever advanced. Further, when the second century produced a flurry of forged gospels, such as the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Peter, these were summarily rejected because they were forgeries. There does not exist any ancient list or writing offering as authoritative any accounts of Jesus's life other than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This is strong evidence that the early church fathers were critical of claims that an apostle wrote a book without any good supporting evidence for it that ties it all the way back to the apostles themselves.

What's More Reasonable?

Given all that we know about the gospels, the testimony of people like Papias who sought to establish their relation to the eyewitnesses, the internal testimony and claims that they were written by eyewitnesses, and the lack of other options, it is more reasonable to hold that the gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John than to believe they are forgeries.


1. Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2006. Print. 9.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Who Wrote the Gospels – Evidence for John

Who wrote the Gospel of John? While our modern Bibles attach John's name to the beginning of the Gospel, John (just like the other gospel authors) never documented his name within the book. In our previous articles, we looked at evidence for Mark and Matthew's authorship as well as Luke's. So how can we know that the apostle John wrote the fourth gospel?

John's Gospel: The External Evidence

John most probably wrote his gospel last, possibly even into the early 90's, though there's some debate about that. One would think that since the early church historian Papias was alive and collecting his sources at the time of the different gospels' authorship, this would be the easiest of the four to identify. Unfortunately, it isn't that cut and dried. The quotation from Papias isn't as clear as we would like.

Eusebius, when he quotes Papias on John's gospel records that Paipas seems to list John the apostle, grouping him with the likes of Andrew, Peter, James, Philip, and Thomas. This group Papias labels "the elders." He then mentions "other disciples of the Lord' which seems to imply those who also heard Jesus's teachings. 1 However, Papias lists another John, whom he calls "John the Presbyter" as well. This John is also called "The Lord's disciple," but Eusebius thinks that this John is different from the apostle, and this use of the term disciple in this second instance may be more generic; it is a way of identifying a follower of Jesus's teachings and not one who sat under Jesus himself. Others disagree and say the phrase is to focus those disciples who were still alive and teaching in churches in Asia.2,3

That doesn't mean we have no testimony on authorship of the fourth gospel from the early church fathers. The claim that Apostle John was the author is made by Irenaeus, who tied it to the epistles of John and the book of Revelation.4 The second century church father Polycrates, writing about AD 190, stated that John "was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord."5

John's Gospel: The Internal Evidence

While we cannot point with certainty to Papias, we can at least deduce from early on the author of the Gospel was someone named John. That's actually helpful, as the author of John's Gospel does include himself in the narrative, but never by name. He always refers to himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved," such as in John 21:20 where Peter was questioning his fate. He then makes a bold claim: "This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true" (John 21:24). Here, we have the author claiming to be an eyewitness of the events he has written about. Knowing that the Beloved Disciple was present at the Last Supper (John 13:22) and leaning on Jesus's breast, it narrows this author down to one of the original twelve apostles. Given that Jesus charges him with the care of his Mother, Mary (John 20:26-27), this must've been not simply any disciple but one who was deeply intimate with Jesus.

Yet, there is more evidence. Another claim to being an eyewitness is found at the beginning of the Gospel. In John 1:14, the author says, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory." That phrase of "his glory" is key. Jesus only revealed his glory one time, and that as on the Mount of Transfiguration. While that event is not recorded in John's gospel, it is captures in the other three, who are in agreement that Jesus took only Peter, James and John with him. It was big enough to make an impression on both Peter and John, given that Peter points to it in claiming his eyewitness credentials: For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty" (2 Peter 1:16).

When we look at John's three epistles, we can see that John uses the term "the elder" for himself (2 John 1:1, 3 John 1:1). The epistle writer also claims to be an eyewitness in 1 John 1:1-3: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you." Further, the style of the three epistles and the fourth Gospel are so close that it is clearly evident they were all written by the same person.

