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What’s New for April, 2009

March 30th, 2009

I am in the midst of relocation, attending to the requirements of vocation. So I apologise for the lack of activity in late March and early April; but I should be back on track soon!

I chanced upon Bart D. Ehrman’s book, Jesus, Interrupted, in the bookstore this week. Dr. Ehrman promises, in his opening statements, to dispel the notion that the Bible is in any way a reliable document. He assures us that the majority of  ‘serious’ academic opinion shares his opinion that the books were written later than traditionally claimed, by authors other than traditionally claimed. We are also told that ‘scholars’  have ‘known’ of these discrepancies for two hundred years, but that the good doctor will finally “let the cat out of the bag”.

Does the majority of  ‘serious’ academic opinion truly agree with these views? Have we taken a poll? Do those academicians associated with more conservative viewpoints get a vote? Or is a ‘serious’ scholar one who adheres to the ‘proper’ view as a matter of definition? Granted that such a majority exists, (which I doubt, given that most Bible research is probably still conducted by those who are men of faith rather than otherwise,) is this any recommendation for the proscribed viewpoint? Do we now ‘vote’ to determine scientific truth? What an astonishing set of claims to make in regard to so delicate a subject!

I certainly agree that controversy has existed for the last two hundred years concerning the reliability of these documents. But to claim that ‘scholars’ have  ‘known’ of the Bible’s untrustworthiness for this period of time? As a physicist, I am familiar with Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, and I am well-acquainted with Newton’s ‘Laws’ which were later augmented by Einstein’s theory. But scientific ‘laws’ are always subject to change as we gather additional data.

In any event, an argument from consensus of authoritative opinion is a remarkably weak approach for a scientist to resort to. I thought scientists were expected to create a theory which best fits the evidence. And I thought that the theory was expected to stand or fall based upon the merits of the argument. And in my experience the scientist who strives to agree with the consensus is incapable of discovery, by definition. How can you imagine the new idea when you are bound to the existing order? But perhaps we have reached the place of which Lightfoot prophecied, in which ecclestiastical terrorism has been replaced with academic terrorism?

As a scientist, I am troubled –  not by Dr. Ehrman’s disbelief of Christianity, a personal view which I must respect; but by his failure to adhere to sound, scientific reasoning.  My admiration for his impeccable academic credentials notwithstanding, I feel the need to address arguments unworthy of a scholar of  the calibre of Dr. Ehrman.

On another note, I wrote the following short article for a local newsletter:

If there is a God, who wishes for mankind to be involved with His purposes, it would seem necessary for this God to leave some sort of evidence or instruction concerning both His existence and requirements. After all, how could the lesser being understand the greater, unless the greater reveal Himself?  And how could the greater justly hold the lesser to account for purposes beyond his ken?

Of the world’s great religions, only Christianity stands or falls based upon a supernatural, historical event[1]. If Jesus of Nazareth did not rise from the dead after crucifixion, then He is not the Christ, not the Son of God, and all of Christianity is false. If He did rise from the dead, then that resurrection provides supernatural proof of His Deity, thereby demonstrating the truth of Christianity’s claims concerning the relationship of God to man.

We are very fortunate today to possess the written Affidavits of the witnesses to this world-changing, historic event[2]. Among the numerous documents bequeathed to us by those thus touched by the Divine are four narrative accounts, known today as ‘Gospels’. Each of these gospels was either authored by an eyewitness (Matthew and John), or by one of their close associates based upon the testimony of the eyewitnesses (Luke and Mark).  Each writer and each witness risked their personal safety, and many sacrificed their lives rather than renounce their testimony, thus providing compelling evidence of their sincerity.

In historical terms, eyewitness narrative reports are the exception, not the rule. And it is almost unheard of for an ancient historical event to be documented by four such accounts. Consequently the resurrection of Christ is better attested historically than many ‘facts’ that we take for granted[3].

Attestation for the authenticity of the gospels occurred uniformly among early Christians. Men such as Clement of Rome, a disciple and follower of the apostles Peter and Paul, supported this testimony both through citation[4] of the gospels and through endorsement of the gospel message concerning the resurrection[5]. Ignatius of Antioch[6] and Polycarp of Smyrna[7], who also knew Jesus’ disciples personally, cited from these gospels accounts in order to invoke apostolic authority among early Christians. And Papias of Hierapolis preserved the circumstances under which the Gospels of Matthew and Mark were written, claiming to have received this information from Jesus’ own disciple John[8]. Later Christians followed suit, with the result that no manuscript of or citation from the canonical gospels has ever been attributed to anyone other than that writer whose name appears on that gospel in a modern Bible.

Isn’t this the sort of evidence one would expect from a righteous God?

I thought that was a pretty succinct explanation for 400 words! Also, I am getting back to writing the Wikipedia article for Walter A. Maier, founder of the Lutheran Hour radio broadcast. I hope to complete it in the next week or so, (after a month’s delay due to various distractions associated with relocation).

[1] Gary R. Habernas, Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Kregel Publications, 2004, pp. 26-27

[2] http://www.mortalresurrection.com/2009/01/02/110/

[3] E.g., the assassination of Julius Caesar is documented by only one account whose author lived early enough to have possibly interviewed an eyewitness, Nicholas of Damascus. The standard accounts upon which we base our history, those of Plutarch, Suetonius, and Dio Cassius, were each written over one-hundred years after the event. Cicero, an eyewitness, provides oblique references to the ‘most glorious deed‘ in divers correspondence.

[4] http://www.mortalresurrection.com/2008/12/25/63/

[5] Gary R. Habernas, Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Kregel Publications, 2004, pp. 53-56.

[6] Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, Chapter I (comp. Matthew 3:15), Chapter VI (comp. Matthew 19:12); to Polycarp, Chapter II (comp. Matthew 10:16); to the Ephesians, Chapter V (comp. Matthew 18:19), Chapter VI (comp. Matthew 10:25), Chapter XIV (comp. Matthew 12:33), Chapter XVII (comp. Matthew 26:6-12); to the Romans VI (comp. Matthew 16:26); to the Magnesians, Chapter IX (comp. Matthew 27:52); Epistle to the Philadelphians, Chapter VII (comp. John 3:5-8), Chapter IX (comp. John 10:9); to the Romans, Chapter VII (comp. John 4:10 & 14; 7:38-39); to the Ephesians, Chapter IX (comp. John 3:14-15; 12:32), Chapter XVII (comp. John 12:1-7)

[7] Polycarp, Epistle to the Philippians, Chapter II (comp. Matt. 7:1; 6:12 & 14; 5:7; 7:2; 5:3 & 10 or Luke 6:37-38), Chapter V (comp. Matt. 20:28), Chapter VI (comp. Matt. 6:12-14), Chapter VII (comp. Matt. 6:13; 26:41), Chapter XII (comp. Matt. 5:44); Epistle to the Philippians, Chapter VII (Mark 14:38 or Matt. 26:42); also Chapter V as per footnote 28, page 125 of The Apostolic Fathers, Second Edition, Translated by J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer, Edited and revised by Michael W. Holmes

[8] Papias of Hierapolis, an Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord, as cited by Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History III, xxxix

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