For John's Gospel we now know that:
  • The author was an eyewitness of the events he recorded
  • He was intimately acquainted with Jesus
  • He was an elder in the church, providing instruction through much of the first century
  • He wrote the three epistles that are also identified with the apostle John
  • He claimed to not only see Jesus, but to see him "in his glory" which points to the Transfiguration
  • Jesus's took only three of his closest disciples with him to see his transfiguration
  • There is second century tradition that points to john the Apostle as being the author of the fourth gospel.
Given the evidence, it seems reasonable to hold that John's gospel was indeed written by John the apostle. He's the only one that fits all the criteria.


1. Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.39.4
2. Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2006. Print. 17.
3. Blomberg, Craig. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. Second ed. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity, 2007. Print. 27.
4. Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 5.8.4-5
5. Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 5.24.2

Monday, February 16, 2015

Who Wrote the Gospels - Evidence for Luke

Last week, I wrote about how the early church fathers provided testimony going all the way back to the disciples of the apostles themselves that the four gospels in our Bible were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. More specifically, we have very good evidence for both Mark and Matthew as being the authors of their respective gospels from the testimony of Papias and Clement. Today, I'd like to turn my attention to the authorship of Luke's Gospel. To begin, we can examine a different line of evidence: the internal corroboration of the Bible itself.

The place to start when investigating the gospel attributed to Luke is actually the book of Acts. We begin here because the author tells us that Luke and Acts are a two-volume set, written by the same person to the same recipient. The book of Acts begins, "In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen" (Acts 1:1). This corresponds exactly to the opening of Luke's gospel where he writes:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught (Luke 1:1-4).
Theophilus is addressed as the recipient in both accounts and the author claims to have direct access to eyewitnesses, thus scholars are agreed that the author of Luke is also the author of Acts.

The Early Authorship of Acts

The book of Acts records the actions of the early church and Paul's missionary journeys. Yet, the book stops rather abruptly at Paul's house arrest, yet before his trial in Rome.  We know from Clement's writings (about AD 95) that Paul was released from Rome and visited "the extremity of the West."1  This is most likely Spain, as Paul himself said he planned to visit there in Romans 15:24. So, why would the author of Acts leave out such a victory as Paul getting exonerated and released at his trial in Rome? The only reasonable explanation is the book of Acts was completed before Paul was freed. This means that the book of acts was written around AD 62, placing the author in direct contact with most of the apostles. This still doesn't point to Luke as the author, but it makes the author at least a contemporary of Luke's.

Luke Includes Himself in Acts

The biggest clincher in who authored Luke and Acts is the section beginning in Acts 16:10, where the author begins to include himself in the narrative. Up to this point Paul and Silas are referred to in the third person plural "they." Yet, at Troas, the pronoun switched to "we". When Paul and Silas were thrown in prison it switches back to "they" seemingly indicating that the author was not jailed with them. Yet, in Acts 20, when Paul and Silas come back to Troas, the "we" returns. Thus, the author traveled with Paul for some of his missionary journeys. Paul himself tells us that Luke was accompanying him, mentioning Luke by name in his letters (Col. 4:14, 2 Tim. 4:11, and Phil. 1:24). Irenaeus in the second century tell us that "Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the Gospel preached by him," and in the earliest surviving writing after the apostolic writings (the Muratorian fragment, dated about AD 170) it states "The third book of the Gospel is that according to Luke. Luke, the well-known physician, after the ascension of Christ, when Paul had taken with him as one zealous for the law, composed it in his own name, according to the [general belief]." 2

Given all the above, we know that the author of the Gospel of Luke:
  • Also wrote the book of Acts
  • Lived during the times of the events recorded in the Book of Acts
  • Accompanied Paul on some portion of his missionary journeys
  • Would have direct access to the apostles to interview them
  • Is intimate enough with Paul to be mentioned by him in his later years
  • Is claimed to be Luke by some of the earliest traditions.
Given all of these points, there are strong reasons to hold that the author of Luke is Luke, Paul's companion.


1 Hoole, Charles H. "The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians." Early Christian Writings. 1885. 15 Feb. 2015
2 Metzger, Bruce M. "The Muratorian Fragment." Early Christian Writings. 1965. 15 Feb. 2015

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